Atlantic City was built by the hard work of its multicultural population, lured to the City by the promise of employment.
Not everyone could afford to relax in Atlantic City. Many people worked long hours to build the hotels and the Boardwalk, and then laid down their tools, put on a uniform, and served the city’s visitors. From railroad workers to milkmen to musicians to hairdressers to restaurant waitstaff to hotel maids, Atlantic City depended on the labor of working-class men and women to keep visitors to the city entertained and satisfied.
Hackney's restaurant started in 1912 as a clam shack. But it grew so big so fast that by 1929, the restaurant had 3,200 seats, and took up a full block of the Atlantic City Boardwalk along Absecon Inlet. That made it the biggest seafood restaurant in the world in its day - and by some tellings, the biggest restaurant of any kind. Despite that shocking capacity, it also had lines around the block on summer nights. A second seafood restaurant in the Inlet, Captain Starn’s, opened in 1940 and employed more than 200 during the summer months.
“Madame Washington” as she was widely known, was a millionaire black businesswoman and founded the Apex News & Hair Company. In 1913, she started a hairdressing business in Atlantic City and later expanded the business, teaching students and developing beauty products. After an employee referred to Washington as "Madame" out of respect, she adopted the title in her professional career. In 1920, noting the lack of beauty products for African Americans, she founded the Apex News & Hair Company. Apex maintained a lab and school in Atlantic City, as well as an office in New York City. Eventually, her beauty colleges were located in twelve states and there were 35,000 agents all over the world. After Washington's death, her daughter, Joan Cross Washington, led the company until it was sold.
A third-generation dairyman from Atlantic City, Alan E. Kligerman got his start in the family business by delivering milk to customers. During the course of this work, he discovered that not everyone could enjoy the delicious dairy products his family’s farm produced. He went on to invent Lactaid and Beano as a result.
Before casinos opened in Atlantic City, many residents heeded the mantra “Nine months to worry, three months to hurry.” During the busy summer months, locals would work two, three, and even four jobs at the same time, anticipating the months where work was harder to find. Now, Atlantic City is a year round resort, employing tens of thousands of people from the city and surrounding areas to staff the various industries.
Keeping visitors and residents safe has long been the job of the local first responders. The Atlantic City Police Department, Atlantic City Beach Patrol, and Atlantic City Fire Department have bravely served the city since 1854, 1855, and 1874, respectively.
Were you part of the workforce in Atlantic City? Tell us where.