History : May-Jun 2018
FROMTOPTOBOTTOM:NEWYORKPUBLICLIBRARY/BRIDGEMAN/ACI;BRIDGEMAN/ACI;GRANGER/AGEFOTOSTOCK BETTMANN/GETTY IMAGES LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/GETTY IMAGES STEELWORKERS IN THE SKY housands of men worked on piecing together the steel skel- etons of Manhattan’s emerging skyline. Many of these labor- ers were newly arrived Europeans, in search of the American dream, while many others were native Mohawk American Indians from New York State: A 1949 feature in the New Yorker described the Mohawk workers building a bridge: “[They] are as agile as goats. They would walk on a narrow beam high up in the air with nothing below.” All of the skyscraper workers had to be comfortable with heights. They had to be agile and fearless, climbing hundreds of feet without any modern safety precautions. Their wages were comparatively high, and they were widely admired. As early as 1908 journalists such as Ernest Poole wrote articles praising these “cowboys of the skies.” By the time the Empire State Building rose throughout 1930 and 1931, the view from the sidewalk must have been spectacular: In the course of just over a year, the site swarmed with 3,000 workers, who added 4.5 floors to the structure every week. Photographers such as Lewis Hine and Charles Ebbets later immortalized these sure-footed laborers, although it is not known who took the iconic 1932 image “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” which shows several European immigrants and at least one Mohawk enjoying a break on a girder. While this photograph has grown famous, the identities of most of the workers remain a mystery. “LUNCH ATOP A SKYSCRAPER,” AN ICONIC 1932 IMAGE, PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN. TAKEN ON FEBRUARY 2, 1912, BY IRVING UNDERHILL, THE IMAGE ABOVE SHOWS THE EMERGING STRUCTURE OF THE WOOLWORTH BUILDING, WHICH OPENED ON APRIL 24 THE FOLLOWING YEAR. WORKMEN INSPECT A GIRDER IN THE LATER STAGES OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING IN A 1931 PHOTOGRAPH BY LEWIS HINE. MEN WORK ON THE LOWER PART OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING IN A 1930 PHOTOGRAPH BY LEWIS HINE. THREE WORKERS CAREFULLY PLACE A GIRDER IN LOWER MANHATTAN IN THIS UNIDENTIFIED PHOTOGRAPH FROM AROUND 1920.