Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John H. Rudolph, August 23, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:45 - Early history working at Stetson Hat Company

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Partial Transcript: Okay, um, Herb, you started at Stetson Hat Company when you were how old?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph explains how, at 16, he got his job at Stetson Hat Company from an employment office. He also discusses the young adult first-aid program, Stetson Field Corps, that he was involved in.

Keywords: Children's programs; Employment offices--Philadelphia; Factory work; First aid; Stetson Field Corps; Stetson Hat Company; World War I

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Medical care

00:04:42 - Impact of World War I on the neighborhood

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Partial Transcript: How did the, uh, the war affect your neighborhood, your family?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses the effects of the first World War on his neighborhood, as well as the employment situation. He recalls shortages of food and coal as well as German immigrants' feelings towards the war.

Keywords: Anti-German; Anti-German sentiment; Coal shortages; German immigrants; Germans; Rationing; Selective Service; Sugar shortages; World War I

Subjects: Immigrants; Neighborhoods; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; World War, 1914-1918

00:09:13 - Work at Stetson

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember your first day at Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses his first day at Stetson and the different jobs at the factory, including "inspector" and "packer."

Keywords: Factory jobs; Factory work; Hat inspectors; Hat packaging; Production lines; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment

00:12:32 - Stetson immigrant workers and Americanization classes

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Partial Transcript: Was there any--back to your first day, was there any sort of an initiation for new workers at Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph recalls his relations with other workers at Stetson. He discusses the Italians working in the back shop and how relatives got new immigrants jobs. He also explains the Stetson school for citizenship training and the Americanization class.

Keywords: Americanization; Citizenship; Italian; Italian Americans--Philadelphia; Italian immigrants

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

00:18:24 - Changes in labor policies after World War I

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Partial Transcript: And how long did they--when did they start to disappear, tail out?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses how the Stetson factory and policies began to change after WWI. He discusses mechanization of the factory as well as the implementation of a coupon system for monitoring job efficiency.

Keywords: Bedeux System; Efficiency agents; Factory work; Foreman; Mechanization; Modernization; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Employment; Technological innovations; World War, 1914-1918

00:22:38 - Religious services at Stetson

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Partial Transcript: Stetson's was a pretty, uh, uh, I would say the--uh, high morals.

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses religion at Stetson and the Tuesday noonday service that took place during the lunch break at the factory. He reports that many workers attended the noon day service as means to get an extra 15 minutes of lunch break.

Keywords: Catholics; Church services; Corporate paternalism; Factory work; Italian Americans--Philadelphia; John B. Stetson Mission Sunday School; Protestant work ethic; Stetson Hat Company; Tuesday Noonday Service

Subjects: Churches; Employment; Religion

00:24:54 - Stetson Christmas parties in the 1920s

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Partial Transcript: Um, I guess at the heart of the whole Stetson program, or at least at--symbolically, was the Christmas parties.

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses a Stetson Christmas party during the 1920s including a gathering of employees in the auditorium, presentations where management made financial reports, the president spoke, and then they distributed Christmas bonuses. Some employees received building and loan shares, stock shares, and pocket watches. He then explains how the company distributed Christmas bonuses based on department pay line positions, giving hats, turkeys, Whitman's candies, and gloves based on gender and marital status. Employees really looked forward to the bonuses as they needed the financial assistance.

Keywords: Christmas bonuses; Christmas party; Corporate paternalism; Factory work; Finances; Stetson Hat Company; Whitman's candies

Subjects: Christmas; Economics.; Employment; Holidays

00:30:22 - The absolute power of the foremen before unionization

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Partial Transcript: Can you, can you rattle off some of your major likes and dislikes?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses the absolute power of his foreman and reveals that his biggest complaint about working at Stetson was that the foreman had absolute power before the unions. He recalls the foreman sending him home for disciplinary reasons, but then notified Rudolph that he didn't lose any pay. He ultimately considers the foreman as "fair and square."

Keywords: Factory work; Foremen; Stetson Hat Company; Stetson factory

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:33:14 - Stetson after the "efficiency system"

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Partial Transcript: I'll ask you about the union in a minute.

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph explains how the efficiency experts set quotas and in other ways changed work at the factory. He discusses how he understood the purpose of the quotas despite the workers' dislike of the efficiency experts. He also explains some of the newly implemented rigid restrictions on workers and punishments for lateness.

Keywords: 1929 stock market crash; Efficiency systems; Factory quotas; Factory work; Great Depression; Scientific management; Stetson Hat Company; Taylorism

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Labor disputes

00:39:57 - The impact of seasonal work at Stetson

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Partial Transcript: Was work seasonal at Stetson's?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses how seasonal work at Stetson led to long seasons of unemployment and how workers supplemented their incomes by running hat renovating shops from home or working in other hat factories. Rudolph got into other work during the off-season such as furniture canvasing and sign painting. He also shares how his mother and wife pressured him to keep his job at Stetson despite him wanting to leave.

