1918 The Union and The Spanish Flu

January 5

The first Saturday of 1918 has the Shop’s crew enjoying a day off. The Kavanaghs are at Pratt & Central to discuss unionization. The owners, Joe and James meet with Leo and Eddie, Joe’s sons. Eddie has petitioned his father over the holidays to abide by his word and allow a union at the Shop. Leo is in agreement with Eddie and is there also to bridge any gap between his brother and his father. Peacemaker, essentially as Eddie and his father do not see eye to eye often. Joe and James have agreed in principle, but Joe insisted they wait until the New Year to discuss the details further. Eddie states his case in regard to the need for higher wages, as well as the benefits of the union work and a skilled labor pool they would be able to access. Eddie knows several fellows who are members of a small Baltimore Coppersmiths Union Local #80. He thinks this group would be a perfect fit for the Shop’s crew. The Kavanaghs and their workers would give the union numbers and will make it easier to become affiliated with larger union groups. Joe wants to be sure they will have some control over wages and the assignment of coppersmiths. In short, he is hoping that Eddie will have some influence over the union. For Joe, unionization must be good for the Shop not just the workers. Eddie says he will have some influence because he is helping with the organization of the union. That is just what his father and uncle want to hear. As this is a Coppersmiths Union, only smiths and their helpers can be members. Joe is not a coppersmith therefore he will not join the union. Despite being an owner, James is a coppersmith and will be in the union. The remaining 13 coppersmiths and the same number of helpers/apprentices will be union members. The machinist will not be in the union. So a deal is struck. Joe and James will allow the Shop’s crew to join the Coppersmiths Union. All smiths and helpers will be required to join the union and any new hires must be union members. Eddie will make arrangements with Local#80. He will work out the details and promises to use any influence he will have to better the Shop. The Joseph Kavanagh Company goes union.

List of employees of the Joseph Kavanagh Co. in 1918. Recorded by Eddie Kavanagh.

January 10

The crew are laboring on the usual January work of candy and ice cream makers’ work. Cooking kettles and parts to go along with them. The heat from their torches warms the Shop as they work. James speaks to his brother, Joe at lunch. He wants his son, John Guy(called Guy) to work at the Shop in the office this summer. He wants him to learn bookkeeping and the business end of the Shop. This surprises his brother. Guy is 15. That would be the appropriate time to start a coppersmith apprenticeship at the Shop. Leo and Eddie started at that age. James tells Joe that he does not want his son to have to toil and work like they do. He would prefer if he does something more like what Joe does. His brother was not expecting this, but he agrees and welcomes the help in the office. Joe will train Guy as his assistant. At the end of the day, the Kavanaghs discuss the war in Europe. Joe reads the paper every day and updates his crew on the latest news. American troops have joined the Allies in the war against the Central Powers. After the initial invasion of Allied countries like France, the war has been at a near stalemate. The slow plodding conflict that has been fought for several years will heat up in the coming months.

February 9

On a cold Saturday evening, Eddie attends a meeting of Coppersmiths Union Local# 80. He discusses the Shop’s situation. The few men there are thrilled to have an increase in membership. They talk about the number of smiths and helpers at the Joseph Kavanagh Company. They speak about the organization itself. How they will be affiliated with the Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers International Alliance. A large union group that will give some strength to the much smaller coppersmiths union. Wages and details are ironed out and discussed. Eddie will be the point man for the Shop’s members in the union. He will invite his fellow smiths to attend some meetings as well. Dues are assigned and the crew are accepted into the brotherhood of the union.

March 12

Baltimore’s annexation bill is approved by the General Assembly. Baltimore will annex approximately 50 square miles of land. The majority being drawn from Baltimore County with five miles coming from Anne Arundel County. It is a hotly contested bill in the assembly. After much debate and constitutional arguments, the City is allowed to grow substantially.

April 13

Another meeting on a Saturday of Local #80. A few of Eddie’s co-workers are there. They have received their affiliation with the ASMWIA. There is strength in numbers. Eddie is a powerful speaker and very passionate about workers’ rights. The other members are particularly impressed because he is a Kavanagh. A potential owner yet still wants the business and crew to be union. Elections are held for leadership positions. On the first ballot, Eddie is elected General Secretary of Local # 80. He will be deeply involved with union affairs for the rest of his life.

