Today the crew of the Joseph Kavanagh Company are working through a chilly January Tuesday. With most of the men working on a handful of orders for the United States Industrial Co. or U.S.I. Two 500 gallon copper stills are fabricated along with condensers with new headers to attach to the distilling system and a range of fittings, couplings and valves to match. The toughest part of this job is making the domes for the stills. Copper sheet is suspended with chains then hammered from above by two men with brass hammers. A third man stands under the sheet with a large wooden mallet. His job is to match the others’ hammer hits by using the mallet as a brace to keep the copper from being pierced and helping them achieve the curved dome shape they need. The year has started well for Leo and Eddie Kavanagh’s Shop on Central Avenue. Even in the throes of winter, they are carrying nearly a month of backlog. Old Uncle Joe only saw this in the heyday of the business in the 1890s.
On this Saturday, after a half-day of work, Eddie buys his first television: a General Electric with a 10” screen. Eddie and Jack carry the thing into 434 N. Lakewood Avenue. Annie lets them know that dinner is ready and that thing can wait until after they eat. The family has a meal of meatloaf, potatoes and vegetables, all quite delicious. Eddie and Jack eat rather quickly tonight, anxious to get to this new-fangled contraption. They plug it in, start fiddling with the dial and soon a picture becomes clear. It is the local news on Channel 13, an ABC affiliate. Father and son back into chairs not wanting to take their eyes off the small screen. They watch the local coverage, then a national program called News and Views which follows. These men are fascinated to watch, though the news is just as available on the radio; however, at 7:30 pm, there is entertainment. A talent show type program called “Hollywood Screen Test” airs and now Annie, Betty and baby Betty Ann join the men around the TV. Young unknown actors are given their chance to get that big break by reading scenes and dialogue with established thespians. The family loves this and it will be the first show that the Kavanagh’s watch weekly. Television changes the way Americans are entertained and it changes their home life though not all are thrilled about it. When Eddie tells his father Joe about the TV, Joe scoffs and assures him it’s just a fly by night thing. It will never replace radio Joe says.
Winter holds on at Pratt and Central on this brisk Monday. Leo and Eddie have their sons and crew working hard with heat and hammers. A large yeast tank is completed today for the James Distillery Company. The tank will hold nearly 1000 gallons when installed and is made entirely of 12 gauge coppers sheet. There are inlet and outlet valves attached and man-holes installed to allow access to the tank for service and quality checks. This has been a long job, taking over two hundred man hours to finish and, as the truck is being loaded, Eddie does his version of the Joe Dance to laughs and claps from the workers. His son, Ed Jr. slips into his own dance in an attempt to show his father how it should be done. Ed was a jitterbug champion and he had moves. His father is not bothered at all but rather joins in the crew’s laughter then sets them back to work. The tank is loaded, delivered and billed and the beat goes on for the Kavanagh’s.
The Kavanagh’s and crew spend a cloudy Spring day working busily at Pratt and Central. Jack spends the day on a job for Sherwood Distilling, replacing some parts: twenty-two 1 1/2” Lock bonnets are to be made. Bonnets are lids or covers for small manholes in stills. They take a lot of wear and tear and often need replacement. These aren’t stock parts but they are regular work. Copper sheet is annealed, then hammered around a disc to form the shape. Once annealed, the sheet is very soft and the bonnets can be made quickly. It takes some time to pick through the discs and clamps available. Jack sorts through it all and the first bonnet takes five hours. The rest are finished in seventeen. The first one is always the hardest, but Jack is soon able to develop a system and complete the rest quickly. For the Shop it is a time and labor job. Leo and Eddie love those because there is no quoting. You just send them a bill.
Joe and Johanna Kavanagh spend a Saturday evening at 434 N. Lakewood Avenue. Despite Joe’s dubiousness about television, Eddie and Annie have invited them over to watch Verdi’s opera, Aida, conducted by world renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini which is being broadcast on NBC. This week is part one and the second is next week. Joe is a piano player, singer and great lover of music and Johanna is no less a music fan than he. Jack, Betty and the baby are there as well and they gather around the small 10” screen and they feel like they are right there in the studio at Rockefeller Center. They have listened to music on the radio but to see this stunning performance live is incredible for them all. They truly feel like they are part of the audience for the show. This is television.
