Killed in the press
The Detroit Electric Machining Room circa 1910
I had no idea how often something like the scene at the beginning of The Detroit Electric Scheme happened in real life. (Not the murder part, just the press "accident" part).
Two men at one talk this winter told me about their experiences, one at a Chrysler plant, the other at a Buick plant. One of the men had to clean out the press after a repairman had been working on the press from the inside and it stamped him. He was completely pulverized. Nothing left but liquids. The other knew a machine operator who had been leaning inside the press and put his hands up on the side of it to lever himself out. His head was still inside when one of his hands hit the switch.
Last night at the Cromaine Public Library, one of the men in attendance said he used to work at Fisher Body, and he told me about the evolution of these press accidents and the attempted solutions by management. He had to clean up after one man was crushed in a press and paid close attention to it from then on.
Initially there was one man at the control (single switch) while four other men would put the metal in the press, align it, and remove it when it had been stamped. When the man at the switch got distracted or hit the button accidentally , any of the four could lose a hand, arm, or head, depending on what they had in the machine at the time.
They went to a two switch system, so the button couldn't be pushed accidentally, but they still had the problem with the distracted operator. Also, machine operators for whom pushing two buttons was too much effort would push in one button and wedge it in place with a toothpick, so he'd just have to push one button to start the press. Additionally, men were losing legs because they would put their leg up to stretch at just the wrong time.
Next came all four men having to stand on certain spots or all hold onto a bar outside the press in order for it to work.
In the meantime, hundreds (thousands?) of men were maimed or killed by these machines. Think of the outcry today if something like that was happening (in this country. I'm sure there are similar problems in sweatshops around the world, but we don't hear about those.)
Life was cheap in the U.S. in those days, particularly when the men were easily replaceable and there wouldn't be publicity problems for the company. It was just the cost of doing business. Of course, the families of those men wouldn't feel the same way.
Did you ever wonder why we call one of the rooms in our homes a "Living Room?" It always seemed strange to me. The room's not alive. Yes, we live in it, but we live in all the other rooms as well. The story behind the name is an interesting one:
Traditionally, when a family member died the family would display the body in the parlor for services. In Detroit in the early Twentieth Century, if you were rich enough or well-connected enough, you could get the Detroit United Railways Funeral Train, via the streetcar rails, to pick up the body at your house to transport it to the cemetery. If you were like most of us, you would have your mortician provide a wagon or carriage to do the job.
But on to the Living Room.
"Professional Mourners" had been around for a long time, but they really became popular in the early 1900's. By 1910, the year in which The Detroit Electric Scheme is set, these "Funeral Parlors" were popping up all over the place. People wanted the bodies out of the house. As the funeral parlors grew in popularity, the word "parlor" became associated with funerals. Since "parlor" was associated with death, a new name caught on for the parlor that was everything "parlor" was not. It was . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . the "Living Room." (This one turned on a light bulb over my head.)