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Schenectady: A Brief Social Study of an Industrial City

[This information is from Schenectady: A Brief Social Study of an Industrial City by Charles M. Ripley, E.E. (1923).]

[Image of cover (14K)]

It is unnecessary to describe Schenectady as a place to work. The whole world uses Schenectady's electric lighting and power machinery, steam locomotives and radio devices. Schenectady is also the home of WGY, the most powerful radio broadcasting station in the world.

But there are other things in life beside work, and this will describe Schenectady as a place to live.

First — Location. Schenectady is 14 miles from Albany, on the main line of the New York Central, the Delaware and Hudson, and Boston and Maine railroads. We are about four hours distant from New York and six hours from Boston.

Located 40 miles to the northwest are the Adirondack Mountains; 40 miles northeast are the Green Mountains of Vermont; 40 miles south are the Catskill Mountains; and the heart of the beautiful Berkshires is 40 miles to the east. Are we not fortunate to be located, you might say, in the cradle of four famous mountain ranges, which, with their hundreds of lakes, are the playground of the eastern portion of North America? Wordsworth, in describing one of the eastern mountain ranges, said:

"Ah! that such beauty, varying in the light
Of living nature, cannot be portrayed
By words, nor by the pencil's silent skill;
But is the property of him alone
Who hath beheld it, noted it with care,
And in his mind recorded it with love."

And Schenectady lies exactly at the hub. The spokes in our imaginary wheel are the world famous roads of New York State — super-boulevards — on which even a Ford car can easily obtain a speed of 40 miles an hour. These roads take one in about an hour into any one of these mountain ranges, where thousands go fishing, hunting, snowshoeing and where other outdoor sports abound, winter and summer.

So much for the environment of Schenectady. But how about the City itself? If we were to stop here, the sarcastic critic would remark: "All you have said about Schenectady is that there are nice places to go if you leave the City. "

[View of Mohawk Valley above Schenectady — original size (13K) | 4x enlarged (34K)]

Away with the bitter tongues of the peevish pessimist and the sour critic! There are scores of advantages and achievements right inside the city. We are proud that among the 16,000 houses in our City, only 485 or three per cent, are not equipped with electric light. Ninety-nine per cent of our citizens live in either one family or two family houses; so there are no tenements as in the larger cities. This gives practically everyone a front yard, a back yard and two side yards.

Another thing everybody appreciates is the water. Although the City is on the bank of the Mohawk River, nevertheless all the drinking water is pumped from deep Artesian wells. Hydraulic motor tank trucks flush the streets with water, and the garbage and ashes are collected without charge, the former being made away with in a destructor plant.

Schenectady claims to be the only city in the Mohawk Valley which has a sewage disposal plant. Most of the contents of the city sewers is purified in the disposal plant, which is located near the garbage destructor, well outside the city. This helps to keep the river pure, not only benefiting the swimmers, but also those living down stream.

[Ellis Hospital — original size (9k) | 4x enlarged (23K)]

A City Health Centre with 10 nurses is well equipped to give free medical advice, and the visiting nurses make regular inspections and teach hygienic living. A Baby Welfare section for years has been giving special attention to the kiddies.

The Tuberculosis committee is a devoted and aggressive organization which has established itself in the confidence of all elements of the community.

The Ellis Hospital was recently enlarged and a nurses' school added. To make this possible, over $400,000 was raised by popular subscription in a whirlwind campaign lasting only one week, all elements co-operating. And what is the net result of all these facilities upon the health of our citizens?

Enviable Record

The death rate per thousand in Schenectady in 1921, according to the World Almanac, was less than in any other city in New York: State; Schenectady's death rate was less than the death rate in any other city shown in the whole United States with the exception of Seattle, Washington; and Schenectady's death rate was lower than any other city in the world except Antwerp, Belgium. The exact figures are 10.7 deaths per thousand in Schenectady, 10.5 in Seattle and 10.5 in Antwerp. All other cities listed had a higher death rate.

And on the subject of last year's infant mortality, only 85 per thousand of Schenectady's babies died under one year of age, whereas 106 per thousand babies died in Baltimore, 102 in Boston, 106 in Pittsburgh and 109 in Antwerp; while in Bombay, India, 556 per thousand, or over half of the babies died before they were one year old. So this would prove that Schenectady is a healthy place in which to live.

And what else makes a city a good place for a man and his family to live in? The spirit of the people in a social way. Ours is a democratic citizenship — we all mind our own business — are independent and self-supporting, since practically every house has a bread winner, and we have no idle rich.

[Airplane view of State Street — original size (22K) | 4x enlarged (55K)]


Now let us take the schools. All the pupils in the grade schools receive free textbooks. Special rooms on the roof of some of the schools were built for anemic children, and during the winter last year, 23,214 lunches were provided free by the City to the children in these classes. This does not include summer schools.

In this City of 88,000, the grade school enrollment, last year was 16,500 — a very high attendance. Enrollment in the Schenectady High School was 21 1/2 per cent of the enrollment in the grade schools — a remarkable record for high school attendance.

Almost 50 per cent of the students who enter grade school later enter High School, whereas the average for the whole United States shows that only 14 per cent of those who enter grade school ever get as far as the high school.

You will conclude from this that not only are the schools appreciated by our citizens but also that Schenectady is not afflicted with the curse of child labor. In the big Electric Company, only 1.8 per cent of all employes are less than High School graduating age. This figure includes both office and shop employes.