Easter is spent at the Visitation Convent visiting Aunt Anna, Sister Mary Agnes. Four generations of Kavanagh’s are there. Joe and Johanna spend the day with their daughter Anna, along with Eddie, Annie, Jack, Betty and the baby, Betty Ann. They celebrate mass at the chapel and then spend some time on the grounds. Betty takes some pictures of Jack with the baby. Betty prefers snapping the pictures than being in them. It’s a breezy day and an even mix of clouds and sun that make for a typical spring day. Aunt Anna holds the baby as much as she can as they talk through the day and enjoy a very fine Easter and one they will remember for some time.
The Shop stays strong as they continue to have approximately a month’s backlog consistently through the year. Today the crew are toiling away on three tanks for Calvert Distillers. These three will not be installed locally though, but shipped to Puerto Rico and used to make rum by the Christopher Columbus Rum Distillers who are a subsidiary of Calvert. These are large heavy tanks and once finished, they are driven in the Shop’s truck one at a time to the docks in Baltimore harbor. They will be shipped by boat down South to Puerto Rico. The job is another big bill for the Kavanagh brothers, Leo and Eddie. Their confidence remains high as the work keeps rolling in and out of 201 S. Central Avenue.
Jack finishes his studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He receives a certification in drafting and mechanics but knows he can go no further with school. He has learned a lot and needs to focus on working full time. This is even truer now because Betty is pregnant with their second child and Jack could not be happier. He loves being a father and Betty is the most natural mother he has ever seen. She’s in complete joy when she holds Betty Ann and she can’t wait for baby# 2.
Eddie and Jack attend a union meeting on a warm Saturday night. What was Coppersmith Local# 80 has officially become part of the Sheet Metal Workers Union. Slowly over the last few years, smaller unions have joined with the Sheet Metal Workers, for there is strength in numbers. The old coppersmith brethren are all members of the larger union now, and most of the procedures will remain the same. Eddie’s tenure as General Secretary will come to an end this year with a younger leadership moving in. Eddie is happy to step aside at this point; he’s older and the Shop is still very busy. Eddie has held this position for thirty years and helped to establish the union and certainly to grow it. He’s very proud of his efforts on behalf of his union brothers and on this night, his thoughts go back to how his involvement started. He had to actually quit working at the Joseph Kavanagh Company in order to force his father’s hand, to make him unionize the Shop. It worked and has been a great benefit to the business and its employees. Eddie will remain a loyal member of the Sheet Metalworkers Union for the rest of his life. His son, Jack is a member and the thought did occur to Jack to throw his hat in the ring for one of the leadership roles, but he has a new growing family and a demanding job. He will stay in the union and take part but he knows he won’t have the time for more than that.
Jack has drawn the short straw at the Shop today as he is assigned the unenviable task of annealing and filling a brass pipe for bending. A hot summer day is a bad day to anneal and certainly to melt rosin for filling tubes. Brass is much more difficult to anneal than copper. It is a compound and less stable so the process is slower and you must leave it to cool in the air. No quenching or moving it until it is completely cool or the piece will crack or break. After annealing, it must be filled with rosin to keep it from collapsing and wrinkling when bent. Again, a torch is used. This time a large cauldron is filled with chunks of the tree rosin and heated until they are a liquid. The rosin has several industrial applications but it most notably used on violin strings and pitcher’s mounds. The heat is nearly unbearable but once the rosin is a black murky liquid, it is carefully spooned out and poured into the tube which has been plugged at one end with a round piece of wood. The process is messy and hot but necessary. Without all the preparation, the bending would be a failure. After filling, the pipe is bent easily around blocks until it is the 90 degree elbow the customer requires. At this point, the piece is hung up on chains and slowly, gradually heated again to get the rosin out of there. The rosin melts on the outside first and slowly the large block of the stuff begins to move. After a bit of prodding, the large, now tube shaped slab of rosin slides out where it is caught in a pail for re-use. A blast of heat through the tube burns the inside clean and the job is finished. All that, for one bent tube.
