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Interview with Angelo DiVittorio

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DiVittorio, Angelo ; O'Neil, Dan


Angelo DiVittorio talks about emigrating from Italy and working as a barber in Rochester and Endicott, NY. He discusses working for 22 years in Endicott before moving to Binghamton to work until retirement and that George F. Johnson was a customer. He also speaks about his faith and religious figures in Binghamton and the changing pace of his business.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


14:58 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Angelo DiVittorio
Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil
Date of interview: 28 November 1977

Dan: OK, Ang, to start out this interview, would you give me the date you immigrated to this country and the reason why you came?
Ang: I arrive in New York April 29, 1921, the reason to better myself than I was in Italy.
Dan: OK, and ah, you stopped at Ellis Island before you entered the country?
Ang: Yes, and from there went right to Rochester, New York.
Dan: OK, and what happened at Ellis Island?
Ang: Well, it seems the doctor thought I was sick and he wouldn’t let me out. Finally my cousin who was with me could speak English, and he talked the doctor into letting me out because my brother would take care of me in the event I was sick, which I wasn't.
Dan: OK, and you couldn’t speak any English?
Ang: Not a word.
Dan: Now what reason was it for you to come? Did you have a relative in the country?
Ang: Yes, I had my brother in Rochester, NY.
Dan: Your brother in Rochester.
Ang: My father was also there.
Dan: Oh, your father was also here.
Ang: Yes.
Dan: OK, so you went to Rochester, and then what did you do there?
Ang: Well I was barbering—I took up barbering in Italy so I continued barbering—then one day I had a chance to come to Endicott, NY. Somebody asked me to come. I said, “Yeah.” I figured, make a little change, and I came to Endicott NY, then from Endicott, NY—
Dan: OK, then you went to Endicott. Who did you work for there?
Ang: I worked for James D'Adamo.
Dan: James D’Adamo. In what year was that?
Ang: 1922.
Dan: 1922, OK. So you were only up to Rochester about a year before you came here?
Ang: Just about a year.
Dan: OK, now how many chairs were in that barbershop?
Ang: Three.
Dan: Three—OK, now at that time it was 1922. What was the price of haircuts then?
Ang: 50¢.
Dan: 50¢.
Ang: At the better shops.
Dan: At the better shops, yeah. What were they at the poorer shops?
Ang: 35.
Dan: 35. OK, now you worked for another gentleman who owns the shop, and haircuts were 50¢—did you work on a commission basis?
Ang: Yes, 70%, I was getting 70%.
Dan: You were getting 70% of the 50¢. OK, during that time were there any notables in anything whose hair you cut?
Ang: Oh yes, George F. Johnson, all the time.
Dan: You cut George F. Johnson's hair?
Ang: All the time.
Dan: Is that right?
Ang: Yeah, he was my customer.
Dan: He was your customer, yeah—so in other words, you more or less established your own clientele there?
Ang: Oh yes.
Dan: Now how long were you there in Endicott?
Ang: Oh, up to 1944.
Dan: 1944.
Ang: When I moved to Binghamton.
Dan: Then you moved to Binghamton, and in Binghamton you went to work for who?
Ang: I went to work for Mr. Ferrante, better known as G.G.
Dan: G.G. Is that capital G capital G?
Ang: Yes.
Dan: OK, and how long did you work for him?
Ang: I worked for him from 1944.
Dan: Up until the time you retired?
Ang: Up ’til the time I retired, yes. No, I worked for somebody else after that. Ah, I just can't remember what year G.G. sold out, ’cause he died and then I start working for Frank Battaglia, Frank's Barber Shop. Then from there went to work for Joe Trovalli—he's the last guy I worked for on Court Street.
Dan: Oh, he was the last one you worked for.
Ang: Yes.
Dan: Oh, I thought maybe it was Frank.
Ang: No, no, Trovalli was the last one I worked for.
Dan: Now were the shops unionized, Ang?
Ang: Ah, some was and some wasn't, but last one, no. But when I worked for Frank's Barber Shop it was.
Dan: Frank was unionized.
Ang: Yes.
Dan: Yeah.
Ang: But Joe Trovalli was never unionized.
Dan: Now do you recall now, you retired when you were 62, is that right?
Ang: 65.
Dan: Oh, you were 65.
Ang: Ah, 65.
Dan: Did you notice at that time a decline in business due to the advent of the long hair and the full beards?
Ang: Very very much.
Dan: Very very much, huh?
Ang: Matter of fact, a lot of the shops were closing because of that.
Dan: Yeah, so in other words you got out just in time.
Ang: Just in time—I have this little place here, a few old patients, customers.
