Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/fall/section 2/Nathan Wild

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Bornunknown
Yves, Poland
Diedunknown
unknown
NationalityPolish
Occupationfactory worker, business owner, watchman

Overview[edit]

Nathan Wild was an immigrant from Poland, who moved to the United States in 1904. He had a wife and two kids and worked a variety of jobs. In 1939, he was interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project. There is no information about his life after the interview, including when or how he died.

Biography[edit]

Early Life

Nathan Wild was born in Yves, Poland in the mid to late 1800s (his exact birthdate is not known). He grew up relatively poor in a one-room house with his Jewish family. He was the oldest of seven children, with one younger sister and five younger brothers. The family also had a barn with cows and chickens and a garden that mainly grew vegetables, specifically potatoes. As a child, Wild attended school during the day. When he was 10 years old, he worked in a blacksmith shop after school, making the equivalent of 50 cents a week. All of that money went to support his family.

Once he turned 21, Wild moved to a camp in Warsaw to serve in the Russian army. He served for a total of four years, during which time he learned how to speak Russian. The soldiers spent their free time singing Russian songs and reading books.

In 1904, Wild decided to emigrate to the United States. He made his decision after hearing rumors of an upcoming war between Russia and Japan. He used his savings to buy a $100 ticket and rode third-class on boat for 10 days. On July 4, 1904, the boat arrived at Ellis Island. From there, Wild took a ferry to New York City.

Life in America

In New York City, Wild got a job in a tailor shop making $10.00 a week and lived in the back of the store. Then, he moved to Glen Falls, New York, and worked in a cement factory for six months. After the factory closed, he began peddling. Throughout all of his time spent in New York, Wild sent money back to his family in Poland. Three of his brothers used that money to immigrate to America and Wild and his brothers moved to Savannah, Georgia. Six months later, his girlfriend from New York moved to Georgia and they got married.

In 1931, Wild and his wife opened a grocery store on the east side of Savannah. The store was located in a predominately African-American area. The Wild’s lack of English literacy made it hard for them to communicate well with the customers. A lot of the customers wanted to buy some of their groceries on credit, but very few of them actually returned to pay the credit. Their small grocery store was forced to compete with the chain stores nearby, who sold the same products for cheaper. The customers that owed Wild money would shop at the chain stores and pay with cash. Taxes on the business forced Wild to fire their butcher and cut the delivery boy’s hours in half. The store also had two armed robberies. Two years after opening, the Wilds sold the store for $300.00. After selling his store, Nathan Wild got a job as a junk shop watchman, where he made $15.00 a week.

Hobbies

Wild was an avid reader. In his youth, he spent a lot of his free time studying, mainly the Bible and the Talmud. His favorite book to read while at the army camp was The Eye of Jacob, which was written in Hebrew. In America, he spent $10.00 a year on a subscription to a Jewish paper. He also studied Plato and Aristotle and read books on astronomy. Wild also enjoyed gardening with his wife. They worked in their backyard, which had a large vegetable garden with onions, radish, and beans, as well as flower garden.

Historical Context[edit]

The Anti-Chain Store Movement in the Mid-1900's

In 1931, chain stores made up 18% of all retail sales, and 45% of all grocery business sales.[1]Because chain stores were such a threat to local businesses, many Americans opposed their growth and expansion. They argued that chain stores "eliminated opportunities for the 'middleman'" and had unfair relationships with manufacturers.[2]On the other hand, chain store advocates claimed that the stores provided lower prices for customers and new chances for investments, as well as overall increased efficacy.[3]

But the biggest disagreement between the groups was whether or not chain stores perpetrated the "dissolution of neighborhood communities."[4]The debate quickly became a legal matter and in 1927, 4 states- including Georgia- passed a bill that taxed chain stores.[5] Then in 1936, the Robinson-Patman Act passed, which outlawed price discrimination and unreasonably low pricing.[6]Despite the laws, the battle between independent businesses and chain stores raged on.

Polish Immigrants in Twentieth Century America

Due to rising hostility and poor socioeconomic conditions in Europe, many Polish peasants chose to emigrate to America from the end of the 19th century throughout the 20th century. From 1904 to 1914, there were over 100,000 Eastern European Jews arriving each year. [7]The peak year for immigration was 1912, when 174,365 Poles immigrated to America.[8] By 1920, there were over three million Poles living in the United States.[9]

At first, most of American society saw the Polish immigrants as lazy, poor, and simple-minded, especially the Jewish Poles.[10] While they did come in with few skills and no experience, the immigrants offered their determination and exhibited an impressive willingness to work. A majority of them, mainly men, worked labor jobs and usually lived in cities.[11] A third of the immigrants were farmers, and knew how to manipulate their land better than the Americans because they had such limited land back in Poland.[12] Polish women typically worked “domestic servant” jobs, usually in hotels and restaurants. [13]

A majority of the Polish immigrants were Roman Catholic or Jewish, and attended churches and synagogues with the Americans.[14] As they quickly assimilated to American culture and earned a more positive reputation in American society, the Polish immigrants of the 20th century kept their ties with their homeland and continued to be involved with Polish affairs, which helped them keep their Polish identity in America.[15]

  1. David A. Horowitz, "The Crusade against Chain Stores," (Oregon Historical Society, 1988), 341.
  2. Ibid., 341.
  3. Ibid., 341.
  4. Ibid., 342.
  5. Daniel Scroop, "The Anti-Chain Store Movement and the Politics of Consumption," (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 925.
  6. Ibid., 926.
  7. Bernard D. Weinryb, “East European Immigration to the United States,” (The Jewish Quarterly Review, 1955), 519.   
  8. Joseph Anthony Wytrwal, “America’s Polish Heritage: a Social History of the Poles in America,” (Endurance Press, 1991), 77.   
  9. Ibid., 78.
  10. Richard T. Schaefer, “Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnics, and Society,” (SAGE Publications, Inc., 2008), 1056.
  11. Ibid., 1057.
  12. Wytrwal, “America’s Polish Heritage,” 79-80.   
  13. Ibid., 79.
  14. Schaefer, “Encyclopedia,” 1058.   
  15. Ibid., 1056.