Although the lure of successful farming brought many settlers to town, J. B. Grinnell had another reason for choosing this particular spot to found Grinnell: he had word that railroads would pass through this territory, bringing with them new jobs as well as excellent connections for Grinnell's residents and nascent businesses. Of course, the railroads did come—the first train reached town in 1863—and they brought with them numerous jobs. The 1870 Grinnell census counted 35 railroad employees as well as a railroad ticket agent and four men involved in railroad construction. Over subsequent decades the railroads also brought new settlers to town, encouraging the growth of Grinnell.
|Photograph of the First Train to Arrive in Grinnell, June 1863|
Drake Community Library Local History Archive, McNally Photographs, Collection #1, Series #1-3 (Digital Grinnell)
|Horse-drawn Buggies at Service at Original Congregational Church (Before 1877)|
Drake Community Library Archives, McNally Photographs, Collection #1, Series #1-3 (Digital Grinnell)
|Undated photograph of McNally's Meat Market, 915 Main St., Grinnell|
Drake Community Library Local History Archive (Digital Grinnell)
|Interior of Bailey-Rinefort Hardware Store, 914-916 Main Street, Grinnell (ca. 1902) |
Drake Community Library Local History Archive (Digital Grinnell)
|1881 Photograph of Alta Ingersoll Matteson (1829-1899) who "kept house" for her husband & family at 5th and West|
Grinnell Historical Museum (Digital Grinnell)
By 1940 Grinnell's population had reached 5219, more than three times the size of the 1870 town. More important than the change in size, however, were changes in technology and therefore changes in what constituted work. Traces of occupations known to the 1870 census remained in 1940. For example, 1940 Grinnell still had blacksmiths (four), a single harness maker, and just one shoemaker. But liveries were no more, and wagon-makers, too, were gone. In their place the 1940 census included all sorts of jobs that had no mention whatsoever in 1870, and demonstrated a reorientation of work—away from artisanal trades and increasingly toward specialized factory work and the sale of manufactured goods. This change, in turn, encouraged a growing professionalization and stratification of labor.
|Undated Photograph of Grinnell Canning Factory, founded in 1912|
Drake Community Library, Local History Archive, McNally photographs. Collection #1, Series #1-3 (Digital Grinnell)
By 1940 manufacturing itself had changed, the assembly line having displaced the artisan-like workshops that had prevailed earlier. Within a single factory one could discover a broad range of specialized tasks, none of which had existed in 1870. In the Morrison-Shults factory, for example, the manufacture of gloves now required numerous specialized jobs. The 1940 census found within the glove factory "cutters," "finishers," "polishers" and "glove liners." There were also stitchers, trimmers, lining sewers, fitters, and those who did hems and fancy stitches. Likewise, the shoe factory, organized on the bones of the old Spaulding works, had jobs with names like cutters, stitchers, eyelet operators, insolers [sic], sanders, rounders, hemmers, sewers, finishers and shoe trimmers. Overseeing all this specialized work were managers and supervisors, differentiated in title and pay from factory labor.
|An undated photograph from the Glove Factory shows male supervisors overseeing women sewers|
(Photographer unknown) Grinnell Historical Museum
|Ben's Tire Shop, 719 4th Avenue (ca. 1950)|
Digital Grinnell/Poweshiek History Preservation Project
|1930s (?) Photograph of Delivery Truck for Grinnell Dairy, 934 Main Street|
Drake Community Library, Local History Archive, Main Street Slides, p.8, slide 13 (Digital Grinnell)
|White Star Filling Station, Northeast corner of 5th & Main Streets (Opened in 1917; by 1940 known as Hunter's Garage)|
Poweshiek Historic Preservation Project (Digital Grinnell)
|Catherine Haines at Switchboard (ca. 1950)|
(Photographer Unknown; PHPP, Digital Grinnell)
Work in 1940 Grinnell remained highly gendered, although the census reveals that the gender boundaries were breaking down. The category of "keeping house" disappeared from the census, but census-takers did find 45 female housekeepers and another 25 women who did "housework." Eleven women worked as maids; 26 as waitresses (the 1940 city directory identified 15 "restaurants and lunch rooms," another indication of a changed work world), and 33 as "seamstresses," work which brought women's labor increasingly into the cash economy. Industry also helped break down old gender stereotypes: in 1940 at least twenty-seven women reported that they worked as machinists or machine operators, occupations unknown to nineteenth-century Grinnell women.
|1940 Photograph of Ina Sprague (1891-1979), longtime teacher and principal of Davis School|
Grinnell Historical Museum; Roger Preston, Photographer (Digital Grinnell)
|Undated Photograph of Nettie Bayley (1878-1961), Longtime Teacher and Principal of Parker School|
The 1940 census also offers a contrast with 1870 in another way: the Depression and election of Franklin Roosevelt meant that the federal government got into the business of creating jobs. In 1940 27 men worked as laborers for the Works Progress Administration (WPA; later Work Projects Administration). One man told census-takers that he did road work for WPA, but it seems likely that many of the 21 ditch-diggers the census found were also working for WPA. Here, too, however, work-place stratification was visible. One man reported his job as a WPA administrator, for instance, and another man was a WPA foreman.
Women, too, gained wage employment from the WPA, although many of these jobs perpetuated old stereotypes. There was, for instance, a WPA female cook and two WPA housekeepers. Six women were WPA seamstresses, and three were WPA-funded teachers.
|Grinnell boys at work in NYA workshop |
(Pictorial Highlights on the Iowa NYA, Theodor P. Eslick, State Administrator [n.p: Federal Security Agency, n. d.), p. 28.
Census reports cannot fully describe the changes in work over time; inevitably some occupations bleed across these chronological boundaries. But a comparison of 1870 Grinnell jobs with those reported to the 1940 US Census does show an enormous transition over those seventy years. Most work in early Grinnell depended upon the individual: farmers and artisans in the main could control their work space and output, and, like the many day-laborers available to the market, found themselves vulnerable to changes in the larger economy. Work in 1870 Grinnell was also strongly gendered, with most women confined to the domestic sphere, working outside the cash economy. Although the railroad reached Grinnell soon after its founding, most men and women of 1870 Grinnell depended upon horses for most of their travel, which is why small barns or carriage houses (along with outhouses) stood behind so many Grinnell homes.
By 1940 Grinnell was much more closely tied to the world beyond the city limits. One world war had already affected town, and another was imminent. The trains came and went with ever greater frequency, and airplanes had become common sights in the sky. Grinnellians rode trains and planes, but also drove their cars and trucks all across the country. Increasingly automobiles occupied those backyard carriage houses, and outhouses disappeared as indoor plumbing became common. Production processes gave men and women new specialized jobs, and called others into jobs selling factory output. The larger factory labor force gave rise to differentiation within the workplace as managers, supervisors, and directors scaled the ladder. Although the bonds of the domestic sphere remained strong in 1940 Grinnell, the new economy, thirsty for factory hands, drew many women away from the hearth and into the public work force, a trend that World War II would hasten and expand.