By John B. SnyderJune 1, 2010
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- "Whose idea was it'"
That seemed to be the main question by some of the more than 900 Arsenal workers and their family members who took part in the first on-site Arsenal Family Day in nearly 20 years this past Saturday.
But no one claimed credit, which is unusual when things go right as they did for this event. After all, the old adage, "Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan," rings true all too often.
But no one here on this day could claim credit, nor should they.
Since the Arsenal's founding in 1813, families have been well integrated into Arsenal operations. Not surprisingly nearly 200 years ago, there were no gates or fence line to restrict family flow into or out of the Arsenal. And, women and children were a significant part of the Arsenal workforce back then, too. Their smaller hands and fingers were ideal for packing flannel cartridges.
So, after toiling in the shops for six, hard days a week, many took Sunday as a day of rest and recuperation. Sunday was a day for inspections, parades, and church attendance was mandated for Soldiers. Sunday was also a day for family.
Unlike today's calendar, which is rich with holidays such as Veterans' Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July, holidays were few and far between in the early 1800s for the Arsenal workforce and their families. And keep in mind that a $9 per-month wage didn't go too far and so, workers often sought long hours in order to provide just the basics for their family's survival.
The first mention on record of a formal Arsenal family day event was in 1819 when an order was issued that on Nov. 22, 1819 a "...day to be set apart for general Thanksgiving and prayer...the shops will not be opened."
Families continued to be well integrated into the workforce even during the American Civil War. At the peak of this war, about 500 children worked in the Arsenal shops.
During World War I, Arsenal leadership redirected focus on the social needs of the workforce and that of their families. A new cafeteria and recreation building were built, every day the Arsenal football team spent at least one hour practicing, and the 42-member Arsenal band played concerts during the lunch hour.
Following the war, nearly 2,000 of the Arsenal workforce and their families hosted a May Day Fete in which 20,000 folks from the local community observed.
So, to find the many 'fathers' who might claim credit for the success of this year's Arsenal Family Day, one would have to turn to history.
Although it has been nearly 20 years since the last on-site Arsenal Family Day, the concept of family and the Arsenal go back to those who toiled on the original 12 acres of riverfront land in 1813.
After all, they were the ones who built it, we just maintain it.