In this post I describe the employment of some of my ancestors and relatives in the Johnson and Moseley family between 1900 and the beginning of World War II. During this time period they were all living in New York state. The information provided here comes from research I have done into my family history and from conversations with my parents in the 1960s.
The lives of my family during this period were heavily influenced by two major world events:
- World War I, from July 1914 to November 1918
- The Great Depression. from 1929 to 1939
A major fact about employment during this era is that very few women had jobs, so in the comments below none of my female relatives are mentioned. Some did work on a temporary basis outside the home, however; for example, before she was married my mother Lillian was a checker at the A&P grocery store, and my grandmother Eva baked and sold pies during the Great Depression.
The Johnsons and Robbins (my father’s family)
Alfred Johnson (my paternal grandfather)
My grandpa Alfred’s major career was as a machinist, but he tried out various other occupations along the way.
For example, the early 1920s, Alfred worked on a farm in South Dorchester (now Malahide), Elgin, Ontario, Canada. My Aunt Evelyn was born in Canada in 1922, and by 1923 the Johnson family returned to Tonawanda, and Alfred went back to work as a machinist. In 1927 he opened a hotdog stand, and in 1929 he bought a gas station.
In 1930 he worked again as a machinist at the Auto Wheel Coaster company, and by1932 (my father’s first year of high school) he declared bankruptcy. In 1933 Alfred got a job as a machinist at Spaulding Fibre and as late as 1940 he was still there.
Harold Johnson (my father)
My father graduated from high school in 1936, right in the middle of the Depression. He had done well in school, but his only option after graduation was to go to work. He became an apprentice machinist at Spaulding Fibre company in Tonawanda, New York. By 1940 he had risen to be a lathe hand at the same company, and eventually rose to become a tool and die maker. He was proud that he “could operate all the machines in the shop.”
Kenneth Johnson (my paternal uncle)
In 1933 my uncle worked as a bartender at Rudzinski’s in North Tonawanda. By 1940 he was a machinist at Spaulding Fibre.
John Robbins (my paternal great-grandfather)
In the early 1900s, John had a farm in Ontario, Canada. By 1920, he had moved to Tonawanda (partially to escape debts in Canada). In the 20s and 30s he worked as a carpenter, a teamster and a millwright at Spaulding Fibre in 1935.
One cannot fail to notice that almost all the men in the Johnson family worked at Spaulding Fibre in Tonawanda at one time or another. It was the largest employer in the Tonawanda Twin Cities area and had up to 3000 employees. It has since been closed and became infamous for being a toxic waste site.
The Moseleys (my mother’s family)
Edward Moseley (my maternal grandfather)
From 1903 to 1907, Edward (who was known as “Shorty” due to his short stature) served in the US Navy, first as a musician (did my mother get her musical talent from him?) and then as a carpenter’s mate. He served on ships during the Philippines Insurrection that followed the Spanish-American War. He was never in combat.
In the 1910s, he worked as a carpenter in Auburn, New York. In the 1920s to the 1940s he worked as a carpenter at Lake Erie Engineering in Tonawanda making shipping crates for hydraulic presses.
William Moseley (my great-grandfather and Edward’s father)
William came to Auburn, New York, from Birmingham, England. He lived and worked in Auburn the rest of his long life. He was over 90 years old when he died in 1952.
In 1900 William was a carpenter. By 1910 he had prospered quite a bit. He had been elected as an Alderman for the city of Auburn and he owned a general contracting business. My mother once said that for a time he had “mucho money.” In November of 1929 his company was awarded a contract to build St Alphonsus Catholic Church in Auburn. Of course this was just a few months into what became the Great Depression. The church was built, but William lost a lot of money doing it.