1940 The Unknown Joe

January 15

Another good start to a year at the Joseph Kavanagh Company. Brewing vats, cooking kettles and distilling pots are made from copper sheet, heated and turned to the desired diameter. The associated apparatus and parts are taken from stock or custom fabricated. Leo and Eddie sit in the Shop office, fielding calls and doing the necessary prep work for upcoming jobs. Their father, Joe is not visiting today so it’s a bit more peaceful for the brothers and their crew.

February 20

It is a frigid snowy day in Baltimore, and the Kavanagh’s deal with it like everyone else. A few inches of snow is shoveled away, and they will have to stop working occasionally to shovel more, in order to stay ahead of it. The Shop is still busy, certainly for February, though today a repair at Gunther’s is canceled due to the snow. Joe has only been by the Shop twice this year; the cold seems to encourage him to stay home, and that is a good thing. It does give his sons time to adjust and make the job their own. Running a business like the Joseph Kavanagh Company is complicated, and each person who is involved in it has his own approach to it. When Joe is around, besides distracting Leo and Eddie, it makes it more difficult for his sons to find their style, to find their method that works best. Joe is making an effort, at his wife’s request, to give the boys some space, though he plans to stop by periodically, at least when it gets warm.

March 22

Spring brings sun, warmth and Joe visiting the Shop with a mounted deer’s head in tow to hang on the wall of his office. His sons are puzzled because Joe does not hunt, and they have no idea where he could have gotten such a thing. It turns out that the deer head merely caught his eye in a neighborhood store, and he bought it on a whim. Joe thinks it looks great and will fit nicely in his upstairs office. When Eddie asks why he didn’t hang it up at home, Joe tells him that his wife, Johanna, won’t let him. Both sons are amused but agree to hang it in the office. Eddie nails it up for this father because wielding a hammer is not a skill Joe ever had to develop. This visit by Joe is a pleasant one, he talks to his sons, then spends an hour upstairs admiring the deer’s head and typing a couple of letters to friends. Before leaving, he spends a few minutes with the crew during their 2:00 pm coffee break. He’s on the way home by 2:30 pm and this is more like what the boys expected from Joe’s retirement, brief social visits from their father, then they are left to their work.

April 1

Joe stops in the Shop today about lunch time to chat with his boys. He doesn’t linger but he asks how things are going. His sons tell him things are good and they are working on a large brass railing today in addition to making some distillery drip pans. The crew is busy on a breezy Spring day so Joe doesn’t linger. He stays long enough to make some jokes about the 16th US Census being due today and it’s April Fool’s Day.

April 13

Germany has invaded Denmark and Norway, the former falling in a matter of hours, and the latter taking two months. Hitler’s Nazis take these two nations to ensure access to the North Atlantic but quickly turn their attention to the rest of Western Europe. America carefully watches Europe right now, noting each step being taken by Nazi Germany and praying that a peaceful solution will arise and keep the US from becoming involved.

May 10

Neville Chamberlain has stepped down as Prime Minister of England and Winston Churchill has been given the position. On the same day, Germany launches its long-awaited attack against France. To avoid the well defended Maginot Line, the Nazi army attacks Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. They roll through these small neutral nations and plunge into France. French troops and their British allies are no match for the German Armored Divisions and they are forced to fall back, losing a great deal of their equipment. The Kavanagh’s read about it in the papers as they attend to their duties at the Shop. Leo is going over the accounts today before their bookkeeper visits and Eddie is making a list of stock materials they will need in the next several months. The crew finishes fabricating a fountain today and make more commercial cooking vessels.

