New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission

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The General Wage Investigation was carried out by the Commission to provide background information for reports and recommendations regarding wage legislation. Field agents employed by the Commission used standard-form data cards to collect and compile detailed information about the wages and personal history of employees in four representative industries: department stores, shirt and collar factories, paper box factories, and confectionery factories. The field agents interviewed employees and employers and consulted company records to compile the information, which was entered on one or more of twelve card forms. According to Commission records, over 200,000 data cards were filled out. Of these, only about 70,000 remain. Most of the cards contain information relating to New York City area factory employees; relatively few data cards remain from outside the City.

From the description of General Wage Investigation data cards, 1912-1914. (New York State Archives). WorldCat record id: 78001116

The Factory Investigating Commission was established by an act of the legislature in 1911 (Ch. 561) as a reaction to the March 25 fire at a Manhattan shirt factory.

One-hundred forty-five employees of the Triangle Waist Company, mostly women and girls, were killed as a result of the fire. An investigation followed immediately and revealed unsafe and unhealthy conditions in numerous factories, including lack of fire prevention and escapes and inadequate sanitary conditions. The results of this investigation and public pressure following the Triangle fire convinced the legislature that a full-scale investigation was necessary.

The President of the Senate, Speaker of the Assembly, and Governor appointed the nine-member Factory Investigating Commission to study issues related to the health and safety of workers, the condition of the buildings in which they worked, and existing and necessary laws and ordinances.

The Commission hired field workers to conduct inspections of factories throughout the state, and several reports were compiled from the information collected by the agents, including the two main reports on sanitary conditions and the fire hazard. Inspection of sanitary conditions in chemical, food, printing, tobacco, "women's trade" (clothes, paper boxes, etc.), and other establishments revealed inadequacies in ventilation; lighting; washing and toilet facilities; cleaning of work areas; eating facilities; and first aid facilities. The Commission's recommendations included registration of all factories with the Department of Labor, licensing of all food manufacturers, medical examinations of food workers, medical supervision in dangerous trades, and better eating, washing, and toilet facilities.

Investigators of the fire hazard concluded that design flaws in buildings and fire escapes were a major problem, with too few interior stairways and exits and fire escapes which did not allow a quick and safe exit. The investigation resulted in numerous recommendations including an increase in stairwells and exits, installation of fire walls, fireproof construction, prohibition of smoking in the factories, fire extinguishers, alarm systems, and automatic sprinklers.

Other reports summarized investigations of and made recommendations concerning women factory workers, child labor in tenements, and occupational diseases (lead and arsenic poisoning).

The Commission also issued questionnaires to businessmen, professionals, labor leaders, local government officials, engineers, fire department officers, and others asking for suggestions for improving the conditions of and the laws and ordinances regarding manufacturing. The Commission solicited and received from such persons briefs and memoranda concerning the issues under study.

Beginning in October 1911, the Commission conducted public hearings in New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, and Troy, taking testimony from hundreds of city and state officials, manufacturers, labor leaders, and working men, women, and children. Information gathered from these hearings was used along with that collected through field investigations, questionnaires, and correspondence to draw conclusions about the conditions under which manufacturing was carried out and to develop recommendations to improve conditions. The Commission continued to hold hearings on issues under investigation until January 1915.

Members of the Commission met in occasional Executive Sessions to make further plans for the investigation, receive reports of investigators, and agree on recommendations. Several bills recommended to the legislature by the Commission in 1912 were passed as amendments to the Labor Law, including those concerning registration of factories, automatic sprinklers, and other fire safety and health regulations.

In 1912 (Ch. 21) the legislature extended the life of the Commission to January 1913. The Commission continued its investigation of the fire hazard and general sanitary conditions and began several in-depth studies. Investigators looked into child labor, including health and safety questions, schooling, and enforcement of the labor and education laws. Another study concerned night work of women, some of whom were found to have worked as many as 20 hours in a 24-hour period. The Commission also inititated a separate study of hours worked and physical conditions in department stores.

From its study of the deficiencies in the Labor Law, the Commission concluded that the entire law needed reworking and that the Department of Labor should be reorganized. The Commission recommended creation of a Bureau of Inspection to centralize inspection work, a Division of Industrial Hygiene, and a Section of Medical Inspection.

In 1913 a number of the Commission's recommendations became law, including reorganization of the Department of Labor, prohibition of night work for women, and fire prevention, safety, and health regulations.

