THE WAGE EARNERS
INDUSTRIAL PROCESSES, revolutionized by the harnessing of water and steam, wrought transformations in our society whose ends are not yet in sight. Inexorably, with the advent of the factory system the geography of America was altered, and American life in its moods and its ideals underwent a profound change. Drab factories with their clusters of squalid tenements destroyed the serenity of the American countryside; shattered, too, was Jefferson's idyllic agrarian dream.
The promise of America -- advancement and riches -- was there for those of ambition and enterprise who would seize it. Especially was this true in Pennsylvania in the first half of the nineteenth century. Mills and factories grew in size and variety. Artisans, mechanics, and laborers of all kinds were in great demand throughout most of this period.
The mushrooming mining community of Pottsville, situated on the headwaters of the Schuylkill, suffered from a chronic shortage of labor. Men of all trades "may find constant employment and good wages" in this booming coal town, asserted the Miner's Journal.1 Skilled artisans were urged to migrate here, but the greatest appeal was addressed to the common laborers who were wanted at the mine pits. As many as a thousand laborers were called for at one time, but fifty to one hundred was the usual number.2 One mine operator near Norristown, obviously hardpressed for hands, made the enticing offer of an eight hour work day and twenty dollars a month in wages to those who would apply at his pits.3
But no other industry could match the demands for labor created by the transportation projects undertaken both under public and private auspices. Not hundreds but thousands of day laborers were needed for the construction of the Pennsylvania canal. In 1828, the Schamokin Canal Boat advertised for 7,000 day laborers. "There is work to be had for the entire year," this paper declared, "and good wages, in cash, are____________________