Collecting full pay took some doing
|Ingram-Kennedy-Mason Lumber Company issued scrip to its workers which was redeemable in merchandise. Later a LaCrosse judge ruled the scrip was illegal, bu t this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.|
Larson was killed in the woods while working for Knapp, Stout and Co. Company.
Since he had contacted with the firm for $20 a month, he would be cut $4 a month if he left the woods early.
So at his death, his wages were docked 20 percent for not working his full time. His widow received no other compensation and was forced to return to Norway.
Poor treatment was rule
treatment of workers was the rule rather than the exception during the lumbering
era. Workers often did not receive their full share of wages because of tactics
In some instances, delaying payment may have been justified because some mill owners and lumbermen did not have the funds until later in the fall when the lumber was sold.
However, in some cases lumber barons were able to use wages withheld from workmen for personal gain.
In early days the slogan "I owe my soul to the company store" couldn't have been more truthful.
Mill owner had it all
places mill owners owned the stores, newspaper, grinding mill and controlled
many facets of life of the worker and his family.
Conditions such as these continued into the 20th century where at Tony, the John Hein Lumber Company had its own money, called "hoodlum" by the workers. It was made of aluminum in the form of tokens.
Hein who named the town after one of his sons, Tony, owned the store, boarding house, saloon and big opera house in addition to the mill.
Since all the industry and business was owned by Hein, money had to be spent there. The only time the worker could obtain U. S. currency was when he wanted to quit and move from the town.
Issued own money
|Knapp, Stout and Co. Company wages, payable only at the end of the season's work in the woods, came to workers in the form of scrip redeemable at company stores. The Knapp, Stout scrip was engraved in black, green and gold.|
millowners paid employes in scrip and it could only be redeemed at company-owned
businesses. One firm was Ingram-Kennedy in Eau Claire.
By requiring employes to do business at the company store, lumber barons realized a profit on consumption as well as production of workers. These stores also did business with the public.
Several of them in the 1860s and 1870s were the biggest business centers in many of the communities, with some having sales in Eau Claire as high as $200,000 a year.
Some owners built boarding houses and cottages to rent to employes and their families.
Because of some of the conditions caused by salaries there was a tremendous turnover in names listed on carious company rosters of men working in the woods from one year to the next.
of these were Norwegian and German immigrants who accepted the conditions just
long enough to establish themselves in agriculture by purchasing some of the
cut-over land. In some cases, they homesteaded other land and sold logs to
lumbermen as they cleared the land.
A number of historians writing on the lumbering era noted that Daniel Shaw was one of the most ethical mill owners when it came to dealing with his employes and also with individuals who sold logs.
One of the reasons for mill owners to become involved in operating stores was because the mills came before merchants moved into the lumbering towns and there was a need for this service, and they were the only ones able to obtain supplies.
Transportation a factor
was little transportation other than keelboats to bring in meat, vegetables and
flour along with feed for the livestock needed at lumbering camps.
However, lumber mill stores, by delaying workers pay until fall, made it tough on small merchants to make a profit because they could not provide credit for workers and their families from fall until the following year. Thus, these new merchants could not make large wholesale purchases on credit from other major suppliers as mill owners did.
"Slow paper" was the term workers used for company payment, meaning they could not collect their wages until logs were sold for lumber well after the spring breakup.
Time checks and due bills were other means of payment.
Lumbermen went into the woods broke from the previous year. In some ways it was good they didn't get paid each month during the winter because it kept them on the job and prevented them from drinking or gambling away their pay.
Others would buy up paper
did prevent them from buying anything after leaving the woods in the spring.
But if a lumberman wanted money, he could sometimes find a saloon keeper,
company store manager or bank or someone else to buy his due bill at a discount
of 10 to 35 percent. The buyer would then wait until the fall and collect 100
percent on the due bill, realizing good profit.
According to some, by 1870 it became a general fact that the most prosperous mill owners discounted their due bills in spring at 25 percent.
N. C. Foster, an early local railroad builder in Clark, Jackson, Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties, had it published as a condition of employment that employes make their purchases at his store. Inside the passbook it read in part "I pay your wages, I expect you to do business at my store."
The only advance the workers got was to pay rent and doctor bills.
Court rules scrip legal
1875, a judge at La Crosse said it was illegal for companies to pay employes in
scrip because the companies did not have authority to issue currency. However,
five years later the Supreme Court ruled scrip was legal.
The only recouse the law allowed was for the worker to put a lien on logs he had helped produce. But there was so much "red tape" connected with this procedure that not many workers were willing to follow through.
Weather was an important factor in life of the worker and his family. For instance, when few logs were cut in the woods and few to be sawed, the mills closed early.
In one letter in the 1870s it was written: "I will tell you privately that with flour at $4.50 per 100 pounds and potatoes at $1 a bushel and no mill whistles in the morning, it is not the brightest prospect for the laboring community in Eau Claire" a corespondent for the Mississippi Valley Lumberman and Manufacturer wrote.
Wages paid workers varied with the labor supply and market for lumber.
Civil War affects pay
was from $12 to $25 a month for various jobs around 1860. During the Civil War
pay jumped to $3 and $4 a day including room and board while working in the
woods, on drives or rafting. After the war, wages dropped back to around $26 a
Foreman were paid the most and a good cook commanded nearly as much. There is one old lumber camp saying, "if you have a bad cook you need two crews, one leaving and one coming."
In the mills a sawyer was paid $2.50 a day, and engineer $3 to $3.50 a day and a common labor $2 a day.
Early log drivers received from $3 to $5 a day, but the wages were lower when supply of labor became larger.
During the 1880s, salaries fell to about $26 a month, or about $1.25 a day, because of the surplus of labor and poor log drives
Workman's society fails
|The first hospital insurance policies issued in this area probably came from the Sisters of St. Francis who offered insurance protection for the logger and his family for $7.50 a year.|
were several efforts to organize a workman's benefit and protection society
around the 1880s, but these efforts failed until a few years later when the
Knights of Labor organization started to make inroads across the country.
Some hospitals in the 1890 to 1910 period issued insurance policies for workers and their families. As late as 1905 Sacred Heart Hospital, Eau Claire and St. Joseph's in Chippewa Falls issued a policy for medicine and care for $7.50 a year. It was good in any hospital run by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.
Work in the woods was dangerous and medical attention often inadequate for serious injuries or illness. Many men were single with no relatives. Often these men ended up in a boarding house and some in poor houses.
Conditions in the mills were not the best as some owners did not provide necessary safety guards for saws and other equipment. A number of men were injured and some killed in boiler accidents.
The state government stepped in around 1885 and made certain safety regulations mandatory, but mill owners won more suits than they lost in claims.
While it is true mill owners risked the capital investment that created jobs for the workers, it was the latter's lives that were risked. The men worked 11 and 12 hour days for less than $30 a month, enabling many of the mill owners to become wealthy.
Around 1885 there were a reported 14 men in Eau Claire who had amassed more than $100,000. These were the days when a mansion could be built for $5,000.
One, Joseph G. Thorp, in 1880 traveled in Europe and built a $50,000 home in the East, in addition to having homes in Eau Claire and Madison.
- Arnie Hoffman
Extracted from the Eau
Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.