The Commission was again continued in 1913 (Ch. 137), this time with a new mission: to study wages in all industries and jobs and recommend as to the advisability of establishing minimum wage or other wage legislation. So, in addition to completing a proposed recodification of the Labor Law, studying the fire hazard in stores, and carrying out several smaller studies such as one of prison contract labor in shirt manufacturing, the Commission now undertook its most ambitious project, the General Wage Investigation.

In the summer of 1913 Howard B. Woolston and Albert H. N. Baron were appointed Director and Assistant Director of the investigation. Four weeks were spent in planning the investigation, and the methods and results of other recent wage investigations were studied.

Realizing that a complete study of all industries would be impossible in the time allotted, the Commission decided to study a few industries in depth and to study several others to a limited extent. As a result of the preliminary study of department stores the previous winter, the Commission chose the mercantile industry as one to be studied in depth. The confectionery, paper box, and shirt industries were also chosen because of their large proportion of women workers, low pay, and the large number of workers to be found in relatively few establishments throughout the state (a large number of establishments would make field investigations more difficult). Limited studies were also done on a number of industries including silk mills, sugar refineries, umbrella factories, longshoremen, dress pattern shops, and button factories.

A staff of field agents, statisticians, and tabulators was hired, and the field investigation began September 15, 1913 in New York City. Field agents compiled information on weekly and annual earnings from each firm's records; collected data cards from and interviewed employees for individual background and work data; and interviewed employers for general business information.

The New York City investigation continued through February 15, 1914; when the Commission was authorized to continue its work for another year (Laws of 1914, Chapter 110), field agents began investigation of upstate firms (April 20 - July 11). Once again the Commission sent out questionnaires and letters, this time seeking opinions on minimum wage legislation including recommended types of legislation, how it might be administered, what effects it might have, and what other government action might be taken. The Commission also continued to hold hearings on these issues through January, 1915.

While the main wage study was going on, work was also being completed on revision of the proposed recodification of the Labor Law; study of wage legislation, proposals, and recommendations in other states; and study of duplicated building inspection functions. The Commission's work resulted in the passing of several laws in 1914 including those concerning sanitation and women and children's working hours in stores.

The Commission issued its final report in February 1915. While the wage investigation covered all workers, the findings presented in the report concerned mainly women and minors. The Commission explained that wage legislation for men had generally been declared unconstitutional and that far more women than men received wages low enough to merit protective legislation.

The Commission concluded that many women and minors received too low a wage to maintain a decent standard of living and recommended legislation to create a Wage Commission which would in turn establish Wage Boards to determine the amount of wage necessary for women and minor workers. However, wage legislation was not passed until 1933 (Ch. 584), when the Industrial Commissioner (executive officer of the Department of Labor) was authorized to work with a wage board to fix minimum wage rates where it was deemed necessary. Further legislation in 1937 (Ch. 276) established a Division of Minimum Wage in the Labor Department. These amendments to the Labor Law only specified protection for women and minors, but men were covered under Section 663-a of the Labor Law. A law of 1960 (Chapter 619) repealed the 1937 law and amended the Labor Law to extend wage protection to all workers.

From the description of Factory Investigating Commission Sub-agency History Record. (New York State Archives). WorldCat record id: 83936145

The Factory Investigating Commission was established by an act of the legislature in 1911 (Ch. 561) as a reaction to the March 25 fire at a Manhattan shirt factory.

146 employees of the Triangle Waist Company, mostly women and girls, were killed as a result of the fire. An investigation followed immediately and revealed unsafe and unhealthy conditions in numerous factories, including lack of fire prevention and escapes and inadequate sanitary conditions. The results of this investigation and public pressure following the Triangle fire convinced the legislature that a full-scale investigation was necessary.

The President of the Senate, Speaker of the Assembly, and Governor appointed the nine-member Factory Investigating Commission to study issues related to the health and safety of workers, the condition of the buildings in which they worked, and existing and necessary laws and ordinances.

The Commission hired field workers to conduct inspections of factories throughout the state, and several reports were compiled from the information collected by the agents, including the two main reports on sanitary conditions and the fire hazard. Inspection of sanitary conditions in chemical, food, printing, tobacco, "women's trade" (clothes, paper boxes, etc.), and other establishments revealed inadequacies in ventilation; lighting; washing and toilet facilities; cleaning of work areas; eating facilities; and first aid facilities. The Commission's recommendations included registration of all factories with the Department of Labor, licensing of all food manufacturers, medical examinations of food workers, medical supervision in dangerous trades, and better eating, washing, and toilet facilities.

