Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/December 1910/Some European Conditions Affecting Emigration

1579471Popular Science Monthly Volume 77 December 1910 — Some European Conditions Affecting Emigration1910Arthur Clinton Boggess




FROM what economic and social conditions do our immigrants from Europe come? This was the question that came to me after reading book after book concerning the immigrant after he has reached America. A diligent gathering from many sources, chiefly official documents, has brought to light many facts of much interest to one who really cares to know the character of the surroundings of those who are thronging our shores. It is the purpose of this article to present some leading conditions in various countries of Europe.


One eighth of our immigrants are Russian Jews. Peculiar and pathetic is the lot of the Jew in Russia. A law of 1769, modified in 1804 and in 1835, requires that all Jews, except certain specified classes, shall reside within the Jewish pale. The pale is a district beginning immediately south of the Baltic provinces, stretching throughout the west and extending over the south as far east as the Don Army Territory. It has an area of about 362,000 square miles, or less than 20 per cent, of European Russia, and only a little over 4 per cent, of the entire Russian empire. Outside the pale may reside, under certain restrictions, merchants of the first guild—i. e., merchants paying a very high business license—professional persons and master artisans. As a matter of fact 93.9 per cent, of all Jews in the empire live in the pale, 4 per cent, live in the remaining part of European Russia and 2.1 per cent, live in Asiatic Russia. Even the place of residence within the pale is limited by a provision of the notorious May laws of 1882, which prohibits the Jews from buying or renting lands outside the limits of cities and incorporated towns. Jews who owned farm lands in 1882 were not dispossessed, but the law operates to preclude any increase in such holdings.

Restriction upon his place of residence is not the only limitation placed upon the Jew in Russia. In the summer of 1887 the minister of instruction was empowered to limit the number of Jewish students to be admitted into the secondary institutions of learning. This limit was defined as 10 per cent, for the institutions located within the pale, 5 per cent, in the remaining cities and only 3 per cent, in the two capital cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The measure was justified as necessary to maintain a more "normal proportion between the number of Jewish and christian students." The result of this was that the classes in many classical and technical high schools remained half empty, for in the cities where the Jews constituted from 50 to 75 per cent, of the population only 10 per cent, of the high-school students could he of Jewish faith. Hundreds of Russian Jews go to Germany and adjacent countries to attend the higher schools, many making great sacrifices to do so. Jews became converted to Mohammedanism, thus obtaining full admission to higher educational establishments. Thereupon the senate declared that although Jews might be converted to Mohammedanism they did not thereby escape the disabilities of Jews. As Jews who become christians do escape these disabilities, the determination seems to be to drive them to be baptized.

Since 1889 no Jew in Russia can be admitted to the bar except by a special permit of the minister of justice in each case. Russia employs an enormous number of government servants, but except in rare cases Jews are debarred from such employment. Five per cent, of government physicians and surgeons may be Jews. Private practise of law or medicine is almost the only professional work open to Jews, and as a result these occupations are so crowded that a living income can scarcely be made.

To work "as a farm laborer is not forbidden, but it is not attractive. Agricultural laborers receive from 25.8 cents per day in sowing time to 77 cents in harvest in southern Russia, and from 12.9 cents to 25.8 cents in northwestern Russia. Board is not furnished by the employer The standard of living can be judged from the fact that the cost of subsistence is officially estimated at from $23.18 to $25.75 per year—somewhat more than 6 cents per day—and that "the regular daily ration of an agricultural laborer consists of about four pounds of bread, which is sometimes supplemented with a cucumber or a few onions." In Russia, especially outside the pale, the greatest poverty is found in the rural districts and the small villages rather than in the cities as in the United States. This is probably due to the general extreme poverty of the peasantry and to the exorbitant taxation. A typical case is that of a man who paid $40 taxes on twelve acres.

Legal restrictions make the Russian Jews swarm in cities, and so overcrowd all occupations open to them that a high standard of living is often wholly impossible in Russia.


Greece furnished the United States with 19,489 immigrants during the year ending June 30, 1906, and with 36,580 during the succeeding year. Greeks in the United States send to their home country about $7,720,000 annually.

Rural life is of pastoral simplicity and manufacturing is largely of the home variety, although some mills exist. The cotton mills at Piræus, the port of Athens, run eleven hours per day and the wages of the operatives, chiefly women and girls, average about 27.5 cents per day. There are few milch cows in Greece. Goats and sheep furnish nearly all of the milk for home consumption and the making of cheese. A few cows are found in Athens, but the price of feed is so high that butter sells at 68.5 cents per pound, cream at $3.27 per gallon and curdled milk at 85.3 cents per gallon.


