Romance of Omaha, Chapter III

Every day an army of 90,000 men and women in Omaha fare forth from their homes to take up their daily duties in factories, stores, offices and other business enterprises.

They are the workers of the city.

They keep the wheels of commerce running in every line of endeavor throughout the municipality.

If arranged in single file these workers would make a line of march 50 miles long. Traveling at ordinary walking speed it would take them more than 15 hours to pass a given point.

Every year these workers are paid the vast sum of $125,000,000 for their services, an average of $1,400 for each individual.

Almost 40 per cent of the residents of Omaha are employed in gainful occupation. It is a city of workers. There are few drones to be found in Omaha's business beehive.

Habits of Industry Strong

Omaha is too young to have acquired a leisure class, too newly emerged from the pioneer stage of development to have forgotten the habits of industry that were storong among the early settlers.

Omaha was founded by hard work, courage and unwavering persistent belief in its future. The pioneers of Omaha, men and women alike, worked not only for themselves and their children, but for their city. Their sons and daughters and grandchildren have followed their example.

When Omaha was founded there was no such thing as a payroll in all this section of Nebraska. At the very first it is doubtful if there was even a single person employed for wages who lived inside the town. Workers engaged in building the log cabins of the day came from "across the river."

Just when the first worker's wage was paid out in Omaha is difficult to establish with any degree of accuracy.

The first business enterprise in operation was a saw mill.

The second business set in motion also was a sawmill. Both mills were small.

Carriage Factory Was First

It is quite likely that the first Omaha concern to have a payroll worthy of the name was the A.J. Simpson Carriage works, which was established in 1858. It was quite an enterprise for those days and employed a number of men. Carriages were, of course, the only mode of conveyance, aside from the prairie schooners, and "lumber" wagons, and Mr. Simpson is said to have manufactured a superior grade of carriage.

The slogan "Patronize Home Industries," probably was not yet coined, but the Omaha pioneers believed in it nevertheless, and the home factories all seem to have prospered from the start.

Naturally the early settler was not much concerned about factories or payrolls. He was interested in freighting, outfitting and the other activities of the frontier. Trading with the Indians was the most lucrative occupation.

As a result it was not until late in the 60s and the early 70s that the Omaha business leaders began to turn their attention to the building of factories and the employment of labor on a large scale.

Iron Works Appear

In due time Omaha had iron works, nail works and a barbed wire factory.

The latter was one of the largest in the country. It turned out thousands of tons of barbed wire every year. So impressed was one early historian with the output of the barbed wire factory that he figured out that the year's production would go around the earth several times.

In time the barbed wire and nail works found it impossible to compete with greater plants farther east and went out of business. But they employed quite a number of men while they lasted.

The first permanent establishment to employ a large number of men in Omaha was the smelter, established in 1870. Closely following it came the pioneer packing houses, the first of which was opened in 1871.

Railroad Shops Open

Shortly before this the Union Pacific shops, now employing hundreds of men, were opened and Omaha began to take on an air of a manufacturing city.

As the packing houses developed and grew larger and Omaha became more and more a livestock center, other factories were opened, wholesale houses were established, the number of workers grew year by year and decade by decade, until today 90,000 men and women march away to their occupations every day in the year.

More than one-third of these 90,000 workers are employed in the manufacturing and mechanical industries, including the packing houses.

The livestock and packing industry alone employs approximately 15,000 persons.

The wholesale houses employ more than 10,000 men and women.

Railroads serving Omaha give employment to 10,000 more workers.

Fully 12,000 persons are engaged in retail trade.

Vast Army of Workers

The manufacturing and mechanical industries, aside from the livestock and packing plants, find work for between 20,000 and 25,000 persons.

The remainder are employed in offices, transportation concerns and other enterprises.

Insurance companies have 3,000 men and women on their payrolls.

The $125,000,000 which is paid to these workers every year finds its way into the channels of trade in Omaha and into the savings accounts of the men and women employed.

Probably $100,000,000 a year is spent for food, clothing, fuel, rent, payment on homes, taxes and other necessities with, of course, some luxuries, for the the Omaha workers, as a rule, live well.

Spend Money for Homes

Yet they save money. Much of the savings goes into homes. Despite the fact that the modern worker enjoys his own automobile, the workers in Omaha own most of the homes that have helped to make the city known far and wide as a "City of Homes."

Realtors estimate that of the nearly 30,000 homes owned by the occupants, the workers in the city own fully 20,000.

Savings in the banks and building and loan companies, according to chamber of commerce figures, total approximately $100,000,000, or about $400 for every resident of the city. Most of this money belongs to the employed men and women of the city who also own large amounts of the stock of the two big public utilities, the Nebraska Power company and the Northwestern Bell Telephone company and of other corporations.

So that while they have automobiles, radios, well furnished homes, happy children and the many other things that make life worth while, the workers of Omaha have not neglected to save money - and to a larger extent than in any other city - acquire homes for their families.

Chapter IV
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