Eddie and Jack Kavanagh spend a Sunday at Bugle Field on Edison Highway to watch a couple of ballgames. The E-lite Giants of the Negro National League are hosting the Newark Eagles and come away with a hard fought victory. Jack has grown up as an E-lite Giants fan attending games for over ten years. The baseball is good with talented young players though there is some concern among fans that the talent will be depleted with the Major Leagues finally integrated. Jack knows good baseball and this team never disappoints. Of course, this could mean MLB teams might come calling and that does happen with players being poached one by one. After the Negro League game, two local Baltimore club teams square off in a much more lopsided matchup. Father and son stay for the whole game, splitting their usual soda and bag of peanuts. They have done this since Jack was a boy. They have a great day and discuss the games in detail as Jack drives them back to Lakewood Avenue in his Chrysler Windsor.
Jack and Betty may have found a home. They are interested in a house on Lakewood across the street from Eddie and Annie’s home at the intersection of Lakewood Avenue and Jefferson Street. There was a beauty parlor in the basement which has closed and the upstairs has been empty for several months. The house is owned by a Walter Karwacki and Jack and Betty are thinking hard of making an offer on the place.
On a sunny Wednesday, Betty Kavanagh gives birth to a second daughter, Nancy Jean. Jack is working on a condenser repair for Calvert Distillery when his father gives him the news. He was in the middle of pulling expanded tubes from the header of the condenser. They must be pried, hammered or driven out so the head can be resurfaced and re-used. Jack smiles wide as his father claps him on the back, soon followed by his brother. Jack works through the rest of the day in a daze, anxious to meet his new little girl. He rushes to Betty and Nancy as soon as he can leave the Shop. Mother and newborn are doing well and Nancy is named for one of Jack’s Hartmann cousins, Nancy Lee. Nancy Lee and Jack spent a lot of time together as kids growing up and have remained close. The parents are so happy. They feel so fortunate, so blessed. They are in love and they have two beautiful little girls in their family. Jack and Betty’s family continues to grow.
Jack and Betty’s offer has been accepted by Mr. Karwacki and they buy 447 N. Lakewood Avenue. They are so thrilled to have their own place, especially Betty. However, there is a lot of work to be done inside and Jack must sort out how to do all of it. The beauty parlor in the basement must be converted into a residential basement and this will take a long time before Jack can even start on the rest of the house. He, Betty and the girls will stay at 434 with his parents through the winter. Jack will work every chance he has on the house to get it ready and perfect for his family to move in by the Spring at the latest.
On this Sunday, the Kavanagh’s watch the deciding game in the World Series on television for the first of many times. Joe and Johanna spend the afternoon at Lakewood Avenue, Joe seems to be warming up to TV though he has no plans to purchase one. The game starts at 2 pm with the Brooklyn Dodgers hosting the New York Yankees at Ebbets Field. The Yanks are up three games to one and this one turns their way fast as the Dodgers’ starter Rex Barney gives up five runs in less than three innings. The defending champion Yankees cruise to a 10-6 victory and take the series. The Kavanagh’s sit glued to the television screen watching the grainy black and white ballplayers with rapt attention. They have seen ballgames in person. They have seen a few games on TV already but this was the first World Series Championship they saw live.
Today Mr. Funke is finally attending to something that Eddie has been clamoring about for some time. The Shop keeps a supply of “whiskey thiefs” or “barrel thiefs” to use at distilleries and breweries. The “thief” is a long tube with holes at each end and is used to draw out a drought of whiskey or beer to be taste tested. The tube is lowered into the alcohol while the hole at the top is covered with your thumb. A vacuum draws some of the liquid in and it is then released into a mug for tasting. They need to taste for flavor, impurities and of course, potency. Eddie has known for some time that they only have two left and they prefer to keep at least five in stock. Sometimes, they don’t make the trip back from an installation. Customers like keeping them on hand as they use them for the same purpose. The Kavanagh’s don’t mind if a customer asks for one at the end of a job but they prefer not to give them away and they certainly can not afford to run out of them. It will take Funke two days to make six and they are set in the rotation for use whenever needed.