Economic interest in Hungary centers in the development of manufacturing, especially the manufacturing of textile fabrics.

The act of 1907, which it is hoped will mark the beginning of a new era in Hungarian industry, enables the government to grant subsidies and exemption from taxation to those industries which are considered by the minister of commerce to be worthy of encouragement and desirable from a national economic point of view. Subsidies may be in the form of a lump sum or an annual allowance. The act favors the building of workmen's dwellings and enables the municipal and parish authorities to encourage certain industries by grants of money, etc. It further provides that the state, municipal and parish authorities, the institutions maintained or subventioned by the same, and all enterprises engaged in the service of public traffic shall have their initial requisites supplied and their works carried out by home industry.

About $41,000,000 is thus expended annually. The Hungarian mills are in a new milling district and they must import skilled labor, usually from Austria. They also suffer from the large emigration. About 1,000,000 persons emigrated from Hungary during the eight years ending December 31, 1907. The few Hungarians who return from America are arrogant and discontented. Hungary has 460 apprentice's schools, with 66,030 pupils; twenty-two special industrial schools, with 1,177 pupils, and six industrial schools of higher grade. In a factory town where house rent was from $54 to $58 per year, wages in the factory were as follows: picker hands: men, 40.6 cents per day, women, 30.45 cents; cards, 52.78 cents; card grinder, 80.12 cents; draw frames, 30.45 cents; slubbers, 40.6 cents; mules, one spinner, $1,015, two piecers, 71.05 cents, two boys, 50.75 cents; ring spinning, girls, 24.36 cents to 28.42 cents; reelers, 30.45 cents to 40.6 cents. In a Bohemian knitting, linen, and woolen mill weekly wages ranged from $1.01 to $4.26 for female workers and from $1.01 to $7.10 for males. The working day is ten hours.

The factories have by no means displaced home industry. In some parts of Bohemia more than one fourth of the entire population is engaged in home manufacture. In the Eiesengebirge paper bags and horn or stone buttons are made. Near Reichenau and Gablonz snuffboxes were formerly made. As the use of snuff decreased, the making of cheap oil paintings on wood, tin and linen began. When the market is good the whole family works night and day and makes a living. In the Adlerhills weekly wages of $1 to $1.20 are paid, but lost time brings the average to not more than 80 cents per week. Sometimes husband and wife work alternately eighteen hours a day. Some button makers receive 60 cents per week.

Weavers who make at home silk and Jacquard and art work earn $1.40 to $4 a week. The straw and bast matters earn from 20 to 40 cents a day, but after the "season" the wages are lowered. Wood carvers earn $1.20 to $2.80 a week, and the brush makers at Gabel from $1.60 to $2 a week. The wood carvers at the Wittigtal earn $1.60 to $3.60 a week, and the wood and mat makers at Niemes from $1.20 to $1.60 a week.

People take work home with them from some of the lace factories.

Around perhaps the only table in the only room, in a little house, the family assemble, the man, his wife, the grandparents and children with other members of the family, if there be any. When evening comes on, an oil lamp, a candle, or even chips of wood are the only lights by which they can work. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the finished articles are taken to the factories and paid for.

"It is very hard now," said one of the lace exporters from Neudek the other day, "to get people in summer to make laces. They prefer to go to work in fields or picking hops, for which they get higher wages than by making laces. Children get 8 cents a day at that time and adults from 25 cents to even 40 cents, and of course we can not afford to pay such high wages for lace making."

Austria-Hungary's housing problem becomes acute in her city and factory districts. In 1900, 43 per cent. (592,134 persons) of the inhabitants of Vienna lived in houses of one room, exclusive of kitchen. In E Reichenberg, a decade earlier, 57.5 per cent, of the dwellings, and in the suburbs 79.2 per cent., were without kitchens. In many of these houses the inmates did their manufacturing work. Similar conditions were found throughout the empire. Conditions in Reichenberg have not materially changed since 1890, but lately in other parts of Austria and Hungary a strong movement has set in for the erection of suitable dwellings for the poorer classes. The chief improvements are in the size of rooms, lighting, ventilation and rate of rent rather than in the number of rooms. Many of the model flats have but one room and an attic or one room and a kitchen. In some places tenants are forbidden to take lodgers. The government encourages the building of homes of a certain specified desirable type by exempting the builders from certain forms of taxation. In several cases model houses are rented at such a figure as to yield but 3 per cent, on the investment.


Italy has more than 650 mills for the manufacture of cotton fabrics. By far the larger part are in northern Italy, but the government is trying to increase the number of mills in southern Italy.

