Labor History in 2:00

November 17 - By Hammer and Hand, All Arts Do Stand

November 17, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1785. 

That was the day the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York was founded.

Twenty-two skilled craftsmen, with the motto, “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand,” met on Pine Street to form a benevolent organization that could provide cultural, educational and social services to craftsmen and their families. 

Two months later, founders met for their annual meeting. 

They represented many of the city’s trades including hatters, butchers, sail makers, bolters and comb makers. 

In his book, Chants Democratic, historian Sean Wilentz states, the General Society was “intended to be a semi-political umbrella organization for all of the city’s independent mechanics, to help oversee the trades and secure favorable legislation from local and national government. The group captured the ideal of mutuality and craft pride essential to artisan fraternities since the Middle Ages.”

The General Society opened one of the city’s first free schools at a time when there were no public schools.

It established a tuition-free Mechanics Institute, the General Society Library and Lecture Series.

The Mechanics Institute, founded in 1858, continues to provide free evening trades-related instruction.

The Library, established in 1820 is the second oldest library in New York City.

It is also one of the few remaining membership circulating libraries.

Its collections and archives span two centuries. 

The General Society continues its tradition of public lectures in the form of The Labor, Literature and Landmarks Series.

More recently, it has added the Artisan Lecture Series that features lectures by master artisans.

The series also promotes the work and art of skilled craftsmen.

The General Society has been at its current location at 20 west 44th Street since 1885.

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