Western Massachusetts was an early and important center of both industrialization and the development of organized labor, and in recent years, it has experienced many of traumatic effects of de-industrialization and economic transformation. The Department of Special Collections and University Archives seeks to document the history of organized labor, the experience of work, and business and industry in New England.
At the heart of the SCUA holdings is a suite of collections documenting the organized labor movement in New England. The official records of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, a large and important collection, is joined by records for trades ranging from clothing and textile workers to carpenters, electrical workers, and granite cutters.
Of particular note is the John W. Bennett Labor History Collection, a large assemblage of labor-related realia and ephemera, including hundreds of badges, pins, watch fobs, lighters, and other artifacts distributed to union members at annual conventions and other union events. The collection is a unique resource for study of the iconography of organized labor and includes items from representative unions and locals ranging from the Knights of Labor in the 1870s to the present. While centered on New England, the Bennett Collection extends nationally.
View our brochure on documenting labor, work, and industry (pdf).
- Organized Labor
- From the records of the Massachusetts State AFL-CIO to the papers of union locals and labor leaders.
- See all Business and industry
- The industrial heritage of New England is represented in collections ranging from the records of the Clement Co., Lamson and Goodnow, and the Northampton Cutlery Company (manufacturers of cutlery), the American Writing Paper Company, the Rodney Hunt Co. (a manufacturer of textile machinery and waterwheels), and Smith and Wesson. The most recent collection is the papers of Sidney Topol, CEO of Scientific-Atlanta, a corporation at the forefront of the growth of cable television in the United States.
- Merchants and mercantile exchange
- Account books and other business records for a number of New England merchants dating back to the eighteenth century, ranging from small scale traders to keepers of rural general stores to shipping merchants trading in the Atlantic economy.
Alfred A. Parker Daybooks, 1877-1889.
Call no.: MS 235
Stove and tinware dealer from Orange, Massachusetts, who also did business in the nearby towns of New Salem and Erving.
Alfred A. Parker’s account books include customers (local residents and Orange businesses such as the Gold Medal Sewing Machine Co., the Orange Manufacturing Co., and the Rodney Hunt Machine Co.), charges for labor (especially soldering), the cost of stoves, pipe, kettles of various sorts, roofing material, and information about shipping costs.
- Freight and freightage--Rates--Massachusetts--History--19th century
- Gold Medal Sewing Machine Company
- Kettles--Prices--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- New Salem (Mass.)--History
- Orange (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
- Orange Manufacturing Company (Orange, Mass.)
- Pipe--Prices--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- Rodney Hunt Machine Company
- Roofing--Prices--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- Solder and soldering--Costs--History--19th century
- Stove industry and trade--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- Stoves--Prices--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- Tinsmithing--Massachusetts--Orange--History--19th century
- Tinsmiths--Massachusetts--Orange--Economic conditions--19th century
- Parker, Alfred A., b. 1822
Types of material
- Account books
Sagendorph Woolen Company Daybook, 1885-1887.
Call no.: MS 430
Daybook contains daily transactions between the Sagendorph Woolen Company of East Brookfield, Massachusetts and other businesses, local residents, and the company’s labor force. These detailed entries present a dynamic picture of the company’s manufacturing operations ranging from the purchase of raw materials to the sales of finished products.
- Carding (textiles)
- East Brookfield (Mass.)--History
- Textile construction processes and techniques
- Textile industry--Massachusetts--History
- Textile manufacturers--Massachusetts
- Textile materials
- Yarn-making processes and techniques
- Sagendorph Woolen Company
Types of material
American Watch Company Band Engagement Book, 1878-1883.
Call no.: MS 364
Band of musicians who worked at the Waltham Watch Company in Waltham, Massachusetts. Engagement book itemizes engagement dates and locations, and membership (including recent immigrants), and includes information about rehearsals, business meetings, and payment.
- American Watch Company--Employees--Recreation
- American Watch Company--Employees--Social life and customs
- American Watch Company--History
- Brass bands--Massachusetts--Waltham
- Industrial recreation--Massachusetts--Waltham
- Waltham (Mass.)--Social conditions--19th century
- American Watch Company. Band
- South Side Brass Band (Waltham, Mass.)
Types of material
- Appointment books
American Writing Paper Company Records, 1851-1960.
