One of the best things about living and working in Portland is its rich history. Everyone at Home Remedies loves our home in the iconic Portland Star Match Factory complex. Echoes of Portland’s past are etched into the brick walls and wooden beams. There are stories around every corner, some known and some lost to the ghosts of years gone by.
The Star Match Company building was constructed in 1870 after a massive private and public works collaboration that brought landfill to Portland Harbor to straighten the shoreline, eliminating the old wharfs that ran along Fore Street. Commercial Street was created on this land, providing a modern railroad connection along the harbor, as well as modern buildings that attracted new businesses to the area.
The Star Match Factory was one of the thriving businesses that invigorated the newly developed waterfront. The factory workers, mostly Irish-American women, packed finished matches into bundles and wrapped them for shipping and sale. There were more than 70 women, many as young as 15, who were working at the Factory when it was sold to the Diamond Match Company in 1907.
The following year, E. Corey Company purchased the factory building and used it for storage of iron and steel. The large complex of connected buildings now houses a variety of businesses and offices and continues as a thriving business destination on Portland’s West End.
THE NOT SO “LIT” SIDE OF MATCHES
As a woman in 2019 I love coming to work in the Start Match Factory building. My lovely co-workers and I have spent hours looking around at the historic structure, fantasizing about what the walls would say if they could talk.
Unfortunately women coming to work in this breath-taking building have not always been treated to such idealic conditions.
From 1870 until 1908 this building was home to a wooden match factory. The factory employed women and girls to complete the dirty work of making old fashioned, phosphorus matches.
Until Safety Matches were invented, matches could be ignited on any rough surface. While convenient, the old fahioned match design came at a cost – especially to those making them.
The tips of the matches had to be hand dipped in phosphorus, a poisonous and super flammable chemical. Many of the women dipping the matches suffered from phosphorus poisoning. The key side effects of which were tooth rot and decay, and in extreme cases a condition called Phossy Jaw (those with weak stomachs should NOT Google).
As if phosphorus poisoning was not enough of a burden, they also knew that a fire could break out at any moment. And they did — we can see some evidence of fires throughout the building. When workers got burned they were simply out of luck, no Workers Comp or Unemployment or Disability to get them back on their feet.
With these harsh work environments you may expect the women to have been paid handsomely, but their wages, paid by the piece, averaged out to a mere $5 per week.
A few weeks ago the Maine Historical Society put together a history tour that included the Star Match Factory building, and they were kind enough to share their findings. It is eye opening to have a deeper understanding of the grueling conditions the women coming to work at the same place I do had to live through. It serves as a welcome reminder how lucky I am to work in a safe environment with such encouraging co-workers and boss.
I hope that this information will help you to understand the history of our building and create an appreciation for how far we have come as a society- especailly where working conditions are involved and particularily for women. We are by no means perfect, but it is clear that progress has been, and continues to be, made. Rachel has brought the history of this building full circle, creating a woman-owned buisness where all of the staff and customers are able to collaborate creatively, express opinions, and have a fun time inside the welcoming and cozy haven that is Home Remedies.
-Olivia Dawson (no longer the newest member of the HR crew)
SCRAMBLING FOR FATHERS DAY? COME TO HOME REMEDIES- WE CAN HELP!
Home Remedies is a one stop shop for Father’s Day. All you have to do is pick out your gift and let us wrap it up for you!
“BLACK & WHITE STRIPES WITH GOLD ACCENT”