Dan: In other words, you built up your own clientele here in Binghamton.
Ang: That’s right.
Dan: That’s good. OK, now at the time you came to Binghamton, which was in 1922, or came to Endicott, rather, were there any tobacco factories in existence at that time?
Ang: Yes, there was one in Johnson City.
Dan: One in Johnson City—do you know anything at all about it?
Ang: I didn't know nothing about it. The only thing I know, they were making cigars there.
Dan: That’s the only thing. You don't know or remember where in Johnson City.
Ang: Someplace on Main Street.
Dan: Someplace on Main Street, OK.
Ang: And off of Main someplace.
Dan: All right, now when you came to Binghamton, your church affiliation was...?
Ang: St. Mary’s the Assumption.
Dan: St. Mary’s Assumption on Court and—
Ang: Hawley and—
Dan: —Hawley and Fayette Streets.
Ang: Hawley and Fayette Streets.
Dan: Right, and the pastor was?
Ang: Father Pellegrini.
Dan: He was the founder, I believe.
Ang: He was the founder of that church.
Dan: And some years later they merged with St. Mary’s on Court Street.
Ang: Prior to that he left for Italy.
Dan: He left for Italy?
Ang: Father Pellegrini died there—then some years later they merged with the Irish church up there.
Dan: Do you know anything about the Committee of Concern at all—how that came into being?
Ang: Well I guess there was a bunch of fellows that thought they should have an Italian church built at the old place, but they blamed Father Conway—he wasn't to blame.
Dan: In other words, they wanted their own national church—is that it? Is that the reason for it?
Ang: Yeah, that’s it.
Dan: That was the reason for it, yeah. How did you happen to have George F. Johnson as a customer? Was that right from the beginning in Endicott?
Ang: Yeah, right from the beginning because we were already on Washington Ave., which was the Main Street in Endicott, and on his way to work he used to come by there, park his car diagonally there. If I call him in he'd come in—otherwise, if I say no, he kept right on going, see.
Dan: In other words, you had to call him to come in?
Ang: No, but you see if he didn't want to wait there very long, see.
Dan: Oh, I see.
Ang: If I call him it means—
Dan: It means that you had a chair open.
Ang: That’s right, or I be, I be ready in a few minutes—didn't want to wait too long. And then when he gets sick I used to go shave him home, cut his hair and all.
Dan: Oh is that right? Where or how often did you do that?
Ang: Well, whenever he call me, whenever.
Dan: Oh, whenever he got sick he called you. You went right to the house and cut his hair.
Ang: Right in his bathroom was all mirrors, all the way around the room.
Dan: Is that right?
Ang: Yep.
Dan: Any of the other Johnsons?
Ang: Yes, George W. and his son Frank used to be my customers and once in a while, I don't recall the other Johnson—he used to be in a different kind of business. But anyway, the other brother, once in a while he used to come in, I don't recall, some kind of business up on North Street there.
Dan: Yeah, yeah, how about the IBM? Anybody from the IBM? Did you know Tom Watson at all?
Ang: I work on Tom Watson Jr.
Dan: Oh, you worked on Tom Watson Jr.?
Ang: I cut his hair and a few of the big boys over there like Don Ross and so many I can't think of them, but I work on a lot of those boys.
Dan: Of course in those days they had facials too.
Ang: Yeah, some days, yeah.
Dan: How were tips in those days?
Ang: Not too good.
Dan: Not too good.
Ang: Not too good in those days.
Dan: In other words, if a haircut was 50¢, why, then the tip would be what? A nickel or a dime?
Ang: Or nothing.
Dan: Or nothing—George F. must have given you something.
Ang: Oh, he always tipped—always.
Dan: And you charged the same if you went to the house to cut his hair?
Ang: Ah, no, we used to charge more, I forget how much—at the house we charge more.
Dan: So you retired in 1965 and you have been working out of your home here?
Ang: Yes.
Dan: Ah, anything else you can tell me at all, Ang, about any notables whose hair you cut? Anything about the barbershops in the old, which are different than they are today, of course, outside of the fact that you've got just hairstylists today?
Ang: That’s all, that’s all there is—the barbers are just broke.
Dan: They're just going broke. Back in Italy you learned your trade?
Ang: Yes, I started when I was nine years old.
Dan: Nine years old.
Ang: Nine years old.
Dan: And learning it or—
Ang: And learning.
Dan: Like did you go to school?
Ang: No, go right in the barbershop over there—it’s different.
Dan: Sort of like an apprenticeship?
