Aldus Parmer–A Lifetime of Work

What was your first job? How old were you when you started working? I was 16 years old when I started working (other than babysitting). My first job was at Dairy Queen. While school was in session, I worked part time–nights and weekends. During the summer I worked full time. I enjoyed working and earning money. It was exciting being able to pay for things myself. On top of that, we had some fun times at the DQ–the manager-owner made sure of that! Having a job wasn’t a necessity. My parents housed, clothed, and fed me. But earning money to have extras was very motivating.

Remember Aldus was 16 1/2 years old when his mother died in 1897. One census record indicates he had an 8th grade education. Interestingly, the city directory for 1897 lists Aldus individually, as an adult. No occupation is listed; nevertheless, seeing him listed individually is intriguing. It attests to the expectations of youth at the time. So Aldus began to work in factories.

According to the city directories, his factory career began as a box maker, which is what the directories list for his occupation in 1898 and 1899. What kind of boxes he made will likely remain a mystery. Lancaster had a variety of factories. Some that may have required box makers are Hershey’s candy and cigars. Or perhaps it was larger boxes to ship in bulk things like umbrellas or cork products. In any case, the job was likely long hours, for little pay, and in not so good conditions.

Aldus would hold various jobs before finally settling into a career. Here’s what the city directories has listed for him:

1901 Salesman

1903 Fruits

1905 Harness Maker

1907 Driver

1911, 1913, 1916 Salesman (The 1910 Census, Aldus is listed as a Salesman at a seed store.)

1917, 1919 Machinist

On Sept 12, 1918, he registered for the draft. He was living at 507 Green Street, Lancaster, PA. His occupation is listed as an auto machinist working for Queen Motor Co. at 432 N. Queen, Lancaster.

The 432 N. Queen location had been used as a repair shop previous to it becoming The Queen Motor Company. In 1915, Butzer Brothers opened a shop at that location. Edward A. Carney decided to enter the auto business and secured a job there in 1915. Edward would eventually become a partner in the company and then sole owner.

On November 14, 1919, The Queen Motor Co. building at 432 N. Queen burned down. According to the 1924 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a History Volume IV found here, The Queen Motor Car Company was “popularly known as ‘the busiest corner in the city.’ No hour of the twenty-four finds the doors closed, no day of the year” (335). Carney held a banquet for his employees “on the evening of January 30, 1920. This was following the November of the fire, and before the new building was even started. He gave his organization the finest banquet and entertainment the city afforded, and without a word of regret for the misfortune, mapped out an enthusiastic campaign for the season shortly to open” (335). The new building was located at a different spot, but it seems that the old location was used as a repair shop by other companies as this 1920 directory shows.

From 1920 Chilton Automobile Directory, found here.

Perhaps based on the mishaps of The Queen Motor Co. building, Aldus decided to go into business for himself. In the 1920 Census, Aldus and Mary live at 507 Green Street and own the home with a mortgage still on the property. Aldus is shown as age 39, which is consistent with him being born in 1880 and being 18 years old at the time of his marriage. He is listed as a proprietor in the “Garage” industry. Also, the 1927-28 city directories list his occupation as auto repair working in the rear of 507 Green, which is his home. Maybe opening his own garage was out of necessity to provide for the family when the company building burned down. It seems perhaps he did well enough to stick with it because this is his main occupation for the years ahead.

The 1930 Census has a few interesting questions. One asks if the home has a radio. Aldus’ family does not. Also asked is if the individual is a veteran, to which Aldus indicates he is not. Another question asks if the individual was actually at work the previous working day. That’s an interesting question! Aldus’ record indicates he was at work the previous working day. This question was a result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting situation that we refer to today as the Great Depression. If a person indicated they were not at work the previous working day, additional questions, on a supplemental sheet, were asked in an attempt to discover whether or not the person was regularly employed or was without a job. The census unemployment results were controversial and many thought the numbers didn’t reflect the true unemployment rate. Likely some thought they were only temporarily out of work and indicated so when they were really not going back to work. Other unemployment censuses were commissioned as a result.

A few items to note on the 1930 Census is that Aldus and family still live at 507 Green Street where they own the home, which they valued at $4,400. Aldus is listed as 49 years old, still consistent with being 18 years old when he married, but his age at first marriage is listed on the 1930 Census as 19. Mary is listed as being 18 years old at first marriage, but we know from the marriage license that she is 17 years old. Aldus again is listed as a proprietor of a “Garage”. Also of note is that the family has a 25 year old male boarder who worked at odd jobs.

Rear building at 507 Green Street, likely where Aldus’ garage was located.

1940 Census reveals a few more details about Aldus and his family. He is still a mechanic, but now works for City Water Works. He had worked 50 hours the week of March 24-30, 1940. He had worked 52 weeks in 1939 and had earned $1200 during the year. Aldus and Mary’s two youngest sons, Ned (age 31) and James (age 29) lived at home, which was still 507 Green Street. Ned listed his occupation as auto mechanic at his own garage, so it was likely the garage on the home’s property.

