Our Slavic Fellow Citizens - 1910

Slovak Emigration
Chapter VI

Wandering Trades

As a general thing, agriculture alone is not a sufficient source of income and must be eked out in other ways. Some of the men have trades, are blacksmiths, shoemakers, tanners, dyers, and so forth; some are woodsmen and raftsmen, leading a hard and dangerous life, at work in ice-cold water or piloting their floats past rocks and rapids. Some are shepherds, spending the summer at a mountain pasture preparing the famous Lipta cheese, which is exported even to New York.

Some, especially in certain poor districts which Wandering have long been unable to support their population, have trades for generations been accustomed to set out on foot either to follow a wandering trade or to sell certain wares, sometimes handmade, sometimes bought abroad.

Most characteristic of these wanderers was the Drotar, or as the Germans say, Drahtbinder, who made all sorts of things of wire, sometimes very elaborate and artistic things, but whose commonest task was the mending of broken earthen pots with a skilful wire network.

The pot rang like a bell when done the work was good. As metal pots replaced earthenware the demand for this service grew less, and the selling of all sorts of wire and tin goods and the like partly took its place. Unfortunately, in some instances small boys are pressed into the business, and one meets them in Prague and elsewhere wretched little half-beggars working for what an Italian would call a padrone, with the usual story of a beating if they do not bring home a set sum.

In America the wire workers often find employment for their skill in modernized forms of the same craft making fences, gates and railings, mouse-traps, and small articles, and becoming tin platers and plumbers.

Mr. Rovnianek reports "In several of the large cities, especially in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, wire and tinware factories which have been established with Slovak capital and are conducted with Slovak labor, are in a fair way to secure the cream of the trade of this kind in the whole country.

A peculiar advantage is derived from the fact that for centuries the tinware of Europe was made largely by the Slovaks. In this country also electrical designs and other skilled work turned out by Slovak plants have obtained a very high position in the markets.

This is interesting as a case where it has been practicable to utilize an old form of skill in the new country.

Another famous specialty was glass setting, and the wandering Slovak glazier was eagerly watched for when a window pane or the glass of a holy picture needed replacing.

Others again dealt in spices, in oils, in fruit; others in dry goods, especially in linen. In some cases this peddling was built up into large, settled wholesale businesses, and well-known firms in Russia, Bucharest, Warsaw, and elsewhere have been developed in this way.

Generally these different types were quite specifically located; the wire men came from Trencsen, the spice dealers from Lipta county, the linen merchants from Turucz.

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