The first Labor Day was held Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City, sponsored by the Central Labor Union. You can read more about the history of Labor Day here.
In honor of Labor Day, let’s take a look at an occupational portrait of a latch maker in the collection of the Library of Congress.
It’s a gorgeous daguerreotype taken between the late 1840s and 1860. The key dating clues in this image are the style of the mat and the case that holds the image (not visible here).
Did you notice that this man is wearing a vest? He likely wore a jacket on his way home. Men generally dressed in shirts, vests and jackets. He’s rolled up the sleeves on his collarless work shirt. I’ve even seen photos of farmers plowing fields in full dress with a hat on their heads.
He’s posed with one of his lock mechanisms. Bringing an object into a photo helps the viewer identify his trade. Without the lock, it would be a mystery work picture. He’s even demonstrating how the lock works with the key.
As soon as I enlarged the digital image, I realized that the daguerreotypist colored his cheeks and slightly tinted his lips for a more realistic look.
While his hair isn’t visible in this picture, that’s an interesting clue. Many men in the 1850s wore their hair longer than this man does. Perhaps it’s short so that it doesn’t interfere with his work by getting in his eyes?
The hat looks like it’s a heavy fabric rather than felt. It’s seen some use, fraying at the edges.
If you have a work related picture of an ancestor, please email it to me using these submission guidelines. The last time I asked for images, there were enough for weeks’ worth of blog posts.
This article was originally shared on September 6, 2015.