June 3

Ed Jr. is finished with college and back at the Shop and he is joined by Jack Kavanagh who begins his apprenticeship this summer before returning to high school in the Fall. He is called Jack, a nickname for John as his name is John Joseph, but a mistake on his birth certificate has it backwards. He is really Joseph John but no one will know this until he retires and applies for Social Security. He will work at the Joseph Kavanagh Company for over forty years and not know that he is Joseph Kavanagh. He is the Unknown Joe, but for now he is simply the new guy at the Shop, and despite being a Kavanagh, he will take some hazing and teasing. It is part of the Shop’s tradition and is relatively harmless. Eddie handles Jack’s training himself as he did with Ed Jr. He teaches Jack how to use a hammer to start. Well, how to hold it properly is taught first before even how to swing it properly. Eddie teaches his son as he had been taught by his Uncle Frank, who was the last man taught by Old Uncle Joe: the basics of copper work, the particulars of hammering, and eventually, the skills of annealing. It is an adjustment for the sixteen year old Jack but he works hard to learn all he can.

Ed's Wedding2

June 10

Italy declares war on France and attacks from the South. They also declare war on England and fully enter the war on the side of their ally, Germany. France is faced with two invading armies now, and even with British support they can’t match the odds. President Roosevelt condemns the move of Italy, and the US remains neutral, but is supporting the Western European Allies as much as they can.

June 14

Paris falls to Hitler’s German forces and soon will enter into talks to surrender. Americans can’t believe it, but the German Blitzkrieg strategy worked exceptionally well. Paris being taken is shocking to the Kavanagh’s. They couldn’t imagine that the Germans would be able to move so fast. It is still far away and they focus on the Shop which is busy and full of work. A brass railing is being bent today. After the brass is annealed, it is slowly pulled around several wheels of different diameters. This way they are able to achieve larger curves or smaller ones in the same piece. They match a wooden template etched with pencil to show them the customer’s desired bend. Eddie watches as Funke and the younger Kavanagh’s, Ed and Jack, carefully pull the rail inch by inch to match the design. Jack has managed well for his first week, the men are a little tough on the young guy at times and the work is hard, but he is fitting in well so far. He thought he would work more with his father but that has not been the case. Eddie has taken the lead on Jack’s training but otherwise his role is more supervisory. The lessons in handling a hammer and eventually any torch training will be done by Eddie but as far as day to day labor on jobs, Jack is assisting his brother or most likely Mr. Funke, who has worked at the Shop for many years.

June 22

France signs an armistice agreement with Germany as thousand of Allied troops are evacuated to Britain. Germany rules or has within its influence the vast majority of the mainland of Europe. It has happened so fast that most people can hardly believe it, including the Kavanagh’s. Leo and Eddie have been discussing the war every day at the Shop. They never envisioned a German victory at this point, if this counts as a victory, as the British remain unconquered. Still, it is a whole new world in Europe now and it has changed very fast.

July 7

Eddie and Jack head to Bugle Field on Edison Highway to watch some baseball games. Today, there are three scheduled, two Negro League games and one semi-pro game. The first is an official Negro National League game with the E-Lite Giants defeating the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Young Roy Campanella has started to come into his own. He walloped two homers in a road game in May and has continued to stay hot. Jack can’t help but particularly pull for this young man as he is only two years older than Jack himself. The second game played is another barnstorming match up between two travel teams while the final game is between local teams representing neighborhoods. They drink a soda and eat peanuts all day as they enjoy their favorite sport. A day at the ballpark is always a good day according to both Eddie and Jack. They talk about work on the ride home and what Jack can expect to do on Monday. Jack has nearly completed his first summer at the Shop. It’s been tough work and hot but he feels comfortable there. The work is interesting and he’s a Kavanagh so it’s right for him. As Eddie details a fountain they must make tomorrow, Jack almost feels as if he has inside information on his co-workers. It’s a good feeling for a son when his father entrusts him with Shop plans for tomorrow and beyond. At a place like the Shop, this trust pulls you in and makes you belong.

July 11

The Battle of Britain begins with the Germans launching bombing attacks on shipping points and harbors. The Nazi Luftwaffe, despite superiority in numbers are unable to outright defeat England’s RAF, but the damage is great and the fear the attacks spread is powerful. The Kavanagh’s can not believe that England would ever fall. It is shocking to see the United Kingdom besieged by an aggressor from mainland Europe but that is what is happening. The news gives more details each day and Americans read the blow-by-blow on this War in Europe.