To this end land has been offered free of cost for mill sites, taxes will be remitted for ten years, and textile machinery for mills so locating will be admitted free of duty.

Labor is cheaper in the south, but it is also less efficient and mills are there farther from their sources of supply. The number of mills in the south may, however, be expected to increase. Wages in the south range from 29.1 to 38.6 cents per day and in the north from 38.6 to 58 cents. Country mills pay much less than city mills.

The average daily wages paid in a country mill near Milan have gradually increased from 30.9 cents for men and 11.6 cents for women spinners in 1871 to 47.3 cents for men and 36.1 cents for women in 1907, while for weaving the wages have increased from 15.4 cents to 39.6 cents in the same period. The hours of labor have also been decreased from twelve to ten and a half per day. The number of days worked per year is about 290.

Some mills still run eleven hours per day.

Two of the several Italian strikes of 1907 will be described for the sake of their interesting data concerning grievances and wages.

Scanzo (Bergamo).—On March 9 there was initiated a strike at the weaving plant of Carlo Caprotti by 3 men and 198 women weavers making 31 cents a day, 46 girls running cop winders at 16 cents a day, 50 spoolers at 21 cents a day, 12 warpers at 29 cents a day, and 16 drawing-in hands at 35 cents a day. The weavers demanded that the fortnightly minimum requirements be reduced by one piece of cloth, the cop winders, spoolers and warpers asked an increase in wages. Fourteen men remained employed until the fourteenth at 39 cents a day, and 20 boys at 19 cents a day. The strikers, notwithstanding they were not organized, were assisted by the Catholic Society of Labor of Bergamo. They obtained a reduction of the minimum required and also a concession that loom stoppage not by their fault be not counted. The increase of wages will be settled by an arbitrator. The work began again on March 16.

Leghorn.—The firm Cantoni-Coats for the manufacture of sewing thread gives work to 250 men at 58 cents and to 950 women at 23 cents per eleven-hour day. The firm wishing to introduce in the several branches "lustraggio and tavelle" (glazing and roughing), a system of labor that meant a reduction of wages, the whole body of operatives on July 8 initiated a strike, asking a general increase of wages. The labor union of Lucca directed the strike, the president of the local chamber of commerce intervened, and the firm granted an increase of 5.8 cents per day during apprenticeship and of 2.9 cents for those on the roughening work, and besides made a formal promise for a general increase of the rate remuneration. On July 29 work was resumed. During the strike $4,053 was expended in assistance to the strikers.

Italy, in 1902, passed a law to take effect in 1907, prohibiting the night work of women and children in mills. As women and children constitute two thirds to three fourths of the operatives, the law practically meant that the mills had to be doubled. Most of the mills were prepared for the change by 1907.

Italian operatives necessarily live cheaply. In Piedmont and Lombardy the regular menu is: breakfast—bread and milk mush; dinner—spaghetti (potatoes and milk mixed into a porridge), polenta (cornmeal mush), and wine; supper—cold spaghetti porridge, cold polenta, cheese and some wine. Dinner in the middle of the day is the heartiest meal, and enough spaghetti porridge and polenta are then made up to last for both dinner and supper, being eaten cold for the latter meal. Chestnuts are also a staple article of food, and radishes, with olive oil and other vegetables, when procurable. Wine is within the reach of all. The better class of table wine costs 713 cents per quart, and less in bulk. There has been a notable increase in the consumption of meat in the kingdom. At Genoa the consumption of meat has increased 50 per cent, in fifteen years; at Milan, 50 per cent, in seven years; at Rome about 10 per cent, in seven years. At Naples, since 1902, the number of beeves slaughtered has increased 150 per cent. At Milan the number of horses slaughtered in 1897 was 4,586, in 1907, 7,132. Horse meat retails at 6 to 9 cents per pound. The per capita consumption of meat ranges from 8.8 pounds per year in the extreme south to 163.43 pounds in the province of Milan.

Coral manufacture is an important industry in Naples. The coral is sorted, cut in pieces, filed or engraved, and polished. Women do the less skilled work and receive from 40 to 60 cents a day. Men receive from 60 cents to $1.20. Very skilled engravers receive relatively high wages, but rarely as much as $3 a day.

A consul at Messina, commenting upon the effects of emigration, said that prices of both labor and foodstuffs had been raised, but that the standard of living of the laborer had become markedly higher. A part of this result was attributed to the money sent back by persons working in the United States. Italians who return from the United States are a disturbing factor, as they do not return to their old standard of living and they make those about them discontented with their lot.

Italian farmers are accustomed to intensive work. They make expert truck gardeners and vineyard tenders.