May 18

Johanna spends a Saturday afternoon at a meeting of the Just Government League. She attends just about once a month. Joe spends this time with his daughter, Anna. Playing piano and singing. Johanna tells her husband about each meeting. How the group is confident that suffrage is getting closer to a reality. The members make plans and set goals. They write letters to elected officials and try to garner all the support they can. Johanna is sure that women will have the right to vote sooner rather than later. She intends to be one of the first at the polls when that happens. Joe supports her and is in no way surprised. Jo is a strong woman with deep conviction. She is also always determined.

June 3

John Guy (15) Kavanagh becomes the 10th Kavanagh to work at the Shop. He will begin assisting Joe in the office this summer. He will take phone calls, learn how to do accounts receivable and payable. Joe will show him the bookkeeping techniques he uses. Joe will still handle payroll, but the rest he will train Guy to do. The Shop itself is quite busy. Joe is happy to have the help. The steam ship work is here. Pump chambers being fabricated and assorted brass parts made. A brass railing and a copper fountain are being produced. Assorted cooking kettles and vessels are curved and fabricated. Also, today Eddie, James Woods and three helpers are at White Brewery. They are making some repairs and installing a new beer vat. The drawings all made by Leo Kavanagh under the supervision of his Uncle James.

July 15

They labor in the heat of a July Monday. They shape copper into kettles and cooking apparatuses. They do not have quite the volume of steamship work as they have had in the past. More and more the steamers are repaired at shipyards and by the owners themselves. It is hardly missed as they continue to receive a great deal of distillery jobs. They have repairs scheduled across the state for the next month. A busy and successful year so far. Joe is more accepting of the union now as Eddie has gained some influence and is playing a leadership role in local # 80. I believe also, he is rather happy to be exempt from membership. He was never a coppersmith. Joe likes the separation that is inferred by it. It makes him feel more like an owner. More like Joe Kavanagh in his own eyes. He is spending the summer training his nephew, Guy. He teaches him how to do the books and the proper procedure for dealing with customers. Joe is cautious as he has no inclination to train a replacement, but he does like having some of his time freed up. He can make more cold calls, schmooze and get friendly with customers. This is his style and it helps him maintain a steady strong flow of work into the Shop.

August 2

Joe receives a letter from Panama. Frank is returning to Baltimore for an extended visit. He misses his son and his family. Joe passes this along to the rest of the Kavanaghs. The Shop is humming along. The employees are union now and making more money. Joe raised his prices a bit to accommodate the higher wages and the Shop hasn’t missed a beat. Jobs still coming in and the crew all very busy. Joe believes that perhaps Eddie was right and they will all make more money. He doesn’t tell Eddie that. Meanwhile, Eddie, James Woods, Henry Blum and four helpers are at Horsey Distilling for some repairs. Some pots and parts for a column still are fixed. Seams are soldered and some valves and fittings are replaced. A long Friday in the heat, but a good day. They cruise back to the Shop in the truck with Eddie driving as he always does.

August 24

Frank returns to Baltimore via train. He took a ship from Panama to New York then a train home. The Kavanaghs welcome him enthusiastically. He arrives on a Saturday and a big family dinner is held at Collington Avenue by Joe and Johanna. The entire clan is there and very happy to see Frank.

August 26

A very high number of people in Baltimore begin to grow sick. It is a quickly spreading strain of the Spanish flu. It is proving fatal for many folks. Families and citizens begin noticing that many of their friends and relatives are growing ill or know of someone growing ill. This is discussed at the Shop. It is rather strange that this is going on and it is not the traditional “flu season”. The Kavanaghs are fortunate. None of the family or crew have grown ill. The Shop is starting another hot week of heating and hammering. Twisting and curving copper into the assorted shapes they need. Joe reads the latest from Europe. At lunch, he informs his crew of the news. The Allies have finally begun to push the Central Powers back. What has been a slow war of attrition has finally changed. The tide is beginning to turn. The Allies have just defeated Germany at the Battle of Amiens. Bulgaria has been forced to surrender. A slow progress has begun to occur.

September 11

The Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series. The season was shortened due to the war so the Series ends earlier than ever before. This was also the first time the Star Spangled Banner was played at a baseball game. It is played during the seventh inning stretch of game 1 to honor the American soldiers fighting in Europe. This championship match-up is a battle of pitching. Neither team homers in the six games. Babe Ruth wins two games for Boston and bats sixth in the lineup becoming the only pitcher ever to bat anywhere but ninth in a World Series game. For the season, Ruth bats .300 with 11 home runs and 11 triples. Ty Cobb wins another batting title with a .382 average while also leading the league in triples with 14. Both Joe and Eddie’s favorites do well, but Eddie’s hero is the one that is a champion.

