Frank Stickman, a boy 12 years old, was killed by an elevator in February 1890 in Downtown Pittsburgh

Content Note: description of industrial accident

When I think of Labor Day and other hallmarks of organized labor, I now think of a 12-year-old boy. His name was Frank Stickman. I met him during my family tree research.

Frankie was born in 1878 to a poor working family living in Duquesne Heights. His parents, Herman and Mary, had emigrated from Switzerland around 1866. They settled in Trumball, Ohio and then came to Pittsburgh. Herman was a laborer with seven children to support. In the 1880 census, Herman had been unemployed for four months.

Frank’s older brother, Herman Jr., had found work in a tin factory. He helped Frankie land a job as a ‘hustler’ transporting loads of tinware from one building to another, including having to pull up and down several elevators. The owners of the company claimed Frank reported himself as 15 years old; he was 12. The year was 1890.

Frank died on his very first day of work. No one saw him. No one heard the accident. His own brother found his little mangled body and identified him by his clothing. It is a heartwrenching story, but not a unique tale – Frank’s older brother had himself had a similar incident two years earlier, but recovered enough to return to work.

I haven’t been able to find out what the jury decided in this case. Laws were in place, but not enforced. Fleming & Hamilton continued to operate Downtown near Third and Market Street.

Frankie was not my direct ancestor. His brother married my third great-aunt on my Kerr side. But I’m sure there were plenty of young children in my own families who were forced to do hard labor in dangerous circumstances to help support their families. And I’m comfortable claiming a distant relative by marriage who died at the age of 12, to speak up for him and the millions of other children who lost their lives so we can have imprinted tin goods.

I have no idea where Frankie or several of his family members are buried; somewhere in pauper’s graves undoubtably. His family did go on and his family’s descendants, including William III and William IV Stickman, have gone into notable careers in the criminal justice system.

I’m not well versed enough in child labor law to know when things got better for 12 year old children whose families couldn’t support themselves. Given how lax we are about rolling back regulations, perhaps better is a state of mind.

You can see a map of Frank’s workplace and the place where he died here.  Or you can stop for a minute the next time you are near PPG Place or Market Square and think about Frankie Stickman.

There’s a lot more information available about PPG Place than there is about 12 year old Frankie, some of it actually quite chilling given this context.

The gleaming glass and steel structures, known worldwide for their breathtaking design, were developed by John Burgee Architects with the internationally renowned architect Philip Johnson from New York. This complex with its thicket of 231 spires was designed to weave into the architecture of Pittsburgh and recall the city’s great buildings, such as the Cathedral of Learning and the Allegheny County Courthouse. PPG Place’s neo-Gothic forms are the perfect architectural bridge between the historical structures of the city and the newer geometrical high-rise towers.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on January 28, 1981, and the complex was dedicated on April 11, 1984. The office space opened in August 1983, just two and a half years after the construction began. The shops in Two PPG Place opened in November 1984.

Nearly one million square feet of PPG Solarban 550 clear reflective glass was used, which provides a high degree of energy efficiency unmatched in many buildings. The expansive tower lobbies are paneled in PPG Spandrelite Glass and the elevators are enhanced with a laminated cracked glass mirror.

The grandeur and sophistication of PPG Place does not mask its function as a gathering place for Pittsburgh area residents and visitors alike. The Wintergarden, Plaza, and Arcade areas embrace the public with a sense of welcome, encouraging all to tarry.

Is it foolish to think that the days of 12 year olds doing physical labor in unsafe conditions without benefit of the latest technologies are far behind us in the United States? What do you think?

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Pittsburgh Dispatch (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) 28 Feb 1890, Fri • Page 2