Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Sam Spritz, April 5, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:03 - Living conditions and technology in early 1900s Philadelphia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Huh. Yeah, those are--I--we love her, and encourage her as much as possible.

Segment Synopsis: When Spritz first came to Philadelphia, he lived with his aunt in a row house on 5th and Wharton Street, without a bathroom in the house. He used a privy in the yard and a summer kitchen--a wooden shed with a tin sink that produced freezing cold water in the winter. To take a bath, Spritz heated water in a tub with a coal/wood stove or went to a public bath house. Spritz's first public bath was at 3rd and Queens, which cost 15 cents. He also recalls feeding quarters to metered gas lights during in 1918 Influenza Epidemic.

Keywords: 1918 Influenza Epidemic; 3rd Street and Queen Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 5th Street and Wharton Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Coal stoves; Gas lights; Outdoor privies; Public bathhouses; Row houses; Wood stoves

Subjects: Baths.; Hygiene.; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:03:56 - Gas lighting and stoves

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So did your first house have electricity?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz's first house did not have electricity and instead had gas for lighting and a stove in the kitchen for cooking, which also kept people warm. A mantle made of a fine cloth contained the light of the gas jet and produced and spread light. Spritz had used kerosene lamps in the small town in Russia where he first lived. Spritz recalls having a doctor perform surgery on him by the light of a kerosene lamp when he was 8 years old and had an abscess from Scarlet Fever. His uncle held the lamp while the doctor cut him up without anesthesia as Spritz lied on a table in the living room, and the doctor joked that he was making gefilte fish.

Keywords: Amenities; Gas heat; Gefilte fish; Illness; In-home surgery; Kerosene lamps; Mantle lamp cloth; Scarlet Fever

Subjects: Hygiene.; Medical care; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:05:58 - Trip to America

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When did, um--you were sixteen when you came over to this country?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz came to the United States when he was almost age 16, arriving on August 2, 1913. He started by train from his small town going to Warsaw, Poland. When they got from Warsaw to Berlin, the police put them on a train to an encampment, because the police wanted them to buy their ship tickets from the North German Lloyd (government controlled German shipping company). After purchasing the tickets, the Spritz family went to Bremen (the port of deportation), where they stayed for 3 weeks in barracks and were fed poor food. Once a boat was available--a reconstructed cattle boat--the trip took 12 days for them to get to Halifax, Canada. Then they passed through New York and eventually arrived in Philadelphia, at Vine street and Delaware Avenue.

Keywords: Berlin (Germany); Bremen (Germany); Encampments; North German Lloyd; Port of deportation; Reconstructed cattle boats; Trains; Warsaw (Poland)

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:09:42 - Motivations for immigration

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Hmm. Why, why did you come over? Why did your family come over?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz's father was a professional and highly regarded man in Russia within an illiterate population. His father wanted Spritz to become a doctor and hired a tutor for him until he was ten. Then he was allowed to test into a school, but could only be admitted after ten Christian individuals. Their immigration to America happened because Spritz's father could no longer support his children's educations after his pharmacist business went bad. After reading up on America, the Spritz family liked how democracy and access to education was encouraged. Upon arriving in America, Spritz attended a night school called Baron Hirsch School, located at 10th and Carpenter, which was mainly for Jewish immigrants. Spritz was able to acclimate to the new environment, while his father was not and returned to Russia in 1914, soon before the start of World War I. During the Russian Revolution, Spritz's mother, aunt, and grandmother died from starvation, with the rest of his family killed during the Nazi invasion.

Keywords: Baron Hirsch night schools; Franz Ferdinand; Nazi invasions; Povolzhye famine; Russian famine of 1922

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

00:15:22 - Reason the Spritz family came to Philadelphia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Why did, why did, um, you all come to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz's father immigrated to Philadelphia because he had two sisters living there. According to Spritz, you went where you had somebody to turn to when you didn't know your way around. Spritz said "the worst plight is when you cannot express yourself." The sisters provided a way for the Spritz family to have a connection to America.