And is Schenectady a safe place in which to live? The Department of Public Safety (which includes the Police Department) is so well organized that we have never had a crime wave, though apparently they have been general throughout the rest of the country, if not throughout the rest of the world.

In the big Electric Works, which employs nearly 20,000 people, very careful records are kept of accidents. Figures averaged for the last six years show that only one-eighth of one man per thousand lost his life in a fatal accident in the big factory. Government statistics show that four men out of every thousand lose their lives in metal mining each year, that three and a half men per thousand lose their lives in coal mining every year, and that three men per thousand, strange to say, lose their lives every year in fishing and fisheries. So it would appear that it is 25 times more dangerous to fish than to work in the big electric factory in Schenectady.

[Partial view of the Pleasant Valley tennis courts — original size (13K) | 4x enlarged (36K)]

The average loss by fire in this electric works for the past 10 years has been only $39 per fire. The Schenectady Fire Department is completely motorized — not a single horse drawn vehicle remaining.

Play Grounds

And what else has been done to help the kiddies — to make them safe, happy and healthy?

Schenectady has 37 play grounds for the children, equipped with sand, shoot-the-chutes, rings and other equipment to develop their health and keep them off the streets. And is their time all spent in play? Indeed not — for in the playgrounds in the summer, 23 skilled instructors conduct free open-air classes, where they teach dressmaking, cooking, millinery and basketry. The raffia is furnished free for the basketry classes, and baseballs and bats and tennis rackets are provided for those who wish to play the more grown-up games, all without charge.


Besides these 37 play grounds, open winter and summer, there are 11 parks comprising 232 acres. Every summer there are free movies and band concerts in the parks. It has been found that free ice-cream for the children is cheaper than fireworks on the 4th of July.

[Scene on one of Schenectady's athletic fields — original size (9K) | 4x enlarged (26K)]

A stadium and artificial lake were built by the Unemployment Committee in one of the parks two years ago — paid for partly by voluntary contributions and partly by bond issue. All the work was done by the unemployed. The building contractors, hardware dealers and other business men donated the necessary materials and tools, so that all the money appropriated and donated went to the payroll to help relieve the unemployment situation.

Summer Sports

Two artificial lakes have been constructed in different parks, which, in addition to the Mohawk River, give ample opportunity for the health giving sport and exercise of swimming. The lake water is analyzed every Friday by Dr. Warren B. Stone, the City Bacteriologist, and to keep it pure a million and a quarter gallons of fresh city drinking water is pumped in every night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The swimming in Iroquois Lake in Central Park is supervised by the Bureau of Parks which furnishes four city-paid instructors, two being Red Cross Life Saving experts. They devote their entire time in the summer teaching young folks swimming and life saving.

The 33 shower baths installed in the parks with hot and cold water are much patronized by visitors, especially those using the 31 municipal tennis courts.

Winter Sports

And indoors at the seven swimming pools in different public schools, city-paid instructors teach boys and girls to swim.

The park lakes and the river freeze over in the winter and ice carnivals are conducted with skating races, skiing contests, etc., where fancy skaters of world-wide reputation perform before audiences as large as 12,000 people.

One of the reasons why so much public recreation has been carried on is that the Director of Public Recreation and the Superintendent of Parks and Playgrounds are two positions filled by the same individual. This prevents the division of responsibility, and the handicapping of recreation by departmental red tape.

The 12,000 automobilists in Schenectady County are looking forward to the completion of a beautiful wide boulevard. This is now being constructed as a new cross town thoroughfare on the land formerly occupied by the old Erie Canal, which in former days was an unsightly stream, as well as an obstruction to the City's traffic.

Union College

The Schenectady youth who seeks a higher education may take advantage of the excellent facilities afforded by Union College for training along collegiate lines. The accessibility of the College to all parts of the city enables the student of limited means to live at home while engaged in his studies. For the ambitious young man desiring to continue his education, but who must be occupied during the day, night classes are held at the College. The popularity of these classes is evidenced by the large enrollment each year.

[Airplane view of General Electric Company factory employing twenty thousand men — original size (27K) | 4x enlarged (75K)]


The Schenectady clergymen address the largest congregations the world has known, for each Sunday a complete church service is broadcast from a different Schenectady church by the General Electric Company's Radio Broadcasting Station, WGY. Not only is the sermon sent out by wireless, but also the choir and organ music, responsive reading, prayer and congregational singing. In addition, an afternoon vesper service is broadcast at 4:30 o'clock. Thus those in the country and in the city can obtain spiritual guidance; and for those sick at home or in hospitals, or otherwise unable to attend divine worship, the sad hours are quickly turned to minutes by bringing the church to their very bedside.


We are glad to have had this opportunity of taking you on this inspection trip to our City, and we hope you will personally visit us. Automobilists are granted free camping privileges in the parks, with undreamed of facilities. On your vacation, or at any other time, motor over to Schenectady and see the City that lights and hauls the world and furnishes it with Radio. Here live the men that put the fire in amplifier.

Camp in the city tents in our parks, play tennis on some of the tennis courts which are provided, take a shower bath with hot or cold water, a swim in the lake, or both — and your little boy and girl should learn to swim with the safe and speedy Schenectady stroke.

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