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The Concrete Space of Industrial Labor, 1900-1930

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Abstract:

Thomas Edison’s announcement in 1906 that he had designed cheap concrete houses as “a solution to the slum and tenement problem” excited his contemporaries far more than it has historians. The house ended up an economic failure, but Edison was doing what he had always done best: appeal to central cultural concerns of the moment. Edison would achieve economies, he claimed, by mass-producing houses in cheap farmland skirting urban areas, thereby solving several socio-environmental problems of turn-of-the-century cities. Concrete houses were purportedly fireproof, sanitary, helped solve declining timber supplies, and suburban residencies offered every man a garden, a common progressive formula for growing healthy families and republican citizens. But mass production would also de-skill labor in the building trades, undercutting the value of many workers who might occupy those homes. Edison’s house, in short, captured the hopes and contradictions of early twentieth-century concrete dreams for recasting socio-environmental space.
This paper examines the relationship between the takeoff of reinforced concrete construction and its effects on both the practice of labor, within the building trades, and the space of labor in factories that began dotting the urban outskirts in the 1910s and ‘20s. Within the city, even as engineers used concrete to remake sewage systems, build more fire- and earthquake-resistant buildings, install subway systems, and pave streets, concrete construction de-skilled practical labor while funneling expertise upward to a class of professionally-trained engineers and architects, leading to bitter labor disputes and weakening building trades unions. Outside the city, where construction labor began to flow, the “daylight factories” many modernists embraced as healthful working environments that would cultivate a class of virtuous republican workers helped create the spatial conditions for mass-production systems. Social and environmental questions turned out to be as interwoven as progressives believed, I argue, but not in the manner many hoped.
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Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170389_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Lee, Gabriel. "The Concrete Space of Industrial Labor, 1900-1930" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170389_index.html>

APA Citation:

Lee, G. "The Concrete Space of Industrial Labor, 1900-1930" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170389_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: Thomas Edison’s announcement in 1906 that he had designed cheap concrete houses as “a solution to the slum and tenement problem” excited his contemporaries far more than it has historians. The house ended up an economic failure, but Edison was doing what he had always done best: appeal to central cultural concerns of the moment. Edison would achieve economies, he claimed, by mass-producing houses in cheap farmland skirting urban areas, thereby solving several socio-environmental problems of turn-of-the-century cities. Concrete houses were purportedly fireproof, sanitary, helped solve declining timber supplies, and suburban residencies offered every man a garden, a common progressive formula for growing healthy families and republican citizens. But mass production would also de-skill labor in the building trades, undercutting the value of many workers who might occupy those homes. Edison’s house, in short, captured the hopes and contradictions of early twentieth-century concrete dreams for recasting socio-environmental space.
This paper examines the relationship between the takeoff of reinforced concrete construction and its effects on both the practice of labor, within the building trades, and the space of labor in factories that began dotting the urban outskirts in the 1910s and ‘20s. Within the city, even as engineers used concrete to remake sewage systems, build more fire- and earthquake-resistant buildings, install subway systems, and pave streets, concrete construction de-skilled practical labor while funneling expertise upward to a class of professionally-trained engineers and architects, leading to bitter labor disputes and weakening building trades unions. Outside the city, where construction labor began to flow, the “daylight factories” many modernists embraced as healthful working environments that would cultivate a class of virtuous republican workers helped create the spatial conditions for mass-production systems. Social and environmental questions turned out to be as interwoven as progressives believed, I argue, but not in the manner many hoped.


Similar Titles:
Locating Citizenship: Transnational Organizing, Urban Spaces and Gendered Labor in the Garment Industry


 
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