The state, voluntary organizations, and, to some extent, religious societies have been doing an increasing amount of progressive and intelligent social work in Italy. Already the effects of this work are becoming apparent.


Swiss manufacturers have several difficulties to combat. There is such a scarcity of workmen that Italians, Germans and Austrians are imported. No night work is allowed, while in Italy men can work at night. Many mills are in places difficult of access, thus making the cost of transportation high. All coal and almost all machinery must be imported. In spite of these difficulties considerable manufacturing is done.

The Swiss are patient, industrious workers, and however small their wages they always contrive to have an account at the savings bank. In the country their diet seems to be coffee, bread and potatoes three times a day, with meat and wine on Sundays.

The standard of living of the workmen in the cotton mills can be judged by comparing the wages paid with the prices of food. The following table presents the data for four separate mills.

In but one mill would a day's wages purchase so much as four

Wages Paid

Blow room:
Head man $1.06 $ .74
Workman $ .65 $ .59 .6 .53
Waste man .61 .55 .56 .56
Head man 1.42 .85 1.16 1.12
Card grinder .77 .67 .62 .66
Can boys .61 .51 .59 .51
Lap carrier .60 .61 .54 .53
Oiler .42
Draw-frame girls .48 .43 .41 .40
Head man 1.22 .85 1.06 1.10
Oiler .61 .64 .49
Speeder hands .65 .50 .45 .55
Creelers .35 .39
Ring spinning:
Head man 1.14 1.07 .87 1.16
Oiler .61 .61 .67 .44
Spinner .56 .31 .43 .43
Doffer .31 .33
Machine shop:
Head man 1.62 1.22 1.72
Average per day .63 .50 .47 .51

Prices of Necessaries

Cents Cents Cents Cents
Bread, average quality, one pound 3 .13 2 .95 2 .63 2 .95
Meat, one pound 15 .68 14 .77 13 .09 16 .59
Flour, one pound 4 .4 3 .5 4 .31 4 .31
Potatoes, one pound .72 .72 .9 .9
Sugar, one pound 4 .8 8 .09 4 .8 6 .09
Coffee, one pound 20 28 .5 19 .3 15 .77
Salt, one pound 1 .27 1 .86 .9 1
Milk, one quart 3 .9 4 .1 3 .7 3 .9
Kerosene, one quart 3 .5 8 .5 4 .1 4 .2
Beer, one quart 7 .7 6 .3 5 .7 6 .7

pounds of meat and in two cases more than four days' wages were required to pay for a fifty-pound sack of flour. Those whose wages were below the average—and they are the large majority—would fare worse.

Of the 2,000 people employed by the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon, Zurich, 50 per cent, represent a floating force. An increasing tendency in workmen to float about is causing an increase in wages, but wages in Switzerland in machine shops are not so high as in Berlin. A good tool man at Oerlikon receives 96 cents to $1.35 per day. Fitters of the best class receive $1.35 to $1,544 per day; shop men, for varied sorts of work, 77.2 cents to 96 cents per day. The cost of living for workmen in Zurich in proportion to the cost in America is, roughly, in the ratio of about 1 to 212 or 3. The Oerlikon firm provides both breakfast and dinner for such employees as choose to purchase them. Dinner costs about 10 cents and generally consists of good soup, pork and beef, cabbage, potatoes, and bread and butter. All except soup is served out in portions For breakfast milk and coffee, bread and butter are provided, and the firm pays one half. The reason for serving breakfast is to insure that the men start work in the morning on nourishing food. Baths, including soap and towel, are provided at 2 cents.

The Swiss Locomotive and Machinery Works, Winterthur, are undertaking a limited amount of welfare work. About fifty families are housed in neat dwellings owned by the company. The rent varies from $41.68 per year for three rooms to $57.90 for four rooms of medium size and $69.48 for four large rooms. Nearly all of the men residing in these houses are members of the firm's fire brigade. Baths are provided here as at Oerlikon. In general, Europe has made considerable advancement in providing houses, meals, baths, and pensions for workingmen.


Berlin workmen in machine shops obtain, as a rule, better wages than those in other parts of the empire, and the Berlin workmen are unexcelled at their respective trades. In the machine-tool plant of the Ludwig Loewe A. G. Works, at Berlin, the workmen can usually make on piece work 20.23 cents per hour. The lowest guaranteed wage is 12.614 cents per hour. Workmen can obtain houses of one room and a kitchen at an annual rental of $57.12 to $64.26 and houses of two rooms and a kitchen at $119.96 to $134.24. In the Hohenzollern A. G. Locomotive Works, Grafenberg-Düsseldorf, and the Hanover Locomotive Works, respectively, expert workmen receive, on the average, 16.6 cents per hour. The Hanover works own about 150 houses which rent at an average of $3.57 per month—a sum merely sufficient to keep them in repair. The houses contain from four to six rooms and may be occupied by one or two families. In many cases one room and a kitchen suffice, but two rooms and a kitchen are more common. The Benrather Works, at Benrath, board and lodge their unmarried workmen for 23.8 cents per day.

