Manitowoc Laborers 'Kept Grinding' on Labor Day During WWII

An ad from the Central Labor Council printed in the Manitowoc Herald-Times on September 5, 1942.

An ad from the Central Labor Council printed in the Manitowoc Herald-Times on September 5, 1942.

Labor Day…should not be considered just “another holiday,” headlined an article in The Manitowoc Herald-News on August 30, 1930.  The holiday “should be a time for earnest consideration for betterment of conditions of life and happiness of the workers.”

Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City to honor the American labor movement and the contributions workers have made to the success of the nation.  The 1930 article continues, “it should be a day for thoughtful exchange of ideas and their discussion for advancing the work of constructive buildings of the community by engendering a closer and more sincere co-operation of citizens for things which will promote their own interests.”

The article concludes with the statement, “The annual observance of Labor Day should mean something to the workers and to the community.”  Twelve years later, in 1942, the meaning of Labor Day changed significantly due to war efforts on the home front.

On September 5, 1942, the headline of the Manitowoc Herald-Times read, “Labor Day Observances Not to Interrupt War Industry,” as Manitowoc was observing its first war time Labor Day in more than 20 years.  Industries were set to continue operation, and the Central Labor Council abandoned its annual picnic for the first time in 40 years.  Instead of a picnic, a band concert was held at Washington Park in conjunction with a speaking program.

Set to speak were H. Herman Rauch, representing the Wisconsin Council for Civilian Defense, and George Haberman, president of the Milwaukee Federated Trade Council.  Rauch gave an address on the value of the civilian defense program and Haberman spoke on “Labor in the War.”  Presiding over the speaking program was Mayor Martin Georgenson.

An ad in the paper promoting the Labor Day concert and speaking program encouraged the purchase of war bonds.  “Today all America salutes Labor for its four-star Victory drive in out-producing the Axis in guns, planes, tanks, submarines and ships and all the weapons with which we will win this war; in supplying millions of men to the Army, Navy, Marines Corps and Coast Guard; in working on Civilian Defense through air raid protection, salvage, conservation, Red Cross and other home front activities; and in setting the pace for America’s great war bond victory drive.”

On a national level, production machines were set to keep working on Labor Day in 1942.  Another article in the September 5 issue of the Manitowoc Herald-Times, expresses how the nation gave up its traditional weekend of frolicking in order to “keep machines grinding against the Axis.”  War workers apparently needed little urging to stick to their machines on this holiday.  “Symbolizing the idea that war goes on at top speed on the holiday, the Navy said 150 warships, small and large, would be launched or their keels laid in 27 states on Monday.”

Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was no exception; work on the submarines was expected to continue ‘round the clock’ on Labor Day.  At this time, work was underway on the Redfin, the eighth in the fleet of ten submarines contracted by the U.S. Navy late in 1940.  The article states: “The yards here, now employing close to 6,500 workers, has adopted a general policy of working through holidays the same as any other day.”

During this Labor Day Weekend, while many entertain thoughts of summer memories and the upcoming school year, or perhaps attend various picnics, parades, and celebrations, it is important and appropriate that we remember the reason for the holiday - the American worker who has made this country what it is today.

William Rahr and the 1906 County Fair

“To the late William Rahr - former mayor and public benefactor, whose energy and indomitable spirit of progressiveness contributed more to the success of the Manitowoc County Fair than any other individual.”  That’s the dedication line of the Souvenir Edition of the Manitowoc County Fair Diamond Jubilee in 1935.  It wasn’t an exaggeration.  While Rahr could not plan, organize, and staff a county fair on his own, he certainly is responsible for reinventing a declining event.

The Manitowoc County Fair began in the fall of 1859.  It was first held at Washington Park and was sponsored by the newly formed Manitowoc County Agricultural Society.  As the fair outgrew the park’s limits the county festivities were moved to “Northwestern Hill” (known today as the area around Washington, Marshall, 21st and 22nd streets in Manitowoc).  The hill got its name because the only home located on the hill was owned by Carl H. Schmidt, publisher of the Manitowoc German newspaper the Nordwestern. The fair was held on the hill until 1874.  

Soon the three day fair moved to Clarks Mills – the geographic center of the county. Rules included no games of chance, gambling, or intoxicating beverages.  In 1884 the fair again moved to the city of Manitowoc on North 18th Street.  By 1905 interest in the fair was declining and talks of discontinuing the fair spread throughout the county.

It is at this point that William Rahr stepped in to resurrect the fair.  Rahr (a former mayor and malting and beer manufacturer) personally purchased stocks from the Industrial Association, which ran the fair for 20 years before, and paid holders two or three times the $25 value of the shares.  Rahr also made one large change to the fair rules – he allowed the sale of beer.  He spent over $70,000 on fair improvements – including redoing the track and rebuilding the grand stand.