Ang: That’s right, for three months I did nothing but leather faces.
Dan: Leather faces.
Ang: After three months I started giving haircuts and shaves.
Dan: Is that right?
Ang: Yeah.
Dan: Where did you get the customers to practice on?
Ang: Well, see, during the summertime over there, was so hot, everybody got their hair cut off, see, so I used to practice on first and then I would just clip them right off. Didn't make any different.
Dan: Yeah.
Ang: As far as shave, it came easy.
Dan: Yeah, OK, now the barbershops, now, are operated under the Health Department—the NY State Health Department?
Ang: Yes.
Dan: And it had to be registered every year, or is it biennial registration?
Ang: Every two years.
Dan: Every two years.
Ang: Every two years, had to have a license.
Dan: Biennial, yeah, and did you have to take any exam when you came over here?
Ang: No, no, I didn't. See, when the license bill came out, all the barbers who could prove they were barbers didn’t have to take exam.
Dan: And how would they prove that? By just—
Ang: Well, just tell them where they worked for year and that’s it—but those that didn’t, then they had to take a test.
Dan: Then they had to take a test, I see. So in other words, it was either serving an apprenticeship for a year and being approved by the State or else you had to take a test, right?
Ang: Well, you serve an apprenticeship for eighteen months.
Dan: Oh, eighteen months.
Ang: Then after they take a test.
Dan: I see.
Ang: If you're OK to go barbering, they let you go—otherwise you go to school again.
Dan: In other words, this gentleman who owned the barbershop in Endicott, it was up to him to approve you as an accredited barber, is that it?
Ang: That I was there over a year.
Dan: For over a year.
Ang: That’s all you needed.
Dan: And then he said you were all right and then you got your license—and how about today? Is it about the same?
Ang: About the same, yeah. Before you get through, I want to say something.
Dan: Go ahead, Ang.
Ang: This will be the last. It seems though, a lot of IBM salesmen came from all over the world, see, and one of these fellows was from Italy and he had a partner, roommate by the name of Smitty, see, and all the time Smitty was kidding him, trying to kid him, but he couldn't kid him—he was so smart, see—so one day they both came in the shop for a haircut, see, and Smitty, he was trying to kid him by calling him “Dago,” “Ginny,” all that, and this Italian fellow, he just laughed at him, see, and ah, so this Italian fellow says to me, “Io lo porto a passeggio,” which is a term we don't use in Italy, and Smitty asked me, “What did he say?” So I said, “Just a minute,” and I have to translate it in English, and I started to laugh, and I laughed and I laughed. He says, “What you laughing at?”
“He says he's taking you for a ride.”
He says, “And how he is.” He says, “I been trying to kid him since I been here, but,” he says, “I always get burned up instead of him.”
Dan: That’s a good story, Ang.
Ang: Yeah, very good.
Dan: You didn't speak any English at all when you came over, did you?
Ang: No, nothing.
Dan: Did you have to pick it up as you went along?
Ang: I went to school, night school, Rochester, for a year, yeah. School #9, Joseph Fallon, Rochester, NY.
Dan: You know, it seems to be, quite a few of the barbershops that were around during the days they were flourishing seemed to have been run by Italians. Was that a very popular trade in Italy at that time?
Ang: I guess they had most, a lot of Italians took the trade. Like for instance me, and my father was a bricklayer or a stone mason by trade, but I was very ill when, during the First World War, had malaria, flu and typhoid fever, so was too weak to learn his trade, so he had me learn the barber business.
Dan: So you served in the First World War?
Ang: No I didn't, I was too young when I got sick.
Dan: Oh, I see.
Ang: Then they had the flu, I also had typhoid and flu, typhoid and malaria.
Dan: What part of Italy did you come from?
Ang: Sicily.
Dan: Sicily. Well, Ang, I guess that’s about it.
Ang: OK, Danny.
Dan: Thank you very much.
Ang: Glad to oblige.

Date of Interview



O'Neil, Dan


DiVittorio, Angelo


14:58 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

DiVittorio, Angelo -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Immigrants -- Interviews; Barbers -- Interviews; Rochester (N.Y.); Endicott (N.Y.); Binghamton (N.Y); Johnson, George F. (George Francis), 1857-1948; Religion

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.



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The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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