Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

Other Advances

from The Irish Americans & Their Communities of Cleveland
by Nelson J. Callihan &
William F. Hickey

The 1880'S gave birth to some marvelous mechanical inventions, all designed to speed up the wheels of industry. Among them were an electrically operated gantry, the predecessor to the ultimate unloader of ore boats, the Hulett, which exists to this day, and the newfangled open-hearth forge. Whereas the first mechanical unloaders, and there were several such inventions, could grab five tons of ore at a bite from the hold of a ship, the Hulett, which was to come to perfection in the 1890's could grasp 15 tons in each of its two metallic claws. Furthermore, it needed only six men to operate it and could do in one day what it had formerly taken 100 Iron Terriers to accomplish.

In 1882 wooden vessels were giving way to those made of iron, and Cleveland was in the forefront of building the ironclads, 'the ships that wouldn't float,' and remained one of the most important shipbuilding centers in the nation. There were good jobs to be had in the shipyards, but they demanded skilled men. The Irish were to learn that lesson the hard way, as the shipbuilders began importing Scot craftsmen directly from the yards of Clyde.

However, things were looking up -- there were always the ships themselves, and, of course, railroads were coming into their heyday. So much so, that there was literally no direction an Irishman could look without seeing the advance of the railroads. To the north, on the waterfront, was the Union Depot, 603 feet of solid Berea stone, with engines puffing in and out all day long. Those who lived down river at Irishtown Bend had the dubious pleasure of having railroad tracks in their front yards, the better to serve the mills even further south on the river…

The typical Irish child born in the 1880's could look forward to only six or seven years of rudimentary education and then it was out into the inhospitable world, where nothing was taken for granted because nothing was ever given. Most boys still looked to the docks to launch their careers and hundreds of them began their upward move from the position of water boy. The girls looked to the domestic servant world or, as mentioned, a clerkship. Most of all, they looked toward marriage or the convent.

The job of water boy no means an easy one. Pails of water tend to be heavy and cumbersome, especially when one is forced to run with them, the only gait allowed. Sweatinq Terriers, for instance, tended to become impatient with the young Gunqha Dineens of the day and wouldn't hesitate to swat the bejabbers out of a slow-footed lad. When they yelled, "water boy," which they did often in any given day, it was best to move on the double.

After a few years apprenticeship as a water carrier, a good brawny lad could expect to take his place among the men and labor 10 hours a day at a job that required little or no skill. The more ambitious and quick-witted no sooner landed such jobs than they began to look for ways to become skilled. They were a new breed, no longer content to spend their lives in an endless pursuit of bed and board. Some gave up the docks altogether and struck out on their own, with only their courage and a bit of blarney to see them through.

These were the men who displayed to Yankee businessmen that the Irish were capable of holding positions other than unskilled laboring jobs. A typical example was a young man whose job it was to run down the tops of hopper cars, shouting to a checker nearby the brand of coal the car contained. He was a diligent lad and soon knew a great deal about coal. His employer was so taken with his attitude and knowledge that he offered the young man a job selling the black gold --another Irishman exchanged his blue collar for the coveted white one.

The 1890's provided even more of a breakthrough for the more exceptional sons of Irishmen, for this decade was to see them enter the professions of law, medicine and dentistry. Frank Moran, at 21, was the youngest member of the 1897 graduating class of Western Reserve University Dental School. A classmate, Joseph Henahan, went on to head the University's oral surgery department. He is credited with advancing the design of forceps and also came up, with the idea of block anesthesia. When he retired in 1937, he was succeeded in his position by his nephew John Sweeney.