Prosperity continued as more rail links were made through Providence
in the 1840s and 1850s. Roads were improved and created, as were
bridges and canals. Gas lighting was established in 1847, making
the city a thoroughly modern place. The public school system established
earlier in the century continued to expand and improve, and Providence
became known as an educational as well as an industrial center.
the last half of the nineteenth century, immigrants poured into
Providence looking for work and opportunity. By the end of the 1800s
Providence was home to some of the worlds largest factories
(tools, files, screws, engines, and silverware). The names of Providence
companies like Brown and Sharpe, American Screw, Corliss Steam Engine,
Nicholson File, and Gorham Silver were known the world over. With
immigrant workers, necessary to keep these huge plants operating,
came organized labor. The Knights of Labor first came to Providence
in 1882, and other unions followed, many specific to certain trades.
In the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, immigrants continued to
flood into Providence, swelling its population to 175,597 by 1900up
from 54,595 in 1865. More than sixty percent of Providences
residents were foreign born at the end of the 19th century.
Newer immigrants included Portuguese, Italians, Poles, Cape Verdeans,
and British. Religious diversity got a boost with Jewish immigration.
As the workforce grew, not surprisingly so did the labor movement.
Unions began to be established in the 1880s. Truly a Golden Age,
the last decades of the nineteenth century brought unparalleled
wealth to Providence. Civic improvements followed with expanded
services and facilities, including new public parks and recreation
facilities. Private efforts financed the building of an opera house,
an auditorium, a grand hotel, and a new railroad terminal, among
other urban improvements. Higher education benefited from the establishment
of a womens college, Pembroke, within Brown University; the
founding of the Rhode Island School of Design; and the re-opening
of the State Normal School.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Tirocchis immigrated,
Providence was one of the most prosperous cities in the country.
It led the U. S. in jewelry and woolen textile production, and was
third in machinery and precision toolsboth critical for the
industrial age. By 1910, almost 225,000 people lived in Providence,
far more than inhabited the city in the year 2000. Almost every
sector of the economy grew, and business buildings and private homes
were built to meet the demand of the increasing population.
electricity, and automobiles, all present in Providence by the late
nineteenth century, swelled in importance in the early twentieth.
As the cost of these modern devices and services came down, availability
went up. By 1919, there were over 60,000 telephone customers in
Providence. Public works, such as an improved sewer system, better
streets, and harbor improvements served also to improve the business
climate. However, Providences manufacturing sector was already
in trouble. Its plants were aging and its labor force was expensive
compared to non-union labor in the competing Southern factories.
Cheaper transportation systems and lower taxes in the South also
put pressure on Northern industries. Even before the Great Depression
began in 1929, Providence was beginning to reel from increased unemployment
and a stressed economy.
In 1920 almost half of Rhode Islands workers worked in the
textile mills. A decade later, one-quarter of them had lost their
jobs. By 1938, the total number of textile workers had dropped to
12,000, from a high of 34,000 in 1923. Citywide, the Depression
hit hard. All industrial sectors, trades, retail, and white-collar
jobs were affected. Public work relief, instituted by the City of
Providence with assistance from state and federal loans, provided
work throughout the 1930s to desperate citizens. Among the projects
were new road construction, new schools and public buildings, and
park improvements. Without these, and the federal governments
Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects, Providences
out-of-work citizenry would have been in even more dire circumstances.
It was a hard decade for the city and the Tirocchi shop suffered
along with the rest of the local economy.
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