July 26

Joe stops in to see his sons and grandsons at Pratt and Central. He is his usual boisterous self as he questions them on the jobs they have in house and what they are working on today. Most of the crew are working on two beer vats for Cumberland Brewing and the rest are scattered on some smaller work. Joe is happy to see the backlog of work the Shop has and even the large stacks of copper block and sheet they have in stock. He jokes with his grandsons and the crew for a few minutes, then he takes his leave of everyone and drives home. Leo and Eddie are much happier this year than last as far as Joe goes. He has taken a more concerted step back and is slowly adjusting to not working at the Joseph Kavanagh Company.

“Whiskey thief” Made and used by the Joseph Kavanagh Co. for checking whiskey’s or beer’s quality. Also called a “barrel thief”.

August 12

Leo works at the drawing table today making some sketches for a doubler for Baltimore Pure Rye. A doubler is a still system that is used primarily to increase whiskey’s proof or potency. Eddie is in and out of the office as he supervises the assembly of a copper tank in the Shop. The tank must be built, then disassembled for delivery. Both brothers also field phone calls throughout the day. Eddie keeps an eye on his youngest son, who is assisting moving the pieces of the tank around. Jack has learned a bit about how to use a hammer and what it is to work hard. Eddie is proud of Jack, as he is proud of Ed Jr., his eldest son. Ed is a full coppersmith now; he is a bit meticulous for Eddie’s taste but he will learn speed with experience. Jack has done well, listening and learning in his first foray into smithing.

September 5

Jack is finished with his first summer at the Shop and returns to Mount St. Joseph’s High School to continue his studies. He welcomes the return to school, though having money in your pocket as a teen is also a good thing. He enjoyed learning from his father and he took the kidding in stride as there was plenty of it especially from his brother who has always teased Jack. It was mostly in good fun and Jack was none the worse for it, learning and trying to fit in with a crew of adult working men.

September 9

The Germans have begun what is called the Blitz, night time bombing attacks on London and other cities. Eddie reads the story in the Sun at his desk out loud while his brother listens intently. They can’t believe it has come to this as Hitler’s Germany seems more and more bent on control of all of Europe. The are shocked at these attacks on cities full of civilians as opposed to battles between armies. Of course, the Germans have attacked and killed civilians before, but the Blitz truly brings it home to Americans. Beyond the bombings themselves, there is a pervasive terror spreading through London every night in anticipation of an attack.

September 16

The first peace time draft is enacted by the United States. President Roosevelt signs it into law and young men around the nation prepare to be called. This includes Ed Kavanagh Jr.; he is required to register and does so. Ed is still learning, though he is a full coppersmith. He’s gaining experience more from the elder smiths now than from his father. Eddie encourages young Ed to find ways to work faster; his son’s work is great but everything does not have to be perfect, and expediency does matter.

October 8

The Cincinnati Reds defeat the Detroit Tigers in seven games to win the World Series. It is a back and forth affair the whole way with each team alternating winning until the final game, which is a nail biter. The Reds win that one 2-1, the winning run manufactured with a bunt and a sacrifice fly. The Kavanagh’s pay close attention because it is October and that means one thing to them, the World Series. Going over the series at the Shop helps to pass the day as it has for decades. They were pulling for the Tigers due to Ty Cobb formerly playing there, but they applaud the Reds for their victory.

November 5

FDR wins re-election over Republican challenger Wendell Willkie and becomes the first and only three term president. The Kavanagh’s vote for Roosevelt as they trust him after guiding the nation out of the Great Depression. The War in Europe is on everyone’s mind, of course, but the Kavanagh’s believe FDR will keep this country out of the conflict if anyone can.

November 28

After Thanksgiving dinner at Joe and Johanna’s house on Thirty-third Street, Eddie, Annie and their boys return to Lakewood Avenue. The boys spread out in front of the radio and flip through stations to find something to listen to. Annie calls Eddie into the kitchen where she has made a pot of tea. Eddie sits at the table and his wife hands him a cup.

