Tuesday, July 31, 2012

31 July 1840: Printing Apprentice Wanted

On this day in 1840, the Southern Banner published this notice that they were looking for an apprentice:

Apprentices were often used by a variety of businesses as cheap labor and to pass down the trade: printing presses, carriage or harness makers, merchant clerks, physicians, tailors, bakers, milliners, apothecaries, gas fitters, chefs, or other skilled trades.  An "eligible situation" in this ad indicates that not only is this opportunity available, but it is a good opportunity for some young man, perhaps as young as 13 or 14, to learn a trade that he could use to support himself and his family through life. In 1840, printers didn't just publish the local newspaper, but also created ledgers and other business forms, stationery, and sometimes books for their community.

Typically, apprentices lived with, were fed and clothed by, the craftsman to whom he or she (in the case of millinery or seamstress work) was apprenticed, with a guarantee of a small sum and appropriate new clothing to start in the business themselves after a set period of time. Often, the situation involved a contract that laid out all these terms, including the forfeiture of guaranteed clothing and cash should the apprentice leave before the end of their term.

Not all apprenticeships were open environments; when the Charleston Orphan House indentured their charges to businessmen as a way to ensure the children learned a trade, the child was bound to that indenture until the end of their term, when the child turned 21 years of age. Should the businessman not comply, a fine of $60 "liquified damages" would apply. The Orphan House, however, insisted that the child agree to the indenture, and often refused requests for apprentices if the position (such as factory work) was not seen as self-supporting occupation. This standard did not apply to their female charges, who were primarily put into domestic situations since a "successful life" for them mean marrying someone who could support them.

Apprenticeships still exist today, and are skill trade versions of internships. The Department of Labor's Registered Apprenticeship program lists opportunities in dozens of fields, including carpentry, medical technology, machine repair, refrigeration maintenance, welding, masonry, building inspection, and ironwork. 

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