So what did Aldus do as an employee of the City Water Works? The 1946 and 1948 city directories provide the link — he was an auto mechanic at the City Bureau of Water. Why did he now, after 20 years being self employed, start working for someone else? The answer may be the Social Security Act of 1935. In order to qualify, he would have had to be employed. Working for someone would have likely been the best option to maximize his benefits.

With our first indication of his being a machinist in 1917, Aldus spent over 30 years as an auto mechanic. He had been employed for half a century. He would have been 65, and thus eligible for Social Security benefits, in 1945. It appears from the city directories that he retired around 1950.

Aldus–Starting Off Young

An interesting fact shown in the 1940 census is the highest grade of education completed. Aldus is shown as completing 7 grades. Mary completed 8. Of Aldus and Mary’s sons, Ned is shown as completed 8th grade, and James had what looks like 4 years of high school education. Historically, from 1850, only about 60% of youth ages 5-19 years old were enrolled in school until about 1910 when the percentage began to increase (Source for all statistics in this paragraph). Of those enrolled, they were virtually all in elementary school. Until 1910, less than 10 our of every 100 youth aged 17 had completed high school. Even in 1940, only about 25% of the Caucasian population aged 25+ had completed 4 years of high school. Likewise, college admission rates were extremely low. Although the number of enrollments in college began to increase around 1910, enrollment didn’t really take off until about 1950. In 1870, 20% of the population aged 14+ were illiterate, and the percentage remained in the double digits until after 1900.

I share all these statistics because they are really helpful in understanding the differences that existed in our ancestor’s lives. What seems so basic to us today was just not so basic in the past. As a result, we have to look at history from the eyes of those who were living it. Just earning a living to survive was so time consuming then, producing the very basics of food, clothing, and shelter. It helps us to understand why small children were hired out and why teens stopped going to school and were employed full time. Mindsets, family patterns, and life circumstances stick around from generation to generation, which we see in the history of education. Nevertheless, situations change over time. Referring back to the 1940 census, Ned, who was born in 1909, had completed 8 years of education; however, James, who was born in 1911, appears to have completed high school. Just the two years difference in birth likely boosted James’ educational opportunities.

Lancaster School building built in 1892. Former one story school buildings were on both sides of this building. It’s possible that Aldus went to both the one story buildings and this building for his education. Photo from Google Maps. More information about this school, and the history of schools in this area, is found here.

Let’s get back to Aldus, who is shown as completing 7 grades of school. If he started school around 8 or 9 years old, he would have completed his 7 grades at about 15-16 years old. Remember that his mother died in 1897 when Aldus was 16 1/2 years old. It’s likely that he had finished his education and was employed at the time or shortly after. This was common for the time. I have a fifteen year old daughter. She’s still in school and she does not have to worry about working to support herself or her family. Life is different now. For Aldus, it was just the norm. Very likely, his friends had stopped going to school and were getting jobs too. And so the beginning of an adult life began at 16 years old.

What do people do besides work when they are an adult? Getting married is quite common. About two years after his mother died, Aldus married Mary E. Troop. The marriage certificate says Aldus was 21 years old and Mary was 17 years old when they applied for a marriage license on April 25, 1899. If the date is correct, and his birthday is correct, he would have been 18 at the time, not 21. They were married April 29, 1899. In Pennsylvania in 1900, the legal age to marry without consent from a parent was 21, so it’s likely Aldus lied about his age so he wouldn’t have to get consent from his father. Why he felt he had to do that will likely remain a mystery.

Signature on marriage license docket

In June 1900, Aldus and Mary lived with her Parents at 347 North Concord Street. They would have been married less than a year.

347 N Concord St, Lancaster, PA. This home is listed on as being built in 1900. Photo from Google Maps.

The 1900 census indicates that Mary had not given birth to any children. Aldus’s birthday is listed on the census as Nov 1879, although the provider of the family information may have gotten the year incorrect; however, his age is listed as 20, which would mean he was 19 when he married, not 21 or even 18. On the other hand, if he was born in 1880, he would have been 19 years old in June of 1900 as he wouldn’t have had his 20th birthday until November. I’m always amazed at the inconsistency of ages in historical records. I’ve written about that for several of his siblings.

The 1910 Census, taken in April, shows Aldus is 29 years old. This would be consistent with him being born in 1880. It also indicates that he and Mary have been married 11 years, which is also consistent with Aldus being 18 years old at the time of his marriage. Aldus is listed as a Salesman at a seed store. Mary is listed as being the mother of 4 children, 4 of which are still living. This is interesting as I found on Elvin’s birth certificate that he is the fourth child born, with three still living. Elvin was born in 1906. His younger brother, Ned, had been born and was listed in the 1910 census, which means the census record is likely wrong and should indicate 5 children had been born and 4 were still living. Aldus and Mary had six kids. Raymond Earl, Grace, a baby, Elvin, Ned, and James.

Aldus and Mary lived with their family at 509 Green Street, which they were renting, and were living next to Aldus’ brother William and family who lived at and owned 507 Green Street. Eventually, William and his family would move to Florida and Aldus and his family would buy William’s home.

507 Green Street on left and 509 Green Street on right. Map from Google Maps. Home built in 1900.

So what did Aldus do to support his family? That will be the topic of the next post.