In Minnesota, in particular. I went to the Minnesota History Center for the second time ever on Friday, my second ever foray into archival research. I dug through the correspondence files for the Minnesota Department of Labor, Industry, and Commerce (I may the order wrong) Insurance Compensation Commission from 1909-1911 (Box #1, item 115.h.17.3B), that’s as much time as I had available. It’s really neat handling these old letters and whatnot, some of them handwritten. Lots of fun and lots of random factoids.

For instance:
– one Don Lescohier wrote a book and a pamphlet issued by the Commission on industrial accidents and workers’ comp in Minnesota. Lescohier had some ties to the Commons school of labor history; he also wrote a book on the Knights of Saint Crispin and on a miner’s strike in Minnesota.
– William Bray was killed in an industrial accident at the North American Telegraphy Company on July 28, 1909, in Duluth.
– A letter from N.A. Tuttle, VP and General Manager for the NATC wrote to Commissioner William McEwen on 11-9-09 about the death, and mentioned that a suit had been filed by the Bray estate in Ramsey County. McEwen wrote to Tuttle (and many other employers) asking for info and assured him that the info would be confidential, as required by law. Only the statistician would see it. The Commission also sought info on master and servant personal injury cases in counties throughout Minnesota.
– One letter of 12/12/09 from McEwen to Matt Jensa, Ramsey County District Court Clerk mentioned the suit of one Thomas Floody which the Minnesota Supreme Court heard, which McEwen read about in the newspaper. The newspapers were an important source of info for the Commission. They hired a clipping service and got copies of articles about industrial accidents, after which they wrote to the companies and sometimes to the workers involved asking for more information. They wanted info on accidents from 1906-1909, and wanted info on whether or not companies carried insurance. In at least one instance in 1910 they wrote to the county coroner to ask if an accident at work had contributed to a death reported as natural causes.
– The Commission also did research on workers’ comp around the world, writing for instance to someone in the Spanish gov’t and sending at least one member of the Commission to Europe. The international focus went both ways, for example the Commission got a letter in 1913 from a lawyer hired by the Consul for Austria-Hungary, inquiring into the death of Mike Piatka on the job (Piatka was a Hungarian citizen), and in 1910 got a letter from the Ontario Workmen’s Compensation Commission, asking for a copy of the Minnesota Commission’s Accident Bulletin and for information on why an attempted workers’ comp law had failed. The letter said “you deal with labour matters in a scientific way in your state.” (There was another reference to scientificness in another letter sometime I think in 1909.)
– The Commission only wanted info on accidents in factories. Rail accidents were to be sent to the Railroad and Warehouse Commission.
– The Commission was created in a law in 1909. The relevant laws were chapter 234, 235, and 286. 286 founded the Commission, charging it with information gathering on accidents in Minnesota and on workers’ comp practice around the US and world and with bringing a draft law by the start of the 1911 legislative session. 234 and 235 required insurance companies and employers to report industrial accidents to the Commission if those accidents resulted in injury. The Commission was to consist of three unpaid people: a representative of labor, of employers, and a legal expert, and the Commission was forbidden to allow its materials to be used for trials about workplace injury.

All of which is interesting, if you like trivia. I do like trivia, so it’s interesting. To be more than trivia, however, it has to be attached to some kind of framework which establishes relevance. Hell if I know what that is.

I have some material from off Lexis on 131 Minnesota Supreme Court cases from 1920 and prior involving workers injured on the job. I plan to take the ones from 1906 onward and see if they show up in the correspondence. I checked the digital archive of the Minneapolis Labor Review, which goes back to 1870. The term “accident” doesn’t appear prior to 1900. It comes up 115 times between 1900 and 1909, 327 times between 1910 to 1919, 468 times from 1920 to 1929, 208 times from 1930 to 1939, and 365 times from 1940 to 1949. (Note to self, “supreme court injury” is a productive search over there, as is “injury law suit”, “plaintiff,” and “fellow servant”. On a partly related note – “speed” and “speed machinery”. What terms was Taylorism talked about in back then?)

The most important thing to do, though, is to figure out what I’m asking, in order to sort the information, as there’s a lot of it.

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