Cornell University

January 9 2013

Pieces of History

Kheel Center display items include blindfold and ballot box

blackballbox_webjpgA wooden blackball box, a hoodwink and other glimpses of union-related history from the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives are on display near the Catherwood Library circulation desk.

Known in the archives world as "realia" – three-dimensional objects from real life – the Kheel selections span a time frame from the 1800s into the 1970s.

"Whether the artifacts of running local meetings or lyrics to familiar songs, these unique materials help to illustrate the richness of union history," said Cheryl Beredo, Kheel Center director.

Badges_web"Archives of several major labor unions are among the Kheel Center's greatest strengths, so we’re especially pleased to put these select objects on display in the new year," she said.

Items displayed include:

  • wooden blackball box, a communal ballot box in which small white or black balls were placed to vote "yes" or "no"
  • leather hoodwink used as a blindfold in initiation rituals
  • switch lock used on railroads to direct trains
  • seal press for the Molders Union No. 107 of Auburn, N.Y.
  • badges displaying ranks and positions of railroad employees  
  • watch fob used to attach a pocket watch to a railroad uniform
  • mourning badges worn in remembrance of co-workers.

Union LabelAlso displayed are the lyrics of a 1975 song, "Look for the Union Label," written by Paula Green with music by Malcolm Dodds.

The International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) Chorus, comprised of union members, performed the song for radio and television broadcast to encourage Americans to buy union-made products.  

The lyrics read:

Look for the union label
when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.

Remember somewhere our union's sewing,
our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.

We work hard, but who's complaining?
Thanks to the I.L.G. we're paying our way!

So always look for the union label,
it says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.!