Keywords: Factory work; John B. Stetson Hat Factory; Seasonal labor; Slack season; Stetson; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Employment

00:48:19 - The impact of the Great Depression on the Stetson Hat Company as well as fashions for hat wearing

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Partial Transcript: How did the, the Depression affect Stetson's?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses the impact of the Great Depression on Stetson and the emergence of "hatlessness." He explains that this trend hurt many Stetson workers so badly that the union, as well as the company, often refused to do business with those not wearing hats. Rudolph estimates Stetson went from 6000 employees to 450 over a period of 35 years.

Keywords: 1929 stock market crash; Great Depression; Hat unions; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Depressions--1929; Employment; Fashion.; Labor unions

00:51:36 - On the arrival and impact of unionization after 1945

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Partial Transcript: How did, um--what brought in the union to Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph explains that the union came in 1945 due to the lack of rights and privileges of workers at Stetson and the absolute power of the foreman. He discusses some of the changes that the union brought such as paid vacations, insurance, and raises. He also recalls three workers' strikes at Stetson. Rudolph also discusses where the seasons of unemployment fell throughout the year.

Keywords: Factory work; Hat unions; Stetson Hat Company; Stetson Hat Factory

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:59:32 - Memories of practical jokes among Stetson workers

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Partial Transcript: It was a lot, lot of fun. I mean, we had, uh, a lot of nice guys there.

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph discusses three comical memories of workers at the Stetson factory. They would play tricks on a specific gullible worker.

Keywords: Factory work; Industrial workers; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Employment

01:08:49 - Teenage workers, Stetson's apprenticeship system, and lifelong friends

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Partial Transcript: When you started there, were there many kids working in Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph shares that there were many teenage workers in every department at Stetson. He talks about how workers over the age of 21 could not start an apprenticeship, which was required for finisher, flanger, or sizer. He then says that he and a group of young friends hung out together socially outside the work hours, throwing parties and picnics. These friends kept in touch for many years, and at the time of the interview Rudolph was the only of those men still living. He attributes his longevity to a lack of worrying and keeping active.

Keywords: Apprenticeships; Factory work; Hat craft; Hat production; Stetson Hat Company; Teenage workers; Young workers

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Friendship.

01:14:19 - Beer, breweries, and Prohibition

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Partial Transcript: What was the best beer in Philadelphia when you were a young man?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph recalls beers and the many breweries in Philadelphia, including Ortieb's, Schmidt's, and Gretz. He notes that many people did not like Prohibition, and resorted to making their own alcohol. Gretz's brewery was located right near Stetsons. He says that he does not remember much underage drinking and that liquor regulations were very strict and respected.

Keywords: Alcohol; Beer; Brett's; Brewery; Eighteenth Amendment; Germantown Avenue & Oxford Street; Henry F. Ortlieb Brewing Company (Ortieb's); Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company; Manayunk (Philadelphia neighborhood); Ortlieb's Brewery; Rieger & Gretz Brewing Company; Shems; Underage drinking

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Crime.; Distillation; Distilling, illicit; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Prohibition

GPS: Ortlieb's Brewery
Map Coordinates: 39.96455,-75.142475
01:19:37 - 1920s Philadelphia politics and suffrage

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Partial Transcript: Were you ever active in politics, Herb?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph shares that he was never active in politics but once worked at the polls for $10. He says that he never experienced but did hear, many times, that people were paid to vote. At 19, Rudolph was too young to care about women's suffrage.

Keywords: Democratic Party; Poll working; Republican Party (Philadelphia); Suffrage; Voting; Women's suffrage

Subjects: Democratic Party (Pa.); Democratic Party (U.S.); Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Politics and government; Republican Party (Pa.); Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- ); Women's rights

01:23:46 - Final reflections on his years at Stetson

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Partial Transcript: So all in all then, how would you, uh, how would you assess your--you worked at Stetson 50 years?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph explains that he would not work at Stetson again because he did not gain much from it. The hat business limited him because he could only work at Stetson or a smaller factory. He wishes that he had gone into another business so that he had more job opportunities and shares how many Stetson workers accumulated a lot of debt during their off periods.

Keywords: Debts; Factory work; Finance; Job restrictions; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Economics.; Employment

01:28:01 - The Stetson baseball games and the Brooklyn Royal Giants

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember the industrial sports leagues, soccer or baseball?

Segment Synopsis: Rudolph recalls seeing the Stetson baseball team on Saturdays even before he started working for the company. He lists other teams, including the Brooklyn Royal Giants, which attracted a large crowd because they were a rare African American team.

Keywords: African American baseball teams; Brooklyn Royal Giants; Disston; Industrial sports leagues; Parkesburg Iron Company baseball team; Stetson baseball team

Subjects: African American baseball players; Baseball; Employment; Recreation