“Eddie?” Annie starts, “We need to talk about our boys and this draft that Ed has registered for. I don’t want my boys going overseas to fight in a war.”

“It’s not our war yet, Annie. I don’t know that it will be, but things are getting worse. This is why Roosevelt started the draft. They have to be prepared and Hitler doesn’t seem to want to stop anywhere. We just can’t worry about it right now,” Eddie answers her sipping his tea.

“Well, I am worried about it. I saw two of my brothers go off to World War I and they were never the same. They were sick from mustard gas and god knows what else. It has been very tough for them and I don’t want this for our boys, no matter what the cause is. I agree Hitler is dangerous but I don’t want my sons in this thing. I don’t want them to go far away to die in some foreign country.”

“I don’t want that either, Annie.” Eddie places his left hand on her right, “It will be okay. I think. We’ll have to trust that nothing bad happens. He had to register. It’s the law now.”

Annie says, “I know it’s the law but there must be some way to keep him here. And Jack too, in a couple of years. Eddie? You need to think of something. You know people. Use your union contacts or your business contacts. Use something to keep them safe and home. Think of something.”

Eddie looks into his wife’s eyes and says, “I am not sure if any of that will help. I can try. I will make some calls, Annie. I will. On Monday, I’ll call the draft board and see if I can get something worked out to keep Ed home. I will.”

“Good. And keep Jack in mind too. I don’t want either of them going to war. You fix this, okay?” She asks as she stands and heads to the living room to join the boys.

“I will. I said I will,” Eddie sighs and replies as she heads through the door. He lights a cigarette and sits in thought, considering what he can try to do.

December 17

President Roosevelt has ordered an expansion of the US Navy. He initiates a Lend-Lease deal with England whereby America trades battleships for naval bases in the North Atlantic. It is a safe way for the US to assist England without direct involvement. The effect on the Shop is that the Philadelphia Navy Yard calls them and puts in a large inquiry for copper ship parts and ballast pump chambers. Eddie is excited to receive this quote, as it is a terrific job for them, but he is also uneasy because this adds to the seriousness of America’s situation with its allies. Eddie fears more each day the US will be in this war. He has made contact with the local draft board and they may be able to work something out that keeps Ed Jr. stationed at home. If America enters this war, that might complicate things for both of his boys. Eddie prepares the quote and wonders if the Shop working for the Navy will help him influence the draft board. He factors into the quote that he, himself, would have to spend some time in Philly to properly expedite and handle the job. He mails off the official quote and then waits to hear back.

December 24

The Shop’s Christmas party is held on this Tuesday and for a day the troubles of the world are put out of their minds. Kavanagh’s and friends gather to celebrate the Yule as they have for years. Joe is there and works the room, moving from one group to another with a smile and a chuckle for all. He has started to adapt to not working, still coming in but not nearly as much and definitely not interfering with business. He will lead them in song as per tradition today with his sons and grandchildren in attendance. The transition of generations is going well; Leo and Eddie are doing great running the place and Ed Jr. is full time and Jack has started his apprenticeship. Another generation in charge and another generation learning as has happened before. The year has been good but the War in Europe is a concern. There are those who think US involvement is only a matter of time now. Americans are wary of another war so far away; it is not always a question of doing what’s right. It’s often fear of the cost of doing what’s right. The Kavanagh’s are most assuredly against the US going to war for selfish reasons: Eddie and Annie’s sons, Ed and Jack. Ed is of age and Jack will be soon. Like many Americans, the cost is too much. The thought of the cost is even too much. They pray along with the rest of the world that some miracle solves what’s going on in Europe. Winter is coming. The Kavanagh’s hope for the best.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt is re-elected to the Presidency. Tom and Jerry and Elmer Fudd debut. Carbon-14 is discovered. Booker T. Washington becomes the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp. The radio program, Truth or Consequences, premieres. The First McDonald’s opens. The First Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held. Smokey Robinson, Willie Stargell, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis and Frank Zappa and are born. F. Scott Fitzgerald dies.

There are 48 states in the Union.


Eddie Kav
Eddie Kavanagh Sr. Circa 1920.

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