Dangerous Occupations

If it were not for the U.S. Census, information about the work history of the Elcik family would be scarce. There are no family documents to shed light on this. Fortunately, the U.S. Census identifies the occupations of Elcik’s between 1910 and 1940 as follows:

  • John Elsik, Sr., Washer, Woolen Mills
  • Joseph Elcik, Washer, Woolen Mills
  • Michael Elcik, Stripper, Woolen Mills
  • Paul Elcik, Jr. Finisher, Woolen Mills
  • Mary Elcik, Carder, Woolen Mills
  • Paul J. Elcik, Sr., Gigger
  • Paul J. Elcik, Jr., Shear Tender

These were difficult and dangerous jobs. Take Mary’s work as a carder, for example. In woolen mills, carding machines process loose wool fibers through several rollers with various metal teeth sizes. Clothing, hair, or extremities could be caught in the rollers and became hazardous. Medical records reveal that accidents and diseases were common in the mills.

In the early 1900s, textile millwork was hazardous. There were reports that every year thousands of people were treated for wounds caused by machines. Child labor was not uncommon, and there were no government agencies to shelter them from the dangers. Millwork was a wrenching change from farm life our ancestors knew. In agriculture, the family worked cooperatively to achieve a common goal. They worked hard, but they had more control over the pace of work. In the mills, families labored for bosses who drove them hard for 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. The factories were noisy, hot, and dangerous.

While Elcik’s primarily worked in the Woolen Mills, they also had a presence in Maine’s growing pulp and paper economy. Maine became an international leader in pulp and paper manufacturing in the 1900s. John Elcik, Jr. worked for 40 years in paper mills, and other family members, including Norman Gamache and Mark Elcik, also worked at the paper mills. Even my father briefly worked at the Pejepscot Paper Mill before joining and making a career out of the U.S. Navy.