From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 16RESOLUTION TO INVESTIGATE A CIGAR FACTORY
March 1, 1880
The city council had approved an ordinance for the regulation and inspection of factories and workshops on October 30, 1879. Work places were to be clean and well-ventilated. Machines and molten metal vats were to have protective guards. Fire escapes were required for buildings of two stories or more. The Commissioner of Health was charged with inspections and he was empowered to levy fines of $50 to $200 for each offense.
According to the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1881 cigarmakers earned an average annual wage of $300. This compared to $800 for a bookkeeper, $300 for a harnessmaker, and $200 for a laborer. Cigarmakers were skilled workers until 1883 when Oscar Hammerstein patented the first practical cigar-rolling machine.
The council acted favorable on this resolution. The health commissioner made an inspection and observed no violations. In his report he found that the premises were clean and well-ventilated and that the water closet, sink and waste pipe were in good working order. The shop actually measured 30' x 36'. Only one past employee had died of consumption and he had contracted the disease before going to work there. Also his death had been hastened by his own habit of inordinate smoking.
Points to Consider
Describe working conditions at this cigar factory. How much floor space did each worker have?
Which kinds of diseases constituted consumption?
What degree of skill did a cigarmaker have in 1880?
Why were city officials responsible for the healthfulness of private work places?