May 4, 2018

The Cracotan Paper Stock Men of New York (Part 4)

Paper Stock Men of New York During WWI
Honoring the Fallen—Peter Benedetto and Nicola Francavilla along with 18 other Italian-Americans from Little Italy in New York City, who were lost in WWI, are memorialized on a plaque that still is displayed at the Church of the Transfiguration, 29 Mott St., Manhattan. Photos courtesy of the Craco Society
Reprinted from the May 2018 Craco Society Bulletin
From 1880 to 1910 over 1,167 individuals from Craco immigrated to the US. Considering the growth of families, there were at least 2,000 people with a connection to the town. Many of these immigrants, lacking trades or skills, were able to find opportunities working in the paper stock and this would grow over the next decade.
The period between 1910 and 1920 was marked by societal changes and major events. These all impacted the paper stock industry and for the most part added to its growth. 
American industrial growth in the decade created prosperity which stimulated demand for goods and products that required recycled items. The demand for waste paper exploded with WWI as the need for paper increased. 
During the war, the Waste Reclamation Service, established by the US government to increase material, benefitted those Crachesi in the paper stock business. By 1917 there were several who had ventured into business on their own and were established as owners in the paper and rag recycling business. These businessmen also provided employment and income for family members and other paesani. However, there were great losses too as loved ones were drawn into the war. 
We know the story of two paper stock men with a Crachese connection who served in the US Army. They served along with several other Cracotans who were living in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood and there is no doubt they knew each other. Both men were drafted and served in 77th Division, known as the “Metropolitan Division” because it was made up of men from NYC. 
Peter P. Benedetto
They both participated in the Muse-Argonne battle and lost their lives in it. Their deaths came just weeks before the end of WWI on Nov. 11, 1918.
Peter P. Benedetto was born Sept 5, 1895 in Craco the son of Domenico and Maria Teresa Paduano. After immigrating in 1899 and attend-ing school he joined his father’s paper stock business and obtained his citizenship. He was the business’ general manager when drafted and reported to Camp Upton on Long Island, NY for training in September 1917, ultimately reaching the rank of Sargent. The extract of his company’s report tells of his bravery in his last battle, 
“On Sept. 7, 1918, this soldier led his section across the plateau at Vauxcère, France through a heavy enemy barrage and in plain view of the enemy. When his men became scattered, he remained under shell fire without a thought of personal safety, in order to collect them and place them in their positions. This soldier was known among his comrades for his extraordinary courage, cheerfulness, leadership and devotion to duty. 
He is interred in at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France. In 1930 the US Government organized the WWI Mothers’ Pilgrimage and offered to send them to their loved one's final resting place in Europe. Sgt. Benedetto’s mother Teresa made the voyage to visit the gravesite. 
Nicola Francavilla, Camp Upton, NY 1917
Nicola Francavilla was born in Craco on May 15, 1894 to Carlo and Lucia Viggiano. He arrived in New York with his family in 1905 and after completing his schooling joined his father and uncle Giuseppe in the family’s paper stock business until he was drafted in September 1917. He was still an Italian citizen but had filed his papers declaring his intention for US citizenship. He went to Camp Upton for training and was made a Corporal. Arriving in France his unit was moved to the Argonne Forest. On September 28, 1918 orders arrived for them to advance into thick woods where they encountered savage machine gun fire. It was during this day that Corporal Nicola Francavilla went missing in action. His body was never recovered and his sacrifice is marked by a Tablet of the Missing at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery at Romagne, France. 
Although the demand for waste paper had increased, the technology of processing it had not changed. This was still a labor intensive business that often included women and children family members. Pushcarts and horse carts were still in use as was hand sorting of paper into different grades. Packing the paper into bales was done with mechanical presses that relied on hand levers and cranks. 
Structural changes had taken place the industry and it made a difference for the Cracotan paper stock men in New York. 
The Benedetto business had been acquiring industrial buildings that were leased to Cracotans and others in the paper stock. They also formed an alliance with the Robert Gair Company, (Gair was the inventor of the folded cardboard carton in 1890) who by this time owned several paper mills and industrial buildings. It was through this supply chain of Cracotan paper stock men, who were tenants of the Benedetto businesses that waste paper could be assembled in large quantities. The Benedettos were then able to broker and sell it to paper mills. Among the uses of the waste paper by The Gair Company was the production of packaging for Bloomingdale’s, Colgate, Pond’s and Nabisco who adopted cardboard boxes to package their “Uneeda Biscuits” for mass distribution. 
The Cracotans in the waste paper supply chain all benefitted from this increased demand and they made good use of their new found prosperity. 
Some, like Giuseppe Francavilla (Nicola’s uncle) decided to go back to his farming roots and sold his interest to his brother Carlo and other nephew Frank. Giuseppe and his wife Rosa Spera purchased land in Swartswood Lake, New Jersey and started a farm. 
Others took their gains and invested them in new homes in the areas surrounding Manhattan to get their families out of the tenements but still remain close to commute to the city where their shops remained.
One other outgrowth of the war was the introduction of technology to businesses including the paper stock business that would take hold in the next decade. 
Also see:
The Cracotan Paper Stock Men of New York (Part 3)
The Cracotan Paper Stock Men of New York (Part 2)
The Cracotan Paper Stock Men of New York