Working in Paterson

About This Collection

Jump to:

Working in Paterson is based on the American Folklife Center's Working in Paterson Folklife Project (AFC 1995/028), a four-month study of occupational culture in Paterson, New Jersey, the nation's first planned industrial center, in 1994. The study was part of the federal Urban History Initiative (UHI) program sponsored in Congress by U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and administered by the National Park Service Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. The study focused on the ways in which community life and values are shaped by work and how the theme of work intersects with other themes, namely family, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood, and change over time.

Folklife specialist David Taylor from the American Folklife Center directed the study. He and members of his research team interviewed active and retired workers in the textile and other important local industries, photographed workers and work-related events, and documented other aspects of Paterson's occupational heritage. In addition to Taylor, the research team consisted of documentary photographer Martha Cooper and folklorists Tom Carroll (a native of Paterson), Susan Levitas, Timothy Lloyd, and Robert McCarl.

Lautenberg and Taylor
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and David Taylor, director of the "Working in Paterson" field project, examine photographs of textile, garment, and other workers taken in Paterson in 1994. Photo by James Hardin. (Library of Congress, American Folklife Center Archive of Folk Culture, Reproduction Number: 2-74108-16A).

The themes that emerge from the field project are continuity and change of manufacturing over time; the manufacturing process; the industrial landscape; trade unionism; work and ethnicity; work in the African-American community; the ethnography of a single work place (Watson Machine International); a distinctive food tradition; a farmers' market; businesses run by Italian, Hispanic, and Arab Americans; and work, family, and home.

The resulting collection consists of approximately 97 hours of recorded interviews (87 cassette and digital audio tapes) with people in their homes and places of work; 6,192 still photographs (3,420 35-mm color slides and 2,772 black-and-white images) documenting informants, work processes, work sites, industrial and commercial architecture, and other visible elements of occupational culture, including historic photos, documents, and memorabilia; and 1,004 manuscript pages of documentation, including 387 pages of audiotape catalogs, 303 pages of photograph catalogs, and 314 pages of fieldnotes, in addition to administrative correspondence, maps, publications, and ephemera. These materials constitute the primary archival collection, which is available to researchers in the American Folklife Center's Folklife Reading Room at the Library of Congress. A secondary or duplicate archival collection was created by the Center at the request of the National Park Service. With the notable exception of one-of-a-kind items, such as black-and-white negatives and original color slides, this collection duplicates the primary collection. The Center will present the duplicate collection to the National Park Service which will, in turn, present it to a public educational facility (such as a museum or library) in Paterson, where it will be accessible to residents of the city and others who are interested in Paterson's occupational heritage.

This online presentation provides access to digital audio files for approximately 500 interview excerpts, 3,800 photographs, four articles about the field research project previously printed in Folklife Center News, and edited versions of two reports from Working in Paterson: A Survey of Occupational Culture in Paterson, New Jersey, with Recommendations for Public Programming. A Report Submitted to the Chesapeake System Support Office, National Park Service. Relevant information from the audio and photograph catalogs form the basis of the bibliographic records for individual items.

map of New Jersey
Map of New Jersey. Information was drawn from MapArt Geopolitical Deluxe CD-ROM by Cartesia Software (Copyright 1998). Map information was modified for illustration purposes.


The Field Research Team

Tom Carroll is a folklorist and consultant who conducts community-based research for a variety of cultural organizations in the eastern United States. He lives in Pittsburgh.

Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer living in New York City.

Susan Levitas is a folklorist and film maker living in New Orleans.

Timothy Lloyd is the Executive Director of the American Folklore Society. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Robert S. McCarl, III, is associate professor of anthropology at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.

David A. Taylor is a folklife specialist and head of acquisitions at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Glossary of Specialized Terms

Bobbin boy
A worker in a throwing plant who takes yarn from the bale and brings it to the person who soaks it in a solution.
A machine that takes single strands of wire, draws them inside the machine, and then twists them together to form a cable or electrical wire. A Kinrei buncher is a buncher manufactured in Japan by the Kinrei Corporation and then customized by Watson Machine to fit domestic requirements.
The process of putting the pattern into the harness of a loom; there are different kinds of patterns, from plain to fancy.
Floor boy
A person in a weaving plant who cleans the floor and helps other workers with menial work.
The many ways in which food and the activities encompassing its production distribution, preparation, serving, and consumption, become culturally meaningful and expressive.
Hot Texas Wiener
An all-beef hot dog "blanched" or par-cooked in 350-degree vegetable oil in a fry basket for a few minutes; cooked by another hot vegetable-oil bath in a tilted metal pan until done, and then placed in a bun; topped (in strict order) with a spicy, ballpark-style mustard; chopped onions; and a chili sauce containing ground beef, tomatoes, more onion, and a "secret" blend of spices including cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, and cumin.
A device for guiding a tool or holding machine parts in place during assembly.
Lead man
The person in charge of workers assigned to a specific task, or in charge of a whole shift of workers.
A small town in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.
People with ties to Montescaglioso.
A device used to reel in completed cable as it comes off a buncher or strander. Horizontal pay-off machines pay out wire or cable at a synchronized rate so that the individual wires can then be twisted and combined using a take-up machine like a buncher or a strander.
San Rocco do Montescaglioso
A social club for people from Montescaglioso. Each year the club hosts the Festa San Rocco, a religious parade celebrating the saint's day for San Rocco, which begins at St. Anthony's Catholic Church and finishes at the club.
A machine, loaded with spools of wire, that twists strands together to form a cable or electrical wire.
A device used to support spools of wire being supplied to a buncher.
Throwing plant
A plant that processes raw silk, then winds it on bobbins according to manufacturer's specifications.
Traverse screw
A device used to guide a jig that lays wire down evenly as it is taken up on a reel or spool.
Twining machines
Devices that take several strands of twine and twist them together to form ropes.
A worker who ties together the threads of a new warp and an old warp on a loom. Speed and accuracy are important. On average, a warp has about ten thousand threads or "ends"; twisting a warp this size takes an experienced twister between three and four hours.
A worker who prepares and arranges individual yarn threads ("ends") that become the warp of a woven fabric. A central part of a warper's work is laying thousands of yarn threads down in parallel order on a large cylinder called a beam.