To the west, to the west
to the land of the free
where the mighty Missouri
rolls down to the sea
Where a man is a man
if he’s willing to toil
where the humblest may gather
the fruits of the soil
Where children are blessings
and he who hath most
has aid for his fortune
and riches to boast
Where the young may exult
and the aged may rest
away, far away
in the land of the west
Away! Far away!
Let us hope for the best!
In the mid-1800s everyone, it seemed, in New York smoked. Visitors frequently commented on it and cigar makers were highly sought after in the burgeoning cigar factories.
The best description of the work life of a cigar maker in this period comes from an English born immigrant to America, Samuel Gomperts, the London born son of Dutch Jews.who came to New York with his parents in 1863 at age 13. By this point he had already been making cigars for years.
The Gomperts managed to immigrate to America only because Solomon Gompert’s English trade union offered to subsidize the move. Their settlement to New York was further facilitated by Sam’s uncle and other Jewish cigar makers from London who had already immigrated.
As soon as they arrived in New York in July 1863, the Gomperts family settled among New York’s German Jews in Kleindeutschland – “Little Germany.” By this time the German community in New York was the second largest group after the Irish. Twenty percent of the German immigrants were Jewish. Of the remainder, most were Bavarian and only a small minority Prussians. The Prussians tended to live among themselves as did the Bavarians.
Solomon and 13 year old Sam immediately found work in a nearby cigar making shop.
The keys to the trade, Gomperts later recalled, was to hide the less attractive tobacco leaves inside the cigar, use a fine tobacco wrapper and “to use both ands so as to make a perfectly shaped rolled product. These things a good cigar maker learned to do more or less mechanically which left us to think, talk, listen or sing.”
“Detesting boredom, the cigar makers chose someone to read to us who was a particularly good reader and in payment the rest of us gave him sufficient of our cigars so that he was not the loser. The reading was always followed by discussion, so we learned to know each other pretty thoroughly…”
The fellowships formed would last a lifetime.
One of the favorite songs Solomon, Samuel and their co-workers would sing as they rolled cigars while still in England was “To the West” which recounted the desire of millions of Europeans to immigrate to America.
Originally a song by Charles Mackay with music by Henry Russell, it was popular in London and spoke of the Missouri as tens of thousands of Germans left their homeland, came to New York and trekked west to the booming German town of Cincinnati. After the failed revolutions in Europe of 1848, tens of thousands more Germans came to America and stayed in New York, the Kleindeutschland.
Sam never forgot the words to that song. Andrew Carnegie too mentions it as the inspiration for his family’s immigration to America.
By the 1870s, Gomperts decided to make his name less Jewish and Dutch.
He changed it to Sam Gompers and he would go on to make that name one of the most famous in the annals of the American labor movement.
And so by 1860 my city had become the city of immigrants. In 1845 New York did not even rank as one of the 20 most populous cities in the world. Yet by 1860 only London, Paris and Beijing were bigger. And there was no city in the world composed of so many nations. It grew not only because of the record immigration but also because so many of them decided to stay.
By 1860, 69% pf the city’s voting age inhabitants were foreign born. Of New York’s immigrant population, The Irish and Germans dominated, followed by 27 thousand English, 9 thousand Scots, 8 thousand French.
The 1860 census indicates that there were 1,464 Italians living in New York.
The Atlantic Beer Hall on the Bowery in Kleindeutschland