Rahr’s work paid off.  Over 4,000 people attended the opening day (Thursday) in 1906.  Friday proved to be an even better turn out – attendance was estimated at 12,000 individuals.  One reason for the burst in attendance was making Friday children’s day. Schools were closed and even businesses throughout the county closed for the afternoon.

The county fair continued under Rahr’s leadership until 1911.  No fair was held that year because in Rahr’s absence no one stood up to take charge of the event.

The fair resumed in 1912 with a committee of citizens eager to bring the festivities back to the county.  The 1912 fair program includes a letter from the committee saying “An abiding faith that Manitowoc County as one of the leading Agricultural Counties of the State will support a County Fair, has prompted the committee of ten in charge of the fair to undertake its management and the public is asked to show its loyalty and patriotism.”

To those who continue to share their time and talents with the community by taking part in the county fair – thank you.  You have over 150 years of tradition behind you and William Rahr would be proud to see that the fair is still an event that people look forward to. 

Buffalo Bill Came to Town in 1900

Buffalo Bill rides in Manitowoc, August 1900

Buffalo Bill rides in Manitowoc, August 1900

It time travel was possible; I certainly wouldn’t miss the chance to see the excitement and fanfare of The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show when it strolled into Manitowoc!  Holding shows across the United States and throughout the globe since 1883, the Wild West Show was seen by millions of people, including thousands from our area.

In the weeks leading up to the Honorable William F. Cody’s trip to Manitowoc, the Manitowoc Daily Herald described some tension involving his show. "Buffalo Bill rode into Manitowoc on the plush red cushions of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad night limited. He registered at the Williams House and turned in. Next morning he went to Mayor Henry Stolze to arrange for dates for this gigantic tent show in this area..."

"Mayor Stolze informed [Buffalo Bill] that the license fee for a one-day stand at Manitowoc would cost the show a sum of $500. Buffalo Bill whooped as though struck in the back by an arrow out of the bow of Pawnee Pete."

"'Five hundred dollars?' Bill's face turned as white as if he had just witnessed ... ghosts... .'We ever before were assessed such rates."

"Bill threatened to pitch his big tent city just on the outskirts of Manitowoc and turn his wild horses ... loose anyway. Mayor Stolze, standing eye to eye with the grand old westerner, reminded Buffalo Bill that if any of his horses set foot on the city of Manitowoc soil they would be impounded until such time the license fee of $500 was paid."

"Bill made pronto haste back to Chicago and fetched his head lawyer back with him. David Jarret, who also acted as Buffalo Bill's advance agent, glanced at the quickly-drawn city ordinance and guessed it was legal enough."

"The stirring City of Two Rivers stepped into the breach by offering a free site for the Buffalo Bill tent show. What's more the good city fathers there offered to toss in free water for the horses, ponies, and [men]."

Further details were not released in the newspaper but “Buffalo Bill is here” was proudly proclaimed across the front page of the Manitowoc Daily Herald on August 7, 1900.  The show was held on Tuesday, August 7 with two exhibitions, “held rain or shine” at 2 and 8 pm at the Fair Grounds.  The cost to attend was $.50 and $.25 for children under the age of 10.  The show was sponsored in part by Grottman’s Drug Store, 925 S. 8th Street.

Billboards and posters filled the city in the months prior to the show.  The Daily Herald on July 21, 1900 explained that “The Buffalo Bill posters are works of art and are attracting the attention of all passers-by. That on north Eighth Street is said to be the largest ever printed.”

But with all the excitement surrounding the great show, not everyone in town was pleased.  A late July show at Manitowoc’s Opera House did not receive the advertising space it needed because of the increased attention to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.  The initial performance of the La Pearl combination had a very small crowd, one that the manager explained “Buffalo Bill had preempted the billboards of the town and consequently the aggregation was not advertised as it should have been, people thinking that a show without "paper" was not of the brightest order.”

The Daily Herald went on to describe the great event: “Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the world arrived in the city early this morning.  The hundreds of horses, acres of canvass and all of the equipments incident to the greatest show of the kind on earth unloaded at Franklin street and in a very short space of time had the tents pitched on the Fair Grounds….”

“Five thousand people visited the grounds during the morning and gazed at the horses … and everybody was anxious to get a look at the famous Buffalo Bill or William J. Cody.”

“It was indeed a wonderful sight and never before did the citizens of Manitowoc have an opportunity to witness such an aggregation. The evening show will be of as high character as that of the afternoon. The electrical features are said to enhance the affects greatly, and particularly is this true of the representation of the historic fight on San Juan Hill. That the tent will be taxed to its limit tonight, goes without saying.”

Luckily, for those of us that missed the great spectacle in the year 1900, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show will again ride into town at Pinecrest Historical Village on August 12 and 13.   Complete with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and many more, this show is a great homage to the event that took place here over a century ago.