Saturday, August 4, 2018
The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History) Hardcover – December 19, 2014 by Adam D. Mendelsohn (NYU Press)
A fascinating analysis of how the Jewish community and the sewing trades grew together in America and England. Mendelsohn turns a wealth of historical details into engaging personal stories.
The Rag Race traces the intertwined fates of the Jewish community and the garment industries in America and Britain. He focuses on the 1820s to the 1880s, a time of explosive growth and maturity for the industry as America fought the Civil War and conquered the west, the British Empire expanded, and technological breakthroughs like sewing machines, trains, and Mississippi River steamboats opened new fields of competition.
Mendelsohn turns documents and data into relatable human stories. We start in overcrowded and barely legal street markets in London, where Jews relegated to the perimeter of the economy trade in second-hand clothing. In America, Jewish peddlers become clerks. Clerks become store keepers. Store keepers become manufacturers, wholesalers and household names like Levi Strauss and Brooks Brothers. As the garment industries and Jewish communities grow together, they create an expanding web of specialized niches and entry-level jobs for continuing waves of new Jewish immigrants. At every level, Jewish workers and business owners face changing market forces, anti-Semitism, and competition that threatens their economic survival, yet the garment industry became a cornerstone of outsized success for the Jewish community.