Business and Labor

Flashback Video: Leominster Labor Day Parade, 1906

The people of Leominster, Mass., celebrated the 19th national Labor Day in 1906 with a parade down the center of town. (Leominster wouldn’t be a city until 1915.)  President Grover Cleveland had declared the first Labor Day in 1887 after 11 were killed in the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago the previous year. Cleveland was responding to pressure from unions, which had advocated a special day to show support for the labor movement.

In the video above, the camera first shows streets draped with bunting and a decorated grandstand. It then pans to the crowded street, filled with men in hats and women and little girls in light dresses. The parade starts with decorated automobiles, then horse-drawn fire engines, followed by horse-drawn carts and assorted floats.

The Edison Manufacturing Company produced the film. At the time, Thomas Edison merchandised his cameras, kinetoscopes and batteries with such “actualities” — short films of news events, scenic views and people at work and play.

Leominster was a small farming community until the Fitchburg and Worcester Railroad opened in 1850. Factories sprang up along the Monoosnoc Brook and Nashua River, making pianos, paper and combs, combs, combs. By 1903, waves of Irish, French and Italian immigrants swelled Leominster’s population.

Obadiah Hills established the comb industry in 1779 when he started making horn combs in his kitchen.  By 1853, 24 comb factories in Leominster employed 146 people. The invention of celluloid in 1868 revolutionized the industry. Comb-making expanded rapidly in Leominster, which manufactured most of the combs made in America. Leominster became known as Comb City.

Monument Square in Leominster, 1907

Labor Days in Leominster

Workers faced economic uncertainty in Leominster in 1901, according to the Labor and Industrial Chronology of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

That year, the Leominster Shirt Co. shut down indefinitely and the Geo. A. Gane Shirt Co. closed for two weeks. The Richardson Piano Case Co. cut wages and the girls employed by B.F. Blodgett & Co. went on strike on account of the forewoman. Workers at Newton & Merriam went on strike for a wage increase and were replaced by strikebreakers.  Fire destroyed several factories.

On the plus side, some comb and garment factories ran nights, new factories were being built, equipment was being added to old ones and comb-making companies were being formed.

Workers had more to celebrate on Labor Day in 1907. The comb industry was on the upswing. The Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor reported 3,000 horn, celluloid, comb and novelty workers in the Leominster area. Ten comb and novelty companies expanded, incorporated or moved to Leominster in 1907.  Workers also asked for, and got, wage increases.

Many factories gave work to women at home. In 1917, the Labor Bulletin of the Massachusetts Department of Labor reported 14 Leominster factories jobbed out the work of  attaching hairpins to cards and then sticking gummed labels on them. The schedule of what they earned goes as follows:

labor day

This story last updated in 2022.

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