The Battle of the Scissors – Union Strife in Baltimore’s Garment Industry


Archaeological work done in advance of the Federal Reserve Bank construction in Baltimore in 1980 yielded the usual array of filled privies, wells and cellar holes. But under Barre Street, archaeologists discovered a twenty-foot long section of drainpipe containing thousands of early twentieth-century artifacts concreted into a solid mass filling the bottom half the pipe (McCarthy and Basalik 1980). A little documentary research revealed that the contents of the pipe were associated with a Chinese-owned commercial laundry located nearby.

Figure 1.  Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

Figure 1. Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

In addition to thousands of straight pins, buttons, safety pins, coins, pieces of jewelry and other clothing-related items from the pipe, the pipe contained an oval copper alloy disk stamped “B.C. & F. Co. 2050”. This item served as a worker identification tag or as a tool check tag. Tool checks were used by factory workers to requisition tools; each tag bore the worker’s identification number. If the tool had not been returned at the end of the day, the number would be used to track down the missing tool to the employee who had checked it out. A New Jersey newspaper advertisement from 1908 revealed that “B. C. & F.” were the initials of The Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company (Red Bank Register 1908), a firm that, in accordance with garment trade industry standards, produced men’s suits, trousers, sport coats, and overcoats, as well as men’s pajamas, hosiery, ties, underwear and shirts (Kahn 1989:xiii). Continue reading