October 29, 2022 | Last updated Aug 15, 2023

Plenty of Work

Solomon D. Butcher’s photograph depicted workmen laying a concrete sidewalk. NSHS RG2608-2952 (left).

Job hunters in Omaha during the booming 1880s had an easier time than those looking for work today. A reporter for the Omaha Daily Bee in the fall of 1888 “made the rounds of the city and saw scores of the advertisers for help in the want columns of the daily press, and the unanimous verdict of the daily press, and the unanimous verdict of all is . . . there is employment for all who honestly want it.”

Tradesmen and manual workers were in particularly short supply. “There is no surplus, even of common day laborers in the city,” noted the Bee on October 14, 1888, “simply from the fact that there is such an enormous quantity of improvement in progress that all can find work.” Teamsters, bricklayers, carpenters, tailors, cobblers, and all kinds of skilled and unskilled workers found steady demand for their services.

What about wages? The pay scale for teamsters in Omaha in 1888 ranged from $1.75 to $3.00 per day. “[A] good bricklayer,” said the Bee, “commands 55 cents an hour, and they ought surely be able to eke out a pretty fair sustenance upon such wages. Carpenters too, are in precisely the same boat, there is plenty of work for them at 30 cents an hour.” Learn what other skilled workers could earn in 1888 from a Timeline Tuesday blog post.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

(Updated 8/15/2023)

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