September 19

James Connolly marries Kitty Kavanagh in New York. James is from NY and they wished to be married with his mother in attendance. The Kavanaghs are happy for them. They seem very much in love and they want nothing but the best for Kitty.

October 10

Eddie Kavanagh weds Anna Hartman at St. Patrick’s Church at the corner of Broadway and Bank Streets on this Thursday evening. The Kavanaghs assemble at the church after work. Joe and Johanna and their daughter, Anna are there. Leo, his wife, Mayme and their son Leo Paul attend. James and his wife Honora and their two sons, Guy and James Jr. also. Frank and his son, Charles attend. Aunt Sally Woods(Joe and James’ sister) and her family. Several of Martin’s children as well including James and Kitty Connolly just back from their wedding in NY. The family are excited and happy for Eddie and Anna. Johanna pulls the happy couple aside during the revelry. She has something special for Eddie. She gives him her father’s pocket watch. She speaks to him about how he is the second son. Many advantages are given to the elder son. Not to mention that Leo is Joe’s favorite. Johanna knows that when their time comes Leo will be the senior man at the Shop. There will be no stopping that. She tells Eddie of how this “second son” thing effected his father, Joe. Joe felt slighted when his older brother Martin inherited the Shop. Johanna tells him to take this watch which belonged to James Long. Keep it in his family. When you have two sons, you should pass it on to your younger boy when he gets married. She smiles at Anna and says better yet, have your wife give her second son the watch. It will be better to come from the boys’ mother. Thus, starts a family tradition that leads to me receiving this watch in 77 years. The party continues and they celebrate loud and long into the night. The next day is a slightly slow day for several of the Shop’s workers. A hungover Friday for more than a few.

Eddie Kavanagh and Anna Hartman’s marriage certificate. October 10, 1918.

October 13

Fatalities from the flu begin to pile up. It is serious as the number of sick and dying begin to increase. So far, it is largely ignored by the City and State. They do not want to cause a panic and they do not want to limit public meetings. There are too many efforts to gather people to support our involvement in the War and to press the sale of war bonds. These public events add to the spread of the illness. And it has spread wildly in Baltimore. Now, it is clear that actions need to be taken to contain it. The Health Commission cancels all public events. Hospitals become packed with the sick and some can take no more. The Spanish Flu has become a worldwide pandemic. The U. S. is hit hard and Baltimore hardest of all. By the end of the year, over 20,000 people are infected and over 4,000 die.

November 11

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, WW1 ends. The Germans and the Central Powers have been defeated. Kaiser Wilhelm has abdicated. An armistice is signed. The news is met with wild victorious celebrations in the U. S. Our boys will be back home and we have peace. The Kavanaghs celebrate as so many do, but in Baltimore there are many still ill from the Spanish Flu. Health initiatives have been implemented. Still, many are sick and dying. The Kavanagh family is spared as not one of their family is sick or dies. A rare family to go untouched by this outbreak.

December 24

The Shop’s Christmas party is a lively affair this year. Family, customers, employees and vendors all celebrate together. It is a special holiday for Americans and certainly for the Kavanaghs this year. The War to End All Wars is at an end. The deadly Spanish Flu has been contained though not stopped entirely. Their brother/uncle Frank has returned. He will stay through the holidays, but return to Panama in January. He promises to visit again next year. The Shop has had a successful year and it has made the transition to a union shop relatively seamlessly. The Kavanaghs involvement in the Coppersmith Union will continue for a long time.

Woodrow Wilson is the President of the United States. U. S. Time Zones and Daylight Savings Time are established. The first Air Mail Postal Service begins in the U. S. 101 people die in a tremendous train wreck in Nashville, Tennessee. Opha May Johnson becomes the first female marine. The Battle of Ambos Nogales is fought on the American-Mexican border. The only battle of WW1 fought on North American soil. Ripley’s Believe It or Not opens. Leonard Bernstein, Ted Williams, Billy Graham, Spiro Agnew and Madeline L’Engle are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Coppersmiths Union Local # 80. Damaged Photo taken at the Shop 1918


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