Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Schenectady Lights and Hauls the World"

Billboard, ca. 1920s. Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.
The motto "Schenectady Lights and Hauls the World" refers to the city's two major employers during the first part of the twentieth century, General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. Immigrants from Europe -- ranging from scientists and engineers to manual laborers -- came to Schenectady to work for the city's booming industries. According to federal census data, the city's population increased from around 20,000 to over 31,000 between 1890 and 1900, and mushroomed to nearly 73,000 by 1910. The phrase reflected pride in Schenectady's position as an important industrial city.

Souvenir coin, 1909. Photograph
from online auction.
But exactly when did the phrase originate, and who coined it? Tracing back such information can be difficult. As early as 1910, the phrase was used in the trade publication Printer's Ink. Schenectadians appropriated the phrase to promote the city and their works in it, ranging from a 1910 letter to the Postal Record in which H.A. Van Vranken, a mail carrier, touts the city's industry and its "progressive postmaster," to a Mr. Clarkson of Christ Church speaking in 1912, hoping that area churches might emulate Schenectady in "lighting" the world, to area labor leaders using the phrase in their remarks at a conference in 1914. References to the phrase flowered throughout the 1910s and 1920s, appearing in trade publications, travel guides, promotional material, and on billboards. City historian Larry Hart remembered hearing Major Edward Bowes on his popular national radio program, Amateur Hour, referring to Schenectady as "the city that lights and hauls the world" in the early 1930s.

Schenectady Board of Trade "Ske-Daddle" Carnival, 1909.
Note the drawn figure, which was used in "skedaddle to
Schenectady" promotional material. Photograph from the
Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
The earliest references to the phrase I was able to find were created in 1909. From around the turn of the century until the beginning of World War I, the Schenectady Board of Trade (a precursor to the Chamber of Commerce) began to hold an annual carnival in the city to promote business downtown. In September 1909, the Board of Trade produced a souvenir coin for the carnival that featured an image of a seated woman holding symbols of the American Locomotive Company and General Electric. Around the edge of the coin is the phrase "Schenectady Hauls and Lights the World," a order transposed from the usual motto.

Postcard featuring artwork by Augustus
Crouse, 1910.
On January 26, 1910, artwork was copyrighted by a Schenectady man, Augustus Crouse, that would go on to be printed as a postcard and poster. Crouse is listed in the Schenectady city directory at the time as working for General Electric, but according to the Library of Congress' Copyright Office, the copyright for the artwork is copyrighted under his name. The artwork depicts a woman on a float standing with each hand on the shoulder of two men, one representing General Electric and one representing the American Locomotive Company. Above the scene reads the words "Schenectady lights and hauls the world." In the absence of earlier references, it appears that the motto may have originated in connection with the Schenectady Board of Trade's carnival, although the identity of the person who coined it remains a mystery.

Another possible origin of the phrase mentioned by Larry Hart in his "Tales of Old Dorp" newspaper column is that it was coined by newspaperman Ralph Record. Record visited Schenectady "around 1910" and became a reporter for Schenectady Gazette before becoming an editorial writer for the Knickerbocker Press in Albany. Although the exact origins of the slogan remain unclear, its rapid dissemination into the vernacular of Schenectadians and its use in shaping Schenectady's image to the world reflects the perspectives of a community charged with optimism and civic pride.


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  2. I wish we had the name of the woman who the coin maker used as their model.