Investigators of the fire hazard concluded that design flaws in buildings and fire escapes were a major problem, with too few interior stairways and exits and fire escapes which did not allow a quick and safe exit. The investigation resulted in numerous recommendations including an increase in stairwells and exits, installation of fire walls, fireproof construction, prohibition of smoking in the factories, fire extinguishers, alarm systems, and automatic sprinklers.

Other reports summarized investigations of and made recommendations concerning women factory workers, child labor in tenements, and occupational diseases (lead and arsenic poisoning).

The Commission also issued questionnaires to businessmen, professionals, labor leaders, local government officials, engineers, fire department officers, and others asking for suggestions for improving the conditions of and the laws and ordinances regarding manufacturing. The Commission solicited and received from such persons briefs and memoranda concerning the issues under study.

Beginning in October 1911, the Commission conducted public hearings in New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, and Troy, taking testimony from hundreds of city and state officials, manufacturers, labor leaders, and working men, women, and children. Information gathered from these hearings was used along with that collected through field investigations, questionnaires, and correspondence to draw conclusions about the conditions under which manufacturing was carried out and to develop recommendations to improve conditions. The Commission continued to hold hearings on issues under investigation until January 1915.

Members of the Commission met in occasional Executive Sessions to make further plans for the investigation, receive reports of investigators, and agree on recommendations. Several bills recommended to the legislature by the Commission in 1912 were passed as amendments to the Labor Law, including those concerning registration of factories, automatic sprinklers, and other fire safety and health regulations.

In 1912 (Ch. 21) the legislature extended the life of the Commission to January 1913. The Commission continued its investigation of the fire hazard and general sanitary conditions and began several in-depth studies. Investigators looked into child labor, including health and safety questions, schooling, and enforcement of the labor and education laws. Another study concerned night work of women, some of whom were found to have worked as many as 20 hours in a 24-hour period. The Commission also inititated a separate study of hours worked and physical conditions in department stores.

From its study of the deficiencies in the Labor Law, the Commission concluded that the entire law needed reworking and that the Department of Labor should be reorganized. The Commission recommended creation of a Bureau of Inspection to centralize inspection work, a Division of Industrial Hygiene, and a Section of Medical Inspection.

In 1913 a number of the Commission's recommendations became law, including reorganization of the Department of Labor, prohibition of night work for women, and fire prevention, safety, and health regulations.

The Commission was again continued in 1913 (Ch. 137), this time with a new mission: to study wages in all industries and jobs and recommend as to the advisability of establishing minimum wage or other wage legislation. So, in addition to completing a proposed recodification of the Labor Law, studying the fire hazard in stores, and carrying out several smaller studies such as one of prison contract labor in shirt manufacturing, the Commission now undertook its most ambitious project, the General Wage Investigation.

In the summer of 1913 Howard B. Woolston and Albert H. N. Baron were appointed Director and Assistant Director of the investigation. Four weeks were spent in planning the investigation, and the methods and results of other recent wage investigations were studied.

Realizing that a complete study of all industries would be impossible in the time allotted, the Commission decided to study a few industries in depth and to study several others to a limited extent. As a result of the preliminary study of department stores the previous winter, the Commission chose the mercantile industry as one to be studied in depth. The confectionery, paper box, and shirt industries were also chosen because of their large proportion of women workers, low pay, and the large number of workers to be found in relatively few establishments throughout the state (a large number of establishments would make field investigations more difficult). Limited studies were also done on a number of industries including silk mills, sugar refineries, umbrella factories, longshoremen, dress pattern shops, and button factories.

A staff of field agents, statisticians, and tabulators was hired, and the field investigation began September 15, 1913 in New York City. Field agents compiled information on weekly and annual earnings from each firm's records; collected data cards from and interviewed employees for individual background and work data; and interviewed employers for general business information.

The New York City investigation continued through February 15, 1914; when the Commission was authorized to continue its work for another year (Laws of 1914, Chapter 110), field agents began investigation of upstate firms (April 20 - July 11). Once again the Commission sent out questionnaires and letters, this time seeking opinions on minimum wage legislation including recommended types of legislation, how it might be administered, what effects it might have, and what other government action might be taken. The Commission also continued to hold hearings on these issues through January, 1915.

