Workers at Play: Baseball Teams, Bowling Leagues, Company Picnics and Amateur Nights
An online exhibit of images from the Connecticut Business History Collections in Archives & Special Collections of the University of Connecticut Libraries
Connecticut’s workforce played an important role in the state’s rise to industrial prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Workers took pride in their production of textiles, brass, tools and machinery, but they also stopped to play -- embracing company-sponsored baseball, basketball, and bowling teams, as well as parties, picnics, and amateur nights.
During this period, companies believed that good relations with their workers would curtail union activity, control labor discontent, promote productivity, and enhance company loyalty and goodwill. Companies also hoped that participation after work on sports teams would keep workers out of saloons and encourage sobriety, reduce gambling, and provide an alternative to other “immoral amusements.”
Industrial athletic leagues put companies in a favorable light in their towns and helped to maintain social stability. Employers believed that through athletic competition, many of Connecticut’s foreign born factory workers would learn the principles of capitalism, self-sacrifice, and teamwork, and apply them to the workplace, and become more docile, efficient, and cooperative workers. Sports teams brought different ethnic groups together in a cooperative way, and new immigrants could join as well since one did not have to be literate in English to play in a sport.
Workers would join leagues or participate in parties or pastimes to offset the monotony of factory work, or develop a skill that enhanced their self-worth. Some companies allowed workers time off to practice or travel to games in other cities, or provided bonuses to exceptional athletes on the teams. Parties, dances and field days helped cement worker relationships and were a cost-effective way for employers to reward workers for jobs well done. Company newsletters would provide photographs and detailed descriptions of the exploits of the various sports teams, trumpeting the successes on the fields, or recounting the parties and dances company employees would enjoy.
The Connecticut Business Collections in Archives & Special Collections document the many and diverse sports teams, dances, parties and pastimes in which workers in Connecticut indulged. Through these images and documents we can remember the days where workers were able to work, and play, and provide products that were sold all over the world.
This exhibit was originally curated for display at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Gallery at the University of Connecticut by Kyle Lynes and Laura Smith in June 2012.
For more information about Industrial Recreation and Connecticut workers, read an article by Laura Smith published in Connecticut Explored, Volume 12, no. 1, Winter 2013/2014, at http://connecticutexplored.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/PLAYBALL.pdf
This page is maintained by L. Smith