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Voices of the Past

Voice 1: Italian

My family came to Waterloo in 1891 when my father got a job repairing boilers in the new Illinois Central Railroad machine shops. We were a big Italian family and lived in a large house on Iowa street near the tracks. My mother provided room and board to single men who worked for the railroad. My uncle joined us in 1900 and opened a small grocery near our home. There were many Italians living in the area and there were always lots of religious festivals, weddings and birthday to celebrate.

In 1912 there was a national strike against the Illinois Central by its workers. Nearly all the Italians joined the strike and when it was finally over, most lost their jobs and left the city. We moved to nearby Oelwein where my father found work with the Chicago and Great Western Railroad.

Voice 2: Greek

Listen to a Greek Voice - Open this wav file with Windows Media PlayerMy father first went to Iowa in 1908 to build streets. He would stay for six months and return home when it got cold there. Our family had a small farm on the island of Samos, and it was hard to make a living. When he got a job at Rath Packing as a butcher, he decided to move everyone to Waterloo in 1914.

We lived in an apartment on Bluff Street above a candy store owned by a Greek family. My mother began to work there and later opened her own restaurant. There were so many Greek families in the area that I did not have to learn to speak English until I went to school. My father helped start St. Demetrious Greek Orthodox Church so we could have our own church and remember our traditions. He also assisted new Greek immigrants who moved here to find work.


Voice 3: German Voice

Listen to a German Voice - Open this wav file with Windows Media PlayerI moved to Waterloo in 1904 to work at the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. They were making stationary gas engines for farms and had more business than they could handle. I was a good machinist and could have found work in at least ten different shops. Later I helped build the engine for the Waterloo Boy Tractor. When the company was sold in 1918, I stayed on to work for John Deere.

My family came from Germany and my father started his own blacksmith shop in Davenport. I learned my trade from him. In Waterloo my wife and I attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church and our children were educated in Catholic schools. When I came to town, there were still German newspapers being published here. But all that ended when the United States fought against Germany in World War I. After that, being German was not very popular.


Voice 4: Bulgarian Voice

Listen to a Bulgarian Voice - Open this wav file with Windows Media PlayerMy father migrated to Waterloo from Bulgaria in 1911. His brother had gotten him a job as a molder in the Hawkeye Foundry.

Our family sailed to America in 1914 just before the Great War started. We rented a house in Riverview where many other factory workers lived.

My mother took in laundry and my brothers left school to work for a construction company.

When jobs were hard to find, they moved to Chicago to find work. After I finished the eighth, grade, I got a job cleaning houses in West Waterloo. Later I worked as a meat cutter at Rath Packing Company.


Voice 5: Jewish

Listen to a Jewish Voice - Open this wav file with Windows Media PlayerI came with my family to Waterloo, Iowa from Poland in 1902. My father believed America was a safer and better place for us to grow up in. He worked as a tailor at the Frank Brothers Clothing store. We lived in an apartment on West Fifth Street near the Congregation Sons of Jacob Synagogue. My parents lived there most of their lives because they could not buy a house in the nicer parts of Waterloo. In the 1920s we were joined by relatives who were fleeing from war and famine in Russia.

I graduated from West High School. It was hard going there because Jews were not allowed to join the popular clubs. I worked after school as a delivery boy for Palace Clothiers. In the summer I kept records for the baseball team which was partially owned by Sam Frank.


Voice 6: Danish

I traveled to America in 1892 when I was 15. I worked as a servant for a cousin who had a farm near Cedar Falls. I took care of the children, helped milk the cows and often worked in the fields. It was hard work, and I did not get paid much, but I saved some money to send back to Denmark to my mother, and also kept some for when I got married.

When I was 18, I married a man who worked as a printer at the Dannevirke, the Danish newspaper printed in Cedar Falls, and sent all over the nation. I sometimes worked at the canning plant in the summer when they were preparing corn and beans for packing. We lived near the Nazareth Lutheran Church and our children attended the Danish School there. We often took the interurban trolley to visit his family in Waterloo and to go to the carnival at Electric Park. The children thought it was fun.

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