While the main wage study was going on, work was also being completed on revision of the proposed recodification of the Labor Law; study of wage legislation, proposals, and recommendations in other states; and study of duplicated building inspection functions. The Commission's work resulted in the passing of several laws in 1914 including those concerning sanitation and women and children's working hours in stores.

The Commission issued its final report in February 1915. While the wage investigation covered all workers, the findings presented in the report concerned mainly women and minors. The Commission explained that wage legislation for men had generally been declared unconstitutional and that far more women than men received wages low enough to merit protective legislation.

The Commission concluded that many women and minors received too low a wage to maintain a decent standard of living and recommended legislation to create a Wage Commission which would in turn establish Wage Boards to determine the amount of wage necessary for women and minor workers. However, wage legislation was not passed until 1933 (Ch. 584), when the Industrial Commissioner (executive officer of the Department of Labor) was authorized to work with a wage board to fix minimum wage rates where it was deemed necessary. Further legislation in 1937 (Ch. 276) established a Division of Minimum Wage in the Labor Department. These amendments to the Labor Law only specified protection for women and minors, but men were covered under Section 663-a of the Labor Law. A law of 1960 (Chapter 619) repealed the 1937 law and amended the Labor Law to extend wage protection to all workers.

From the New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY. Agency record NYSV86-A980

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Establishment financial analysis reports for the Wage Investigation, 1912-1913. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Wage legislation opinion files, 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Correspondence of the Commission, 1912-1916, bulk 1913-1915. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Statistical tables compiled for report on wage investigation, 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Proofs of brief supporting the conviction of Jacob Balofsky, 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Glass plate negatives and photographic prints of factory and housing conditions, 1911-1912. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Correspondence, drafts, and printed material related to commission investigation of fire hazards in stores, 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Organizational and planning files concerning advisory committees on the proposed Labor Law recodification, 1907-1914. New York State Archives
referencedIn George Moses Price files and scrapbook, 1883-1952 [bulk 1912-1942]. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Cost of living report, draft and background notes, 1914. New York State Archives
referencedIn Edgett-Burnham Company records, 1854-1930. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Establishment survey assignment cards, 1913-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Press releases concerning Commission hearings or statements, 1914-1915. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Financial records of the commission, 1912-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Questionnaires, drafts, and printed material relating to commission proposals to consolidate building inspection agencies in New York City, 1912-1914, bulk 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Press clippings concerning Commission activities, 1911, 1913-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. General Wage Investigation data cards, 1912-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Correspondence concerning the field investigation in Upstate New York 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Notes and tables for a study on "Dependence and Wages", 1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Charts, graphs, and tables prepared for publication in the Commission's reports, 1913-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Wage investigation planning and research files, 1913-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf Price, George Moses, 1864-1942. George Moses Price files and scrapbook, 1883-1952, bulk 1912-1942. Cornell University Library
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Research files on contract prison labor, 1900-1914. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Factory Investigating Commission Sub-agency History Record. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Background report on Buffalo department stores employees strike, 1913. New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Lists of businesses, occupations, and code numbers used in the Wage Investigation, [ca. 1913-1914] New York State Archives
creatorOf New York (State). Factory Investigating Commission. Staff daily work reports, 1913-1914. New York State Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Edgett-Burnham Company. corporateBody
associatedWith New York (State).bLegislature. corporateBody
associatedWith New York (State). Legislature. corporateBody
associatedWith Price, George Moses, 1864-1942. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (N.Y.)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
Buffalo (N.Y.)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
New York (State)
Subject
Department stores
Factories
Fire prevention--Laws and regulations
Prisons
Department stores--Employees
Labor inspection--Methodology
Housing
Cost accounting
Factories--Inspection
minimum wage
Strikes and lockouts--Retail trade
Labor inspection--Finance
Labor laws and legislation--Trials, litigation, etc
safety regulations
Minimum wage--Legal status, laws, etc
Labor costs
Strikes and lockouts
Labor laws and legislation
Wages--Law and legislation
Labor inspection--Costs
Cost and standard of living
Factory inspection--Costs
Wages
Convict labor
Labor laws and legislation--Planning
Factory inspection--Finance
Fire prevention
Building Law
Labor and laboring classes
Factory inspection--Methodology
Wages--Legal status, laws, etc
Labor inspection
Building inspection
Costs, Industrial
Wages--Surveys
Occupation
Function
Adjudicating
employing
Directing
Business
reporting
Planning
Analyzing
Publicizing
Accounting
investigating
researching

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