Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)
In 1848 in Brooklyn, New York, Jeff Springsteen was a trunk maker, per the above city directory listing.
People in the mid 1800s did not have a stack of suitcases like we do today. They used a small valise or carpet bag for quick trips, or if they only had one set of clothes. (That is all some folks had.) If they were moving or going somewhere for a time- which they often did since travel took more time just to get to a place- they would use trunks. Women’s clothing was so big with the long skirts and hoops and other undergarments, etc.- they would never fit into today’s suitcases! Additionally, many persons dressed for dinner or the theatre, so would need multiple changes of clothes. All of a person’s worldly goods might be in one trunk as they migrated to a new town or state; large trunks were therefore essential.
Trunks were actually manufactured in a number of sizes, including the large ones we see today in antique shops. Smaller ones were important too, but all trunks were sturdy and provided protection for the goods inside- especially important when traveling by wagon or stagecoach.
Trunks often had elaborate interiors- some with lithographs pasted inside the lid. There would be many compartments in some trunks, so that hats would not be crushed, highly starched collars would stay round, contents would be organized since one might be living out of the trunk for a while, and the contents would not jostle as much over the bumpy roads of the mid-1800s.
Compartments could include hat and shirt boxes, a compartment for documents, a coin box, and even secret compartments for valuables.
Saratoga trunks were some of the most common pre-1870 trunks. Perhaps Jeff Springsteen helped to build them? And maybe this ad in a later city directory (1850) was the company Jeff worked for in 1848.
Jefferson Springsteen seems like a pretty down-to-earth man from what I know about him, and the city directory did use the simple term ‘trunk maker’ for his occupation. In fancier circles or on the continent (Europe), one who made trunks was known as a “malletier“- literally ‘trunk maker’ in French.
Above are some of the tools used in the late 1700s to make trunks, but they were likely the same used by Jeff Springsteen in his daily work. A pine box would have been constructed per the size of trunk needed, and then sturdy and/or decorative materials would have been glued or nailed to the outside and inside. Many types of hardware would have been used for hinges and handles, and hardwood or metal slats may have ringed the trunk to help hold it together. Just think of all the old westerns with trunks flying off the stagecoach when they hit a rock- obviously, trunks had to protect their contents well!
Prior to 1854, all trunks had rounded tops, so that water would run off of them when transported outside on a stagecoach or wagon. Unfortunately, this shape kept them from being stacked. Louis Vuitton, who some may have heard of, was the first malletier to make a flat-topped trunk, and it was lightweight as it was made of canvas; it was airtight too. Louis Vuitton has remained the most popular luggage maker in the world since this design debut in 1854. (LV is probably the most copied, as well.)
It would be interesting to know more about Jeff’s job as a trunk maker. Likely the workers only did one or a few parts of a trunk, repeating it for the next so they could specialize in that part of the manufacturing. Jeff worked later as a painter in Indianapolis, and although he made his living painting houses, he also painted landscapes, etc. for his family. This might be a clue as to his part of making a trunk- he may have applied the lithograph, painted borders, etc. to make the trunk as beautiful as it was useful.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Jefferson Springsteen in 1848: Brooklyn City Directory and Annual Advertiser for the Years 1848-9, comp. by Thomas P. Teale, pub. by E.B. Spooner, Brooklyn, NY, 1848, via InternetAchive.org.
2) Trunk Manufacturer Advertisement in Hearnes Brooklyn City Directory for 1850-1851, Brooklyn, NY, pub by H.R. and W.J. Hearne; via InternetArchive.org.
3) Wikipedia articles:
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