Safety First

Posted on June 24, 2016 by

June is National Safety Month, sponsored since 1996 by the National Safety Council (NSC). The NSC, founded in 1913 and granted a Congressional Charter in 1953, developed the Green Cross for Safety logo (later modified into the present-day NSC logo) in the late 1940s. The Green Cross was used for fundraising, on awareness campaigns, and as an award for safe workplaces.  (The NSC still gives out yearly Green Cross for Safety prizes.)

One of the early forms of the award was a large white flag with the Green Cross in the center. It’s not clear how recipients were chosen – did you submit your team for the prize? Was it based on a certain amount of accident-free work time? – but getting the flag seems to have been regarded as an honor worth commemorating. Here, for example, are Louisiana Shell Oil employees “with flag won for safety” in 1949. Closer to home, the staff at the Perkins Homes public housing estate posed with their flag in 1953.

JMM 1972.36.1.36

A Green Cross for Safety Flag was presented to the staff of the Perkins Homes, Baltimore, April 2, 1953. Gift of the Jacob Fisher estate. JMM 1972.36.1.36  Pictured, left to right: Horace Gwaltney, who was not featured in the “Chatter”; Anderson Washington, Laborer; Philip Di Seta, Laborer; Edward Stockett, Janitor; Nathaniel Burns, Laborer; Charles Eberlein, Maintenance Mechanic; Jacob Fisher, Housing Manager; Lucille Frampton, Junior Management Aide; Lorraine Krall, Cashier-Clerk; Andrew Wassil, Maintenance Aide; Marion Roberts, Typist-Cashier; John Keehner, Maintenance Clerk; Archie Tindal, Laborer; Washington Triechok, Maintenance Boss; William Lutsche, Maintenance Aide.

Jacob Fisher (1910-1971) worked as a Housing Manager for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), providing assistance for families living in housing complexes, such as Perkins Homes, Latrobe Homes, and O’Donnell Heights.  As a Housing Manager, he was also involved with the Southeastern Community Council and very active among the city’s public schools. Mr. Fisher’s heirs donated his scrapbooks, detailing both his army and civilian careers, to the JMM. These books are a fascinating window into the work culture of the HABC, the communal culture of the public housing estates, and the conflicts and cooperation between the City bureaucracy, its employees, and the residents for whom they worked.  They also contain a variety of photos, including this one, which looks like it was taken before the safety flag was raised up the Perkins Homes’ flagpole.

On the back of the photo, Mr. Fisher noted the names of the individuals shown.  Although I found nothing else about this event in the scrapbooks, I did find the May-June issue of the HABC newsletter, “Chatter,” in which the staff at Perkins Homes was asked, “What’s the most exciting or interesting thing that ever happened to you?”  (“Winning a safety flag” was not an answer.)  Thanks to this document, I was able to confirm name spellings, and identify each person’s job.

From Jacob Fisher’s scrapbooks of his years working with the HABC.  Gift of the Jacob Fisher estate. JMM 1972.36.1

From Jacob Fisher’s scrapbooks of his years working with the HABC.  Gift of the Jacob Fisher estate. JMM 1972.36.1

Workplace safety posters of the early-mid 20th century are a fun collectible today; try an internet image search, and you’ll find lots of shops that want to sell you reprints of carefully-designed dire warnings directed at preventing falls, spills, broken backs, accidental deaths, and the like, from the WPA era through WWII and beyond. The Green Cross was used on many of post-war examples, such as this mildly threatening poster in the Wisconsin Historical Society collections:

From the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

From the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Yes, the posters can be entertaining to modern eyes, and I’m certainly guilty of sending some amusing examples to my coworkers this week while preparing today’s blog. (Here is my favorite, from the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents.)  But it’s important to remember that these signs were in deadly (if you’ll excuse the pun) earnest. A lot of the safety measures and regulations that we take for granted today were not in place in decades past, and in some cases are more recent than you might expect.  (The NSC has a timeline of some of these regulations, if you’re interested.)  So here’s to a safe and secure summer for all of our readers, and remember to keep both hands free to grip the ladder!

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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