In the textile industries lower wages are paid than in the machine shops. Barmen is a great center for textile industries. Wages average 80 cents per day, but are increasing. Weavers on special work get as high as $1.43 a day. In the most important single cotton mill in Germany, at Augsburg, Bavaria, the picker-room hands and the carders get 50 to 70 cents a day. On two 900 self-actor mules the spinner averages about 90 cents a day, the piecer 71 cents, and each of the two creelers 35 cents. Weavers, on an average, run three looms apiece and make about 80 cents a day. The term of apprenticeship is two years, during the first six months of which 24 cents a day is usually paid. Houses of three rooms rent for $23.80 to $33.32 a year. The working day is ten hours. Wages in the mills in Saxony are distressingly low. At Plauen, Saxony, overseers receive $5.71 to $9.52 a week, rarely more. Operatives average $3.81 a week. Man, wife and several children live on this wage, although the wife is sometimes a wage earner. Eent of the two-roomed houses is rarely less than $2.38 and is usually about $3.57 a month. The chief food is potatoes and salt, bread, and a pepper soup made of water, bread, a little fat, and plenty of pepper. Meat is rarely eaten, and when indulged in is usually in the form of soup meat or sausage.

Operatives generally eat five times a day, and rye bread is nearly always taken. The first breakfast consists of coffee, made chiefly of roasted grain, and a piece of bread or roll. Sometimes a bowl of hot water with a little flour stirred in is taken instead of coffee. The dinner is at midday. The morning, afternoon and evening meals are much lighter, and in them beer often occupies a place.

A spinning master, in the woolen mills at Aix-la-Chapelle, receives $9 to $14 per week; operatives, $5 to $6; other help, mostly girls, $4.50 to $5; weaving master, $9 to $14; regulators or setters, $7 to $10.50; weavers, $6 to $8.40; head darner, $8 to $10; head darner's assistants, $5 to $7. Prices of food, clothing and fuel in Aix-la-Chapelle are: beefsteak, per pound, 27 to 30 cents; other beef, 20 to 25 cents; ham, 40 to 55 cents; sausage, 10 to 30 cents; pork, 20 to 25 cents; horse, 10 to 12 cents; flour, 3 to 6 cents; potatoes, 1 to 2 cents; dried Bosian prunes, 6 to 8 cents; California prunes, 15 to 18 cents; cheese, 10 to 30 cents; butter, 10 to 40 cents; white bread, 4 to 6 cents; black rye bread (4 lbs.), 12 to 14 cents; workmen's shoes, $1.25 to $2.25; workmen's suits, $1.50 to $2.00; workmen's dress suit, $3.00 to $8.00; coal (per 100 lbs.), 40 to 55 cents.

More than 25 per cent, of the factory operatives of Aix-la-Chapelle have their homes in Holland, whence they come each morning (some as far as thirty miles) and return each evening. For this they pay 75 cents a week for the "workmen's railroad ticket." They mostly own little houses with one fourth to one acre of garden or field. They have a cow and a few pigs or keep some goats, and bake their own bread. They are allowed a few days off each year to till their fields. They manage to live very cheaply; a family of father, mother and four children will live on 60 cents a day. Flour is 20 per cent, and meat 25 per cent, cheaper in Holland than in Aix-la-Chapelle. Most of these country home dwellers have a savings-bank account or deposit of a few hundred dollars.

Another 15 per cent, of the workers live in adjoining German villages where they either own little fields or pay $12 to $14 rent per year. In the city a two-room house rents at $4 to $6 per month.

Twenty-five per cent, of the glass grinders in Bavaria work more than eleven hours per day. In the Breslau district 58 per cent, of the glass-grinders work from ten to eleven hours per day. Japan has become such a keen competitor in the glass industry that Germany fears opposition if a law limiting the hours of labor be passed.

The manufacture of dolls is a business of no small dimensions in Germany. In the doll factories the minimum weekly wages are: Male adults, $2.85; male minors, 95 cents; female adults, $1.80; female minors, 85 cents and the maximum wages are less than double these, being $4.75, $1.45, $3.60 and $1.55, respectively.