WAYNE E. REILLY

Sam Golden ran ‘greatest employment agency in America’

Posted March 31, 2013, at 9:38 a.m.
Golden’s Employment Agency was a popular spot for jobless men.
Courtesy of Dick Shaw
Golden’s Employment Agency was a popular spot for jobless men.

Bangor was no longer the “lumber capital of the world” a century ago, but it was still a major crossroads for thousands of loggers looking for jobs. Several Bangor employment agencies competed to supply workers to logging camps as well as paper mills, railroad construction and other large work sites. They came by the train car load from Boston and New York City to cut trees or do other work, and when they were done they might find themselves on their way to the Connecticut River or even farther away in time for the log drives.

The Golden Employment Agency, strategically located at 40 Washington St. near the train station, billed itself as the “greatest employment agency in America.” Colorful signs were plastered all over the front of this otherwise nondescript building so working men couldn’t miss it after they got off the train or staggered out of a nearby saloon.

A reporter for the Bangor Daily News paid a visit to Sam Golden to find out what was new in the spring of 1913. The thousands of loggers who passed through Bangor each year remained an important part of the city’s economy, supporting a whole infrastructure of cheap hotels, stores, eateries and, of course, saloons. The reporter found that the nature of this moving mass of men was changing dramatically.

The headline over his story on April 17, 1913, summed up the situation: “Congress of all nations in Maine’s lumber camps: Russians, Poles, Finns, Swedes and Lithuanians Have Succeeded the Canadians Who Displaced Native Loggers, and Employment Agencies Need Interpreters. … All the World Flocks to Bangor for a Job, and Yearly 20,000 Jobs Are Provided.”

Yes, all the world flocked to Bangor, where you could hear a polyglot of languages on the streets down by the river at all hours of the day and night, especially when the loggers came to town in the fall and spring. (Nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents were immigrants or the offspring of immigrants at this time.)

The reporter boiled it all down to a few names and dates, exercising perhaps a little poetic license.

Twenty years before, you could expect to run into lots of loggers named Hafferty, Sullivan, Kelley, Burke and Shea — many first- and second-generation Irishmen.

Then, 10 or so years before, a flood of Canadians took many of these woods jobs — men with names such as McIntyre, McDonald and McLeod — men with a slight Scottish accent, perhaps.

The reporter claimed he had encountered three men named “Poupinkopfh, Dareszke and Horrowitze.” They marched from the train station to Golden’s nearby agency. You couldn’t tell if they were newly arrived immigrants from “Russian Poland” or loggers down from Seboomook looking for new jobs on the Connecticut River. Whatever the case, their businesslike demeanor was an indication they were more interested in work than in the saloons and other diversions that dotted the neighborhood.

The bewhiskered trio headed right for the “building whose pea-green front was decorated with placards [in letters a foot high] announcing that 500 drivers were wanted at once for the Connecticut and the West Branch, and that other hundreds could be accommodated with jobs in pulp mills or at building railroads.” Inside was a big room where 40 or 50 men sat on benches smoking, talking and waiting.

Of course there were still Kelleys and McLeods along with plenty of Maine “natives,” also known as Yankees, working in the woods, but many of the older groups — the Yankees and the Irishmen and the Canadians — had settled down to better-paying jobs closer to home or they had become bosses or owners of lumbering operations. Meanwhile, better economic opportunities were to be found in Canada, so the men from the provinces were fewer. And the services of these more experienced men of yore, as well as the most skilled immigrants such as the French Canadians and Finns, were in demand to fill higher-paying jobs as river drivers.

The differences between these new men — the foreigners — and the old variety were obvious, said the reporter. The new log harvesters were an unemotional, unsociable lot. They smoked cigarettes or “fine cut tobacco in little briar pipes,” while the old-timers wanted “plug tobacco, cut with a jackknife, in a big strong pipe.”

Did they sing popular tunes like the old crews?

“One could sooner expect music from so many mud turtles,” observed the reporter. And the boozy celebrations in the Devil’s Half Acre and along Exchange Street when the loggers emerged from the woods in the spring were certainly duller than they used to be.

Born in Prussia, Samuel H. Golden, 28 years old, was himself one of Bangor’s energetic immigrants making his living off the flood of humanity that trooped through the Queen City every year. You could tell he was a man with a future even then, “a genius in several ways,” as the reporter put it. “A particularly bright young man,” he had “become adept at Yankee ways and business methods.”

Golden’s business partner was Charles M. Largay, “who is a typical Bangor lumberman of Irish descent.” Together they could handle “all sorts of conditions of men who came looking for jobs.” Golden’s father, a retired rabbi, was a graduate of the University of St. Petersburg who could speak several languages, Golden told the reporter. The elder Golden acted as an interpreter for the agency.

What happened to Sam Golden, who played such a pivotal role in the economy of northern Maine a century ago? The headline on his obituary, which appeared on Dec. 10, 1960, in the Bangor Daily News, said “World-Noted Bangor Man Dead At 75.” Golden was described as “an internationally known commissary expert,” the son of Morris and Sarah Golden, who brought him to Bangor in 1889.

Imagine the boundless economic opportunities he recognized in those early years. In 1904 he founded what became a chain of employment agencies operating throughout New England “as a recruiting center for lumberjacks, shipping over 400,000 men into the woods during that colorful era in Maine’s lumbering industry.”

In 1925, he formed “a syndicate” to purchase and develop real estate in Florida. For the past 30 years he had been president of the S.H. Golden Co. Inc., which operated construction camps, industrial cafeterias, and cafeterias for department stores and naval and military bases all over the world.

During World War II he was employed by the U.S. government “as an expert on mass feeding to evaluate government food service contracts in the United States and the West Indies.” He “was a brilliant and interesting personality with a tremendous interest in Maine and its people,” said the obituary, which started on page one of the newspaper.

A reporter for the Bangor Daily News also found him brilliant and interesting in April 1913 — this young man who said he ran “the greatest employment agency in the world” from a nondescript little building on Washington Street in the heart of what was then Bangor’s bustling waterfront district and immigrant neighborhood.

Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. An illustrated collection, “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

 

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