Keywords: Chain migration; Family

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:16:27 - Impressions of Philadelphia--Comparison to Russia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Do you remember your first impressions of the city?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz was surprisingly disappointed when he initially came to Philadelphia. Spritz was raised in a country, Czarist Russia, he thought to be behind western civilization by 100 years in terms of technology, and was born and raised in Sudilkov, Russia (now Sudilkov is part of Ukraine). In his small town there were no street lights, no paved streets, and no underwater drainage. To get water to his house, they paid to have water hauled on a man's shoulders, where it was stored in a tank. When Spritz was ten, he moved to Zhytomyr to go to school. He was catapulted into the modern world, where he was impressed with the technology that was being used, and by plays and movies. The movie theaters in America were like stables in comparison. He notes that in 1913, there were still wooden horse-drawn carriages in the Kensington area. While there was no caste system in America, he notes a big gap between the rich and poor.

Keywords: Horse-drawn carriages; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); La Traviata (play); Movie theatres; Sudilkov (Russia); Sudilkov, Russia; Zhytomyr (Russia); Zhytomyr (Ukraine); Zhytomyr, Russia; Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Technological innovations

00:21:17 - Impressions of Philadelphia--The people

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What other initial impressions--what, what things do you remember striking your, your fancy or imagination when you first arrived in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Initially, due to the language barrier, Spritz felt separated from the rest of society. After acclimating, he gravitated to people he thought were interesting. He'd go to Fairmount Park at 52nd and Parkside, where many different people of varying ideologies gave soapbox talks. Spritz became interested in vegetarianism, eating at a vegetarian restaurant at 9th and Market St. He was also an avid reader, recalling how he read "War and Peace" even though he didn't understand it.

Keywords: "Hunger for the dollar"; 52nd and Parkside St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); 9th and Market St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Fairmount Park (Philadelphia, Pa.); Money-centric society; Vegetarian restaurants

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:24:57 - First job, at Tuttleman and Alexander Shirt Factory

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When you first came to the city then, did you start work immediately, or?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz got a job at a shipping room as a spreader at the Tuttleman and Alexander Shirt Factory, getting $5 a week for 60 hours worth of work. After a few months, he moved higher up the chain of command. He asked Mr. Tuttleman for a raise, and Mr. Tuttleman said Spritz wouldn't know what do with more money (he was making $7 a week), so Spritz cursed him and quit. He went to another factory and started off making $16 a week and after a year was making $30 a week.

Keywords: American and Jefferson St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Shipping rooms; Spreaders; Tuttleman and Alexander Shirt Factory

Subjects: Employment; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:28:06 - Non-union working conditions

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Can you describe what that shop was like, that first shop you worked in? What the conditions were like? Do you remember that?

Segment Synopsis: Spritz describes the factory where he worked. In terms of working conditions, Spritz was treated "next to a slave." He worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. He says that to go to school he could not stop home to eat so he walked from 2nd and American to 10th and Carpenter. He asked the foreman to give him time to eat. One time a Polish sweeper couldn't come in, so Spritz and others had to take brooms and sweep. When the end-of-the-workday whistle blew, Spritz dropped the broom and ran home. After that incident, Spritz's boss told him he could no longer go to school. Then Spritz recounts how Alexander and Tuttleman docked workers a penny a minute for tardiness. So one time Spritz came in 15 minutes late, and thought he would have to work 2 hours for nothing. If he was an hour late, he would only get docked for the hour (8 cents), so he decided to wait for the hour to pass.

Keywords: Cutting machines; Lunch breaks; Non-union; Shirt factories; Shirt factory; Working conditions

Subjects: Education; Employment; Labor unions; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:33:24 - Owning a factory at 8th and Arch

Play segment

Partial Transcript: For many many years, I had my own factory.

Segment Synopsis: Spritz recounts that he eventually started his own factory producing women's foundation garments at 121 N. 8th Street. Spritz said that he feels for the underdog, and that he asks his anti-union friends if they would rather be a boss than a working man.

Keywords: Pullman Company union; Women's foundation garments

Subjects: Employment; Labor unions; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:35:33 - Conclusion

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Hello dear. Our friend, my wife.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Spritz ends the interview because she and Mr. Spritz have an appointment for dinner. Spritz tells story about how he promised to do the work of two men and how he used to talk like a salesman.

Keywords: Ginger ale; Salesman; Salesmen

Subjects: Employment