Call no.: MS 062
Paper company based in Holyoke, Massachusetts that at one time controlled 75% of the total United States fine paper output. Records include board of directors’ minutes, by-laws, blueprints, land transactions, merger agreements, and publications. Labor files (1936-1960) comprise the bulk of the collection and include contracts, correspondence, grievances, and negotiations.
- Collective bargaining--Paper industry--Massachusetts--Holyoke
- Holyoke (Mass.)--Economic conditions--19th century
- Holyoke (Mass.)--Economic conditions--20th century
- Labor unions--Massachusetts--Holyoke
- Paper industry workers--Labor unions--Massachusetts
- Paper industry--Massachusetts--Holyoke
- Strikes and lockouts--Paper industry--Massachusetts--Holyoke
- American Writing Paper Company
Types of material
Boston & Albany Railroad Engineering Department Map Collection, 1833-1920.
Call no.: MS 130
The Boston and Albany Railroad was formed between 1867 and 1870 from the merger of three existing lines, the Boston and Worcester (chartered 1831), the Western (1833), and the Castleton and West Stockbridge (1834). The corporation was a primary east-west transit through the Commonwealth, with branches connecting towns including Athol, Ware, North Adams, and Hudson, N.Y.
The nineteen atlases comprising this collection include detailed plans documenting the location and ownership of rights of way, land-takings, and other land transfers to or from the railroad company. Dating from the early years of operation for the corporation to just after the turn of the century, the atlases include maps of predecessor lines (Boston and Worcester Railroad Corporation and Western Rail-Road), as well as the Grand Junction Railway Company (Charlestown, Somerville, Everett, and Chelsea), the Ware River Railroad, and the Chester and Becket Railroad.
- Boston and Albany Railroad Co.--Maps
- Boston and Worcester Railroad Corporation--Maps
- Chester and Becket Railroad--Maps
- Grand Junction Railway Company--Maps
- Real property--Massachusetts--Maps
- Ware River Railroad--Maps
- Western Rail-Road Corporation--Maps
- Boston & Albany Railroad Company. Engineering Department
Types of material
Clement Company Records, 1881-1934.
Call no.: MS 099
A cutlery company in Northampton, Mass., the Clement Company’s records include extensive correspondence files (1881-1934), along with journals and ledgers, payroll accounts, employee information, and other records. The records provide excellent documentation of wages, working conditions, the labor forces, and technological change in the industry, as well as the efforts of local workers to unionize.
- Cutlery trade--Massachusetts
- Clement Company (Northampton, Mass.)
Esleeck Manufacturing Company Records, 1898-1987.
Call no.: MS 505
A manufacturing firm specializing in the production of onion skin paper, the Esleeck Manufacturing Company was established in 1898 as the Monadnock Paper Co. The principal owners, Augustine W. Esleeck and Alfred T. Judd, had worked together with the Valley Paper Mills of Holyoke, Mass., but when striking out on their own, moved to Turners Falls, believing the town to be the ideal location for a mil. Changing their name to Esleeck Manufacturing Co. in 1901, the firm sought to be a good neighbor, using local labor and products from local firms in their manufacturing. After more than 100 years of continuous operation, the company was purchased by Southworth Co. in 2006.
The collection consists chiefly of financial records, but also includes three minute books from 1898-1961 that capture the the company’s early history, as well as a memorial history of the company written by a long-term employee in 1954.
- Paper industry--Massachusetts
- Turners Falls (Mass.)--History
- Esleeck Manufacturing Company
Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike Company Records, 1799.
Call no.: MS 088
Authorized in March 1799, the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike Company constructed a toll road through miles of rough terrain and sparse settlements, connecting Leominster, Athol, Greenfield, and Northfield. Having opened areas to land travel that had previously been accessible only over rivers, the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike ceased operations in 1833 after years of declining revenues.
The collection consists primarily of one volume of records of the directors of the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike, including minutes of meetings, accounts of tolls collected, and drafts of letters.
- Toll roads--Massachusetts
- Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike Company
Fitchburg Railroad Company Account Book, 1884-1887.
Call no.: MS 181 bd
Incorporated in 1842 and running from Boston to Fitchburg, the Fitchburg Railroad Company built a railroad line across northern Massachusetts leading to and through the Hoosac Tunnel, and later into Vermont and New York. The railroad was leased to Boston and Maine in 1900, and the two companies merged in 1919.
- Railroad companies--United States--History--19th century
- Fitchburg Railroad Company