Jack, Betty and their two baby girls celebrate Thanksgiving twice as they do every year. First a lunch time turkey feast on Guilford Avenue with Betty’s mother and family. The usual meal of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and parsnips is shared around the table while Betty and her mother take turns holding and feeding the babes. The family all want a turn holding the girls but soon they must pack up the Chrysler and head back to Lakewood Ave. When they get back home, another dinner, and the Kavanagh’s are particularly happy this year. The two new babies bring so much joy to the family and there is some other news. Leo’s daughter Mary is engaged to be married to her beau, Albert Donnelly. Albert is a member of the Sheet Metal Workers Union and Mary met him through Leo and Eddie’s involvement in the union. They have dated for about a year and they will be wed next year.
Leo and Eddie’s Shop is finishing another strong year with the work rolling in and out. This Monday starts another week and Ed Jr. is at Gunther’s Brewery and there is an accident. He was repairing some tanks when he smelled some strong fumes. He opened a man-hole to look in the tank. He lit a match to see better and there was a sudden small explosion and Ed was badly burned. He was rushed to the hospital with burns over his torso and arms. Gunther’s called the Shop and soon his father is on the way to the hospital. The younger Ed will be fine and his father is relieved but also livid with his son for lighting a match near any kind of brewing or distilling equipment.
“What were you thinking?” Eddie asks his son as a doctor and nursed tend to Ed Junior’s burns. “You should know better. Lighting a match in a brewing vat with all that alcohol and you said you smelled fumes?”
“Yes, I did but I didn’t think it was anything serious, Eddie. I did what I did and that’s that. Sorry, but I made a mistake. I wanted to see what was going on in there. I guess I wasn’t thinking, ” the younger Ed answers his father with more than a little anger in his voice.
“You bet you weren’t thinking. You need to get your head into your job more, son. This could have been much worse. The whole place could have blown up,” His father retorts with just as much disdain in his speech.
“Well, I made a mistake and the place didn’t blow up. I learned a lesson okay. By the way, I’m fine.” Ed counters with his eyes narrowing at his father as the doctor and nurse exit the room.
Eddie took a small breath then responds, “Yes, that’s the most important thing. You seem no worse for the wear.”
“They say I need a few days to heal. I’m supposed to get checked on Friday to see if I can get back to work next week.” Junior tells Senior as he hops off the hospital bed, buttoning his shirt.
“Good good. Well, I’ll see you at the Shop on Monday.” His father tosses Ed his coat and ushers him out of the room, then drives him home to Lakewood Avenue. The drive is a quiet one with both men’s thoughts their own. The two Eds seem to often find a way to butt heads and this is just an extreme example of that. Their relationship is very much like the elder Eddie and his father Joe. Ed Jr. does recover quickly, though he bears scars on his chest for years.
The Christmas Eve Party is a joyous one this year with another new baby in the family, a wedding set for next year and the Shop’s run of success continuing. After a Saturday’s half-day of work, the place is cleaned, decorated and tables are laid out with food and drink. The Kavanagh’s welcome and celebrate with their customers, employees and friends. Betty Ann toddles around, her eyes wide open to take in the place, always pursued by her mother with an outstretched hand ready to catch her if she falls. Baby Nancy is held by all who can get a chance. She coos and smiles brightly to all, seeming to enjoy her first visit to the Shop. The menfolk offer several toasts to the family, the Shop and the holiday. Another year is in the books and it has been another good one. This annual gathering is a special day or at least a special few hours. 201 S. Central Avenue is a place of work, a place of labor. These few hours are the very rare time when the building is occupied but no work is being done. For this one afternoon and evening, it is not about heat, hammers and making money but about food, drink and song. Seasonal carols and old Irish favorites are sung and by tradition, the high point of the party is when Joe Kavanagh sings and leads them all in “O Holy Night.” His baritone voice filling the old dirty Shop that he spent so many days in since 1911. It will be the last time that Joe sings at the Shop.
Harry S. Truman is the President of the United States. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman opens on Broadway. The first Emmy awards are held and televised. NATO and the NBA are founded. The Goldbergs and Hopalong Cassidy premier on TV. An airplane flies around the world non-stop for the first time. The Geneva Convention is ratified. The first 45 rpm records and the first VW Beetles are sold in the US. George Foreman, Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, John Belushi, and Adrian Belew are born.
There are 48 states in the Union.
To read past years, click the Table of Contents link below: