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Managing vision, envisioning management: Representations of labor and technological systems in Gilded Age America

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Managing Vision, Envisioning Management: Representations of Labor and
Technological Systems in Gilded Age America
submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements
for the degree of
in Visual Studies
Vanessa Meikle Schulman
Dissertation Committee:
Professor Cécile Whiting, Chair
Professor Bridget R. Cooks
Professor Sally A. Stein
UMI Number: 3403884
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The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
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UMI 3403884
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© 2010 Vanessa Meikle Schulman
my parents, who taught me how,
Alex, for helping me see it through.
Railroads, Telegraphs, Sugar: The Visualization of
Technological Systems in Paintings and Print Culture
“Attendant Vulcans”: John Ferguson Weir, Metallurgy,
and the Alchemical Sublime
Managing Visions of Industry: The Managerial Eye
Swords into Ploughshares: Reconstruction, Reconciliation,
and Labor
Laziness and Civilization: Workers, Citizens, and the
Representation of Social Control
Image References
List of Important Artists and Authors, with dates of birth
and death
I would like to thank my advisor, Cécile Whiting, for her invaluable assistance, guidance,
and support on this project. She has been there since the beginning, and has always been
a helpful editor and sounding-board.
Other faculty members gave me crucial support and assistance throughout this project.
My committee members, Bridget Cooks and Sally Stein, provided copious comments on
my work, and their support helped me through. Catherine Liu and Jon Wiener provided
helpful feedback on the early stages of this project, as well as serving on my examination
committee. Amy Powell got me thinking about my next project. Jennifer Roberts
provided valuable intellectual feedback and friendly support in my final year of
completion in a new home.
I would like to thank my colleagues in the Visual Studies PhD Program, particularly the
members of my dissertation group, Krystal R. Hauseur, Tim Sieber, and Mary Trent. You
helped keep me on track. For moral support, friendship, and good times, I also want to
thank Nathan Blake, Mark Cunningham, Eva Friedberg, Ginger Hill, Stefka Hristova,
Lee Laskin, Natalie Phillips, Tina Rivers, Sean Rowe, Sami Siegelbaum, and Nicole
Woods. My graduate cohort read the very first draft of what became Chapter One of this
dissertation way back in May 2005.
The staff of the Boston Public Library, Columbia University’s Butler Library, and Linda
Dodson from the Washington County Museum of Art cheerfully answered my queries
and helped with research. The wonderful staff of Visual Studies and Art History at UCI,
Roberta Geier, Madeline Mullens, Raylene Salcido, and Jewel Wilson, helped with my
many administrative questions.
The support of my family would be impossible to overstate. In particular, my parents
have shown understanding and encouragement throughout my academic career. My
brother Jason has always listened and offered good advice. My parents-in-law, Alan and
Carole Schulman, have welcomed me into their family for the past seven years. My three
wonderful grandparents are a constant inspiration to me. I hope I have made them proud.
Finally, without the constant love and patience of my husband, Alex Schulman, this
dissertation would never have been completed.
Completion of this dissertation was made possible by generous and continued funding
from the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, in the form of a
Dissertation Year Fellowship, a Summer Dissertation Fellowship, and a Graduate Dean’s
Dissertation Fellowship.
Vanessa Meikle Schulman
Ph.D. in Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine
M.A. in Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine
A.B. in American Civilization and History of Art and Architecture, Brown
Teaching Fellow, Harvard University
Teaching Associate, University of California, Irvine
Summer 2008 Lecturer, University of California, Irvine
Summer 2007
Teaching Assistant, University of California, Irvine
Graduate Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship, University of California, Irvine
Summer Dissertation Fellowship, University of California, Irvine
University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) Grant,
University of California, Santa Barbara. Cowritten on behalf of Octopus:
A Visual Studies Journal
Regent’s Dissertation Fellowship, University of California, Irvine
Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, Department of Art History,
University of California, Irvine
Chancellor’s Fellowship, University of California, Irvine
“Introduction: Deeply Shallow: Ruminations on Surface,” Octopus: A Visual Studies
Journal 4 (Fall 2008): 9-18.
“Picturesque Productions: Aestheticizing the Industrial Landscape in Gilded Age
America.” 14th annual Graduate Humanities Conference, UC Riverside, April 2007.
“Invisible Men: The Effacement of the Laboring Body in Nineteenth-Century
Representations of American Industry.” Hagley Fellows Conference, Hagley Museum
and Library, University of Delaware, March 2007.
“Envisioning a Future Nation: Portrayals of American Industry in Late-NineteenthCentury Visual Culture.” 1st annual Nineteenth-Century Forum, Temple University,
February 2007.
“Myths for the Machine Age: Hart Crane, Charles Sheeler, John Dos Passos, and the
‘Usable Past.’” 7th annual meeting, The Space Between, McGill University, May 2005.
Managing Vision, Envisioning Management: Representations of Labor and
Technological Systems in Gilded Age America
Vanessa Meikle Schulman
Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Studies
University of California, Irvine, 2010
Professor Cécile Whiting, Chair
Between the advent of popular illustrated magazines in the mid-1850s and the
“closing” of the frontier at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the
United States transitioned from a nation of primarily agricultural and artisanal laborers to
one of wage workers whose everyday lives were increasingly shaped by technology. This
dissertation, which studies representations of American technology, laborers, and
factories, explores the strategies artists used to acclimate Americans from a range of
social classes, races, and education levels to an environment of industrial production,
wage capitalism, and international communications. Examining both paintings and
magazine illustrations, this study demonstrates how image-viewers actively
conceptualized their lives in terms of vast, underlying systems of technology. It also
examines a key tension between images making production processes overly clear to
viewers and those using visual metaphors to describe the “magic” of modern life.
This dissertation consists of five chapters, situated in a roughly chronological
progression. Chapter One lays out the theory of technological systems as it relates to
visual media, and introduces the methods artists developed to represent key systems such
as the telegraph, railroad, and international trade. The second chapter addresses the
“alchemical sublime” in representations of Civil War-era metalworking. The artist John
Ferguson Weir used representations of metallurgy as metaphors for a process of
purification that included economic, national, and personal meanings.
Chapter Three argues that labor and industry served as important metaphors in the
visual representation of reconciliation following the Civil War, as the South worked to
bring its technological infrastructure into harmony with the well-developed North.
Chapter Four enters the factory itself, and explores the emergence of a new mode of
viewing, the “managerial eye.” In representations of proto-assembly line work beginning
in the 1860s, the managerial eye allows the viewer a privileged position that takes in, at a
glance, all the steps in a commodity’s production. Chapter Five, which studies the
relationship between work and citizenship, examines how artists conceptualized factories,
schools, prisons, and other sites of group training or incarceration as places for the
molding of potential citizens, who were theorized as potential laborers.
During the nineteenth century, the United States developed into an industrial
nation with strong networks of transportation and communication, well-organized and
powerful corporations, and acceleration in the production of consumer goods. Earlier
forms of production, such as the mills of New England and the cotton plantations of the
agrarian South were supplemented by heavy industry: mines, ironworks, refineries for oil,
sugar, and other raw materials, logging, papermaking, and home-goods manufacturing.
Workers, successfully or not, adapted to new, speedier, and more impersonal modes of
production. This emerging factory system brought with it urbanization and continuing
Westward expansion.1 There were many, conflicting views of industry during the period
from 1855 to 1893, and no single narrative can tell the story of how these changes
impacted the visual and social realms.
Revolutions in transportation and communication, as historians of technology
have noted, transformed industrial life in the United States, particularly with the building
of the railroads, beginning in the 1820s and 1830s, and the development and
implementation of the telegraph system, whose wires often ran alongside rail lines. These
innovations enabled the development of quasi-assembly-line production techniques,
strategic management in factories and other locations of production, and rapid, efficient
This development was complex and uneven, and had certainly been occurring since the Colonial period.
For one of the best comprehensive histories of the late nineteenth century, see Alan Trachtenberg, The
Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (1982; repr., New York: Hill and Wang,
1995). For more specific information about the development of industry, see Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The
Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard
University, 1977); Thomas C. Cochran, Frontiers of Change: Early Industrialism in America (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1981); Ruth Schwartz Cowan, A Social History of American Technology (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1997); David A. Hounshell, From the American System to Mass
Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984).
distribution of finished products to larger, more dispersed groups of consumers across the
globe.2 Thus any commodity which reached a consumer had gone through a complex
process of production, from a farm, forest, or mine where raw materials were grown,
felled, or extracted, through the factory, across weblike distribution networks, and
eventually into the home. Though these systems were neither unitary nor seamless, by the
1870s and 1880s they covered a vast area of land, and both companies and governments
were working to make them more unified and consistent.3 The most accurate and
established phrase to describe these networks is “technological systems.”
Technological systems underlay the entire fabric of society in the United States by
the 1890s, when the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition “closed” the frontier and
ushered in the twentieth century with a flourish. Historian of technology Thomas Parke
Hughes coined the phrase “technological systems” in the 1980s to describe two
phenomena: most basically, the actual physical networks required to maintain the
function of an industry or technology (such as a power grid, with its power stations,
transformers, local networks, and subterranean or raised power lines), and more
abstractly as a way of understanding the technological underpinnings of a society as
interconnected and contingent.4 All elements of a system are to some degree dependent
Chandler, “The Revolution in Transportation and Communication,” in The Visible Hand, 79-205; Walter
Licht, Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1986); Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920 (1973; repr., Arlington
Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1992).
On the impact of the Confederate government on Southern railroad development, see Scott Reynolds
Nelson, Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 29-30, 44-45. On governmental interest in a telegraphic
network, see Paul Israel, “Invention and the Development of the Telegraph Industry,” in From Machine
Shop to Industrial Laboratory: Telegraphy and the Changing Context of American Invention, 1830-1920
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 24-57.
Thomas Parke Hughes, “The Evolution of Large Technological Systems,” in The Social Construction of
Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology, ed. Wiebe E. Bijker,
Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor J. Pinch (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 51-82; Hughes, Networks of
Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).
upon the proper operation of each of its component parts, creating some systems so large
and complex that they cannot easily be mapped or comprehended. In her 1997 book A
Social History of American Technology, Ruth Schwartz Cowan expanded on the theory
of technological systems, arguing that people undergoing the transition between
preindustrial and industrialized modes of production become increasingly reliant upon
other people who may be hundreds of miles away, “linked together in large, complex
networks that are, at one and the same time, both physical and social.”5 Industrialization
reorganizes society in potentially upsetting ways, replacing localized networks with
transcontinental systems of telegraph wires, train lines, or manufacturing schemes. In the
nineteenth century, these systems were not yet so intricate that, as might be the case with
many products today, their origins could not be traced back to a few raw materials.
However, other networks, like the telegraph system controlling communication, railroad
schedules, and standardized time, had a physical manifestation—miles of telegraph wire,
strung high above roads and railways—but also a more mystifying, magical quality that
was more difficult to grasp both conceptually and visually.
The story of technological systems, especially as presented to the public in the
nineteenth-century press, is one of oscillating control and mystification, of systems that
are simultaneously tangible or cartographically quantifiable, and mysterious or obscure in
their workings. In this dissertation, I examine the tension between feelings of uncertainty
that sometimes accompanied representations of technological systems, along with more
concrete visualizations that assisted viewers with picturing mentally how these networks
spread across the country. However, this clarity is often in tension with an impulse to
cloak technology and technological systems in metaphor or mystery. As the nineteenth
Cowan, Social History of American Technology, 149.
century wore on, the visual vocabulary of magic was increasingly subordinated to the
rational impulse, mirroring what Alan Trachtenberg has termed “the incorporation of
America.” By the late 1880s and 1890s, the desire to quantify, control, and map had all
but overtaken an earlier focus on allegory and mystification. As the nation moved into the
increasingly statistical and professional ideology of the Progressive Era, earlier modes of
dealing with technological systems gradually fell away and were replaced with
rationalization and standardization in all elements of life.
During these years of rapid change, viewers were given the opportunity to see the
full extent of technological systems from the comfort of their parlors. Viewers had access
to images in mass-circulation magazines, helping them to envisage the technological
changes that increasingly structured their lives. “A subscription to a mainstream
magazine,” writes Cecelia Tichi of the early twentieth century, “was a guarantee that the
reader would be made constantly aware of the national and worldwide presence of
machines and structures.”6 What Tichi argues of the period from 1890 to 1930 was
already becoming a reality in the earliest years of illustrated magazine publication,
though on a smaller scale. It is nearly impossible to open a copy of some of the major
illustrated periodicals of mid-century—magazines ranging from the popular,
melodramatic sensibility of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper to the highbrow literary
aspirations of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine—without being powerfully reminded of
the ever-present existence of technological systems. Both these magazines, in addition to
other illustrated periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly, Scientific American, and Vanity
Cecelia Tichi, Shifting Gears: Technology, Literature, Culture in Modernist America (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 19.
Fair, began publication in the 1840s or 1850s, ushering in a new era of visuality in the
United States. With their dedication to in-depth pictorial journalism, these publications
contributed to a rich and complex culture of images that was available to a larger segment
of American society than ever before. In addition, innovations in paper-making and
printing, including the Adams Press and electrotyping during the 1830s and 1840s, and
the development of wood-pulp paper in the 1860s, allowed the mechanization of
magazine and book production on a large scale.7
Print culture gave viewers privileged access to a wide variety of images that
would otherwise be unavailable to them. Unlike paintings, which would have been seen
by relatively few viewers outside the wealthy classes and the intelligentsia, news
illustrations could reach vast audiences. In 1865, The Nation argued for the
democratizing power of popular periodicals: “It is not to be doubted that the multiplied
art within our reach is of more use than [art galleries]. … More comfort and instruction
can often be got even out of Harper’s Weekly … than in the picture galleries.”8 Though
circulation numbers for this era are difficult to obtain with accuracy, it is likely that
around 1860 both Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly had
impressive circulations of around 100,000 copies per issue.9 If, as publishers estimated,
five people read each copy that was circulated, the two magazines combined reached
William S. Pretzer, “The Quest for Autonomy and Discipline: Labor and Technology in the Book
Trades,” in Needs and Opportunities in the History of the Book: America, 1639-1876, ed. David D. Hall
and John B. Hench (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1987), 19-22, 26; Philip Scranton, Endless
Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization, 1865-1925 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1997), 129.
“Multiplied Art,” The Nation 1.4 (July 27, 1865): 123.
According to historian of American magazine publishing John Tebbel, Leslie’s circulation in 1858 stood
at 100,000, while the Weekly’s was 100,000 during 1861-65. Tebbel, The American Magazine: A Compact
History (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969), 116, 110.
around one million people a week.10 Despite the unreliability of these statistics, there is
no doubt that illustrations in the magazines’ pages had a wide-ranging audience,
particularly in the North. In addition to broadening the audience for imagery, periodical
illustration also allowed viewers to “travel” to sites that would otherwise be beyond the
bounds of possibility: in the pages of the press, viewers could fly over (or dive beneath)
oceans, travel to faraway cities, and experience cultures foreign to them—whether
exploring Africa or visiting Lower Manhattan’s Jewish and Italian tenement dwellers.
Periodical reading was modern vision. Not only were mass magazines available to
a larger audience than ever before, their very design also incorporated the inherent
distraction, multiplicity, and episodic nature of modern life. The development of pictorial
journalism occurred earlier in France and Great Britain than in the United States, but in
all cases was tied to a new, modern way of being and seeing. In the bustle of the modern
city, or in the jolting in-between of a railway car, readers had to adjust to the syncopated
rhythm of variously-sized blocks of text and image. David Kunzle, historian of the comic
strip, writes of this new mode: “[multiple images] on a page—all scanned in a moment.
This is the logic of railway reading, which allowed for variety, distraction, and
interruption, for superficial and momentary attention; for looking, in a shaking carriage,
rather than sustained reading” (emphasis added).11 Viewers’ encounters with these
images might be in the comfort of a middle-class parlor, but they might just as easily be
in the more public, modern spaces suited to the distracted kind of viewing Kunzle
describes: railways, newsstands, omnibuses, bars, or shift breaks.
Jo Ann Early Levin, “The Golden Age of Illustration: Popular Art in American Magazines, 1850-1925”
(PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1980), 39-40.
David Kunzle, Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press,
2007), 149.
Most of the images in these periodicals, at least until the late 1880s, were created
using the technique of wood engraving, a medium which was particularly well-suited to
precise depictions, whether of urban panoramas or factory machinery. A relief process,
wood engraving was similar to woodcut, a technique in which white areas were cut away,
leaving a raised design that would print as black. However, wood engraving differs from
woodcut because engravers used a burin, which could give much more precise and
detailed designs.12 Rather than simply gouging out unprinted areas, wood engravers could
use the burin to slice, stipple, and incise lines with great accuracy and delicacy. The
engraving could then be set on a page with type, and the whole page electrotyped for
more durable mass printing. The process of wood engraving also allowed for speed
unmatched by other reproductive media at the time. In Frank Leslie’s, for the first time in
the United States, pictorial news was available as soon as a few days—and no longer than
two weeks—after an event.13 To twenty-first-century readers, two weeks is long enough
to have read, absorbed, and forgotten most news stories, but it was an eye-blink to readers
accustomed to waiting for the lengthy process of steel engraving, which could take
months, or the annual compendia of images sold as gift books by the major publishers
each December. In his 1855 guidebook to the Harper and Brothers factory, Jacob Abbott
wrote of the superior speed and volume of wood engravings:
I find, by an examination of the last number of [Harper’s Monthly] … that
it contains not less than sixteen solid pages of engravings. If we suppose
that two of these pages were engraved on one plate, it would require, at the
usual rate of printing by this method [steel engraving on a copperplate
Richard Benson, The Printed Picture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2008), 22, 24.
Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age
America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 40. Brown delineates some of the innovations
that sped up production, 35-40.
press]—say two hundred and fifty impressions per day—not much less
than two years to work off the necessary number of copies from one plate,
and that would be only two pages out of the sixteen; so that it would take
twelve or fifteen years, with one copper-plate press, to print all the
engravings required for one number (emphasis original).14
Abbot’s humorous hypothetical demonstrates the value of wood engraving’s relief
printing process in the production of mass-produced printed commodities such as highcirculation magazines. However, wood engraving, though cheaper than most reproductive
techniques, required considerable monetary outlay. During a six-month run of Harper’s
Weekly, July through December, 1888, an average 18.63% of the total cost per issue was
spent on wood engraving, amounting to over $18,500.15 It is no surprise that inventors
throughout the later part of the century sought a less expensive means for creating
“exactly repeatable pictorial statements.”16
Two such methods were invented in the 1870s and 1880s, process line engraving,
invented around 1870-71 by John Calvin Moss, and process halftone engraving,
developed by Frederic Ives in the 1880s. Moss’s process, a photomechanical means of
reproducing line drawings, was used by American periodicals as early as 1871; its
downside was that it could reproduce lines only, with no shading or gradation.17 It is
difficult, without documentation, to tell process line engravings from wood engravings,
but I believe that around the early- to mid-1870s Harper’s Weekly shifted to reproducing
Jacob Abbott, The Harper Establishment; or, How the Picture Books are Made (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1855), 106.
Harper and Brothers Records. Reel 25, periodical estimates, frames 16-96. Harper’s Monthly spent a
comparable $18,342.33 on engraving for the July through December issues, an average of 10.8% of each
issue’s budget. Reel 25, periodical estimates, frames 12-87. (Calculations V.M. Schulman)
William M. Ivins, Jr., Prints and Visual Communication (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953).
Estelle Jussim, Visual Communication and the Graphic Arts: Photographic Technologies in the
Nineteenth Century (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1983), 63.
most of its editorial cartoons using the process line engraving method.18 However, the
Moss process seems to have had little effect on magazines’ reliance upon wood
engraving, and since the two processes are visually nearly impossible to tell apart,
process line engraving had no effect on the appearance of printed magazines.
Wood engraving was more directly challenged by the adoption of inexpensive
halftone printing for the reproduction of both photographs and original artworks. The
halftone process used a screen to reproduce a photograph using a matrix of gray dots. It
was much cheaper than wood engraving, did not require engraving’s intensive skilled
labor, and could directly translate an original into a mass-printable form. As print scholar
William Ivins argues, any translation of a pictorial statement into a new medium (with
the exception of photography) inadvertently transforms the pictorial syntax of the
original.19 Indeed, there is evidence that artists chafed at the way wood engravers took
liberties with their original compositions. J. Henry Harper recalled: “Many of the leading
artists complained of the engravers because at times they tampered with their work, to the
detriment of their individuality, and often to their extreme annoyance.”20 It is therefore
somewhat surprising that despite the affordability of halftone, and its ability to give a
truly direct reproduction, magazines adopted it slowly, continuing to print a mixture of
media in to the late 1890s.
However, when compared with early halftone reproductions, wood engravings are
superior in clarity, detail, and contrast. Scholars speculate that this caused publishers to
This is supported through a combination of observation and speculation. The visual style of many of the
political cartoons takes on a simplified appearance in the 1870s, suggesting that artists were adopting to a
new way of having their work reproduced. I also speculate that since Harper’s primary cartoonist at the
time was Thomas Nast, the superstar artist would wish to have his recognizable and unique pictorial style
replicated as directly and accurately as possible.
Ivins, Prints and Communication, 61.
J. Henry Harper, The House of Harper: A Century of Publishing in Franklin Square (New York: Harper
and Brothers, 1912), 91.
delay the complete takeover of halftone printing.21 Indeed, high-quality wood engravings
offered a precision of vision and clarity of detail that no other mass reproductive medium
could match at the time.22 Contemporary artists seem to have agreed; illustrator William
Allen Rogers complained: “while the half-tone plate is a thing of mechanical beauty in
itself, it inevitably flattens values. Over a drawing of extreme delicacy or of elusive
quality it runs with the crushing effect of a steam roller.”23 The curious longevity of wood
engraving in the face of new photomechanical reproductive technologies suggest that it
possessed certain qualities that illustrators and magazine editors found desirable.
Paradoxically, despite their clearly hand-drawn character, magazine editors
claimed that wood engravings gave viewers direct access to “truth.” The precision of
engravings, and their use for news reporting, gave these images a certain appeal to their
viewers. Even though wood engraved images were almost always created in an office in
New York, far removed from the sites where news took place, magazines used many
strategies to emphasize their “realness.” Making bold claims of topicality and timeliness,
Harper’s and Leslie’s stressed the individual personalities and biographies of their
reportorial artists, emphasizing their reliability and removing any “uncertainty” that
might come with “artistic anonymity.”24 Rhetorically, the magazines also underscored
their relation to truth by including “terms such as ‘accurate,’ ‘truthful,’ ‘correct,’ and
‘authentic’” in image captions, and including self-portraits of artists sketching within the
Marianne Doezema, “The Clean Machine: Technology in American Magazine Illustration,” Journal of
American Culture 11.4 (Winter 1988): 73-92; Jussim, Visual Communication, 69.
While photography could offer extreme clarity, the options for including photographs in books and
magazines were limited. A common solution was to paste photographic prints into already printed books, a
method whose expense meant it could only be used for luxury items.
William Allen Rogers, A World Worth While: A Record of “Auld Acquaintance” (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1922), 167.
Andrea G. Pearson, “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly: Innovation and
Imitation in Nineteenth-Century American Pictorial Reporting,” Journal of Popular Culture 23.4 (Spring
1990): 87.
scenes they were presumed to be illustrating.25 The rise of photographic news reportage
in the late 1880s and 1890s challenged newsmagazines’ myths of objectivity and
accuracy, but wood engravings were still the primary way most Americans visually
experienced the news in the nineteenth century.26
At the same time, because it was not indexical, engraving could be used to portray
dreams, nightmares, and events that, because of their momentary nature, could not yet be
photographed, such as train crashes or boiler explosions. In addition to freezing time,
engravings could play with expectations of space, challenging the strict orthogonal
perspective required by photography and understood as traditional to painting. Illustrators
used a number of non-realist techniques to illustrate polemical points, including cartoons,
Gothic imagery, allegory, prephotographic historical events, and mythological scenes,
types of representation more typically used in painting. This flexibility gave print
imagery an extraordinary range of subjects and allowed for the contradictory
representation of technological systems as simultaneously controlled and understandable,
mysterious and unknowable.
Though the primary focus of this dissertation is on popular press imagery,
paintings also framed technological systems for the viewer. While the venues in which
wood engraving and oil painting were viewed often diverged drastically, explorations of
many of the same questions that appeared in the popular press were apparent in the work
of so-called high artists. It is also crucial to keep in mind how porous were the boundaries
between media in the nineteenth century. In many cases, “fine” artists and “popular”
Pearson, “Innovation and Imitation,” 93, 83.
Neil Harris, “Iconography and Intellectual History: The Half-Tone Effect,” in New Directions in
American Intellectual History, ed. John Higham and Paul K. Conkin (Baltimore: John Hopkins University
Press, 1979), 205, 209.
illustrators were the same people, as the careers of Thomas Moran, Walter Shirlaw, and
Winslow Homer attest. The facility with which these artists moved between illustrating
jobs and their roles as members of national art associations suggests a fluidity among
different categories of artistic production.27 Though this was arrested later in the century,
as artistic roles became codified and professionalized, during the 1850s through 1880s
there was extensive overlap between categories.28 Magazine illustrators were by no
means regarded as mere scribblers or unimaginative draftsmen, either. A designer of
wood engravings was also “a poet,” his labor “purely an intellectual process, and it
requires intellectual qualities of the highest order.”29 In addition, successful and wellregarded oil paintings were brought from the gallery to the home through magazine
illustration. The paintings of Moran, Charles Frederick Ulrich, Thomas Pollock Anshutz,
and John Ferguson Weir lived powerfully in the pages of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and
Harper’s Weekly, vividly bringing paintings of technological systems into the reach of
middle-class magazine readers. Taken together, paintings and engravings of this period
show a wide-ranging engagement with the question of technological systems in the
nineteenth-century United States. Visual production was a crucial part of a larger cultural
discussion surrounding industrialization and its attendant changes, and allowing viewers
to become active participants in the management and control of technological systems.
Covering such a broad and eventful swathe of time—four decades, which
contained a war, two presidential assassinations, several government scandals, and
Levin, “Golden Age,” 94-96; J.M. Mancini, Pre-Modernism: Art-World Change and American Culture
from the Civil War to the Armory Show (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 37.
On the professionalization of the art world in the nineteenth century, see Sarah Burns, Inventing the
Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
Abbott, Harper Establishment, 110.
multiple cycles of boom and bust—presents a methodological challenge. Many readers,
especially those in history and American studies, will notice what is left out of this
account—particularly such crucial labor events as the 1877 railroad strikes, the rise of the
Knights of Labor, the 1886 Haymarket Riot and the 1892 Homestead Strike. My reason
for these exclusions is that in spite of these disruptions, representations of labor and
technology stayed surprisingly constant throughout the period in question. Strikes came
and went, but overall, representations of work and industry did not noticeably fluctuate in
reaction to economic conditions and social upheavals, even in the turbulent decade of the
1870s. Representations of these events constitute a fairly anomalous group, akin to news
reportage of disasters, foreign wars, or celebrity trials; they provided spectacular
entertainment for a brief moment. In their day-to-day lives, however, readers were more
likely to be constantly saturated with the kinds of images seen in this analysis: steady,
consistent, and mainly positive representations of everyday life, work, and modernity.
My method in approaching this dissertation was to combine careful attention to
the visual rhetoric of my objects with in-depth historical research. I combed through
thirty-six years of Harper’s Weekly, twenty-five years of Harper’s Monthly, twenty-two
years of Scientific American, and seventeen years of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated
Newspaper. From these researches I collected over one thousand images that covered all
possible interpretations of “work,” “industry,” “management,” or “technological
systems.” From those images, plus a handful of paintings, lithographs, and photographs, I
tried to distill what I saw as the most powerful, interesting, and distinctive images to form
the core of this dissertation. Some of the images I have chosen are almost de rigueur for a
dissertation on this topic, including John Ferguson Weir’s The Gun Foundry and Thomas
Pollock Anshutz’s Ironworkers’ Noontime. I hope, however, that I have been able to
provide valuable new interpretations of these works. Most of my illustrations are more
obscure, but no less important: they represent a crucial and understudied group of images
that helped shape what nineteenth-century viewers thought they knew about industry,
technology, and labor.
Several categories of literature have been crucial for the completion of this
dissertation. First, I relied extensively on social and labor history of the 1970s and 1980s,
a massive outpouring of scholarly interest in American history that remains unmatched,
either in volume or in quality. The work of historians of technology in particular has
proved essential for establishing historical background on the development of production
techniques and managerial capitalism. Second, art historical writings on the nineteenth
century helped me understand the aesthetic categories, historical developments, and
artistic debates that underlie many of the images and texts examined in this dissertation.
Finally, a small number of historical-theoretical texts have shaped my interpretations.
Most crucial is the concept of the imagined community as a mass print community based
around the operation of print-capitalism, as theorized by historian Benedict Anderson in
the early 1980s. Though recent authors such as Trish Loughran have challenged and
qualified Anderson’s arguments, I believe strongly that popular magazines were a
primary, and highly visual, means for nineteenth-century Americans to understand and
envision their nation.
Chapter One gives an overview of the ways artists dealt with representing
technological systems in a variety of media: illustration, painting, lithography, and
photography. It discusses the tension between the desire for newsworthiness, or factual
information, and the impulse to represent technology as something essentially
unknowable, mysterious, and obscure. Dealing with three primary “systems”—the
railroad, the electric telegraph, and the city—the first part of this chapter seeks to give a
broad introduction to the methods employed by visual artists. The second part of the
chapter includes an in-depth reading of a single painting, Thomas Moran’s Lower
Manhattan from Communipaw, New Jersey, in order to demonstrate how multiple
systems—and multiple ways of representing—could be embedded within a single image.
Chapter Two introduces the idea of what I call the “alchemical sublime,”
particularly in the work of the genre painter John Ferguson Weir. Weir’s paintings of
metalworking from the 1860s and 1870s engage with a contemporary discourse that
posed labor as an obscure, almost magical, process. By considering the steps involved in
Weir’s process of working and in the industrial processes of iron-making, I propose that
both forms of work engage in alchemical transformations. Metallurgy and refining were
implicated in centuries of discourse about alchemy, purification, and process. I consider
many kinds of labor—the toil of art, the self-fashioning of republican individuals, and the
physical exertion of workers in the metallurgic industries—as located in a visual and
political discourse of sublimation and transformation.
Chapter Three provides a counterpoint to Chapter Two’s focus on irrationality
and magic, instead choosing to examine the hyper-rationality of factory organization in
the years following the Civil War. This chapter explores the emergence of a new mode of
viewing that I have conceptualized as the “managerial eye.” The “managerial eye” arose
simultaneous with the implementation of managerial capitalism in many key industries in
the United States. These images position the viewer as an overseeing figure who can take
in, at a glance, many diverse steps involved in a commodity’s production. The chapter
examines three primary visual techniques that illustrators in Harper’s Weekly and
Scientific American developed to represent industrial production: the multi-panel image,
cut-away or cross-section view, and panorama. These images gave viewers—no matter
their social standing—a fantasy of control over and knowledge about the manufacture of
everyday commodities.
Chapter Four deals with the many ways artists represented reconciliation between
the North and the South following the Civil War. This chapter posits industry and hard
work as national values that contributed to the reunification of the country. The first part
of this chapter deals with symbolic and allegorical representations of unity as a kind of
labor, with a particular focus on political cartoons. The second part shows how Northern
periodicals tried to frame the South as an emergent technological power through booster
journalism that featured an optimistic representation of rehabilitated Southern industries.
The final section of the chapter deals with both Southern and national fairs and
expositions as sites of reunification and national pride that centered around the
spectacular display of new technologies.
Finally, Chapter Five argues that the tensions between different modes or poles of
representation were finally resolved in favor of the rational, informational mode in the
later part of the century. This chapter addresses the importance of systems in the social
realm. The representation of factories, schools, prisons, asylums, and workhouses
underscored the newly-important issue of social organization. Images urged viewers to
interpret these institutions as sites for the training of future citizens, who are also
conceived of as future laborers. Whether artists were focusing on the importance of
pedagogy or the rehabilitation of criminals, social systems were shown as a means of
organizing and controlling U.S. society, and bringing certain members of that society into
a productive capacity through labor.
Chapter 1:
Railroads, Telegraphs, Sugar: The Visualization of Technological Systems
in Paintings and Print Culture
When Harper’s Weekly began production in 1857, the United States stood on the
threshold of a new age, as a team of engineers strove to lay a submarine telegraph cable
between North America and the United Kingdom. By 1886, Thomas Nast showed a
country so overrun with telegraph wires that new lines were run through middle-class
drawing rooms (Fig. 1). Life changed rapidly in these years, as technology and industry
expanded at an unprecedented pace. Visual responses to this change constituted a major
category of aesthetic expression in the period from 1855 to 1893. Focusing on the
emergence and spread of technological systems, artists helped their audiences visualize
and work through the changes demanded by an increasingly industrialized society.
Attention to technological systems by artists and illustrators often trod a path
between clarification and obscurity, between making overly clear the connections forged
by new systems and cloaking those changes in the language of symbolism or myth.1
Though the informational mode increasingly came to dominate in the later nineteenth
century, dramatic tension between a mode of viewing that was based on rational,
scientific, or cartographic knowledge and one beholden to allegory, magic, and
mythology continued throughout the years covered by this analysis. In this chapter, I
explore this tension by focusing primarily on how the largest and most complex systems
could be envisioned by magazine readers and art gallery visitors who possessed neither
In this dissertation, the word “myth” refers not to the meaning developed by Roland Barthes, that of the
naturalization of certain ideological concepts, but actual myths and legends from Classical antiquity.
However, much of my thinking about the issues I discuss is influenced by the idea that images work subtly
to reinforce and “mythify” concepts and categories of race, class, nation, and gender.
technical knowledge nor inside information about the sites they viewed. Artists showed
viewers that their daily lives were implicated in overarching technological systems, using
a visual language that stressed interconnectedness, organization, and nationhood. Artists
wishing to communicate with audiences about contemporary worries and expectations
approached technological systems both directly and obliquely. Their viewers were
granted new kinds of information about places they had never visited, but which they felt
were connected to themselves, as part of a massive American extended family, united
through the powerful medium of emerging popular print culture.2
Two of the primary systems covered in this chapter are the railroad and telegraph,
but other connections forced themselves into the consciousness of a mass viewership.
The unified and seamless nature of manufacturing, from raw materials to finished
products, the circulation of those products throughout the country, the exploitation of
river networks made possible by steam technology, international communications, the
electric grid, widespread magazine circulation, and national politics were only some of
the technological systems developed during the years between 1855 and 1893. Despite a
relative lack of scholarly attention to this visual outpouring, artists did address the
networks of telegraph wires, factories, shipping ports, and rail lines that crisscrossed the
country with increasing prevalence during these years. All these were visually brought
under control through a variety of approaches, ranging from the magical and
unexplainable, to the totally quantifiable. In the visual realm, these representations
covered a spectrum from cartoons that posited technology as the work of fairies or
magicians, to comprehensive maps that, accompanied by charts and checklists, attempted
On the role of print culture for the creation of early modern nationalism, see Benedict Anderson,
Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised ed. (London: Verso,
to grant viewers a privileged access to the operation of systems. This chapter argues that
these different visual approaches gave viewers a large set of tools with which to evaluate
the dramatic changes they saw occurring around them. While some viewers took to the
mapping, or informational, impulse by devouring the charts and statistics that periodicals
offered, others relied on the vocabulary of magic and myth to soften the sudden and
penetrating changes brought by the advent of modernity.
Proponents of industry had, from the period of the Early Republic, seen its
expansion as a manifestation of Jeffersonian republican ideals and judged it congruent
with the new republic’s goals of being self-reliant and productive. Industry in its more
common meaning during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was defined as vigorous
pursuit of a goal or diligence at one’s tasks, and was one of the core values of early
spokesmen for manufacturing interests such as political theorist Tench Coxe and Harvard
professor of medicine and science Jacob Bigelow, who coined the term “technology” in
1829.3 Bigelow promoted technological advancement in his lectures and books, which
argued in favor of a scientific and mechanized American future.4 Charles Caldwell,
another professor of medicine, added his voice to the debate in an 1832 article on the
positive influences of railroads. Caldwell anticipated the idea of technological systems,
envisioning the future of the United States thus:
On the rhetoric of industrial growth in the Early Republic, see Jennifer Clark, “The American Image of
Technology from the Revolution to 1840,” American Quarterly 39.3 (Autumn 1987): 431-449. On the
meaning of “industry,” see John Kasson, Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in
America 1776-1900 (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976), 45-6. On Coxe’s writings on industry, see
Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964; repr.,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 150-169.
See for example the introduction to Bigelow’s mostly technical book Elements of Technology, Taken
Chiefly from a Course of Lectures Delivered at Cambridge, on the Application of the Sciences to the Useful
Arts, 2nd ed. (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins, 1831), 1-6.
Throughout one of the most extensive empires of the world, every section
is studded with cars, bearing hundreds of thousands of well dressed and
gay inhabitants, and uncomputed millions of wealth, in the form of
merchandize [sic]; and the whole is conveying to different points, with
surpassing grace and majesty of movement, and the fleetness of the
antelope, at the top of its speed.5
Like Bigelow, Caldwell agued that technology had the potential powerfully and
irrevocably to unite and empower the nation. Despite the work of these early boosters,
however, many antebellum writers and critics expressed distrust, anxiety, and even
disgust with the spread of industrialism in the United States.
One of the most outspoken publications on the subject was The Crayon, a
specialty journal of the arts edited by William James Stillman and John Durand, son of
the artist Asher Brown Durand. A leading publication featuring debates on the roles of art
and industry in American life prior to the Civil War, The Crayon was heavily influenced
by the ideas of English art critic and public intellectual John Ruskin. The Crayon lionized
the ideal of truth to nature through the study of flora, fauna, and geology, and promoted a
transcendental-religious relationship to the sublime perfection of the American land.6
Though its leanings might seem anti-industrial, The Crayon encouraged debate
about the role of manufacturing and art in American life. Its viewpoint was often onesided, but letter-writers also contributed their opinions. Voices promoting distinctly
“American” production methods challenged and complicated The Crayon’s disdain for
industry and preference for beautiful nature over the squalid city. Some contributors
advocated consumer production as a means of self-reliance and independence from
Europe, setting forth essentialized notions of uniquely “American” styles of
Charles Caldwell, “Thoughts on the Moral and Other Indirect Influences of Rail-Roads.” New-England
Magazine 2 (April 1832): 293.
For more on The Crayon’s philosophical and critical leanings, see Roger B. Stein, John Ruskin and
Aesthetic Thought in America, 1840-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 101-108.
manufacturing, which would privilege continued artisanal craft production over
factories.7 Stillman and Durand suggested that though the country could not do without
industry, it must “adopt” the language of art to turn consumer products into “something
beautiful, graceful, and harmonious.”8 Thus, despite its roots in Ruskinian ideals, The
Crayon supported the burgeoning industrial society of the United States, as long as the
scale of production remained relatively small and a commitment to aesthetics was evident
in the finished products.
The most common views towards industry voiced by contributors to The Crayon,
however, were negative. In 1857, one author produced an angry screed against what he
saw as the inappropriate commercialism of U.S. society. This pessimistic view presents
industry and commerce as threats not only to the physical health of the nation but its
moral health as well:
Commerce is an idol with modern communities. … it is well known to be
a huge complex machinery, greased by deception and propped up by
chicanery; a thing without a soul, under whose crushing footsteps lie
buried the ruins of many brave men, whose pure natures would not yield
to its degradation.9
Despite his romanticized ideals of a “pure” or essential mankind, the author’s use of a
machine metaphor to critique manufacturing interests shows that even contributors to a
journal devoted to the ideals of aestheticism read the world through a mechanistic lens.
That this author genuinely feared the impending doom of “pure” men, crushed beneath
the “degradation” of a soulless commercialized world, shows how negatively certain
segments of the population viewed commercial progress. The Crayon’s stance on greedy
One example of this approach to industry is found in “Manufacturing Interests,” The Crayon 2.9 (Aug. 29,
1855): 136.
William James Stillman and John Durand, “The Art of the Present,” The Crayon 1.19 (May 9, 1855): 289.
Their approach was influenced by workshop theories of Ruskin and William Morris.
“Our Commercial Explosion,” The Crayon 4.11 (Nov. 1857): 344.
industrialists, whose attributes included “vanity, self-conceit, arrogance and cupidinous
individualism,” was echoed in other forums.10
During the antebellum years, artists in the United States also lent their brushes to
the debate about the spread of manufacturing. Artists grappled with what Marvin M.
Fisher describes as “the feeling that various features of the new technology violated
certain commonly held attitudes toward Nature, whether it be natural beauty, natural
health or purity, the natural observance of divine ordination, or the natural behavior,
emotions and functions of human beings.”11 Artistic representation of Westward
expansion, which was always tied up with the question of technology, was fraught with
concerns about national unity and identity, imperialism, and American technological
prowess.12 Artists envisioned expansion as linear: in Asher Brown Durand’s Progress,
for example, the entire course of development is traced in a single canvas, from origins in
nature (symbolized by small Native Americans at the left), through early settlers,
telegraph wires, and railroads (Fig. 2). The image’s internal telos culminates in a small
city, complete with manufacturing smokestacks. Durand aestheticizes the idea of
progress, making it fit with the mandate of Manifest Destiny, while maintaining a
successful symbiotic relationship with the perfection of nature (though not of the “natural
“Our Commercial Explosion,” 345. For more negative views, see “American Despotisms.” Putnam’s
Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art 4.24 (Dec. 1854): 624-632; Herman Melville,
“The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 10.59 (April
1855): 670-678.
Marvin M. Fisher, “The Iconology of Industrialism, 1830-60,” American Quarterly 13.3 (Autumn 1961):
There is a lengthy bibliography of texts discussing expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the West. Some key
examples include: Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American
Cultural Politics, 1825-1875 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); William H. Truettner, “The Art of
History: American Exploration and Discovery Scenes, 1840-1860,” The American Art Journal 14.1 (Winter
1982): 4-31; Truettner, ed., The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920
(Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991).
man” whose extinction is assured).13 This conflicted relationship to progress—“believing
simultaneously in the benefits of inevitable progress … and in the goodness of a quasireligious conception of nature”—was typical of the antebellum years.14
Despite early interest in how manufacturing might function within the American
context, theorizing the machine and “progress” more generally became substantially
more central in the decades after the Civil War. Authors took up and expanded upon the
linear idea of progress. In 1876, for example, Scribner’s Monthly writer A. C. Wheeler
noted that the West was finally truly ready for settlement, thanks to the promising nature
of mining and manufacturing interests:
Commerce … still travels the Santa Fé trail—but it is now an iron trail.
The wagons have given way to coaches and palace cars … It is indeed …
one of the finest and fastest trails in the country, and it pierces Colorado in
the center, and must sooner or later become the great feeder, no less than
the developer, of the immense domain of the south-west, now known by
every Wall street man to be bursting with mineral wealth.15
Wheeler was but one of many commentators who noted that technological advancement,
enabled in this case by the railroad, allowed the full exploitation of the West. Wheeler
uses two typical rhetorical strategies of the time: a linear understanding of history—
wagons giving way to railroads—and the use of natural metaphors to familiarize new and
potentially threatening ideas or technologies. Here the railroad, which violently “pierces”
Colorado, is turned into a coursing river or “feeder,” which suggests a natural flow of
goods and men through the continent. Further, Wheeler suggests that technological
expansion allows for ever-increasing exploitation of resources, which in their turn will
On the eighteenth-century origins of the figure of the Native American as “vanishing American” in visual
culture, see Vivien Green Fryd, “Rereading the Indian in Benjamin West's Death of General Wolfe,”
American Art 9.1 (Spring 1995): 72-85.
Fisher, “Iconology of Industrialism,” 360.
A.C. Wheeler, “On the Iron Trail,” Scribner’s Monthly 12.4 (Aug. 1876): 532.
lead to further innovations and improvements: the progress of technological systems may
be linear, but it is also exponential. In this formulation, the creation of technological
systems is never complete, but is an ongoing process, which incorporates new
discoveries, as well as geographical expansion, into the new and changing forms those
technologies are constantly assuming.
The railroad was one of the most prominent systems in the United States.
Beginning in the 1830s, the development of the railroad revolutionized transportation,
communication, and manufacturing.16 The railroad, as a locus for both hopes and fears
about technology, is one of the best-documented categories of technological systems
represented in American and European art.17 Because of their association with
transportation and interconnectedness, railroads, as art historian Sue Rainey notes,
“provided a way of expanding one’s mental image of the country. … a means of
conceptualizing distances and locations of cities and geographical features.”18 Isolated
images of train cars, such as In the Valley of the Lackawanna by George Inness or
Starrucca Viaduct by Jasper Francis Cropsey, depict bucolic scenes, in which rural
observers mark the passing of a miniscule train, which is usually located in the far
background (Figs. 3 and 4). In Cropsey’s image, the train passes over the titular viaduct,
See Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th
Century (1977; repr., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 1-15; Alan Trachtenberg, The
Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (1982; repr., New York: Hill and Wang,
1995), 57-60.
Susan Danly and Leo Marx, eds., The Railroad in American Art: Representations of Technological
Change (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988); John Gladstone, “The Romance of the Iron Horse,” The Journal of
Decorative and Propaganda Arts 15 (Winter/Spring 1990): 7-37; Julie Wosk, Breaking Frame: Technology
and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 3066.
Sue Rainey, Creating Picturesque America: Monument to the Natural and Cultural Landscape
(Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1994), 219.
which is delineated with precision, but visually wedded to the surrounding natural
environment in a typical expression of Hudson River style. The peace of the scene is not
markedly disrupted by the intrusion of this machine; the puffs of steam from the
locomotive are barely more prominent than the wisps of smoke escaping from the
cottages below the stone arches. This bridge, however, was emphatically not assimilable
into such an idealized landscape; it was a clearly manmade construction that physically
altered the surrounding area. Like most large railway bridges, it was built with the
intention of spanning a creek or river valley, suggesting a need to speed commerce to the
other side. In fact, at the time of its building in 1848, and possibly still when Cropsey
created this image, Starrucca Viaduct was the largest stone railway bridge in the world,
and thus a powerful symbol of the unrivaled domination of the railroad in American
commercial interests. Despite this underlying dissonance between technology and
landscape, however, Cropsey integrates the two into an idealized whole that fits well with
Leo Marx’s formulation of an American garden, tamed and tended through the use of
machinery.19 Much like Inness’s image, of which Marx himself notes that “it is a striking
representation of the idea that machine technology is a proper part of the landscape,”
Cropsey naturalizes the machine and harmonizes it with the land.20 Also, Cropsey softens
the lines of the railroad, choosing a point at which the line gently curves in harmony with
the hillside, and using the viaduct itself as a bridging device between foreground and
Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964; repr.,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967). Marx’s text expands upon the symbol of the “garden” developed
by Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1950): 123-261.
Marx, Machine in the Garden, 220.
The railroad was a potent figure for national expansion and trade, and artists and
illustrators used it as a metaphorical bridge spanning a massive continent. Using the
railroad as a symbol of economic progress and national accord, the press applauded the
completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, when the Union and Central Pacific
Railroads were united at Promontory Summit, Utah. Harper’s Weekly celebrated with a
busy scene of east-meets-west (Fig. 5). In the central image, a group of workmen cheer as
a locomotive engine puffs around the bend, telegraph wire strung alongside the tracks. In
a scene familiar from Asher Brown Durand’s Progress, the visual trope of the “vanishing
American” appears in the band of Native Americans witnessing the onrushing train.
Below this central image, two figures representing “east” and “west” flank a scene of
naval commerce: on the left a middle- or upper-class Caucasian man with his hand
resting on a globe, and on the right a traditionally-dressed Chinese man. Around the
central scene teem a multitude of national and ethnic emblems. At the top, the female
personification of the United States, Columbia, smiles benignly as she invites two female
figures—a literal “crowned head” of Europe and an Asiatic princess with flowing veil—
to clasp hands in a symbolic joining. At Columbia’s feet kneels a dark-skinned woman
with bare breasts, who is not invited to join the handshake. Though she is not in chains,
her supplicatory position is a mirror image of a well-known abolitionist image, showing a
kneeling female slave who asks the viewer: “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” Thus
even in the central image showing Columbia’s welcome and generosity, darker-skinned
people are, like the Native Americans in the central scene, relegated to a state of
powerlessness in the face of white European-American hegemony.
To the left of this central grouping, “west” is represented by North America,
Europe, and Africa: closest to Columbia are symbolic male characters of agriculture,
labor, and capital in front of a backdrop of factories, warehouses, and steamship
smokestacks. From the left, these men are joined by historical figures including a Union
soldier, cowboy, men in Renaissance costume, and immigrants from Germany, Spain,
Italy, Ireland, and other European countries. North and Sub-Saharan Africans march in
state below, carrying elephant tusks and staffs. On the right, “east” includes Greece,
South America, Asia, and the Middle East. Shaded by leafy palms, cypresses, minarets,
and a pagoda, and overseen by a sketchy outline of the Parthenon, a parade including
Chinese, Greeks, Central Asians, Arabs, Persians, and what appear to be indigenous
South American peoples marches toward Columbia. By placing Columbia at the top of
the scene, with the lower registers occupied by races purportedly embodying “lower”
stages of social development (South Americans and Africans), the image implies that
with the completion of the transcontinental line, the United States sits at the pinnacle of
historical, developmental, and technological achievement. This composition resonates
with contemporary accounts of the event, which reinforce the dominance of AngloAmericans. Describing the laying of the final rails, Henry T. Williams later wrote:
The Union Pacific people brought up their pair of rails, and the work of
placing them was done by Europeans. The Central Pacific people then laid
their pair of rails, the labor being performed by Mongolians. The foremen,
in both cases, were Americans. Here, near the center of the great
American Continent, were representatives of Asia, Europe, and
America—America directing and controlling.21
Henry T. Williams, ed., The Pacific Tourist. Williams’ Illustrated Trans-Continental Guide of Travel,
from The Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (New York: Henry T. Williams, 1876), 166.
Williams’s description posits the event as a pinnacle of American dominance over all
other races, nations, or continents, a dominance specifically enacted through the
performance of superior technology.
Other contemporary illustrations and photographs circulated among the
population and reinforced the completion of the transcontinental railroad—the driving of
the “Golden Spike”—as an important unifying event that made massive systemic
expansion possible. Andrew J. Russell, staff photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad,
recorded the iconic moment when two train engineers shook hands as their engines met
nose-to-nose (Fig. 6). The photograph, like Harper’s Weekly’s massive tableau
“Completion of the Pacific Railroad,” reinforces the dominance of Anglo-Saxon culture
and technological know-how. This time, the position of the United States at the apex of
achievement is suggested not by placing the U.S. at the top of an implied schema of racial
evolution, but through exclusion of nonwhites entirely. Russell’s photograph carefully
avoids capturing a likeness of any of the hundreds of Chinese laborers whose work was
so crucial to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Instead, as Jennifer L.
Roberts notes, the photograph works spatially to reinforce an ideology of linear history
and technological determinism; its ranks of carefully arranged spectators and strict
perspectival recession into space underscore the event as one of “punctuality,” as an
imagined notch on a timeline of U.S. progress. Roberts writes that the “optical armature
of Russell’s photograph … helped to make the geopolitical operations at work in the
Golden Spike ceremony—centering and consummating the American nation—seem as
‘natural’ as vision itself.”22 Historian Richard V. Francaviglia adds that the composition
Jennifer L. Roberts, Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2004), 114.
of Russell’s photograph, which is accurately oriented to the compass points (that is, east
is to the right, and west to the left of the photograph), serves as “a cartographic metaphor
for both the meeting of the rails and the mapping of westward expansion.”23 Both these
analyses agree that the moment of celebration (and its representation) was carefully
managed, designed to strike a wide viewership with an indelible impression of American
technological achievement, westward thrust, and national unity.
Russell’s image inspired several other depictions of the event, including Thomas
Hill’s later canvas The Last Spike (Fig. 7). Hill’s painting contained a mind-numbing
variety of characters and social types: an American answer to the great Victorian “social”
paintings of the British artist William Powell Frith.24 The Last Spike does include two
Chinese laborers just to the left of the composition’s center, wearing blue blouses and
holding shovels. They crouch near the spot where the Golden Spike itself is about to be
driven, and gaze up with apparently adoring eyes at Governor Leland Stanford, who
stands erect at the almost exact center of the canvas. Hill includes at least four American
flags in the background, their forcefully vertical staffs visually echoing the telegraph pole
at the far right; the painting patriotically reinforces the parity between American
nationalism and technological systemic advancement. As a group, these images and other
reproductions of the event helped familiarize viewers with this crucial link in national
and international systems
The meeting of the rail lines also metaphorically suggested the railroad as a final
step in postwar unity among all sections of the nation. The conflicts of the war were
Richard V. Francaviglia, Over the Range: A History of the Promontory Summit Route of the Pacific
Railroad (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2008), 104.
For in-depth social analyses of Frith’s major works, see Mary Cowling, The Artist as Anthropologist:
The Representation of Type and Character in Victorian Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1989), 232-316.
forgotten as the nation—and the continent—united under the banner of technology. Frank
Henry Temple Bellew’s cartoon “Does Not SUCH a Meeting Make Amends” reimagines
Russell’s photograph in anthropomorphic terms, with two trains engaging in a friendly
handshake across the Western divide (Fig. 8). Susan Danly notes that the event
“epitomized the century’s greatest triumph of technology over nature.”25 The three
sketchy renderings of Native Americans, who run in apparent terror from the trains and
into the dark lower left corner of Bellew’s image, reinforce this idea. The completion of
the railroad was seen as a triumph over “nature” in the form of the “natural man”; the
extermination of Native Americans was, at that time, a policy that united the North,
South, and West, something they could all agree on despite the recent strife of the Civil
War. The success of the transcontinental railroad also implicitly claimed the triumph over
nature for the United States and no other nation.
The railroad did activate some fears in viewers, particularly fears of growing
Chinese immigration; with the completion of the transcontinental line, the Chinese were
now free to move just as easily between West and East as any other residents of the
country.26 During 1869, Harper’s Weekly featured no images of the Chinese until May,
when the railroad was completed. But between June 12 and November 20 that year, the
magazine printed seven cartoons about Chinese immigration, only one of which was
unambiguously positive.27 The others either expressed mixed emotions, or were
Susan Danly, “Andrew Joseph Russell’s The Great West Illustrated,” in Railroad in American Art, ed.
Danly and Marx, 98.
Francaviglia, Over the Range, 132-135, 153-156; Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular
Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 61-70.
The only clearly positive image is Thomas Nast, “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner,” Harper’s Weekly
(hereafter HW), Nov. 20, 1869, 745. Mixed or negative cartoons include: Hunk E. Doré, “The Coming
Man,” HW, Aug. 28, 1869, 560; Doré, “The Last Addition to the Family,” HW, Sept. 25, 1869, 624; “John
Chinaman in San Francisco,” HW, July 10, 1869, 439; Nast, “Pacific Chivalry,” HW, Aug. 7, 1869, 512;
W.L. Palin, “The Pacific Railroad Completed,” HW, June 12, 1869, 384. Similarly, Frank Leslie’s
unequivocally negative, such as “The Chinese Puzzle,” which shows a massive Chinese
specter straddling the continent, ready to crush the impotent Uncle Sam (Fig. 9). Despite
anxieties about perceived racial threats, most people still saw the event as a positive one
for the country. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper optimistically represented the
Union Pacific line as a broad grin across the face of the continent in Bellew’s cheerful “A
Good Square American Smile” (Fig. 10). An envious Great Britain looks across the
ocean, scowling, as North America seems to direct its eyes toward Asia, implied outside
the frame. Though American papers criticized the European powers’ imperialist policies
in cartoons such as “The Harvest Spider Among Nations” or Thomas Nast’s “The
World’s Plunderers,” they cheered when the United States embraced similar techniques
of expansion and conquest.28
The railroad was also a logical choice for the ultimate symbol of reunification,
seen in Nast’s 1886 cartoon “Our Standard (Gauge) Adopted All Over the Union” (Fig.
11). This was the year that the United States adopted a single gauge, or track width, for
all railroad lines throughout the country. Because of the uneven history of railroad
development—which took place over a period of about fifty years and was controlled by
numerous private companies—the width of railroad tracks was not standardized.29 This
meant that cars built for Southern railroads were not compatible with Northern routes,
making travel and distribution between the two regions inefficient. The decision to use a
Illustrated Newspaper featured cartoons about the Chinese only after the railroad was completed: “The
Consequence of the Completion of the U.P.R.R.,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (hereafter FLIN),
July 3, 1869, 256; Doré, “The Political Fate of John Chinaman,” FLIN, Aug. 7, 1869, 336; “What Shall We
Do With John Chinaman?” FLIN, Sept. 25, 1869, 32.
“The Harvest Spider Among Nations,” FLIN, March 2, 1872, 400; Thomas Nast, “The World’s
Plunderers,” HW, June 20, 1885, 399.
Stephen Salsbury, “The Emergence of an Early Large-Scale Technical System: The American Railroad
Network,” in The Development of Large Technical Systems, ed. Renate Mayntz and Thomas Parke Hughes
(Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Campus Verlag; Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), 38-39.
standard width meant that the entire nation truly was connected on one giant,
interchangeable railway system. Nast represents the 31/2-inch difference between the
South’s wide-gauge tracks and the North’s as an almost unbridgeable gulf, crossed at last.
“Our Standard” is an image replete with meanings. What looks at first glance like
a representation similar to journalistic, photographic, and painted images of the Golden
Spike is revealed on closer glance as an allegory for national unity through technology.
While a cheering crowd looks on, the train “Union” puffs into the station, ridden by
Hermes, patron deity of commerce. On the right, a bourgeois Northern mercantile
character holds one side of the American flag, while a Southern gentleman holds the
other. Behind his erect figure, an African American laborer gives his hammer a final
swing to push the rails into position. Though he turns away from the viewer, this man
wears the symbolic uniform of a skilled laborer. However, his stooped position and
hidden face rob him of any active agency; he stands in for the “thousands of workmen,”
mainly African Americans, who effected the Southern standardization, changing the
gauge of thousands of miles of track in just a few days.30 A celebratory banner above the
engine proclaims proudly: “The Last Spike of our Commercial Union,” explicitly
referencing the gains in economics and convenience expected from the change. The
American flag between the men representing North and South gives the image another
layer of meaning: it is labeled as the exact width of the new standard gauge (“Four Feet;
Nine Inches”) and forms the bond between the two men.31 By choosing to adopt this track
Estimates of the actual distance vary. Harper’s Weekly estimated 9,000 miles of track in four days.
Salsbury gives the figure as 13,000 miles in two days, while Edward L. Ayers estimates those 13,000 miles
were converted in one day. “The Standard Gauge,” HW, June 5, 1886, 364; Salsbury, “American Railroad
Network,” 55; Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992), 13.
This is an error on Nast’s part. Standard gauge is 4’81/2”. Salsbury, “American Railroad Network,” 55.
width, the South symbolically opts for union (and “the Union”) over continued difference
and separation. North and South are unified at last for the common commercial good
under the impetus of technology. The standardization of the railroads was an event of
national technological and commercial importance, but it also represented a symbolic, as
well as an actual, infrastructural, unification between North and South. By finally
agreeing to adopt the standard gauge, the South made sure that it was included in the
increasingly dominant web of American technological systems. As a group, these images
also demonstrate the facility with which artists and illustrators could switch between
realistic, detailed images of national technological events, and symbolic scenes such as
“Our Standard” or “A Good Square American Smile.”
Representations of the telegraph also provide an excellent cross-section of the
ways viewers envisioned technological systems, and include some of the strongest
examples of the tension between information and myth. The telegraph inspired a large
number of different genres of representation, including history painting, news reportage,
mapping, political cartoons, and allegorical images. Probably because of its bewildering
newness—still a decade after its inception a novel and exciting technology—artists
frequently showed the telegraph in mythical or fanciful situations, quite distinct from the
rational approach often given to cityscapes or maps (see below). However, the telegraph
also inspired rational, ordered representations; in fact, it is the variety of different
approaches to the technology that is most interesting. The telegraph was like a tabula
rasa upon which artists and their viewers could project a large number of different
reactions to technology, whether those reactions were positive, uncertain, or merely
mystified about the sublime networks that allowed their words to be sped through wires
in code and deciphered on the other end. Telegraph inventor Samuel F.B. Morse’s
original long-distance telegraphic message, “What hath God wrought?” demonstrates the
awe and potential fear that surrounded this technology when it was first developed.32
Even more than the railroad, the telegraph promised an exciting, though potentially
“dislocating” revolution in communication.33 The hopes and fears surrounding the
telegraph make it an ideal representative of the two sides of American technology: the
orderly, rationalizing impulse and the invisible sublime of the new communications
networks that spanned the country and, soon, the globe.
The expansion of telegraph lines occurred alongside railroad development and
was an important factor in the conceptualization of technology as something expansive
and broad-reaching. The development of the telegraph for use throughout the country and
the world had the potential to revolutionize both business and foreign relations. Reactions
to the development of the telegraph were generally positive and hopeful, as people in the
United States celebrated a native invention. The telegraph was developed by the painter
and inventor Samuel Morse and his partner/assistant, Alfred Vail during the 1830s and
early 1840s. Morse was one of several inventors concurrently striving to develop a
speedy method of communication between major cities; his technology prevailed because
Transmitted May 24, 1844, on an experimental line from Baltimore to Washington, DC. Paul Israel,
From Machine Shop to Industrial Laboratory: Telegraphy and the Changing Context of American
Invention, 1830-1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 41.
David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 62. Nye uses
“dislocating” to refer both to a sense of disorientation in the face of new technology, and a literal
dislocation of the voice from the body, an ability to “sever language from human presence.”
of its claim to “instantaneous communication,” while other proposed methods relied on a
complicated (and labor-intensive) system of semaphores.34
Early commentary on the telegraph emphasized its essentially systemic nature,
while using a non-scientific, even mystical vocabulary. These two reactions were not
necessarily opposed to one another, as literary scholar Paul Gilmore writes in his book on
American Romanticism. Gilmore calls electricity a “nearly spiritualist force” that
simultaneously evoked mysterious unknown powers and “rendered mind … physical in
the form of ‘nerves’ or wires criss-crossing and creating both the individual and the
national ‘body.’”35 Contemporary commentators evoked this contradictory language—of
both magic and system—in print. In an 1854 travel memoir, British clergyman Henry
Caswall described his visit to a telegraph office in Rouse’s Point, New York, noting the
“sublimity of the system” and “this almost magic system [that] is consolidating the vast
American continent.”36 An American observer wrote with hopeful enthusiasm of the
1858 endeavor to lay a transatlantic cable: “It seems to be a settled thing, beyond a
reasonable doubt, that the Old and New Worlds are to be united by the magic telegraph.
The merchant of New York will soon be able to communicate with his agent in London,
and receive an answer the same hour!”37 With similar enthusiasm, the technical and
agricultural journal Cincinnatus described the telegraph as sublime: “Our minds can not
cease to marvel at the sublime achievements of the ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH. Wiry, weird,
wonderful—it stands before us incomprehensible; spelling the very lightnings [sic] of
Israel, Machine Shop to Laboratory, 38. Semaphore telegraphs, which required an infrastructure of
towers, constantly manned by operators with binoculars, in essence provided little improvement on military
warning beacon systems, which had been in use for thousands of years.
Paul Gilmore, Aesthetic Materialism: Electricity and American Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2009), 52, 54.
Henry Caswall, The Western World Revisited (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1854), 276.
“Submarine Telegraph to Europe,” United States Magazine 2.3 (August 1855): 93.
heaven into the English language. … Giving to the globe a nervous system, and making a
whispering gallery of the world!”38 These texts all focus on the telegraph as a
technological improvement, but one that is difficult to understand, magical in its reach
and scope.
By the time the major magazines such as Leslie’s and Harper’s began publication
in the mid-1850s, a group of inventors and industrialists led by the capitalist Cyrus W.
Field were endeavoring to construct a submarine telegraph to the United Kingdom. The
group included Morse and his student, artist Daniel Huntington, and the businessmen and
financiers Peter Cooper, Wilson G. Hunt, Marshall O. Roberts, and Moses Taylor.39 The
transatlantic telegraph was an attempt to increase communication with the rest of the
world, particularly with the U.K., one of the most important antebellum trading partners
of the United States. Hoping, as British journalist W.H. Russell wrote in 1866, that it
would “be within the limits of human resources to let down a line into the watery void,
and to connect the Old World with the New,” Field’s group laid the first, only briefly
successful, transatlantic cable in 1858.40 The connection with Britain was hoped-for as a
means to promote peace and international cooperation, but a successful, lasting cable was
not installed until 1866.
In its earlier stages, the attempted laying of the trans-oceanic cable from
Newfoundland to Ireland met with more frequent allegorization than in later years, when
the workings of the technology were better understood and its usage had become de
“The First Words Sent by Telegraph,” Cincinnatus 1.2 (Feb. 1, 1856): 76.
Elizabeth McCausland, American Processional, 1492-1900 (Washington: Corcoran Gallery and National
Capital Sesquicentennial Commission, 1950), 204; W.H. Russell, The Atlantic Telegraph (1866; repr.,
London: Nonsuch Publishing, 2005), 17. Huntington later executed a group portrait. For the themes this
painting evoked at the end of the century, decades after the events in question had occurred, see Karl
Kusserow, “Technology and Ideology in Daniel Huntington’s Atlantic Cable Projectors,” American Art
24.1 (Spring 2010): 94-113.
Russell, Atlantic Telegraph, 15.
rigueur in everything from family communication and news reporting to the regulation of
standard time throughout the country.41 The first attempts to reach Britain with a cable
were briefly successful, but the lines were damaged several times, usually after only days
or weeks of utility. Allegorical cartoons stressing the importance of the cable for BritishAmerican political collaboration were common in the years before the Civil War. In one
cartoon reprinted from Punch in the September 11, 1858 issue of Harper’s Weekly, John
Bull and Brother Jonathan, symbolic representations of Great Britain and the United
States respectively, are seen on either side of the ocean, using the cable as a lever to upset
the boat of a crowned figure in ancient Roman costume (Fig. 12). The caption, “Effect of
the Atlantic Telegraph on the European Despots,” posits the telegraph as an invention
that will spread democracy and Anglo-American values throughout the world. Brother
Jonathan, a symbol for the United States that had been in use since the Early Republic, is
dressed as an American farmer.42 While Jonathan’s typical portrayal as a wily Northerner
was usually more cosmopolitan, by taking on the guise of the yeoman farmer, he
appropriates attributes of American republicanism and self-sufficiency. Despite
Jonathan’s frequent head-butting with the comic symbol of Britain, John Bull, here the
two friendly rivals collaborate, using technology to topple oppressive regimes.43 The
European figure may represent Italy, a frequent target of U.S. animosity during the 1840s
and 1850s, which could explain his gladiatorial costume and the burning torch on his
prow (incorrectly associated with Roman Catholic religious rituals).44 However,
Michael O’Malley, Keeping Watch: A History of American Time (Washington: Smithsonian Institution
Press, 1990), 99-144.
Winifred Morgan, An American Icon: Brother Jonathan and American Identity (Newark: University of
Delaware Press, 1988), 64.
Morgan, American Icon, 71.
Gail Husch discusses the oblique representation of an Italian “threat,” both as a barrier to attaining the
millennium and as a menace to democracy. Gail E. Husch, Something Coming: Apocalyptic Expectation
regardless of his specific identity, with his boat full of large, heavy chains, he stands in
for all Continental “despots.” Collaboration between the U.S. and U.K., in the name of
both democracy and commerce, was a key theme of arts celebrating the telegraph. A later
cartoon by Alfred Fredericks shows Britannia and Columbia grasping hands under a
laurel wreath of victory (Fig. 13). After the Civil War, the relationship between the two
countries was quickly mended, and Fredericks shows the telegraph as an important
instrument of that reconciliation—and “Electric Union.” Below the two female allegories
of nation are their animal counterparts, the British lion and the American eagle. Coiled at
their feet, and suspended between the lion’s jaws and the eagle’s beak is a telegraphic
cable, signifying the telegraphic and diplomatic linkage of the two countries. Though this
proposed telegraphic line had not yet been completed, its promise was an enticing one in
this overwhelmingly hopeful image.
Other images used allegory to stress the imagined political power of the telegraph.
Constantino Brumdi’s murals for the U.S. Capitol also used an allegorical vocabulary to
appeal to viewers. The Transatlantic Cable or Telegraph, created for the Senate Post
Office, shows Europa—riding a bull garlanded with flowers, iconography taken directly
from paintings of the European Renaissance—joining hands with Columbia, who is
dressed in a red Phrygian cap and blue star-spangled mantle (Fig. 14). Between them, as
Europa’s bull wades ashore, a tiny putto holds the thin strand of the cable up between the
two female allegories. The American eagle perches behind Columbia, while the expanse
of the West rolls out beyond the picture’s frame, marked with the prominent silhouette of
a telegraph pole. Columbia leans her arm on a large anchor, which refers to the American
and Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Painting (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000),
53-54, 163-168.
financiers and nautical men who were responsible for laying the cable, and beneath her
feet is the cog of industry, propping up a large cannon barrel. All this combines to result
in the overflowing horn of plenty at the lower right of the composition: the fruits of
America’s labor, whether that labor is working at international cooperation through
telegraphy, the spanning of the American continent, naval and military domination,
national pride (the eagle), or manufacturing, which serves as the base of the entire image.
Here European techniques of representation are taken firmly in hand and applied to the
United States, lending the painting, the telegraph, and the country a historical legitimacy
that would have been especially legible to the viewers of this painting, U.S. Senators.
Brumidi’s other works for the capitol, including his major rotunda fresco The
Apotheosis of Washington, also use allegory and figures from classical mythology
combined with American history to represent different categories of American
achievement including “Science,” “Commerce,” and “Mechanics” (Fig. 15). In the
“Marine” portion of the composition, Venus, a goddess born from sea-foam, is shown
accompanying Neptune’s chariot and holding the transatlantic cable, which coils around
behind her and is picked up by several cherubs. Though many observers did not like the
fact of the Italian-born Brumidi’s commission, one reviewer of the Apotheosis stressed
the fitness of Brumidi’s approach of combining symbolic and realistic content: “Men may
criticize the mingling of mythological figures and symbols with the great triumphs of art
and science of our day, with their authors; but what picture of the magnitude and dignity
of this one of Brumidi can be made impressive, interesting, or beautiful without
mythological figures and devices?”45 Whether in the world of magazine illustration or
Daily National Intelligencer, Jan. 17, 1866. Quoted in Barbara A. Wolanin, “Mythology, Allegory, and
History: Brumidi’s Frescoes for the New Dome,” in American Pantheon: Sculptural and Artistic
public art, allegory seems to have been a potent way both to heroize and legitimate
American scientific endeavors, and to give visual expression to ideas of cooperation and
communication between Europe and North America.
Other representations of the telegraph used myth not for political depictions but
rather as a means of representing the working of the telegraph, which doubtless remained
somewhat mysterious to many readers of popular magazines. A celebratory 1858 issue of
Harper’s Weekly features a cover image of “The Atlantic Telegraph,” that illustrates an
article celebrating the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable from Valentia Bay, Ireland
to Trinity Bay, Newfoundland (Fig. 16). That cable was to break almost exactly two
months later and was not relaid for another year. Nonetheless, the first four weeks after
the laying of the cable were marked by celebratory rhetoric, laudatory odes, and images,
both informative and otherwise, of the cable, its laying, its route, and the parades and
pageants staged in its honor.
This first cover image is an excellent example of the allegorical or mythological
style which couches difficult-to-understand technology in a guise of magic. In this image,
two rather sickly-looking angels carry a laurel branch of victory over the cable, which
nestles against the ocean floor comfortably and solidly. By comparison with Brumidi’s
substantial goddesses, these naiads are diaphanous and ethereal, with trailing garments,
fairly useless wings, and star-spangled bodices. Above their heads, too, appear stars,
which seem to lead them on their path across the ocean floor to the far coast, which is
labeled “United States,” despite the fact that the actual landing-place of the cable was in
Canada, an arrangement which allowed the shortest possible length of the cable to be
Decoration of the United States Capitol, ed. Donald R. Kennon and Thomas P. Somma (Athens: University
of Ohio Press, 2004), 195. On the debates about Brumidi’s birth, see Francis O’Connor, “Constantino
Brumidi as Decorator and History Painter,” in American Pantheon, ed. Kennon and Somma, 204.
underwater. Though this image is meant to be a positive one, the ocean floor actually
provides a macabre gothic landscape for the cable and its angels. The ground is strewn
with the wreckage of ships, including casks, lanterns, anchors, a cutlass, a broken mast,
and cannon shot. At the left, more chilling, are two skulls, one with a bullet hole in the
forehead and one in close proximity to a shackle and ball. These may speak of anything
from ordinary shipwrecks to piracy and the slave trade, but they also lend this eerie
underwater kingdom a strange otherworldliness, as if sprung from The Tempest: “Full
fathom five thy father lies; / Of his bones are coral made; / Those are pearls that were his
eyes: / Nothing of him that doth fade, / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich
and strange. / Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.”46 The Tempest was itself an allegory
about the discovery of America or the New World more generally, and this was not the
first time the telegraph had been linked to Shakespeare’s play.47 In 1856 the journal
Cincinnatus had praised the technology as “a messenger more fleet than the ‘delicate
Ariel’ of Prospero’s art and Caliban’s isle!”48 The sea-nymphs in this illustration preside
over a watery realm, surveying all those shipwrecked items that have an afterlife of
strange beauty under the waves, while simultaneously heralding the arrival of a new
Does this image, despite its apparently celebratory quality, hold a warning that the
telegraph may meet the same fate as the rest of the detritus littering the sea floor? If
goddesses and angels could be shown laying the cable, they could also be accused of its
William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1610-11), in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New
York: W.W. Norton, 1997), 3067. Act I, Scene 2, lines 400-406.
The Tempest as an allegorical representation of the United States is discussed in Marx, Machine in the
Garden, 71-74; Stephen Greenblatt, introduction to The Tempest in The Norton Shakespeare, ed.
Greenblatt, 3047-3054.
“First Words Sent by Telegraph,” 76.
failure. In “How the Cable was Broken,” a bevy of mermaids swing from the underwater
wire (Fig. 17). A rather stout, ridiculous Neptune admonishes them in Cockney style:
“Aho-o-o-o-oy there! Get off o’ that ‘ere Cable, can’t yer: that’s the way t’other one was
wrecked!” The image takes implied responsibility for the failure of the cable off of Cyrus
Field and his company, and accounts for it using a supernatural explanation. Though this
cartoon is clearly meant to be more humorous than political, it acts to deflect attention
from technological shortcomings and instead focuses the viewer’s attention on what
cannot be explained or understood about the operation of the cable. Though several
explanations were put forth for the failure of the cable in many articles published on the
subject in different newspapers and magazines, this is the only visual representation I can
find of its breaking. Of course, since no one knew exactly what the problem was that
caused the previous cables to fail, it would have been impossible to give a reliable image
of the cable breaking based, for example, on a photograph. However, the choice of a
mythological explanation not only plays for laughs, but is also consistent with other
representations of the hopes centered around the cable in the works of Brumidi and
popular illustrators.
Informational images of the cable also appeared at this time, some in painting and
some in illustration. Harper’s Weekly and Monthly both carried illustrated articles about
the process of sending a telegram, while the Weekly focused many articles over the next
twenty years on the actual manufacture of telegraph wires, their installation, and the
different geographic locations to which cable communication was constantly extending.
Harper’s Weekly had at least two separate articles that depicted the steps in the
manufacture of telegraph wire, and several images of the ships sent to lay the cable and
the financiers who supported the ventures (Fig. 18). There was certainly no dearth of
more factual reporting of the cable’s progress.
Additionally, the telegraph was submitted to a cartographic impulse that sought to
map out its possibilities in visual terms. An 1865 map of the proposed “telegraphic
systems for encircling the entire globe” clearly visualizes the imagined future of the
technology (Fig. 19). Though nearly half of the proposed cables had yet to be
successfully constructed, the map demonstrates the desire to bring the entire globe—or at
least the northern hemisphere—under telegraphic control. The telegraph lines in Europe
and the United States are best-established, shown as thick dark lines between major
cities, many of which are labeled. This ring around the globe would have a constricting
function, collapsing distances and providing rapid communication between different
countries and regions. The proposed cable ran south from Siberia and across China,
connecting the Western U.S. with both East and South Asia, areas with which the United
States was keen to establish trade relations. Improved communication was an important
initial step in the development of those geopolitical regions in which the U.S. held an
In the same issue of Harper’s Weekly, a double-page spread by Edwin Forbes also
celebrated the far-reaching implications of the transatlantic telegraph (Fig. 20). “The
Atlantic Telegraph Cable” is a multi-paneled illustration stressing the union of the United
States and Great Britain through the cable, but also celebrating American ingenuity and
invention with two portraits of Benjamin Franklin and Morse, topped by a medallion of
Cyrus Field and the quotation “I’ll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes.”49 The
Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594-96), in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Greenblatt, 825.
Act II, Scene 1, lines 175-176.
line is spoken by Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Despite the
newsworthy qualities of the image, the quotation reinscribes the telegraph with pseudomagical properties by equating its possibilities with the mythical sprite, Robin
Goodfellow. At the upper corners, the viewer sees the starting place of the cable in
Ireland, appealing to the desire for pictorial reporting and accurate geographical detail,
and the stern of the Great Eastern steamship, which gives a privileged view onto the
process of paying out the cable. The central image is flanked by two important American
scientific men, Franklin, whose experimentation with the conduction of electricity led to
the invention of the cable, and Morse, who developed both the telegraph and the code
used to relay messages through electric impulses. The two lower corners show
comfortable domestic scenes of President Andrew Johnson and Queen Victoria each
reading the news relayed from the other’s continent, reinforcing the message of
international collaboration and cooperation. The central vignette gives the viewer an
exciting scene of the steamship in a thunderstorm, pandering to popular interest in
disaster scenes. Finally, at the base of the image, a coat of arms combines emblems of the
United States and Ireland, surrounded by tools of science, cartography, manufacturing,
and agriculture. The inclusion of these symbolic attributes emphasizes the numerous
trades and occupations devoted to the laying of the cable, as well as those that will profit
from its completion. In the background, railroads and farms alike are shown benefiting
from the implementation of the telegraph. This single image combines allegory, fairy
magic, portraiture, technological and news images, and geographic realism to provide an
ideal summary of all that the cable stood for. Overall, this powerful collection of images
privileges the United States as the developers of this revolutionary technology, and
demonstrates the many areas in which the expansion of this technological system would
have an important impact.
Finally, by the 1880s, the telegraph had come to seem a fairly normal element of
everyday life, and understanding of the telegraph was an important part of being a
technologically-savvy American. Satirical images still appeared from time to time, such
as Nast’s “What the Telegraph Companies Will Do Next,” which shows a city so
congested with telegraph lines that workers are laying new cable through the drawingroom of a middle-class home (Fig. 1). However, after around the 1870s, most
representations of the cable either took the telegraph for granted as part of the American
landscape or made fun of those who still failed to understand what all those networks of
cable were for.
Two separate examples, both from the 1880s, demonstrate that understanding of
technology was an important requisite for citizenship, harshly mocking those who were
still mystified by telegraphic communication. In “The Telegraph Spider” by Peter
Newell, an Irish immigrant stares in uncomprehending wonder at the network of wires
over his head (Fig. 21). He muses: “Spoider-web across the sthreet, and a spoider in it.
But shure I didn’t know the varmints were so big in America.” If the man’s stereotyped
profile, hat, pipe, and accent didn’t give him away to viewers, who were used to seeing
these traits as Irish, he is also labeled as a “new arrival” in the caption.50 By implication,
his lack of understanding that the “web” is a telegraph network and the “spoider” is a
workman shimmying up the pole mark him as a member of a group considered at the
time to be of sub par intelligence and separate from “true” Americans. A similar cartoon
Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age
America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 90-93.
from later in the decade puts an African American man in this position, with even more
exaggerated accent and facial features (Fig. 22). The caption reads: “Unc’ Obadiah Tobey
(listening to the “whiz-z-z-z” of the wind through the telegraph wires). My Lan’! Spec’
dem tel’graph hopertaters can onderstan’ dat ar langwidge; but bress my stars! I couldn’t
extinguish one word ob it—not ef de angel Gabr’el hisse’f war a-telegramin’ fur de soul
ob ole Unc’ Obberdiah.” His malapropisms—“extinguish” for “distinguish,” for
example—mispronunciations, and superstition mark the subject of this cartoon as an unfit
citizen, one who lacks understanding of the modern world and its systems. Its racist
assumptions are not just the fairly common stereotypes of the “uncle” and his distinctive
use of language; more importantly the cartoon posits that blacks fail to understand the
technological side of the telegraph, placing them forever in a marginal relationship to the
development of the United States.
The flurry of images surrounding the telegraph, and particularly around the
Atlantic cable, demonstrate the power and importance of technological systems, and
show a large number of different strategies developed to present these systems to viewers
in a way that was comprehensible and informative. The telegraph is thus an excellent
example of the tension between the overclarification of the workings of systems and the
obscuring of such systems through a language of myth or allegory.
While both the magical and informational modes persisted throughout the
century, postbellum artists tended to focus less on allegorical and mystifying
representations of technology, and began to develop an informational visual language that
stressed the quantifiable elements of technological systems. In both painting and
magazine illustration, artists represented city centers as important way-stations for
products, people, and transportation networks. While representations of the telegraph
were part of a powerfully hybrid visual culture during the mid-nineteenth century, when
it came to representing urban production and transportation centers, artists utilized more
informative techniques, which, rather than shielding viewers from radical change,
allowed them to participate in those changes by trying to map, quantify, and understand
new developments. The city view, or cityscape panorama, allowed painters to map out
the ways that systems and networks interacted in specific parts of the country.
One of the most important locations for this type of representation was Pittsburgh,
a burgeoning manufacturing center. Press interest in Pittsburgh was strong throughout the
nineteenth century; it was one of the most important manufacturing centers in the entire
country.51 Local publisher and “best authority” on the city George Henry Thurston wrote
of Pittsburgh’s advantageous geographical position in his 1876 guide Pittsburgh and
Allegheny in the Centennial Year:52
Pittsburgh combines more geographical advantages of position than any
inland city or town in the United States. … she partakes of the advantages
of the [Great] Lake cities for intercourse with the Canadas … while by her
rivers she commands another and an easy access to the ocean and foreign
nations. … Situated in the heart of the bituminous coal formation of the
Appalachian field, and equally advantageously located as to the deposits
of iron ore, her geographical relations to the staple materials of
Willard W. Glazier, Peculiarities of American Cities (Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1886), 332-347;
G.F. Muller, “The City of Pittsburgh,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 62.367 (Dec. 1880): 49-69;
“Pittsburg [sic],” HW, Feb. 18, 1871, 147; “The Steel Industry in the United States,” The Manufacturer and
Builder 11.7 (July 1879): 146. An excellent recent work on representations of industry in Pittsburgh is
Edward Slavishak, Bodies of Work: Civic Display and Labor in Industrial Pittsburgh (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2008).
Rina C. Youngner, Industry in Art: Pittsburgh, 1812 to 1920 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press,
2006), 68. Youngner attributes this characterization of Thurston as the “best authority” on the city to Ralph
Keeler, a reporter for Every Saturday magazine.
Pennsylvania, as well as of the Union, are unequaled. … she stands in the
position of a geographical centre (emphasis original).53
Thurston’s description focuses not only on geography, but obliquely addresses the way
the city’s geographical situation lends itself to an interconnectedness with large systems
of commerce and manufacturing. Six years earlier, James Parton of the Atlantic Monthly
had also stressed the centrality of Pittsburgh’s role as a way-station between the two
halves of the nation. “The traveller [sic] arriving from the West,” Parton wrote, “is
immediately reminded that, at this point, the West terminates.”54 Pittsburgh’s position as
“a geographical centre” was compounded by its prolific industries; in 1866 the Southern
periodical Debow’s Review estimated that the city produced one-ninth of the country’s
iron, one-half the steel and glass, one-fifth of the copper, and nine-tenths of the U.S.’s
exported oil.55 It was also a tourist site, where travelers could tour “some of its great
manufacturing establishments, particularly those of iron and glass.”56
Artists succeeded in making these connections overtly visual. Throughout his life,
W.T. Russell Smith, a Pennsylvania-based artist known for his theater panoramas and
other large landscapes, worked on paintings of Pittsburgh’s industrial milieu (Fig. 23).
Pittsburgh Fifty Years Ago from the Salt Works on Saw Mill Run was probably begun
“fifty years ago” in the 1830s, but like a number of Smith’s paintings was reworked,
renamed, and redated later in his career with help from his son, marine artist Xanthus
George Henry Thurston, Pittsburgh and Allegheny in the Centennial Year (Pittsburgh: A.A. Anderson
and Son, 1876), 41.
James Parton, “Pittsburg [sic],” Atlantic Monthly 21.123 (Jan. 1868): 19.
“Pittsburgh—Its Present and Future Prospects,” Debow’s Review 1.6 (June 1866): 662.
Appletons’ Illustrated Hand-Book of American Cities; Comprising the Principal Cities in the United
States and Canada, With Outlines of Through Routes, and Railway Maps (New York: D. Appleton, 1876),
Russell Smith.57 The composition shows a fairly close-up view of the salt works, from
whose chimney spews a dense cloud of brown-black smoke. Across the river at some
distance lies the city of Pittsburgh, which lives up to its nineteenth-century nickname, the
“Smoky City,” with an equally dense, hovering cloud of grayish-white. Between them
runs the Monongahela River, which combines with the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to
become the Ohio, one of the major east-west thoroughfares for shipping to and from the
Midwest. A steamship prominently chugs down the river toward the city, trailing yet
another cloud of smoke. The artist gives us the precise location of his viewpoint but he
also names the industry featured and focuses more closely on the town’s manufacturing
identity, expressed by the many smokestacks in the background. Another, almost
identical, painting, View of Pittsburgh from the Salt Works of Saw Mill Run (begun 1838;
retouched in 1880s), omits the steamboat, but also elaborates on several smokestacks in
the city, differentiating them from the more regular mass of buildings in Pittsburgh Fifty
Years Ago. The time setting is also important: even more development has occurred
during the meantime, and traffic on the river has become more congested. Even fifty
years earlier, the image implies, Pittsburgh was already an important center at which
several different industries and transportation networks converged. The intervening years
between Smith’s first scenes of Pennsylvania industry and his retouchings of the 1880s
saw a commercial and manufacturing explosion in the city, one which was celebrated in
the popular, local, and technical presses. By 1884, the salt works shown by Smith had
long been superseded by larger and more modernized factories, making this image
Virginia E. Lewis, Russell Smith: Romantic Realist (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1956),
paradoxically both a sentimental genre scene and an enumeration of the ongoing
importance of industry. 58
Another iconic region, the Hudson River Valley, also changed and industrialized
during these years. The region had been the site of an intense outpouring of landscape
painting during the 1840s and 1850s. Kenneth W. Maddox writes that in the later
nineteenth century, writers focused on the Hudson’s “commercial activity” just as much
as the “scenic beauty of the landscape.”59 During the course of his long career, Robert
Walter Weir noticed the changes in the Hudson landscape. An instructor at West Point,
Weir spent most of his career in upstate New York and his early works show the marked
influence of the Hudson River school, though he was better-known for historical and
religious paintings. A composition such as View of Hudson River has few differences
from many other similar scenes by artists such as Thomas Cole. Weir’s execution is
perhaps a little less adept than some of the better-known practitioners of Hudson River
landscape painting, but he nevertheless adheres to its tenets of beauty and harmony in this
scene of nature tourism, in which well-dressed visitors picnic and lounge on the grass,
overlooking the river (Fig. 24). Though it was still possible to find such scenery in
upstate New York near the turn of the century, in 1878 Weir produced a much different
vision of the Hudson River: an urban scene of Hoboken, New Jersey, which focused on
the waterfront (Fig. 25). Taken at twilight, this view retains some picturesque elements,
such as the vibrant pink sky and dusky buildings on the opposite shore, but the
foreground depicts a more desolate scene. Silhouetted dramatically against the sky is a
large weighted crane, of the type used to load ships. Nearby are two empty barges and
Youngner, Industry in Art, 40.
Kenneth W. Maddox, ed., In Search of the Picturesque: Nineteenth-Century Images of Industry Along
the Hudson River (Annadale-on-Hudson, NY: Art Institute of Bard College, 1983), 65.
some of the typical detritus of waterfront activities, such as an empty wheelbarrow, horse
cart, stacked barrels and lumber, and other evidence of shipping. The figures here make
quite a change from the relaxed tourists of the View of Hudson River: two men seem to sit
resting, while a third, in the shadow of the massive crane, stoops. This bold and modern
composition from the painter of Embarkation of the Pilgrims highlights the rapid changes
experienced in a single region of the country within a decade or two. Though neither
image depicts a strictly objective scene, as a pair they demonstrate that in a period of
about twenty years, the conceptualization of the Hudson River changed drastically. From
its earlier depiction as a haven for nature tourists and transcendentalists—a business, but
not an industry—the idea of the Hudson River had transformed into a center of industry
and shipping.60
Cities in the West and Midwest also received attention from artists, who focused
on important, emerging urban centers such as Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit,
San Francisco, and Minneapolis as crucial locations at which multiple systems
converged. Whether in the press or in oil painting, artists centered their works around
sites of municipal, local, and national systems. City views offered a way for viewers to
pin down the location of important buildings and transportation conduits. In illustrated
magazines, these were often minutely labeled with points of interest and served a clearly
didactic function. They also allowed viewers the vicarious pleasure of visiting cities in
different regions of the country and exploring their amenities and manufacturing. In oil
painting, too, cityscapes were a means of displaying for the viewer an entire network of
streets, railroads, telegraphs, and municipal sites, displaying what Marianne Doezema has
called “an American preference for the factual” and a desire for “informational
Maddox, ed., In Search of the Picturesque, 65-69.
content.”61 This mode allowed artists to represent the system stripped of extraneous
information, even excising figural content in an act of “symbolic depopulating.”62 This
depopulation, while it made systems more legible and technical, could also contribute to
the central tension of this chapter: by removing the people (who often made systems
work), technological systems acquired a kind of magical autonomy at the same time that
their inner workings and interconnectedness were laid bare for viewers.
This is evident in the treatment of Minneapolis by Alexis Jean Fournier, an artist
trained in Minneapolis and Paris whose early works engage with the material culture of
industry in his hometown.63 His Mill Pond at Minneapolis depicts several aspects of the
industrial landscape of the still-small city, which was an important through-point for logs
and ores mined in the Northern Central and Northwest regions (Fig. 26). From the left
side of the canvas, two rail lines converge, and three boxcars are seen making their way
to the shed on the right, possibly a lumber shed, as evidenced by two stacks of lumber in
the foreground. In the middle ground is seen the 1883 stone bridge of the Union-Northern
Pacific Railroad, and just beyond that a building that looks like a major rail roundhouse
or depot, with a grain storage facility adjacent. The Mississippi River itself is clogged
with logs, breakwaters, small docks, and wooden parts that may be the remains of
logging rafts, again reinforcing the notion that the rail line leads directly into a
lumberyard. Though the luminous light and free paint handling give the scene some
Marianne Doezema, American Realism and the Industrial Age (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, in
assocation with Indiana University Press, 1980), 21.
For this phrase, I am thankful to Edward Slavishak, who made this point when commenting on an earlier
version of this chapter at the annual Hagley Fellows Conference in March 2007. Cécile Whiting also
offered helpful suggestion on the way that depopulation can complicate the representation of technological
For information on Fournier, see Rena Neumann Coen, Painting and Sculpture in Minnesota, 1820-1914
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976); Coen, Alexis Jean Fournier: The Last American
Barbizon (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985).
picturesque elements, the foreground details show a world of locomotion that is far
removed from Cropsey’s and Inness’s idealized views of the railroad: the grass is weedy
and unkempt, the stray palettes of logs seem haphazard and messy, and the boxcars, up
close, have none of the romantic charm of a puffing locomotive engine. The
interconnectedness of different systems is forcibly visible in Fournier’s composition.
Silhouetted against the creamy stone of the bridge is a single telegraph pole; the
Mississippi River leads south, connecting Minneapolis with other important shipping
centers of the Midwest; the railroad depot and grain elevator suggest commerce,
exchange, and transportation; the logs coming into the city are a link with the Northwest
forests. Ultimately, the railroad is only one link in a chain of interwoven systems, all used
to provide fuel, food, shelter, and clothing to people throughout the nation.
Further demonstrations of the visual recording of technological systems can be
found in cityscape lithographs, which could be purchased by individuals as souvenirs, but
were also increasingly being commissioned as publicity images for the city’s industry,
and might be seen “placarded in railway waiting rooms, hotels, and other places of public
resort.”64 The encyclopedic recording of Columbus, Ohio, in the lithograph View of
Columbus O. from Capitol University, demonstrates powerful urban boosterism and an
accompanying interest in exactly recording the fabric of urban spaces (Fig. 27). The
image celebrates the ability of artists and their viewers to pin down precise details of the
urban landscape, almost to use such an image as a map of the city, or a guide to its most
prominent features. The elevated perspective is reminiscent of early modern European
maps, in which the facades of buildings were precisely delineated, though the street grid
Peter C. Marzio, The Democratic Art: Pictures for a 19th-Century America: Chromolithography 18401900 (Boston: Godine, 1979), 131.
was depicted from a strict bird’s-eye perspective.65 This image gives some of that sense
of skewed perspective, as the main avenues recede into incredibly deep space, and the
farther buildings and streets are seen almost as from above. Within this image are visible
at least three separate manufacturing works, the recently-completed Statehouse at center,
the Scioto River to the left, spanned by two major bridges, and the diagonal thrust of a
rail line, with a roundhouse and rail sheds located at the lower left. The broad streets are
laid out in a strict grid, rendering the city’s footprint immediately legible and making
orientation easy (the viewer is at the north end of the city, looking almost due south).
Images like this bring a whole city under the scrutiny of the viewer; they offer the scene
to him for his surveillance and command. They hint at the interconnected highways of
road, rail, and water that linked up many regions of the United States. Here a virtual map
of technological systems is displayed for comprehension and digestion; the links between
the different areas of the city, and between this city and other urban areas, are made
explicit. The viewer is given a feeling of power, as if he is one of the manufacturing
magnates or railroad tycoons that built up the industrial structures seen here. In fact, the
essence of this type of imagery lies in the feeling of power it gives to a spectator who in
reality is more likely to be a pawn within technology’s vast and complex systems than he
is to be a major manipulator of them.
The popular press further reinforced viewer’s feelings of knowledge about
technological systems by providing a wealth of pictorial information on systems, usually
presented in a cityscape or cartographical format (and sometimes utilizing a combination
of approaches). These popular tools were ostensibly used to give viewers a vicarious
journey to whatever city or region was being profiled; however, they also served to
For example, Antonio Tempesta’s map of Rome (1593).
empower the viewer through an instant understanding of underlying systems, even if he
were a dock worker or she a seamstress. City panoramas offer the city as both part of a
larger, national interlinked network and itself a miniature systems, with factories as nodal
points. A full-page image of Boston shows the city and surroundings in a combination of
map and perspectival views, one which gives the viewer a powerful sense of being in
motion over the city, with the shifting perspectives that would give (Fig. 28). The map
highlights important historical buildings, but is more concerned with the cartographic,
and though it does show individual structures, it is the general layout of the city and its
proximity to nearby towns that is most prominent. The artist has labeled all major
railroad lines and bridges, as well as reservoirs, the navy yard, the U.S. Arsenal north of
Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and manufacturing towns just outside the city such as Medford,
Roxbury, and Winchester.
A similar representational technique is used in the “Bird’s-Eye View of the
Pacific Railroad, from Chicago to San Francisco,” which illustrates an article about the
wealth of California and the increased ease of reaching the West Coast (Fig. 29). A
journey across the continent, which would have taken months at the beginning of the
century, could now be completed in a few days. This illustration gives the viewer almost
the entire Western United States in another skewed combination of perspectives. The area
around Chicago is carefully delineated, map-like, with the north-south axis of the city
visible, and tiny boats afloat on Lake Michigan. As in the Boston example, all the rail
lines leading in or out of the city are carefully labeled. Far in the distance, the tiny cities
of San Francisco and Sacramento can be seen like minute El Dorados shimmering in a
desert mirage. Though its perspective is fanciful and its geography not entirely accurate,
this composition underscores the importance of “informational content” for viewers in
the nineteenth century. It visually enacts the shrinking of the United States made possible
by the development of the railroad. Thousands of miles could be grasped all at once, even
down to the major mountain landmarks that might be passed on the journey. As if to
emphasize this epic trip into the West, the viewer sees the sun directly ahead, preparing
to sink into the Pacific Ocean. Again, the viewer stands as a proud surveyor of the nation.
Technological systems, disposed before the viewer in plain black and white lines
stretching across the continent, have made possible this vista and this “annihilation of
space and time.”66 The depiction of urban scenes was intended to give the viewer a
powerful position, one that enabled him to grasp vast and complex networks of
technological systems, to survey and, at last, to understand, the interconnected American
Not all illustrations of technology were so powerfully positive, however.
Particularly during the 1880s, some popular newsmagazines turned to polemical texts and
illustrations harshly criticizing the health hazards inherent in industrial production,
particularly the secondhand effects on quality of life for those who lived in the vicinity of
factories. The illustrated magazine industry had a history of exposing menaces to health
and welfare, primarily those that threatened residents of major cities such as Chicago or
New York.67 A campaign to cleanse New York City of foul odors was ongoing during the
1880s and 1890s. Hunter’s Point, an area now part of Brooklyn and Queens, clustered
Leo Marx discusses the nineteenth-century popularity of this phrase, which was taken from a minor
satirical work by Alexander Pope. Marx, Machine in the Garden, 194. The best work on the impact of the
railroad on time and space is Schivelbusch, Railway Journey.
For example, Brown, Beyond the Lines, on the Swill Milk public health campaign, 27-28.
oil-refining, sugar-refining, and fertilizer-rendering facilities around Newtown Creek,
which emptied into the East River. In accounts of the sanitation campaign, authors
demonized the area’s detrimental effects upon citizens from Fifth Avenue to the
tenements of Alphabet City:
Hunter's Point has become a centre of terror and disgust to the people of
New York. For many years it has breathed out offensive odors such as
were never tolerated in any Christian land. … They cover with their
miasmatic exhalations the crowded tenement-houses along Avenues B and
C, and press on ward [sic] until they make Madison and Fifth avenues
unfit for human residences. … the smoke of the factories of soap, glue,
and varnish, the scent of the fertilizers made of decayed fish, the heavy
atmosphere of petroleum, the thick fumes of ammonia and various
unknown compounds, fall upon the helpless citizens.68
Polemical illustrations from the Hunter’s Point campaign show industry in a clearly
negative light, whether in a realistic or fanciful manner. Detailed, convincing scenes
attacking Hunter’s Point show shadowy workers toiling amid the detritus of the urban
manufacturing scene: decaying barrels, moldering scrap heaps, and buckets of human and
animal waste (Fig. 30). The artist spends special attention on these foul details; despite a
clear polemical intention behind the image, the representation of the urban industrial
milieu is, visually, detailed and realistic. However, some of the most dramatic visual
statements turned instead toward the magical. William Allen Rogers represented Hunter’s
Point as a “death caldron [sic]” surrounded by the three witches of Shakespeare’s
Macbeth (Fig. 31).69 In a parody of the “double, double, toil and trouble” speech of the
weird sisters, these bare-breasted specters cackle:
Spread a nuisance everywhere; / With sludge acid load the air; / Send the
stench through every street; / Mix death-vapors with the heat; / Make them
Eugene Lawrence, “Death and Hunter’s Point,” HW, Aug. 13, 1881, 554.
Shakespeare, Macbeth (1606), in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Greenblatt, 2596-2597. Act IV, Scene 1,
lines 4-36.
strong, and foul, and thick; / Sicken the well, and kill the sick. / We can
laugh at all their pains; / They get the smells—we get the gains.70
This wicked chant focuses on the detrimental effects of industry, as the witches
appear to send a swarm of black bats across the river to pollute the city, one labeled
“sludge acid.” It is also a clear and dramatic use of a literary allusion to lend an aura of
myth and magic—even if it is black magic—to the depiction of the industrial realm.
To demonstrate how a single image could hold within it a virtual map of the
United States and the workings of technological systems, I want to examine a major
painting by the landscape artist Thomas Moran, who was best known for his operatic,
colorful scenes of the Western United States. The industries shown in Moran’s Lower
Manhattan from Communipaw, New Jersey (Fig. 32) were linked to global economic and
production systems. The creeping tentacles of American imperial endeavors also lie just
below the surface of Moran’s image, with its figures and industries invisibly linked to a
growing global network. In times of technological expansion, the world is at once
smaller, thanks to networks which speed up travel and communications, and larger,
because the goods available for purchase depend on the expending of faraway,
anonymous labor. To demonstrate the invisibility yet potency of technological systems, I
want to examine how the specific area Moran depicted bears direct links to United States
imperialism in Latin America and to the colonization of the American West. In a single
canvas, Moran centers a number of converging threads on the sugar industry, a lucrative
business that was practiced mainly in New York and the Southern United States, with
varying degrees of technological advancement.
“The Death Caldron [sic] at Hunter’s Point,” HW, Aug. 13, 1881, 552-553.
Moran was a self-taught painter from an artistic family who immigrated to
Pittsburgh from Bolton, a cotton-mill town in England, when he was seven. At the age of
sixteen he was apprenticed to the engraving company Scattergood and Telfer, where he
learned skills of engraving, which would serve him throughout his career as an artistillustrator.71 Though Moran is remembered primarily as a painter, he continued working
as an illustrator and engraver throughout his career, and did not seem to differentiate
between the prestige of painting and the popularity of print media.72 He gained
widespread fame in his thirties as a second-generation Hudson River School-style painter,
when three major works propelled him into the national art arena. Indeed Moran’s work
during this period is derived from the style pioneered by Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand,
and Albert Bierstadt, but differs from their styles in its “Western” colors, clearly
influenced as much by J.M.W. Turner’s work as by the brilliant atmosphere and
oversized topography of the West. The formal elements he pioneered around 1870—the
vibrant, almost garish colors, silvery atmospheric effects, diminutive people surveying
the landscape, and careful attention to the geology and fauna of the region—would
continue to be central to Moran’s style until his death in 1926. His trilogy of Western
landscapes was based upon surveying excursions sponsored by magazines and railroads
throughout the decade, and included The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872), The
Chasm of the Colorado (1873-74), and The Mountain of the Holy Cross (1875). These
three massive works, all more than seven feet tall, were highly acclaimed, and the first
two were purchased almost immediately for the Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building
Biographical information on Moran is from Nancy K. Anderson, ed., Thomas Moran (Washington:
National Gallery of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 1997).
Joni Louise Kinsey, Thomas Moran’s West: Chromolithography, High Art, and Popular Taste
(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), 56; Marzio, Democratic Art, 109.
in Washington, D.C., The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at an unbelievably high price
of ten thousand dollars. The unifying significance of Western scenery following the
bloody struggle of the Civil War was an important trend. Angela Miller notes that
because the West had an implicit alliance with neither North nor South, it could stand in
for the entire nation.73 These massive scenes represented not only hopes for future
national unity but a new style, which marked Moran’s work as substantially different
from the predominantly East Coast imagery of the Hudson River artists. Critic Richard
Watson Gilder called The Grand Canyon “a ‘new departure’ in art … something
altogether fresh and daring.”74 A few years later, another critic recalled this and other
images of Moran’s first Yellowstone trip, marveling that they “revealed a new
wonderland” in their treatment of the West.75
By the 1880s, though, this style of painting was going out of fashion, replaced
primarily by smaller works with a more intimate approach. In the realm of high art,
expectations were changing; sentimental genre paintings and understated, Impressionistic
landscapes relying upon a myth of direct expression of the artist’s “feelings” created a
new language of popular appeal.76 Western scenes, which had been Moran’s specialty,
were no longer to be grand and awe-inspiring; rather, in the hands of the popular and
successful painter Frederic Remington, Western images represented another type of genre
scene, celebrating Manifest Destiny through the figure of the cowboy. In the early 1890s,
Angela Miller, The Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 18251875 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 265-271.
Quoted in Anderson, ed., Thomas Moran, 89.
“The Old Cabinet,” Scribner’s Monthly 12.1 (May 1876): 125.
Sarah Burns, Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1996). A list of paintings sold at the 1879 NAD show suggests a penchant for nostalgic
genre paintings. Titles such as Young Mother, Returning Home, By the Market Wall, and Becalmed Fishing
Boats conjure up images of domesticity and preindustrial village life, appealing to middle-class or popular
tastes. “National Academy of Design: Close of the Annual Exhibition—The Paintings Sold,” New York
Times, June 1, 1879.
Moran confided to the Denver Rocky Mountain News that Eastern audiences were no
longer interested in the West: “I prefer to paint western scenes, but the Eastern people
don’t appreciate the grand scenery of the Rockies. They are not familiar with mountain
effects and it is much easier to sell a picture of a Long Island swamp than the grandest
picture of Colorado.”77
During the same years, artists struggled to find a new and uniquely “American”
subject matter to counteract the influence of European art, which critics often
characterized as feminized. Art critics called for canvases representing a supposedly
shared national character, a new way of understanding how the nation could or should be
imagined. In some cases, they even argued that this new nation should be represented not
by outmoded transcendentalist fantasies of unblemished wilderness but by the
contemporary landscape of factories and smokestacks. One such enthusiast was journalist
and art critic William Mackay Laffan, who wrote in 1879:
there shall be more joy over one honest and sincere American horse-pond,
over one truthful and dirty tenement, over one unaffected sugar-refinery,
or over one vulgar but un-ostentatious coal-wharf than there shall be over
… all the rest of the holy conventionalities and orthodox bosh that have
gone to gladden the heart of the auctioneer and deprave American artists.78
Laffan championed traits of sincerity and truthfulness over decadent “bosh,” implying
that he found Impressionist scenes of the elite classes at play “untruthful” or even
“depraving.” In a Princeton Review essay of 1878, painter John Ferguson Weir also
called for a manly American art to overcome the “pretty little superficial elaborations”
typical of imitators of European styles that “filled the public eye and gratified the popular
“A Mountain Painter,” Denver Rocky Mountain News, June 18, 1892. Quoted in Anderson, ed., Thomas
Moran, 127.
William Mackay Laffan, “The Material of American Landscape,” American Art Review 1 (Nov. 1879):
taste.”79 Both Weir and Laffan supported a nationalistic approach to art, which would
discover valiant new and typically “American” subject matter that would set artistic
production in the United States apart from that in Europe.80 By specifically coding the art
of the United States as masculine, these authors set up a heroic paradigm for American
painters, which could be achieved by focusing on social realism, industry, and the
excitement and grit of the urban setting (though few artists answered the call until the
next generation).
Starting around 1879, Moran created several images of the factories and sugar
refineries of New Jersey and New York City, with a focus on the manufacturing town of
Communipaw, New Jersey, an area of Jersey City.81 At the time Moran painted Lower
Manhattan, Communipaw’s main industry was sugar refining, but it was also home to
several major industrial facilities, including the extant Colgate, Dixon (now Dixon
Ticonderoga), and Lorillard Tobacco, and the now-defunct American Pottery Company
and Jersey City Glass Company.82 This area, not far from Hunter’s Point, was not
infrequently attacked in the periodical press as unsafe and unsavory, yet Moran’s image
largely bypasses any negative implications. Lower Manhattan depicts the junk heaps,
warehouses, and sludgy swamps of New Jersey in an aestheticized manner, with the
John Ferguson Weir, “American Art: Its Progress and Prospects,” Princeton Review 1 (Jan. 1878): 816.
On debates over “American” versus “European” subject matter, see Margaret C. Conrads, “‘In the Midst
of an Era of Revolution’: The New York Art Press and the Annual Exhibitions of the National Academy of
Design in the 1870s,” in Rave Reviews: American Art and its Critics, 1826-1925, ed. David B. Dearinger
(New York: National Academy of Design, in association with University Press of New England, 2000): 9497. Conrads notes the hostility to foreign art evident in press reactions to the 1874 NAD show, when a
European painting—August Schenk’s Lost—Souvenir of Auvergne —was given “the exhibition’s place of
honor” (Conrads, 96).
The town of Communipaw was a Dutch trading community founded in the seventeenth century, which
was incorporated into Jersey City in the nineteenth century. Jersey City University, “Communipaw,” Jersey
City: Past and Present,
jchistory/Pages/C_Pages/Communipaw.htm (accessed Jan. 14, 2010).
Nancy Siegel, The Morans: The Artistry of a Nineteenth-Century Family of Painter-Etchers
(Huntingdon, PA: Juniata College Press, 2001), 30-31.
ethereal smokestacks of sugar refineries and the skyline of New York City rising in the
background. This large canvas represents a striking change from the pictorial conventions
Moran chose to adopt for his early successes. While Lower Manhattan utilizes the same
expressive clouds and attention to natural details that characterized Moran’s images of
Yellowstone, the piece seems to mark a turning point in Moran’s career, after which he
increasingly produced factory scenes, especially around the New Jersey Area. Moran’s
oeuvre of works depicting Communipaw also includes several etchings of factories or
refineries with billowing clouds of smoke (Fig. 33). Like Lower Manhattan, critics
received these images well: the New York Times, reviewing one etching, noted the
aesthetic pleasure of the factory scene, commenting that “the smoke from factory
chimneys is felt delightfully.”83 Some of Moran’s other works showing industrial sites,
Trojes Mines, Communipaw, February, and the later Smelting Works at Denver, are small
watercolors which show the subjects from a distance and mainly efface the presence of
the human body (Figs. 34-36).
Lower Manhattan depicts three tiers of space: the foreground, which focuses on a
swampy inlet that houses rock quarries and a minor shipping depot, the middle ground, in
which a further part of the Communipaw peninsula is seen, densely packed with factories
and shipping docks, and the background, with the island of Manhattan faintly visible on
either side of the Communipaw factories. The overall color scheme is brown, but the sky,
which takes up almost half the image, is treated with creamy and pearlescent gray, blue,
and off-white. A bright splash of red in the foreground draws attention to two workers
who appear to be discussing a large block of stone: the man in white shirt, taupe vest, and
black hat may be a foreman, who with a single gesture directs the red-shirted worker’s
“The Water Colors and Etchings,” New York Times, Feb. 15, 1885.
attention to the massive stone before him. The men inhabit an unsavory and desolate
wasteland, which contrasts sharply with the shimmering, idealized industrial realm across
the water. In fact, they do not even seem to notice the presence of the factories; they are
too localized, blind to the changing world of commerce, unaware of the invisible lines of
connection humming around them. Dozens of other figures populate this scene, too, but
they are almost illegible on the boat dock and warehouse at the right; a few daubs of paint
delineate them and their labors.
On the middle shore—part of the peninsula of Communipaw that was landfilled a
few years prior to this painting to provide more room for manufacturing and railroads—
several large factories and their smokestacks loom almost in silhouette against the sky,
the details of their inner workings obscure to the viewer. These are identified as sugar
refineries in more than one contemporary review, and since this area was known for its
sugar refining, I will analyze the sugar industry in particular as it relates to the idea of
technological systems. The city of New York—where, presumably, much of this sugar
may be consumed—is almost ghostly in the background. The dim outlines of three
distinct buildings may be seen, two to the right of the Communipaw peninsula, and
another, possibly Trinity Church, at the far left. The viewer is facing almost due east, or
slightly northeast across the Hudson River, so the southern part of Manhattan lies at the
right of the picture’s composition; the New York skyline is evident, though the factories,
since closer, stand taller and much more prominent in the composition. Moran treats his
subject with such aestheticism that at first the many connections embedded in the scene
may not be evident to viewers. Nevertheless, the painting makes powerful linkages with
different geographical regions of the United States and with different technologies, and
also hints at the invisibility and unknowability of technological systems through its
superficial adherence to the language of the picturesque.
Reviewers at the time chose not to comment directly on the painting’s subject. Art
critic Earl Shinn, writing under the pseudonym Edward Strahan, commented instead upon
the artist’s skill at adhering to picturesque conventions:
Let us not deny the finished ability of this prolific artist in expressive
brushwork. … His touch for rocks, his touch for mud and gravel, his touch
for cloud is ready at a moment’s notice. … His Communipaw is a silver
dazzle of sugar-baking palaces rising among the mists and exhalations of a
universal thaw.84
This review, and other glowing reviews, one from the same journal and others from the
Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times, called the scene “picturesque,” suggesting a
number of possibilities regarding this work’s contemporary reception.85 The idea of the
picturesque was one of three overlapping and complementary concepts active in the art
world of the nineteenth century: the sublime, the picturesque, and the beautiful.
Picturesque scenes were those which contained “irregularity of form, rough texture, [and]
pleasing variety,” which would arouse “curiosity and interest” in the viewer, often
through allusions to literature or history.86 The picturesque took as one of its key models
the work of the French landscape painter Claude Lorraine, and was a category that should
affect viewers with feelings of absorption, balance, and sometimes sentiment, though it
would also excite interest through imperfection and irregularity. During the nineteenth
century, and specifically in the American context, the picturesque was a much-coveted
category with connections to ideas about national identity. Artists adopted the picturesque
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], “The National Academy of Design,” Art Amateur 1.1 (June 1879): 4.
“The Two New York Exhibitions,” Atlantic Monthly 43.260 (June 1879): 783; “The Academy
Exhibition: The Press View of the Spring Collection,” New York Times, March 27, 1880.
Rainey, Creating Picturesque America, 27.
as a safe and ultimately unitary category that could instill in viewers a sense of
comfortable pride in their nation. As Sue Rainey writes in her history of the illustrated
publication Picturesque America, the collection of picturesque scenes from across the
country was the basis for an artistic project that resulted in two popular gift volumes,
packed with illustrations. Rainey notes that in its second volume of 1874, Picturesque
America began to incorporate factories and mills into its pages—as long as they were
placed in properly “picturesque” surroundings and did not include close-range
examination of machine parts or those who handled them.87
Earlier in the century, the picturesque mode had also been adopted by British
artists wishing to soften the effects of the Industrial Revolution in landscape paintings
featuring the major manufacturing centers of Manchester and Leeds. It is probable that
Moran’s representation of the industrial urban milieu took some cues from these artists,
who included Turner and other, lesser-known painters such as William Wyld. Particularly
in his division of the scene into several horizontal registers, Moran partakes of the
equivocation these artists often used to convey complex messages about the industrial
city. Caroline Arscott, Griselda Pollock, and Janet Wolff offer multiple interpretations of
images such as Turner’s 1816 watercolor Leeds, suggesting that early nineteenth-century
artists imbued their works with a number of meanings that are also suggested by Moran’s
Lower Manhattan (Fig. 37).88 They argue that artists simultaneously deployed the
picturesque—in elements of composition and subject matter, including details suggesting
a lingering rural idyll—and a new, unnamed visual mode that confronted the viewer with
Rainey, Creating Picturesque America, 201, 266.
Caroline Arscott and Griselda Pollock, with Janet Wolff, “The Partial View: The Visual Representation
of the Early Nineteenth-Century City,” in The Culture of Capital: Art, Power and the Nineteenth-Century
Middle Class, ed. Wolff and John Seed (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1988), 219-220.
“a highly specific and knowable centre of a diversity of industrial activities”; the city was
both “a site of human labour, activity, and production,” and a vague, shimmering ideal
place on the far horizon.89
Despite its subject matter, then, the stillness of the Communipaw scene, its
removal from the actual factory site, its composition of orderly, receding space flanked
by complementary but asymmetrical foreground elements, and the dramatic but light
treatment of clouds and sky would place it squarely within the realm of the picturesque.
Overwhelmingly positive reviews greeted the painting at its first exhibition, suggesting
that viewers were willing to accept industrial scenes as a part of what defined the new
American landscape. Shinn saw the refineries as a “dazzle of sugar-baking palaces,”
while another reviewer noted Moran’s ability to make the “common scenes of
commercial industry” pulse with a “poetry of the air.”90 The Atlantic Monthly reviewer
wrote of a “very luminous, pearly view towards New York across a surface of New
Jersey shore, full of sparkling shallows,” whose elements “lend themselves to the
picturesque purpose easily.”91 Viewers were mesmerized and enchanted by the new
forms of “dazzling” or “luminous” urban industry. However, this aestheticism cloaks the
image’s many direct references to technological systems.
The ships visible in Lower Manhattan, docked at what is probably the
Communipaw ferry dock in what is now Liberty State Park, lend a clue to the myriad
connections suggested by Moran’s complex and tantalizing composition. Communipaw
was at this time in the process of becoming a major shipping center, and was also a brief
ferry-ride away from the New York docks, an even more important center of
Arcsott, Pollock, and Wolff, “Partial View,” 227, 228.
Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], “Art News: New York Notes,” Art Amateur 2.3 (Feb. 1880): 52.
“Two New York Exhibitions,” 783.
transportation and distribution. In the right foreground of Moran’s painting can be seen
what looks like a warehouse and large crane for loading merchandise onto ships. Two
separate docks across the inlet on the Communipaw peninsula are visible, and the busy
New York harbor is implied through the glimpse of lower Manhattan just to the right of
the image’s center. In addition, the Communipaw ferry dock was directly adjacent to a
major terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which had been completed in
1864. The importance of the area Moran depicts in the burgeoning system of national and
international shipping and distribution cannot be underestimated, and several parallels are
found in Harper’s images from around the same period.
An almost comic illustration of the New York waterfront drives home the
message of New York’s centrality as a market for both incoming and outgoing products
from the United States and the world. In “Along the Docks, New York City—View from
West Street,” Alfred Rudolph Waud, who had been one of Harper’s Weekly’s prominent
war correspondents, shows the dizzying and chaotic scene of a busy waterfront (Fig. 38).
Destinations throughout the United States are clearly labeled on each terminal, including
New Orleans, Baltimore, Delaware, Savannah, Charleston, Philadelphia, and Boston. On
the righthand side of the image, a jumble of conveyances transport passengers (including
immigrants—a family in Swiss or German peasant costume can be seen in the right
foreground), hay, beverages or grain in large barrels, lumber, crates full of unknown
products, and a burlesque troupe (at far right). This scene stresses both the centrality of
New York in the national network of transportation and shipping, but allows the viewer
to envision some of the many commodities—and activities—found on a busy wharf.
This traffic in commodities, whether human or inanimate, is also emphasized in a
map from less than a year earlier, which illustrates a “map of the world on Mercator’s
Projection, showing the geographical relationship of New York and the rest of the
universe” (not merely the world) as well as scenes from “Hong Kong, Honolulu,
Aspinwall, Panama, and on the Pacific Railroad” (Fig. 39). The map’s composition forces
the artist to cut out South Asia completely, with no indication that any countries exist
between China and the Arabian peninsula. New York is placed at the center, and by the
map’s somewhat misleading logic, “the reader will perceive that we are really in the
centre of the universe, the ‘half-way’ house between either extreme of the same
continent. … An examination of the map will suggest … that the present metropolis of
the United States is destined to be the commercial centre of the world.”92 By placing the
United States at the center of the map, the artist reorients the traditional east-west binary
in an American-centric fashion: the map is “showing at a glance the relation which New
York bears in regard to distance and geographical position with the great commercial
cities of our East, Europe, and West, Asia” (emphasis original).93 Reimagining the globe
to suit New York by defining Europe as “our East” and Asia as “[our] West” powerfully
dislocates centuries of learned cartographic relations, replacing them with a new
conception of how the world is structured. The map also gives a schematic outline of the
systems that linked New York with the rest of the world. Certain key relations—
specifically those with East Asia—are emphasized, while other established trade
networks, such as those with France, are left out. Britain (as the model to emulate), and
the Caribbean, South America, and Asia (as the feminized Others ready to be dominated
by the United States) are the prime locations featured in this conceptualization of New
“Commercial Relations of New York,” HW, May 30, 1868, 346.
“Commercial Relations of New York,” 345-46.
York’s place in the world. The ships docked in the middle ground of Lower Manhattan
thus contribute to a visual language of shipping and communication that centered around
New York City and its environs in the decades following the Civil War.
Beyond its connection with shipping, the water in Lower Manhattan can be read
in a different way: looking across the Hudson River from Communipaw, the city of
Manhattan shines airily, bathed in a silvery glow. The viewer of the work is grounded
solidly on the New Jersey waterfront, but hopes, perhaps, to cross to the gleaming city
beyond. In fact, when read from foreground to background, the scene implies just such a
journey: the viewer crosses the calm, glassy water to the place where water and sky,
cloud and building, become one. The city in the background is also a place of desire, the
preferred destination of the viewer, who transcends the materiality of the watery divide in
his effort to reach the skyline. When and if we achieve this, we have, as Bryan Jay Wolf
puts it, “traveled only with our eyes.”94 In this context, industrial sites are powerfully
positive places that the viewer may grasp through the desire of his disembodied eye. The
ease with which the viewer travels the stretch of water in the middle ground suggests a
line of almost telepathic—or more like telegraphic—connection between the shores of
New York and New Jersey. The image participates in the annihilation of time and space
that allows the viewer’s vicarious travel to, and control over, the rest of the world.
Further, the sugar refineries shown in Lower Manhattan also implicate the United
States in a broader network: that of imperialistic projects on its own soil and abroad. With
the acceleration of invisible, intercontinental networks, connections become more
difficult to identify as all areas of life become enmeshed in broad-ranging, impersonal
Bryan J. Wolf, “Seeing the Nineteenth Century through Twenty-First Century Eyes,” (public lecture at
the University of California, Irvine, June 6, 2005).
skeins. In the case of Moran’s work, the associations with U.S. involvement in other
countries must be carefully probed. This particular industry, sugar refining, was related
both to the desecration of the American landscape and to the increasingly successful
imperialist thrust of the United States into Central America and the Caribbean. Both these
issues are crucial to the region of Communipaw, New Jersey, Brooklyn, and the Greater
Manhattan area, whose refineries supplied half the nation’s sugar by the 1880s.95 Sugar
came from the Caribbean, specifically Cuba, about 80% of whose sugar crop was
purchased by the United States at this time.96 Historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike
Wallace estimate that by the end of the nineteenth century, 350 million dollars of
American money was invested in Cuba alone, supporting U.S. interests in the mining,
tobacco, and sugar-farming industries.97 As early as 1859, Cuba was one of the most
important trade relations held by the United States, with a balance of trade exceeding that
between the U.S. and France.98 Beginning during the administration of President James
Polk and continuing into the 1860s, American politicians debated the potential
annexation of Cuba, a proposal which many elite Cuban planters supported; though this
proposition had somewhat soured (on both sides) by the end of the Civil War, Cuba
remained an important economic partner for the United States.99
American interest in acquiring Cuba was demonstrated in Augustus Hoppin’s
satirical series of sketches for Harper’s Weekly in the late 1850s, in which “Brother
Jonathan proceeds to annex the lovely Miss Cuba, in obedience to the laws of manifest
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1999), 1211.
Gillian McGillivray, Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 30.
Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 1211.
“Notes on Cuba,” HW, Jan. 29, 1859, 72.
Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
2006), 81-83.
destiny” (Fig. 40). In the first frame, the gangling Brother Jonathan extends his arm to
Cuba, who is personified as a beautiful young fair-skinned girl, while the plump Doña of
Spain relinquishes her claim for a fat bag of money. One of the consequences of this
exchange, third only to cheaper availability of slaves and tobacco, is “Sugar and
Molasses becoming dirt cheap.” On the whole, Hoppin’s drawings illustrate some rather
bizarre and humorous consequences to the proposed annexation, such as “bull-fights on
Broadway” or tooth decay from increased consumption of sugar, molasses, “bananas,
oranges, and other tropical fruits.” However, the primary motives for the proposed
acquisition of Cuba are control over a number of important and lucrative commodities,
and the possibility to outmaneuver foreign powers. In one of the cartoon’s images,
Brother Jonathan, shown as an anthropomorphized bald eagle, has clearly enraged John
Bull, the Russian Bear, and a vulture who may represent France. A later cartoon by Frank
Bellew shows a more violent separation of Cuba from Spanish rule, foreshadowing the
involvement of the U.S. in the Spanish-American War (Fig. 41). Bellew’s cartoon depicts
Uncle Sam, here dressed as a vaquero or ranch-hand, using a threatening machete to cut
off the tail of a weeping, shorn lion. With the loss of Mexico, Peru, and Chili [sic], which
lie as if chopped from his luxuriant mane/main, the Spanish empire has been depleted,
and here the Spanish Lion suffers the final insult: forcible takeover of Cuba by the United
States. This cartoon was primarily speculative and humorous, but the strategic and
economic importance of Cuba is stressed again and again in popular media. The
connection between Cuba and sugar—and the fact that much of the sugar refined and sold
in the United States had its origins in that island—clearly connect Moran’s painting with
American hopes for Manifest Destiny to extend into the Caribbean and perhaps even
Central and South America. Sugar was an encouraging symbol of American
hemispherical domination and progress, promoting a new Manifest Destiny southwards.
The sugar that did not come from Cuba was most likely from Louisiana. For
climatological and soil reasons, the area suitable for sugar cultivation was restricted
mainly to the Mississippi Delta and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Sugar had been one
of the most profitable crops for Southern planters before the Civil War, and an image by
Waud demonstrates that Southern sugar cultivation had remained similar in structure to
its antebellum precedents (Fig. 42). The illustration shows sugar cane, growing over eight
feet tall, which is hacked by hand by individual workers and taken to the small-scale mill
dominating the image, where it is put through the first stage of refining and prepared for
transportation to larger mills such as those at Communipaw. Of the approximately two
dozen figures in the scene, all are African American, except for the white overseer who,
astride a black horse and dressed in a dashing white coat and hat, acts as a ghostly echo
of the supposedly vanished planter class. The image clearly enacts for viewers the racial
power dynamic underlying the commodities that reached them: white overseers and black
laborers, with the white male wielding absolute power, perhaps even smoking a valued
Cuban cigar as he seems to admonish the lunching workers at right. If sugar did not rely
on the labor of Cuban slaves (who were not officially emancipated until 1888), then it
relied on the continuation of repressive and racialized agricultural structures, a vestigial
holdover from the antebellum period.100 Though these connections may seem tenuous in
Moran’s paintings, following the trail of the sugar industry from its refining at
On the prolonged and gradual process of emancipation in Cuba, see Rebecca J. Scott, “Explaining
Abolition: Contradiction, Adaptation, and Challenge in Cuban Slave Society, 1860-1886,” in Between
Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Manuel Moreno
Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons, and Stanley L. Engerman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985),
Communipaw back to its sources clearly leads us to Cuba and Louisiana, and suggests
the often invisible, yet undeniably powerful, operation of technological systems.
Moran’s canvas also gestured toward the West, an important region for the
representation of technological expansion. As a whole, his works reveals unusual or
unforeseen connections between the natural and the manmade. The imagery in Moran’s
Western paintings and in travelogues of Western adventures made references to the link
between city and wilderness as two elements in a relationship of reciprocity. The
wilderness was compared to industry using naturalistic metaphors, in order to posit the
encroachment of technology as something natural in itself, and also to tame and
familiarize the West, which some Easterners viewed as a “hell on earth.”101 In Moran’s
representations of wild Western scenery, the viewer finds both an untamed world of
violent sexuality and a paradise of classical ruins. These contradictions resurface in the
industrial scenes, where the viewer is instead confronted by restrained sexual and
physical energy. Throughout Moran’s work we find equivalencies and overlapping
schemas of body, land, machine, and culture.
In his Western work, depictions of desert rock formations may be linked, as Joni
Louise Kinsey writes, to arches and towers, important metaphorical formations: the arch
as an emblem of Roman civilization and the tower as a new urban form emerging in the
proto-skyscrapers of Chicago and New York City.102 One review compared the cliffs of
The Grand Canyon to cathedral spires, noting that wind and erosion “produced the most
fantastic groups of wild and beautiful bluffs, buttresses, and pinnacles, all bearing more
Cecelia Tichi, Embodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Places (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2001), 101.
Joni Louise Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West (Washington: Smithsonian
Institution Press, 1992), 24-29.
or less resemblance to human architecture.”103 The eternal rocks, shaped by nature, are
tamed, their history brought in line with the shorter memory of man. Here, the unspoiled
natural world emerges as historic ruins in the Western landscape. While nature was made
into a city, the urban could also be transformed into a “natural” site.
Western geysers and steam-spewing smokestacks possessed a visual and thematic
affinity in the minds of many viewers. An 1872 article in Scribner’s Monthly makes an
aural parallel between an erupting geyser and the cataclysm of battle, suggesting the
lingering trauma of the Civil War juxtaposed with the billowing smoke of a factory
chimney: “[The eruption of the geyser] was continued for about fifteen minutes, and the
rumbling and confusion attending it could only be compared to that of a charge in battle.
The steam poured out in immense masses, rising in clouds a thousand feet or more in
height.”104 The intense sound and confusion of the geyser’s eruption signifies an event
both memorable and traumatic. Later the same author, F.V. Hayden, recalled a landscape
“literally honeycombed with springs, pools and geysers that are constantly gurgling,
spitting, steaming, roaring, and exploding,” telling the reader to “imagine a gigantic pot
with a thunder-storm in its stomach, and to the noises of elemental war, add the shrieking
of steam pipes and you will have a faint idea of it.”105 S. Weir Mitchell of Lippincott’s
Magazine experienced similar bursts of unsettling noise and noted an even more explicit
connection to industry when he wrote of the eruption of Old Faithful: it expelled “the
exhaust of a steam-engine, and near it from the earth [came] … rattle and crash and buzz
“Culture and Progress,” Scribner’s Monthly 4.2 (June 1872): 251.
F. V. Hayden, “The Wonders of the West II: More About Yellowstone,” Scribner’s Monthly 3.4 (Feb.
1872): 396.
Hayden, “Wonders of the Rocky Mountains. The Yellowstone Park. How to Reach It,” in Pacific
Tourist, ed. Williams, 303, 305.
and whirring.”106 The thunderous and disturbing quality of these impressions suggests an
imagined parity between geysers and factories that subtly emerges in Moran’s work.
Moran depicted both geysers and factories using similar color schemes, and
treatments of light and cloud, suggesting he made this mental link. We have only to
compare another of Moran’s early works, Castle Geyser, Fire Hole Basin, a small
watercolor based on sketches and photographs, with Lower Manhattan to note the
similarity of the gushing steam (Fig. 43). While Smelting Works at Denver depicts clouds
of thick black smoke hovering densely above the chimneys, the white-grey steam above
the sugar refineries of Communipaw blends with the clouds, almost shimmering as the
subtle rainbow of light playing in the geyser at Fire Hole Basin. Steam, whether naturally
expelled from the rock or forced up through tall factory chimneys, is an important
metaphor for the conquering thrust across the continent as well as for an increase in
steam-powered technologies, which enabled Western settlement. The phallicism of both
geysers and smokestacks is equally important, for steam can also be read as the material
that will fertilize and enrich the West.
Other links between the West and Lower Manhattan are evident in a final
connection embedded in Moran’s canvas. This connection pertains to one of the primary
fuels used for the refining of sugar. This fuel was reliant upon a uniquely Western trade,
one that inextricably connected Eastern sugar production and New York City with
Manifest Destiny and the destruction of traditional ways of life on the Great Plains. “The
Old Bone Man of the Plains” by Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum shows an unlikely connection
with the prettified, picturesque refineries of Communipaw (Fig. 44). In a flat and desolate
S. Weir Mitchell, “Through the Yellowstone Park to Fort Custer,” Lippincott’s Magazine 25 (June
1889): 701. Quoted in Tichi, Embodiment of a Nation, 113.
Western landscape, a middle-aged man cooks a meal over an open fire. He is dressed not
shabbily but practically, and accompanied by four dogs and a horse to pull his Conestoga
wagon. Partial carcasses of two buffalo lie nearby, their bones picked clean by the birds,
black dots in the sky above. He is an improbable figure to be part of a vast technological
system that stretches across the globe, and yet this particular, solitary occupation of bonegathering was directly connected with certain industries, sugar-refining prominent among
them. As the accompanying exposé in Harper’s Weekly reveals, the “unsportsmanlike”
buffalo hunters of the pre-war years had all but extinguished the plains giant, leaving
rotting carcasses and whitened bones scattered across the West. Bone-gathering became
an industry in its own right, and 7,856 tons of buffalo bones were shipped to the East in
1883 alone, for use as fuel in “sugar refineries, bone-black establishments, and carbon
works.”107 Thus sugar refineries, while they did not directly contribute to the death of the
buffalo, symbolically destroyed America’s wild lands by burning to ashes the bones of its
noble animals, and tied East and West together in a symbiotic relationship of industrial
For Moran, despite its implied role in the destruction of the West in which he held
a lively interest, the industrial realm retained a sort of magical draw. His images, so often
serene and calm, never propose a critique of the Communipaw scenery or larger U.S.
manufacturing interests. Instead, they use a pleasing visual vocabulary to alleviate the
trauma of radical change. At the same time, and almost invisibly, his images of sugar
refineries call up a number of striking connections between East, West, South, and the
world beyond. Moran’s single image seems to combine, in its picturesque yet specific
representation of a single geographical area, the impulses toward explication and
“Bone-Hunting on the Plains,” HW, Jan. 15, 1887, 39.
obfuscation. His striking visual representation of the industrial milieu suggests
Communipaw and Lower Manhattan as an attractive and misty realm, while constantly
reiterating the interconnectedness so important to the functional operation of
technological systems.
In visual imagery then, both in painting and illustration, the nineteenth century
was a period when artists and viewers explored an emergent, vast network of
technological systems, often without leaving their homes. Popular periodicals brought
these images into, if the circulation numbers can be believed, hundreds of thousands of
homes, where readers could discover the technical side of industry, communication, and
transportation through images that used the techniques of mapping and bird’s-eye views
to give them privileged information about railroads, telegraphs, and distribution
networks. At the same time, viewers could experience technology through a visual
language that privileged ideas of allegory and mythology, often representing the same
industries that were simultaneously being mapped, charted, and surveyed. The
complexity and diversity of this imagery suggests that image-makers and -viewers often
had highly contradictory responses to technological systems and national expansion. For
much of the rest of the century, artists in a variety of media were concerned with working
out how best to depict the new realities of modern life in the United States.
Chapter 2:
“Attendant Vulcans”: John Ferguson Weir, Metallurgy,
and the Alchemical Sublime
“And I sometimes sit before my picture thinking how much finer I will have the
next, how mysterious I will make it, how less of labour and more of mind, I will show.
And endeavor to make it just the spookiest place that ever was with Ghouls for men, and
sudden gleams of light, as if it was in Pandemonium, and mischief was brewing in the
furnace.”1 Thus wrote John Ferguson Weir as he contemplated the composition of
Forging the Shaft (1867; destroyed by fire and repainted in 1877), a companion piece to
his earlier success The Gun Foundry (1864-66). Though most scholars of Weir’s work
claim these two paintings as examples of heroic or spectacular industry, celebrating the
technological successes of the North as well as post-Civil War reunification, I argue that
the images have a much more complicated relationship to questions of labor and
nationalism (Figs. 45 and 46). Weir’s approach to the works, as can be divined through
his extensive letter-writing, privileged a Gothic or Romantic sensibility that denied and
sometimes obscured a straightforward interpretation of the paintings. Weir subscribed to
myths of Romantic artistic generation, as well as embracing some of the irrational,
frightening elements of Gothic art and literature as they were deployed in the United
States. As Sarah Burns has convincingly argued, the Gothic was an important and
prevalent mode of visual and literary representation during the period Weir was working,
John Ferguson Weir Papers, 1859-1925. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Loan from
Rev. DeWolf Perry, May 1973. Reel 531.304 (typescript) and 531.300-303 (MS). Dated Jan. 29, 1866.
Also quoted in Tim Barringer, Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain (New Haven: Yale
University Press, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2005), 161. I have made some emendations
to Barringer’s transcription, based on the MS.
and was often used to work through troubling issues such as race and sex that could be
addressed only obliquely.2 Weir’s artworks refused the viewer objective information
about the process of metal-crafting, instead acting as sites of indeterminacy where hopes
and fears about the transformative power of technology could be explored. From the early
years of the century to around 1875, a lingering vocabulary of the prescientific
“technological system” of alchemy informed and influenced the work of Weir and others.
While numerous authors have argued for these paintings as loci of the technological
sublime, I argue that the works go beyond the definition of this category as posited in the
works of Perry Miller, John Kasson, and David Nye.3 These authors suggest that in the
United States an eighteenth-century European vocabulary of sublimity, most frequently
used to describe natural wonders, was mapped onto national technological achievements.
The sublime privileged the numerous characteristics laid out by Edmund Burke in his
Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, including such
elements as “astonishment … that state of the soul, in which all its motions are
suspended, with some degree of horror,” “obscurity” or darkness, power, overwhelming
size, and “the noise of vast cataracts, raging storms, thunder, or artillery.”4 It is not
enough, however, to think simply of the sublime as a category of vision. Instead, during
the nineteenth century in the United States, experiencing the sublime was not merely an
act of passive viewing but a generative and transformative encounter: an alchemical
Sarah Burns, Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century American
Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
John F. Kasson, Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America 1776-1900 (New
York: Grossman Publishers, 1976); Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Belknap Press of
Harvard University, 1964); David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: MIT Press,
Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757;
repr., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 95, 100, 110-124, 151.
Weir’s stated goal, to make his painting “mysterious,” denies the viewer the
possibility of attaining any concrete knowledge about the processes of cannon-founding
or shipbuilding, the two industries depicted in his pair of paintings. Instead, we are
presented with scenes in which burly men toil in the red-orange glow of molten metal.
The images are undeniably sublime in their focus on high contrast, vibrant, almost jarring
effects of light, and the implied noise and power of the depicted activities. At the same
time, while the paintings conceal or confound the viewer who tries to “read” their
narrative or glean factual information from them, they also enact a subtle but specific
political message about the meaning of work in the context of the recently-ended Civil
War. These images forcefully convey an impression of a chaotic and mysterious, but
ultimately transcendent and valiant, realm of industry. Weir’s paintings, and other visual
works up through the 1870s, make numerous associations with alchemy, reinforcing the
idea of technological processes as sublime events that go beyond rational understanding.
Perry Miller, one of the founders of the new field of American studies during the
1940s and 50s coined the term “technological sublime.” Miller’s intellectual history of
the United States centered, as have many since, on the relationship of technology and
expansionism to intellectual and political goals, particularly the idea of Republicanism. In
his more recent work, American Technological Sublime, David E. Nye explores the
origin of the “sublime” category in relation to popular and public experience in the
United States, expanding upon Miller’s original formulation while arguing that the
character of sublimity in the U.S. differed from its European roots. While Burke
suggested that the sublime could only be appreciated by the well-educated, Nye argues
for a popularization and adaptation of the sublime in American culture. Not only was the
sublime accessible to all classes of people in the United States through landscape tourism
to such awesome spots as Niagara, its character also became politicized. The vast power
of sublimity was grounded in doctrines of American exceptionalism and often closely
tied to nationalistic celebrations such as July 4.5 In this formulation, the technological
sublime has several potent political meanings: it was coupled with American patriotism
and the celebration of mechanical expertise deemed “native” to the United States, but it
was also a category that excluded as it included. While the sublime may have been more
populist in America than in Europe, it also discriminated on the basis of class, race, and
gender. As with the argument that only white, American-born men could understand,
grasp, and control the vast new technological systems of the United States, so with the
sublime. From its earliest conceptions, Nye argues, the sublime was posited as a male
category, one which men were particularly suited to understand, while women were
expected to appreciate the beautiful: regularity of form and evenness of landscape.
However, these formulations of sublime and beautiful vision (as well as the
picturesque, which was applied to Thomas Moran’s paintings) without fail suggest a
passive mode of viewing, in which the viewer is affected by the landscape without either
landscape or viewer being materially changed by the experience. I want to posit sublime
viewing as a more active form of vision, one which, while it goes beyond rational
understanding, is also tied to the making of new meanings through a process of radical
change. This idea is based upon Nye’s brief mention of the word “sublime” as it had been
used in earlier periods, as a verb. Prior to its extensive theorization in the Enlightenment
period as a noun—“the sublime”—the word figured as a verb in Medieval pseudoscience.
As Nye writes:
Nye, American Technological Sublime, 32-43.
Most discussions treat “sublime” as a noun, seldom noting that during the
interval between Longinus and Burke it was also a verb meaning to act
upon a substance so as to produce a refined product. Alchemists seeking to
bring substances to higher states of perfection employed sublimation in
their efforts to attain the philosopher’s stone. … it was common to call the
process of converting a substance to vapor by heating it and then cooling it
down to a refined product “sublimation.” Metaphorically, “sublime”
suggested pure realms of thought and attempts to obtain hidden
As Marek Kulisz notes, however, this definition of “sublime” is incomplete. In Burke’s
theorization of the aesthetic category of the sublime, a crucial category is “obscurity,”
which may be interpreted as both darkness and lack of clarity.7 Kulisz argues that this
constitutes a further connection between alchemy and sublimity, and that Burke’s
theories were, in fact, influenced by alchemical thinking. He writes that alchemy was
“sunk in obscurity, or more precisely obscurities of all kinds; very often to such an extent
that one can say without much exaggeration that in many instances it represented nothing
but obscurity” (emphasis added).8 The sublime therefore was already an alchemical
category; the very language of alchemical obscurity and transformation was already built
into the aesthetic category of “the sublime.”
Weir’s work engages with a process of “subliming” and a discourse about
transmutation that was current during the middle part of the nineteenth century. This
chapter explores the possibilities of the alchemical sublime in relation to representations
of American industry during the years following the Civil War. While Weir’s images are
the most prominent, and certainly the most dramatic paintings of sublime industrial
themes that have survived, the pages of Harper’s Weekly were also repositories for
Nye, American Technological Sublime, 4.
Burke, Inquiry, 100.
Marek Kulisz, “Sublime, the Unclear,” in The Most Sublime Act: Essays on the Sublime, ed. David Jarrett,
Tadeusz Rachwał, and Tadeusz Sławek (London: University of North London Press, 1996), 101.
representations of the alchemical sublime. By alchemical sublime, I refer to a set of
images that take as a basic element some aspect of change, transmutation, and
transformation, whether visually, metaphorically, or even chemically. The alchemical
sublime is separate from the technological sublime in several ways. First, the
technological sublime presents a purely visual spectacle to the observer, while I imagine
the alchemical sublime as being more about a process of metaphysical transformation in
which the image causes the viewer to question his assumptions about how things—
whether paintings or iron cannon—come to exist in the world. Second, while the
technological sublime deals with a broad cross-section of imagery, the alchemical
sublime is more limited to those fields that have a historical and logical connection to
alchemy, most particularly metalworking and laboratory science. Finally, in the
American context, the ultimate meaning of the technological sublime is a reaffirmation of
the spectator’s patriotic identity; when confronting images of the alchemical sublime, the
viewer is rather asked to position himself spiritually and personally, to reaffirm his
subjective identity. The alchemical sublime may seem irrational, but at its root is a deep
sense of process, a systematic nature, though it is a system that surpasses
comprehension—a radical alternative to the clarified, managed, packaged imagery that
translated technological systems into pure rationality for viewers.
Alchemy was the last gasp of a premodern worldview, in which men struggled to
turn the baser materials of the earth into the pure and “noble” element, gold. Studies in
the history of alchemy show, however, that it was an important precursor to the
development of modern metallurgy and chemistry.9 Alchemy was at its peak in the
seventeenth century, immediately preceding the scientific revolution of the next 150
years. Alchemy and chemistry developed concurrently, and were seen as part of the same
trend of scientific inquiry into the relationship of natural materials to one another and to
the spiritual. “The early chymists,” write Lawrence M. Principe and Lloyd DeWitt, using
the appropriate seventeenth-century spelling of the word, “were concerned above all with
studying changes in the material world and learning how to control them for their own
purposes.”10 The crafts of metallurgy and mining were already associated with the idea of
transmutation, the attempt to extract and transform precious metals from inexpensive or
common ones. Alchemists worked from a teleological and mythological understanding of
the formation of metallic elements: a strict trajectory was followed from mercury and
sulphur to gold, thought to be the purest of all elements. Not unlike the gestation of a
chick within an egg or a caterpillar in a chrysalis, alchemists believed that metals beneath
the earth went through a lengthy process of metamorphosis: all the stages had to be gone
through to reach the ultimate purity. One of the goals of alchemy was to develop a
chemical process that would speed up the steps of maturation and reward the scientist
with mature gold within his lifetime. Though fanciful or unrealistic by modern standards,
the practice of alchemy was in fact, composed of a strict structure of systematic
knowledge, one no less ordered or organized than more apparently informational
representations during the nineteenth century. I hope to demonstrate that Weir’s paintings
Lawrence M. Principe and Lloyd DeWitt, Transmutations: Alchemy in Art: Selected Works from the
Eddleman and Fisher Collections at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage
Foundation, 2002), 1; F. Sherwood Taylor, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (New York:
Henry Schuman, 1949), 190.
Principe and DeWitt, Transmutations, 3-4.
operated within a discourse of alteration, change, and sublimation to provide the viewer
with a commentary on the transformative powers of both work and art.
John Ferguson Weir was one of a large family of artists, the son of Robert Walter
Weir, a successful history painter who was also an instructor of drawing at the United
States Military Academy in West Point, New York.11 J.F. Weir began as a landscape
painter, but his first major work, An Artist’s Studio, already began to hint at his interest in
what Betsy Fahlman has called “the labor of art” (Fig. 47).12 In this scene, with its vast,
murky ceiling and reddish light presaging the composition of his industrial works, an
artist strongly resembling the artist’s father, Robert Walter, sits perusing books from his
artistic library. J.F. Weir later recalled that this space, and his father’s library and
collections, had a formative impact on his development as a young artist.13 The walls are
covered with canvases, many too murky to see clearly, and the shelves are stacked with
props and casts of Classical sculpture, tools that would have been used not only in the
composition of the elder Weir’s own works but also in his role as an instructor. The
brightest spot in the composition is the large canvas on the easel at the center of the
painting, oblique but clearly legible as R.W. Weir’s Taking the Veil (1863), its size
greatly exaggerated, as if to monumentalize both painting and painter. The connection
between mental exertion (of reading) and physical exertion (of painting) is implied by the
oversized canvas, but the process that connects the two types of cognition is elided. The
A brief biography of R.W. Weir and information about his historical works can be found in William H.
Gerdts, Robert Weir: Artist and Teacher of West Point (West Point, NY: Cadet Fine Arts Forum of the
United States Corps of Cadets, 1976), 9-22.
Biographical information about Weir from Betsy Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir: The Labor of Art
(Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997).
John Ferguson Weir, The Recollections of John Ferguson Weir, Director of the Yale School of the Fine
Arts, 1869-1913, ed. Theodore Sizer (New York: New-York Historical Society, in association with the
Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University, 1957), 38.
canvas in R.W. Weir’s studio has simply come to be. The artist, surrounded by the
paraphernalia of art-making, is instead shown in the act of idea-making, and the bright
white light on the canvas of Taking the Veil shows that artwork almost as a projection of
the artist’s mind, rather than a product of his hands. Thus the labor of art is here both
made explicit—through the minute recording of the trade’s particular tools—and
obscure—through the refusal to depict the actual act of painting.
The work, Weir’s first publicly-exhibited canvas, also serves as a genealogical
and evidential master-piece, in the older meaning of the word. During the Renaissance,
when apprentice artists were ready to break free from their masters’ studios they created a
master-piece, a single work which would be judged for its fitness to be accepted into the
craft guild or academy, qualifying the maker as an artist who had come of age.
Acceptance to the National Academy of Design (NAD) also relied upon the exhibition
and evaluation of major works that would allow the painter membership into a fraternity
of artists. In May 1864, based on the success of An Artist’s Studio, Weir became an
Associate of the NAD; he would be elected as a full Academician two years later.14 With
this painting, Weir boldly asserts his suitability to be inducted into such a brotherhood, by
demonstrating his knowledge not only of contemporary art-making practices, but also of
the layers of art-historical expectation that structured the creation of images. As an
instructor of painting at West Point, R.W. Weir was also a carrier of memory for the
discipline. Beyond the tools of his artistic practice, he owned copies of Old Master
paintings by Italian and Dutch artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, prints of
contemporary European work, and many original drawings and paintings by some of the
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 173, 174.
most prominent mid-century U.S. artists, some of which may be seen peeking out of the
cabinet at the lower left of the painting.15
Betsy Fahlman, author of the only major analysis of J.F. Weir’s work, notes a
connection between An Artist’s Studio and the historical representation of the
kunstkammer, tied in the American context to the example of Charles Willson Peale. She
posits An Artist’s Studio’s system of informal references as an inverse of Peale’s rigid,
teleological, taxonomic organization, most notably seen in The Artist in his Museum
(1822). Instead the objects in An Artist’s Studio comprise a deeply personal and private
collection, not organized in any discernable way, but no less tied to the artist’s past
successes (including props from R.W. Weir’s Embarkation of the Pilgrims, his most
renowned work, which hung in the Capitol rotunda), nor any less exhaustively
cataloguing his father’s career than Peale’s work catalogues his artistic, geological, and
naturalist program.16 Rather than orderly rows of taxidermied animal specimens, which
together point to a larger idea of progress and nation, in An Artist’s Studio the viewer is
instead faced with a disorderly jumble of tools, props, and completed works chronicling
the career of an artist who could easily stand in for the idea of the “Artist” as it existed at
this time.
Also important for J.F. Weir’s future compositions is the clear indication of
familiarity with European art history, including Dutch and Flemish genre painting of the
seventeenth century. When The Gun Foundry was first exhibited in 1866, several
reviewers likened J.F. Weir’s style to this golden age, and in 1867 prominent art critic
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 48.
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 47-50. For an analysis of taxonomy and evolutionary theory in Peale’s
work, see Roger B. Stein, “Charles Willson Peale’s Expressive Design: The Artist in His Museum,” in
Reading American Art, ed. Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1998), 38-78.
Henry T. Tuckerman wrote, perhaps somewhat exaggeratedly, that “the son of Robert
Weir has recently brought new artistic credit to the honored name he bears … with a skill
quite worthy of a Flemish adept in interiors.”17 In what may be a sketch for An Artist’s
Studio (Fig. 48), Weir drew his father seated before the easel in what appears to be a cap
like those worn in Jan Vermeer’s Allegory of the Art of Painting (c. 1665-1667) or
Rembrandt’s The Artist in His Studio (c. 1627-1629).18 In this scene, R.W. Weir sits in a
sort of reverse three-quarter position: almost in profile, but turning away instead of
towards the viewer. This pose does not mirror, but gently suggests, Vermeer’s wellknown composition, situating R.W. Weir both as himself and as an imaginary or
symbolic exemplar of the artistic field. The page of the sketchbook is left almost
completely blank, except for the seated man, and a far corner of the studio ceiling, which
emerges from the page with a scratchy, scored liveliness reminiscent of Rembrandt’s
later etchings. The vast whiteness of the sketch’s foreground both isolates the figure, and
begs to be filled in with details of the artist’s trade, details Weir later lavished much
attention on in the completed canvas. Weir later decided not to show his father in the act
of painting; despite this, the sketch suggests an intentional affinity with and knowledge of
major seventeenth-century Dutch artists.
Also apparent is the influence of the British enlightenment painter Joseph Wright
of Derby on both Weirs, father and son. Clear evidence of Wright’s influence may be
seen in R.W. Weir’s The Microscope, a tenebrous, dramatic scene of scientific
experimentation, likely inspired by Wright’s late eighteenth-century scenes such as An
Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists. American Artist Life, Comprising Biographical and Critical
Sketches of American Artists: Preceded by an Historical Account of the Rise and Progress of Art in
America (New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1867), 487. The review in Tuckerman’s book is reprinted from
“Fine Arts. Native Art in New York,” New York Times, April 2, 1866.
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 530.624. Undated.
Experiment with a Bird in the Air Pump (Figs. 49 and 50). The Microscope may be seen
hanging on the large, heavy carved oak cabinet in the right middle ground of An Artist’s
Studio. An artist whose art revolved around the simultaneous knowing and not-knowing
of scientific experimentation, and whose Caravaggiste stylings imbued all scenes—
rational or not—with an air of mystery, Wright was a major stylistic and thematic
forerunner of American art dealing with science and industry. Wright’s Interior of a
Forge by Night was widely-distributed in print form throughout the Anglo-American
world, and would have been known to both Weirs (Fig. 51). In Art and the Industrial
Revolution, one of the earliest scholarly texts on art and industry, F.D. Klingender
describes Wright as the first artist interested in a modern conception of representing work
for its own sake, moving beyond late Medieval and early modern depictions of work that
used labor to create mythological narratives or moralizing tales.19 Wright’s apparent
belief that alchemy was not superstitious quackery but in fact a legitimate forerunner of
modern science, as seen in his The Alchymist (also known as Alchemist in Search of
Philosopher’s Stone Discovers Phosphorous), also provides a tantalizing suggestion of
the ways Wright may have influenced J.F. Weir (Fig. 52).20
In this, his first major painting, John Ferguson Weir was already tracing a
genealogy of art that was to influence his choices of style and subject matter—his own
father, of course, as his teacher and advisor, is the primary influence on his later work,
and the sole person in the composition. However, the painting also encapsulates several
hundred years of artistic practice in Europe and the United States, particularly a focus on
Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution (London: Noel Carrington, 1947), 47-50. See
also Alison M. Kettering, “Men at Work in Dutch Art, or Keeping One’s Nose to the Grindstone,” Art
Bulletin 89.4 (December 2007): 694-714.
Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution (London: Noel Carrington, 1947), 48.
scientific images and use of seventeenth-century Dutch artistic conventions that
positioned his father as an allegory for the artistic profession. These elements—
combining his own personal experiences with a knowledgeable tribute to major periods
of art history—were to be important in the composition of J.F. Weir’s two scenes of
American industry.
Weir’s two large canvases of the West Point Foundry, The Gun Foundry and
Forging the Shaft, have become fairly well-known as some of the only industrial interiors
painted by artists in the United States before the twentieth century. The dates of creation,
as well as the industries depicted, have ensured that these two canvases are always
discussed in the context of the Civil War and the political turmoil surrounding that
conflict.21 Because of the industries depicted—armaments manufacture in The Gun
Foundry and more peaceful maritime production in Forging the Shaft—the canvases, not
pendants though of similar size and shape, have been read as embodiments of the twinned
concepts of “war” and “peace.” I argue that while this interpretation is almost certainly
one of the major contemporary readings they received, the two works also speak to the
unknowable, frightening, irrational elements of technology. A review of the canvas from
its first showing at the 1866 NAD exhibition, demonstrates that viewers reacted to The
Gun Foundry’s drama with a physical intensity:
If [the visitor] will pause long enough in quiet receptivity before “The Gun
Foundery” [sic] by J.F. Weir, the massive drawing of the work, the grand
intermingling of fire-light from the molten metal with the light from the
roof and the floating fumes of the furnaces, a distinctness of details amid
the fumy obscurity, the masterly centering of all expectation upon the
pouring of the fiery and spluttering metal into the mold, in a word, the
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 98-102; Randall C. Griffin, Homer, Eakins, & Anshutz: The Search for
American Identity in the Gilded Age (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 55-57.
dramatic intensity of the scene and the occasion, will hold him spell-bound
and breathless.22
This reaction suggests that viewers found a confrontation with this canvas to be
something exceptional. Ignoring its attention to detail, the reviewer focuses instead on the
spectacular and indeterminate characteristics of the piece. Another reviewer similarly
focused on the experiential, rather than informational, quality of the painting; his
impression is filled with “sublime” adjectives: “The brilliant light radiates from the
heated metal, bringing out into bold relief the bronzed, swarthy faces of the workmen, the
huge, ponderous machinery and massive, shapeless heaps of unborn power, intensifying
the heavy black shadows which fill the corners of the picture.”23 Both The Gun Foundry
and Forging the Shaft steadfastly refused the viewer any objective information, whether
about the making of cannon or ships’ propellers, the layout of the West Point Foundry, or
the lives of the laborers working there. Instead they offered a sensory experience that
privileged excitement and “breathless”-ness.
Weir’s paintings of technology gained him an international reputation. Not only
were the canvases widely exhibited and reviewed, the first version of Forging the Shaft
even appeared as a front-page engraving in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1869,
bringing his work to a wider audience of viewers.24 Due to his fame, Weir was also able
to attain a coveted teaching post at the Yale School of Fine Arts in 1869, where he
remained for most of his life. The Gun Foundry was internationally recognized as a
masterpiece, and perhaps related to Weir’s desire to privilege American subject matter
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 530.809. From Weir’s scrapbook of press cuttings. Originally published as
“National Academy of Design. First Article,” American Art Journal, May 2, 1866.
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 530.814. From Weir’s scrapbook of press cuttings. Originally published as “Notes
on Art,” New York Herald, n.d.
“Fine Arts—Forging the Shaft—From the Original Painting by John F. Weir, N.A.,” Frank Leslie’s
Illustrated Newspaper, Sept. 4, 1869, cover.
and styles.25 Completed in 1866, the large canvas (about four by five feet) depicts the
most exciting and dangerous moment in the forging of a cannon barrel. At least sixteen
different workers are visible in the composition, only two of whom appear to be at rest. In
the left foreground, a mustached, shirtless worker leads the viewer into the composition.
Seated on the barrel of a cannon, his face is turned toward the main action, and the glow
of the intense heat outlines his head and musculature, while his back is lost in shadow.
Judging from the implement he holds (a “rabble” or long rod used to separate impurities
from the molten iron), he is merely taking a temporary rest from the labor that is
currently being performed by another man in the central part of the composition. To his
immediate right, six burly workers (the right leg of an unseen man may be discerned just
beneath the crucible) struggle to tip the massive cauldron filled with almost white-hot
metal into the upright cannon mold, placed vertically in a deep trench dug into the floor
of the shop. A man with his leather apron held up over his head to protect his face leans
down over the trench, appearing to use a long rod to stabilize the mold’s moorings below.
A seventh man prods the molten iron with a tool designed to keep slag and other impure
elements away from the pouring spout. Astoundingly, none of these laborers wears
protective gloves, and only one shields his face, despite being mere feet from the boiling
crucible. All have burly physiques but seem frozen in their poses, despite the dynamic
character of the scene as a whole. The final foreground figure, perched atop a cannon
barrel in the center of the canvas, holds chains that control the movements of the gantry,
which is cranked by at least four and possibly five other workers, who are clearly
straining from effort. The powerful forms of these working men contribute a busy,
Weir discussed the importance of American artists working on “American” subject matter in an article
written while he was head of art at Yale. Weir, “American Art: Its Progress and Prospects,” Princeton
Review 1 (Jan. 1878): 815-829.
crowded air to the canvas, yet like many other details of the composition, fail to provide
the viewer with much specific information.
Although the painting represents a specific, and clearly climactic, moment in the
production of armaments, it lacks a context: an understanding of what came before, what
the product is (obscure without the helpful title), how exactly it is made, and where it is
going next, precisely the sort of information that an illustration would have given.
Presumably all this and more is being explained to the well-dressed group of visitors at
the righthand side of the painting, a group that includes a Union soldier in blue coat and
gold-visored cap, an older, seated man usually identified as Gouverneur Kemble, the
founder of the West Point complex, another middle-aged man in civilian clothing—
thought to be Robert Parker Parrott, who bought the completed painting—and two
fashionably dressed women. Betsy Fahlman has identified the figures, all of whom
belong to a family/friend group surrounding the elderly Kemble.26 However, it is not
necessarily their intended identities but the fact of their presence in this scene that is
important. While the inclusion of this group may have been intended as a gesture toward
the patrons of the artwork—including them as if in a Late Medieval altarpiece—it more
powerfully creates a tension between the leisure of the middle class women, and the very
different kinds of work performed by the men involved in the iron casting and the young
The background of the piece holds several other elements of interest. In the far
background, one man is bathed in red from the glow of the fire he stokes. Blacksmith’s
tools, carefully delineated with precise strokes of silver-grey paint, are ranged on the wall
behind him. He is clearly connected to the action of the foreground, but in what way it is
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 81.
difficult to tell. He seems a lone and mysterious figure, dwarfed by the huge space and
the high-beamed ceiling above him, his shadow huge and looming on the wall behind.
The building takes on a strange and cavernous look: a ladder leads to nothing, random
boards are crazily nailed, patching what appears to be a hole in the stone wall, unattached
chains hang from the beam that supports the gantry. On the ground, kneeling before the
touristic group with their inquisitive and clearly frightened dog, a final laborer is partially
obscured by the apparatus surrounding the previously-cast cannon, his work and its
purpose a mystery. Taken together, all these elements make up a canvas filled with
details, but lacking an overall narrative. Similarly, many of these details seem random,
almost mysterious, and give the scene an air of uncertainty, gloom, even danger. The
setting is one of sublimity, with its molten metal, bright light, high ceiling, and dwarfed
human figures.
The actions seen in Weir’s painting illustrate an alchemical process, that of
making “gold” from base metals. In the image, the molten iron itself glows golden as it is
prepared for pouring into the mold. But what it will be made into is most crucial; The
Gun Foundry shows the barrels of lightweight, easy-to-operate, and efficient Parrott
Guns being forged (produced by the West Point Foundry for exclusive use by the Union
army). 27 The Union soldier signifies the endpoint of the commodity being made. If he
himself has not come to oversee the production of the cannon, he is among those who
will most directly benefit from its protection. Beyond this, however, the ultimate goal of
winning the war against the Confederacy and the concrete fact of Northern industrial
dominance give an undercurrent of political meaning to this otherwise murky canvas.
Elizabeth McCausland writes that during the war, the Foundry produced 3,000 cannon and 1.6 million
“projectiles.” McCausland, American Processional, 1492-1900 (Washington: Corcoran Gallery of Art,
National Capital Sesquicentennial Commission, 1950), 173.
Metaphorically, the iron also transmutes into “gold,” or profits, for the other middle-class
spectators at the right. Like the patron figures of altarpieces—whom they resemble in
certain ways—these men and women exert powerful and broad-reaching control: control
over cannon production, control over economics, and control over the artist who visually
replicates these relationships.
In the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” and the “Manifesto of
the Communist Party,” Karl Marx writes about the process of capitalism, which in itself
is like an alchemical reaction. The continuing disruption of long-held relations to work
and capital as the industrialized nations moved into the modern era destabilized social
relations. The very experience of working within the structures of wage capitalism led to
a befuddling, rather than purifying, alchemy: one in which the products of “common”
labor are arrived at through processes mysterious and unknown to those who physically
undertake them. In this sense, Weir’s image, and others that depict industry, particularly
during this period of increasing reliance on wage capital and deskilling of labor, could
not avoid also being representations of alienated labor. It is the well-dressed women and
their male escorts at the right of the painting who reap the “golden” rewards of the
laborers toiling in the foundry. This vulgar Marxist interpretation, however, cannot
account for the complexity of this image: the labor is both alienated and valorized,
processes are both clarified and obscured, the artist is both creative producer and
unknowing synthesizer of parts, and the viewer is both caught up in a sublime experience
of passive viewing, and engaged in a generative act: the creation of meaning through
active viewing.
Painting was also a generative act, one that some authors have described as
possessing alchemical meanings. Particularly before the advent of aniline dyes in the
mid-nineteenth century, artists who mixed their own pigments were engaged in a kind of
chemical transformation, which art historians David Bjelajac and James Elkins both
describe as alchemical.28 Bjelajac argues that paint itself, when transformed from blobs of
color on a palette to a recognizable painted image, was “a kind of crystal ball for
revealing gnostic truths.”29 In Elkins’s more personal, poetic meditations on the alchemy
of painting, he argues for the alchemical nature of painting’s chemistry, but he also adds
a statement that resonates with the way Weir discussed his own way of making art: “For
the alchemists as for the painters, [metamorphoses] are partly reasonable procedures that
can be taught and learned, and partly intuitive, mystical methods that describe something
a rational analysis cannot grasp.”30
For Weir, alchemy resided not only in the chemistry of painting, but also in the
compositional work of artistic creation. His conception of artistic labor privileged a
sensibility and language that stressed transformation and inspiration. To understand this,
it is crucial to consider the narrative of art history and personal influences Weir outlines
in his artworks, by turning to some of the images that inspired him to create The Gun
Foundry and Forging the Shaft. As an artist, he had the opportunity to combine,
reposition, and transform the raw materials of his craft: from sketches and glimmers of
memory, he composed a visual product by what appears to have been a torturous labor of
hand and mind. The discovery of preparatory oil sketches and photographs for The Gun
David Bjelajac, Washington Allston, Secret Societies, and the Alchemy of Anglo-American Painting
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 43-52; James Elkins, What Painting Is: How to Think
about Oil Painting, Using the Language of Alchemy (New York: Routledge, 1999).
Bjelajac, Washington Allston, 31.
Elkins, What Painting Is, 122.
Foundry and Forging the Shaft provided scholars with a look into Weir’s process of
composition and his meticulous accuracy with relation to the details of his subject
matter.31 The sketches show the interior of the West Point Iron and Cannon Foundry,
which was then primarily in use for forging Northern cannon for the Civil War.
The foundry was established in 1818, and was located close to West Point, where
Weir grew up. This area of upstate New York was a popular site for nature tourism. A
lithograph published by Currier and Ives and illustrated by Fanny F. Palmer, Foundry at
West Point, shows that perhaps the area was becoming a site of industrial tourism as well
(Fig. 53). In Palmer’s image, the foundry itself takes up a fairly insignificant portion of
the scene, shown in the middle ground at the lefthand side, and surrounded by lush
vegetation. White and black smoke billow from at least two tall chimneys, but in general
the site fits in with prescriptions for the picturesque—neither perfectly symmetrical nor
wildly grand. The site itself is in harmony with nature, while still representing an idea of
progress and industriousness. Currier and Ives’s publication of this print suggests national
interest in the manufacturing scene of the Hudson River; this lithograph would ensure
that the site was familiar to viewers throughout the country. The image also suggests a
visual influence on Weir, though an indirect one. Instead of adopting Palmer’s softening
approach toward industry, Weir moved away from her example, suggesting this and
similar images may have been used as negative models.
Instead, Weir took his own approach, which consisted of gathering a large number
of source materials, including sketches, photographs, European prints, and popular press
illustrations. Weir spent a great deal of time in 1864 and 1865 in and around the West
For a narrative of the discovery of the drawings and an analysis of them, see Richard S. Field, “Passion
and Industry in the Art of John Ferguson Weir,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1991): 48-67.
Point Foundry. In sketchbooks and small oils he documented the interior of the foundry
and several of the machines, such as the crucible and steam hammer. The sketches are
strange, eerie compositions, devoid of human figures, which make the interior of the
foundry, with its discarded molds, finished cannon, and unidentified machine parts, seem
still, deserted, and ruinous (Fig. 54). It is almost impossible not to make a connection to
Giovanni Batista Piranesi’s series of etchings Le Carceri (The Prisons), with their vast
emptiness, high cavernous ceilings, coils of ropes and chains, obscure and torturouslooking machinery, and high walkways that echo the cranes and gantries of an industrial
interior. Indeed, as will be discussed in Chapter Five, there were many connections
between the factory and the prison during an age of increasing “incorporation,” and the
idea of the factory as a type of prison (or the prison as a type of factory) would certainly
have been a touchstone for some viewers. However, in this analysis, I am more interested
in the formal similarities between Weir’s and Piranesi’s works, their representation of a
sinister, empty, and apparently useless interior space. For Piranesi, the Carceri,
particularly when given their expanded English title of Imaginary Prisons, seem to
represent a torturous interior not of architectural space, but rather of self. There is one
further connection that is important for understanding the operation of alchemy in Weir’s
artistic process. The Carceri, for all their chains, and devices of torture, are clearly
ineffectual as actual prisons, inoperative spaces that have no particular use, or are illsuited to the purposes to which they should be put. Likewise, without the workmen,
Weir’s interior scenes of the West Point Foundry depict an empty, dead space.
Weir’s documented influence from other, more recent European models was
extensive. Richard S. Field demonstrates that Weir owned a collection of European prints
depicting industrial scenes, including some reproductions of the paintings of François
Bonhommé, a French artist whose artworks featured burly worker and dramatically lit
forges.32 A student of the history painter Paul Delaroche, Bonhommé painted several
major commissions in the 1840s and 1850s, paid for by his corporate patrons, the owners
of an iron mill in Fourchambault, France.33 His dedication to “actualité” and his interest
in the relationship among architecture, industrial process, workers, and capital probably
influenced Weir, whose collection contained a print of Bonhommé’s Iron-Works at
Fourchambault (1840).34 Joseph Wright of Derby’s often-reproduced Interior of a Smithy
by Night would certainly have influenced Weir’s color palette and tenebrism. With its
molten metal glowing orange, The Gun Foundry echoes the sharp raking light of
Wright’s work and the American Bass Otis’s Interior of a Smithy (1815).35 The conceit of
showing middle-class spectators as witnesses to iron production was not new, either. The
Belgian artist Léonard Defrance showed well dressed tourists in his 1789 composition
Interior of a Foundry with Visitors (Fig. 55). Though there is no evidence that Weir was
familiar with Defrance’s painting, it demonstrates Enlightenment interest in
manufacturing techniques, a clear antecedent for Weir’s work. During the mid-nineteenth
century, international interest in depictions of iron work rose to new levels, especially in
Europe: Weir anticipates later works such as Adolph von Menzel’s Iron Rolling Mill and
Eyre Crowe’s The Foundry (Figs. 56 and 57).
Field, “Passion and Industry,” 59-60.
Gabriel P. Weisberg, “François Bonhommé and Early Realist Images of Industrialization, 1830-1870,”
Arts Magazine 54.8 (April 1980): 132-133.
Fahlman, John Ferguson Weir, 105.
Interior of a Smithy is the earliest known painting made in the United States depicting industrial
production, but Otis was primarily a portrait painter. Biographical information on Otis may be found in
Gainor B. Davis and Wayne Craven, Bass Otis: Painter, Portraitist and Engraver (Wilmington: Historical
Society of Delaware, 1976).
It is also probable that Weir took some of his ideas about how to represent
cannon-making from recent issues of Harper’s Weekly. Two wood engravings depicting
cannon foundries share characteristics of what I will call the “managerial eye” (discussed
in Chapter Three), and both date from the Civil War period. A series of images from
1861 depict “West Point Foundry-Cold Spring” (Fig. 58). The three upper images offer
fairly prosaic representations of the different steps needed to complete a Parrott Gun:
boring, rifling, and turning trunnions (hollowing out the barrel of the gun, cutting grooves
into the interior of the barrel for greater projectile force, and shaping the trunnions, the
extensions on the side of the barrel which allow the gun to sit in its carriage), without
showing the workers who performed these tasks. The lower image, however, depicts the
same interior Weir would soon paint: the large, central banded brick chimney, and the
massive, swiveling gantry are easily recognizable from Weir’s sketches and the finished
painting. Two workers channel the molten metal through a groove in the floor; the
engraving’s only source of light comes from that river of fire and perhaps from a furnace
located just out of sight near the left edge of the composition. A well-dressed couple at
the left observe these men, while at the right, a Union army officer and a master
ironworker converse over an empty cannon mold. The burly figure is recognizable as an
elite laborer from his square hat (often used to identify skilled laborers in the pages of
Harper’s Weekly), and his clothes, which would not be suitable for foundry work. Indeed,
lack of a leather apron for protection and his dandyish pinstripe trousers set this portly
man apart from the laborers as an overseer of some kind, perhaps a rising member of the
middle class and certainly an aristocrat in the hierarchical world of ironworking. The
Union soldier, recognizable by his hat and long coat, gestures to the mold in an
interrogatory manner, suggesting a visit to the foundry to check up on an army
commission. In the accompanying article, the author notes that the Foundry produces
“about twenty-five guns and seven thousand projectiles per week,” indicating a largescale operation wholly in the service of Northern interests. 36
A set of images from nearly a year later, and about a year and a half before Weir
would begin his large canvas, also depict the manufacture of cannon for the Union army,
this time at the Fort Pitt Works in Pittsburgh (Fig. 59). The artist, Theodore R. Davis,
served as one of the major war illustrators for the magazine, and this assignment
doubtless would be seen as equivalent to his work on the front lines as a combat
correspondent. Here he depicts the casting of gargantuan Rodman Guns for use aboard
the new ironclad ships being built at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, again breaking down the
process of production into a discrete series of steps. It is the central and largest panel of
this multi-framed image, titled “Casting Big Guns,” that is of relevance to Weir’s
painting. The middle class spectators have been moved from left to right, and stand rapt
while molten metal is poured into vertical trenches cut into the floor, channeling iron into
the cannon molds. While this scene does not depict the process with the same degree of
excitement as Weir’s dramatic canvas, it nevertheless may have contributed a rough idea
of a layout which maximizes the space spent on foundry machinery and the number of
laborers that could be depicted, while relegating middle class touristic observers to a
“The West Point Foundry,” Harper’s Weekly (hereafter HW), Sept. 14, 1861, 580. Concerns arose that
pictorial reporting on war production might provide too much information to the Confederacy. Historian of
American magazines James Playsted Wood writes that Fletcher Harper, editor of both Harper’s Monthly
and Weekly, “went to Washington during the war to defend the magazine against Secretary of War [Edwin
M.] Stanton’s accusation that it had given aid and comfort to the enemy by publishing pictures of Union
fortifications, and to fight the Secretary’s order for the magazine’s suspension. Harper obtained both a
revocation of the order and Stanton’s thanks for the services his paper was performing.” Wood, Magazines
in the United States, 2nd ed. (New York: Ronald Press, 1956), 85.
With Weir’s early sketches and collection of European prints were also found
some posed photographs of the foundry workers, which Weir presumably used to record
the details of clothing worn by the laborers (Fig. 60). The photographs could not have
proved useful in actually populating his scene, as the men stand, ranked in rows, rather
than actively engaging with their tasks. For his later painting Forging the Shaft, Weir did
complete some drawings of foundry laborers actually at work, but no such documents for
The Gun Foundry have been uncovered. In these photographs, the viewer has an
uncomfortably direct encounter with the employees of the West Point Foundry. Though
one (third from the left) seems to smile, the others stand either indifferently or with
folded arms in a stance that is undeniably defensive. There is no overseer to be found;
they all wear remarkably similar outfits of a shirt with rolled-up sleeves, some with a
vest, trousers, hat, and long leather aprons, which mostly appear to have a pouch or
pocket at the top. These resentful-looking workers cannot be the ones to animate Weir’s
lifeless oil sketches and bring power and majesty to his composition. Weir needed to
sublimate this version of the working man, to place him in the crucible of art, and create
out of him something valiant and positive. Weir wrote of the foundry workers that he
marveled to see them toiling like “Cyclopes,” that through them the magic of the factory
was made manifest.37 It was an act of wizardry, too, for Weir to transform the scowling
rows of workers depicted in the 1864 photograph into the bronzed heroes of American
Thus far, many of Weir’s sources for his images of industry have been explored,
but more important than the sources themselves for understanding Weir’s alchemy is the
way he thought about the work of the artist as it related to those collections of source
Quoted in Kasson, Civilizing the Machine, 170.
material. Weir wrote at length about his process of artistic creation, both in letters and his
later autobiography, and many of his writings have a clearly Gothic or metaphysical
subtext. Weir explored art as the collection and synthesis of many materials into a
coherent whole, often through a flash of inspiration. In his autobiography, The
Recollections of John Ferguson Weir, he also recalled the process of composition as one
of an almost spiritual, divine inspiration, divorced from the work of his own hands but
instead a product of pure mind, as the canvas in An Artist’s Studio seems to spring from
the intellect of his father. Weir wrote of making the cartoon for The Gun Foundry:
And one night, having already stretched a large sheet of brown paper in
preparation and spreading my studies of the foundry on the walls and floor
where I could see them, I began to arrange the composition. … I worked at
this cartoon through the night and when the day dawned I had arranged the
main features and general effect.38
By working through the night, with all his sketches surrounding him, Weir took the dry
and lifeless images of the foundry’s interior and fleshed them out with figures and action.
This cartoon of 1864, which survives only in a photograph, was nearly identical to the
finished work, though the bodies in it appear much more fleshy and crowded than in the
final piece. Whether or not the cartoon was actually completed in a single night is
immaterial; Weir wished his audience to know of the composition’s spontaneous and
almost miraculous generation. He desired his readers to associate him with a myth of
inspiration and artistic facility, something that, as Bjelajac puts it, “arose organically of
unconsciously from within the self.”39
In the letter quoted at the beginning of this chapter, in which Weir wrote that he
wished to make his interiors a “Pandemonium” with “Ghouls for men,” he confided in his
Weir, Recollections, 52.
Bjelajac, Washington Allston, 56.
fiancée Mary French about his next project, writing of the “smouldering enthusiasm” he
felt as he contemplated painting Forging the Shaft as a follow-up to The Gun Foundry.
Though he had not yet exhibited the first painting—noting that it was near completion—
Weir already felt “as if there were a fire within, just ready for an eruption” onto the
canvas.40 Of his process, he also wrote to his good friend and correspondent, the
landscape artist Jervis McEntee, whom he fondly referred to as “Mac”: “For my part I
must confess I follow no reasoning, but am guided by feeling entirely, and seldom or
never stop to analize [sic] that, to determine whether it is correct or false [emphases
original].”41 Much later in his career he guided his younger brother, the Impressionist
artist Julian Alden Weir, with similar advice: “There is a distinct inner voice in each of
us,” he wrote. “The thing is to obey it.”42 These declarations suggest that for Weir,
sometimes creation was intuitive, coming to him almost without thought, bubbling up
from inside himself, driven by an unknown inspiration.
Weir goes further in an 1865 letter to Mary, depicting the role of art-maker as
interpreter of strange and mysterious urges, and the interior of the foundry itself as a
hellish site of Gothic visions. While several authors have noted the similarity in rhythm
and tone to “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, none has commented much on the text of
the letter and how it relates to Weir’s conception of his own art of painting.43 Though it is
a dense and drawn-out letter, it is worth quoting at length, as it demonstrates the truly
metaphysical nature of Weir’s thinking:
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 531.304 (typescript) and 531.300 (MS).
Jervis McEntee Papers, 1796, 1848-1905. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Box 1.45.
Dated July 22, 1867.
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 529.1064-1067.
For a discussion of “The Raven” as a touchstone of the Gothic in American visual culture, see Burns,
Painting the Dark Side, 146-148. For this letter’s similarity to “The Raven,” see Fahlman, John Ferguson
Weir, 82; Field, “Passion and Industry,” 56.
How the rain beats against my lofty window, how the wind sigh’s [sic]
and moans about the roof and drives the rain fitfully against the windowpanes. So gloomily, so mournfully, so dreary. Let your spirit come on the
wings of the wind, and let us suppose it peering down through the dark
glass, from out that inky space beyond, pressing tightly against the wet
glass, looking down upon my room. Seeing the bright light falling softly
on my table, on my paper, on my figure bending over it. And the ghostly
shadow of my form, standing stark against the wall, mocking every
movement of my figure. So mysteriously tall, projected on my Study wall.
Over pictures, over relics, over all that hangs, high up on my Study wall.
Then the wind that gains an entrance, gains an entrance through the cracks
flares the light, and then it flickers, flickers wildly in my sight, wildly like
this gloomy night, flares and flickers all for spite. And the shadows on my
wall, rise and fall, short and tall, spectre like, upon my Study wall. …
And the relics hanging high, arms and weapons hanging high, glisten there
and catch the light, catch the flickering light and sparkle, casting grotesque
shadows, mingling shadows on the wall. All these trophies and these
trinkets that hang upon my study wall, in the daytime seem most friendly,
friends and friendly are they all, but at night, in feeble light, dance their
shadows on the wall, mingled mysteriously on the wall, almost frighten
and appall. Spectre-like and queerish, very queerish are they all. In dusky
light they seem to fight, with all their might, and mouths to bite they
seeming have. The human limbs in plaster cast, grotesquely gesticulate,
chrystalized [sic] action, dangling hang, hang dangling from the wall.44
Weir goes on to describe both The Gun Foundry and his idea for the not-yet-begun
Forging the Shaft in similar language, full of references to the toil of the burly male
workers and the mysterious, frightening character of the compositions. However, it is the
first part of the letter that is most telling, in which Weir describes his inspiration and his
studio space; the letter is a bizarre but crucial piece of evidence for Weir’s outlook on his
own artistic production. While its playful, Poe-inspired repetitions of phrases may be a
sophomoric bit of literary showing-off for his fiancée, the overwhelmingly frightening
and hellish character of the letter lends an entirely different cast to Weir as a person and
as an artist. While some authors such as Randall C. Griffin have made much of the
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 529.933-938. Dated Nov. 21, 1865. Previous Weir scholars have quoted the letter,
passing down several transcription errors. I have done my best to correct them here. Quoted in Fahlman,
John Ferguson Weir, 82-83; Field, “Passion and Industry,” 56-57; Lois Dinnerstein, “The Iron Worker and
King Solomon: Some Images of Labor in American Art,” Arts 54.1 (Sept. 1979): 115.
paintings’ political content in the context of the Civil War, there is clearly another side to
these works, much more closely tied to an idea of spiritual generation and artistic
inspiration that came from the popularity of the Gothic in art and literature during the
mid-nineteenth century.
Richard S. Field has argued that both paintings, The Gun Foundry and Forging
the Shaft served as sexual metaphors for Weir’s desire for his fiancé Mary, and that
Forging the Shaft’s “insistent phallicism” and The Gun Foundry’s “onanistic discovery”
are two sides of a coin in which the artist longs to find sexual satisfaction and release
through his work.45 Particularly convincing in this analysis are portions of Weir’s letter
not quoted above, those describing the two paintings, that contain phrases such as: “roars
and groans throughout the night. How it surges, how it swells,” and “welding into shape
the seething monster … till at last the thing is done.”46 These could certainly be barelycloaked references to sexual self-denial and eventual release. Even so, I would argue that
Weir’s primary concern was with the creation of new forms of visual representation, and
that the sexual content of the pieces is sublimated in this greater project.
While there are certainly suggestions of sex in the letter, the main tenor of it has
to do instead with the painful and occasionally frightening act of creating a painting. As
the letter was written to Mary French, one might presume that she is the “you” addressed
in the opening “stanzas” of the letter: “Let your spirit come upon the wings of the wind,
and let us suppose it peering through the dark glass, from out that inky space beyond …
looking down upon my room.” Yet what woman comes from out the inky beyond to gaze
over an artist’s studio? I interpret this as a call to an imagined figure of inspiration (which
Field, “Passion and Industry,” 56.
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 529.933-938.
may well take human form in Mary), a guiding spirit whose disembodied gaze at the
window encompasses the artist, his papers and pen, the letter he currently writes, and the
two paintings described in the letter, clearly The Gun Foundry and an initial idea for
Forging the Shaft. Even stranger is the appearance of the shadow artist, Weir’s own
shadow cast upon his study wall, which seems to loom above him: “the ghostly shadow
of my own form … mocking every movement of my figure.” The artist steps outside of
himself as he contemplates his artworks, his shadow-self comprising yet another external
force that seems to have power over the composition of the paintings.
Finally, all the typical accoutrements of artistic studios here come alive and cast
their oppressive presence into the room. The studio of the November 1865 letter is like
the shadow-world of R.W. Weir’s space: a Gothic nightmare in which disembodied limbs
from plaster casts and suits of armor used as props come to a terrifying life of their own.
This effect is underscored by a small sketch from Weir’s papers showing, in uncertain
gloom, the artist seated in his studio, surveying a grotesque panoply of casts hanging on
the wall (Fig. 61). The shadowy figure with his back toward the viewer holds a lamp,
which throws a strong beam of light upon amputated feet, arms, and hands of plaster;
what looks harmless in daylight is transformed into a spooky vision of carnage and
nightmare. The image appears to be dated 1862, the year Weir first engaged his “dismal”
New York studio, suggesting the theme of anthropomorphized plaster casts was a
lingering one in Weir’s imagination.47 The tools of the artist’s trade prove, if not useless,
then unpredictable and possibly frightening. All these elements suggest a force outside of
the artist’s own will as agents in the composition of the paintings, and posit the act of
Weir wrote in his Recollections: “By contrast with the studio I had left at West Point the place [10th St.
Studio] looked rather dismal with its bare walls, its sky-light high aloft, and an empty grate with the
temperature of the room anything but mild for immediate occupancy” (41-42).
painting itself as a dangerous and uncertain profession in which a man is asked to
synthesize and control a number of dark and warring elements that threaten to acquire a
life of their own.
Weir’s work seems to run parallel to that of the German realist painter Adolph
von Menzel. Menzel’s Iron Rolling Mill is probably the best-known nineteenth-century
painting of industrialized metalworking (Fig. 56). However, recent studies on Menzel
have questioned the nature of Menzel’s “realism” and begun to interrogate the interiority
of his art. Art historians Françoise Forster-Hahn and Michael Fried consider the
vibrations between polar categories—public and private, ethos and eros, collective and
self—in Menzel’s paintings.48 However, this tension relies on a comparison between
paintings: Iron Rolling Mill is contrasted with his enigmatic and spooky Studio Wall, a
composition that bears an eerie similarity to Weir’s sketch of his studio at night (Fig. 62).
This similarity—and the uncanny sensation that both sets of plaster casts are somehow
alive—is supported by a review from not long after Menzel’s death, in which Franz
Dülberg noted how the artist had “transformed” the base material of “the illuminated
plaster casts to a phantom-like state of wakefulness.”49 However, Weir’s workingthrough of these opposing categories is more contained than Menzel’s; his version of the
Studio Wall is in his mind, his letter to Mary French, and, by extension, in the very fabric
of The Gun Foundry itself. What Menzel separated into two distinct works—a “sceptical
Françoise Forster-Hahn, “Public Concerns—Private Longings: Adolph Menzel’s Studio Wall (1872),”
Art History 25.2 (April 2002): 206-239; Michael Fried, Menzel’s Realism: Art and Embodiment in
Nineteenth-Century Berlin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 245-246.
Franz Dülberg, “Die deutsche Jahrhundertausstellung Berlin 1906,” Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 17
(1906): 233. Quoted in Forster-Hahn, “Public Concerns—Private Longings,” 217.
admiration of industrial progress” and a “deeply self-reflective image” referencing
“layers of artistic and deeply private anxieties”—Weir somehow combined into one.50
Weir’s paintings balanced the mythical and the prosaic; so too did his conception
of the labor of painting. If, as David Bjelajac has argued, Wright of Derby’s Alchymist
was a self-portrait of the artist as an individual who used paint to discover hidden truths,
then Weir’s foundry workers also suggest stand-ins for the artists, Vulcans at the forge of
alchemical discovery.51 In fact, Weir did liken his artistic process of creation to the
generative labor of the men he observed at work in forge and foundry. Weir’s focus on
masculinity—in the powerful figures of the foundry workers—seeks to reappropriate the
act of generation from the feminine to the masculine. His insistence that artists should
also be “men” is expressed in a letter to McEntee: “These ‘Artists’ are not all men it
appears, and others are losing the little manliness they had” (emphasis original).52 It
seems that throughout his early career Weir sought to establish an affinity between
himself and the laborers of West Point. He described the men he envisioned for Forging
the Shaft as “Ghouls” dancing in the firelight, but further down in this often-quoted letter
is a parallel to Weir himself—and the artistic profession generally—that other scholars
have overlooked. Weir relates to Mary a small supper party he attended with Launt
Thompson, John Frederick Kensett, and Louis Lang: “Lang stood before the piano
playing waltzes, polkas and whatnot. While Kensett, Thompson and myself danced
grotesquely like ghouls, with one another. Imagine … we ghouls with uncouth gestures
twirling in and out among the easels.”53 Both artists and workers, ghouls dancing in the
Forster-Hahn, “Public Concerns—Private Longings,” 233.
Bjelajac, Washington Allston, 40.
McEntee Papers. Box 1.45. Dated Jan. 28, 1867.
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 531.301-302. Dated Jan. 29, 1866.
glow of their respective workspaces, were fired by demonic urges—the Pandemonium
invoked earlier in the letter.
To reinforce the similarities between industrial and artistic work, Weir
occasionally wrote of the difficulty of his labors, especially to McEntee. In an 1867 letter
he bemoaned his work on Forging the Shaft: “the glorious hope of getting off to Europe
in the following Spring is a strong incentive to dig away hammer & tongs—(which
according with my subject “The Forge” may be construed literally).”54 This undertaking
was by turns inspired—often his letters expressed nothing more than pleasure at his
progress—and exquisitely painful. In the same letter, he complained, “I sometimes wish I
could crawl out of its dusky overshadowing gloom. … I sometimes think my task is a
little harder than is generally allotted to us poor devils.”55 He continued in this vein two
weeks later, when he more explicitly compared his work to that of the foundrymen he
was painting: “I sigh for such sweet and wholesome work as you [McEntee] are doing, all
day long in the blessed woods while I am breathing the smoke and dust of an unsightly
foundry—with its eternal din forever ringing in my ears. … I have to fret and sweat over
barbarous mechanical facts and appliances.”56 The synaesthesiac quality of this
description—dated not from Cold Spring but from the tiny town of Milford, Pennsylvania
where Weir was spending his summer—gives a vivid picture of torturous and labored
creation: fretting and sweating miles from the foundry, Weir still felt himself absorbed
and surrounded by its din, working to refine something beautiful and visually successful
from those sooty fires. Outside observers, too, made a connection between Weir’s artistic
labor and the foundry work he depicted. A review of American paintings in the 1867
McEntee Papers. Box 1.45. Dated July 22, 1867.
McEntee Papers. Box 1.45. Dated July 22, 1867.
McEntee Papers. Box 1.45. Dated Aug. 4, 1867.
Paris Exposition Universelle approached The Gun Foundry in explicitly alchemical
terms, describing fire as “the medium by which nature’s tough treasures are wrought into
usefulness.”57 This language suggests a transformation enacted on raw materials by
industrial processes, but also compares the fire of the foundry to the artist’s brush—each
a “medium” for creation. When it published a large engraving of Forging the Shaft in
1869, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper described Weir as “one of the most
successful workers in the field of American art” (emphasis added).58 Though all artistic
labor should be seen as “work,” it appears that because of the strong parallels between
Weir’s artistic experience and his choice of subject matter, the connection between art
and industry as overlapping realms of labor was evident both to the artist and his
contemporary critics.
Combining European models, some only known through black and white prints,
with dry, prosaic oil sketches of the empty Foundry, the informational mode of
contemporary illustration, the difficult, uncomfortable photographs of workingmen, and
his own artistic genealogy, Weir birthed a new and dynamic image through the process of
alchemical discovery. As Mircea Eliade writes in his book about the history and myths of
alchemy, “the alchemist takes up and perfects the work of Nature, while at the same time
working to ‘make’ himself.”59 The creative process of making a painting and the artistic
identity of its creator are melted together in the same crucible: recombining and rendering
raw materials to divine some shining philosopher’s stone out of the essences. Mixing
paints, combining colors, putting brush to canvas, amalgamating source materials viewed
J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 530.809. From Weir’s scrapbook of press cuttings. Originally published as “The
Paris Exposition. From Our Special Correspondent,” New York Times (unknown date).
“The Forging of the Shaft,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Sept. 4, 1869, 387.
Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, trans. Stephen Corrin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1978), 47.
or imagined: all are experimental acts meant to transform one set of materials (lifeless
sketches, viscous oil paint) in an alchemical synthesis, the “subliming” of all those
objects found in An Artist’s Studio into something materially new. The act of painting
itself is thus always alchemical, the connection between the actions of the hands and the
dictates of the brain requiring interpretive acts to create something new that is much more
than the sum of its parts. The act of painting is also sublime, it is an experience, in Weir’s
formulation, as he writes wracked by spirits, shadows, and fears, that exceeds rational
understanding and is attended by both terror and fulfillment. Weir’s canvases are
embodiments of the alchemical sublime, sites of convergence between the two modes.
A vibrant visual and literary discourse surrounded alchemy in the mid-nineteenthcentury United States. The last half of this chapter will explore the prehistory of and
context for Weir’s work, arguing that his activation of an alchemical sublime was not a
lone occurrence, but part of a larger nineteenth century approach to work and technology.
Though some of the examples studied here come from the final quarter of the century,
alchemical discourse was most prevalent during the years between 1830 and 1875. After
that, the alchemy of sublime technology slowly dwindled, and was replaced by more
informative, explicatory visual modes as the twentieth century drew near. The history of
how alchemy was represented—both in Europe and the United States—can provide some
important context for understanding Weir’s images, and, more generally, the nineteenth
century’s conflicted relationship with the pseudoscience.
The years marked by the high point of alchemical practice also saw the flowering
of genre painting in the Netherlands and Flanders, a period that was, as we have seen, one
of many important European precedents referred to in the art practices of R.W. and J.F.
Weir. Among the many categories of genre painting that arose during this era, one
relatively obscure though not uncommon variant was the alchemist or chymist scene.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder may have been one of the earliest artists to illustrate an
alchemical scene around 1558 (Fig. 63). A humorous and ultimately somewhat puzzling
scene, it depicts an alchemist in what appears to be a ragged leather smock seated before
his stove, surrounded by a bewildering array of tools, vessels, and raw materials. His wife
bemoans her penniless state by fruitlessly upending her empty purse, while another
humorous figure oversees a clearly botched alchemical experiment. Out the rear window,
the alchemist and his wife appear again, with three children, apparently either begging
alms or delivering the children to foster care at a charitable institution. A mysterious
scholar oversees the whole scene and makes a humorous commentary on the events he
witnesses. Principe and DeWitt write that for Brueghel “the greed of this alchemist is an
emblem of folly as well as of transience and mutability. His greedy characters are led to
foolishness and to ruin, failing in their God-given responsibility to provide for their
families.”60 Though this negative portrayal of alchemy is not unique to Brueghel, in the
seventeenth century artists and their wealthy patrons apparently became more forgiving
toward the science.
The moralizing character of Brueghel’s image, its insistence on alchemy as a
pernicious business that played on human greed, weakness, and folly, falls out of the
alchemical images painted by David Teniers the Younger, including one housed in a
prominent American collection, The Alchemist (Fig. 64). The painting is one of hundreds
of alchemist paintings by Teniers, making it probable that Weir would have been familiar
Principe and DeWitt, Transmutations, 12.
with at least an engraving of such a scene.61 The Alchemist is a mid-sized picture
executed primarily in tones of brown and gray, but with a small, intense flash of orangeyellow at the stove, where an elderly, bearded man in leather apron and fur-trimmed cap
pumps a bellows, assisted by a young man. As he stokes them, the flames flare up and
emit some sparks, but overall the scene is not one of the sublime; rather, despite its
subject matter, it is precisely in the nature of other Dutch and Flemish genre scenes of the
same period: a rather mundane evocation of everyday events. Unlike Brueghel’s drawing
of the same subject, Teniers’s piece does not have an immediately apparent moral
content. The alchemist is relatively well-clothed, he wears a good quality leather apron,
and has an apparently full money purse hanging from his belt. In the background, a large
crucible sits atop a fire, distilling liquid into a retort, while three other characters appear
involved in an amicable discussion. Like Brueghel’s Alchemist, the scene is littered with
mysterious vessels and implements, many of which might have been familiar to middleclass dilettantes in the faddish occupation. Several symbolic references to the alchemy of
man and nature are also scattered around the room: in the righthand foreground, an oyster
shell lies among several bottles corked with linen, referencing the creation of pearls from
the baser material of sand; the fish hanging from the rafters is often shown as a stand-in
for the philosopher’s stone, the magic catalyst that would begin the chain of purification;
the hourglass placed in a Gothic-arched nook to the left of the stove represents the
passing of time and the transformations it could effect; the owl perched on the wooden
partition may have been a symbol for spiritual development.
While not direct corollaries, the images of Teniers and Weir contain some
similarities that suggest perhaps unintentional but nevertheless present references to
Principe and DeWitt, Transmutations, 13.
alchemy in The Gun Foundry and Forging the Shaft. Though it is evident that Weir made
detailed studies of the actual appearance of the interior of the West Point Foundry, the
type of space depicted in the paintings is eerily similar: both have vast, high beamed
ceilings, deep pictorial space, and a general sense of dilapidation, whether in the boardedup wall of The Gun Foundry, or the ragged curtain and uneven wooden partition of The
Alchemist. Mysterious tools of the trades and vessels of different sizes and shapes give
both workspaces a feeling of direct and truthful observation by the artist, though in the
Teniers it is clear that many of the objects have a symbolic meaning within the arcana of
the profession. The fire itself is the important locus of creation in both trades, and both
the alchemist and the iron workers in upstate New York attempt to create a specific
product through the use of heat, materially altering the chemical makeup of the
substance. While they may not have served as a direct inspiration for nineteenth-century
images, seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish alchemist genre paintings represent a
significant antecedent to any depiction of industry, and particularly of the refining or
casting of metals. Formal similarities alone do not demonstrate a chain of influence, but
the formal coupled with the thematic, alchemical content of the American works,
demonstrate an important history behind the conception of metallurgic processes in the
visual arts.
During the nineteenth century, at least one historical scene of an alchemical
workshop appeared as an illustration in the popular press (Fig. 65). “Dutch Alchemist and
his Starving Wife” accompanied an article by Dr. Henry Draper, transcribed from an
address he had given to the incoming class of medical students at the University of New
York. Draper’s article, “Delusions of Medicine,” surveys both the evils and benefits of
premodern pseudoscience. He spends a good length of time on the study of astrology and
the reading of portents through various means of divination, concluding with a discussion
of modern drug treatments that were inspired by alchemical philosophy. Though it
provides much misinformation about alchemical theory, the importance of this article lies
not in the correctness of the interpretation but in the serious inclusion of alchemy as a
precedent for modern life and knowledge. Alchemy, Draper argues, “lie[s] at the bottom
of modern chemistry, and [its discoveries] are the basis of our daily comforts and present
medication.”62 The inclusion of a scene of a Dutch alchemist’s workshop suggests a
general familiarity among readers of Harper’s Monthly with the alchemist type of
seventeenth-century genre painting. The scene takes elements from both Teniers’s
interpretation of alchemy and also from Breughel’s satirical narrative: the elderly
alchemist stands over the open flames beneath a large retort, surrounded by three dukely
observers dressed in historically inaccurate Italianate clothing. Fourth and fifth visitors
read through alchemical literature, while the alchemist’s wife openly weeps in the
background, drying her eyes on a linen apron. In his right hand the alchemist, who is
dressed as a sixteenth-century scholar or mystic, holds a small, oval stone, probably
meant to represent the philosopher’s stone. As a historical genre scene, this small, halfpage engraving is a failure, particularly in the accuracy of costume and accessories. As a
contemporary reinterpretation of seventeenth-century models, however, it demonstrates
that Harper’s Monthly’s readers possessed a degree of familiarity with imagery of
alchemists. The theme of alchemy has been repackaged in a digestible way for the
Dr. Henry Draper, “Delusions of Medicine,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (hereafter HNMM)
46.273 (Feb. 1873): 394.
readers of a nationally-circulated magazine. Imagery of alchemy and alchemists was then
familiar and available to viewers from the middle classes as well as the elite.
Such imagery and language would not have been sudden or unknown to midnineteenth-century Americans. Earlier in the century, authors and intellectuals had begun
to turn to the vocabulary of transmutation and transformation offered by alchemical
discourse as a metaphor for artistic, scientific, and technical phenomena. Alchemical
symbols suffused literature of the American Renaissance, working as metaphors for
radical change, spiritual birth or rebirth, and progress.63 Within the visual arts, the
language of alchemy was applied to a number of divergent media. The history painter
Washington Allston had used the relationship between alchemical knowledge and
freemasonry to construct visual fantasies of a secret, exalted brotherhood of artistic
genesis.64 More dramatically, the new medium of photography, a chemical process that
produced apparently magical images, was referred to as a kind of alchemical wizardry.65
James Linton, a British wood engraver who worked extensively in the United States and
did some engraving for popular magazines, wrote of the wood engraver’s task as an
alchemical one; his job was to translate and transform the artist’s original image into a
new work of art. “In the engraver’s hands,” Linton wrote, a picture “passes through a new
alembic [alchemist’s distillation apparatus].”66 Still using the language of alchemy,
Linton described wood engravers as “transmuter[s] of wood into coin.”67 It is clear that
Jeffrey L. Meikle, “Hawthorne’s Alembic: Alchemical Images in The House of the Seven Gables,” ESQ:
A Journal of the American Renaissance 26.4 (4th Quarter 1980): 172-183.
Bjelajac, Washington Allston.
Alan Trachtenberg, “The Emergence of a Keyword,” in Photography in Nineteenth-Century America, ed.
Martha A. Sandweiss (New York: Abrams, 1991), 16-45. For a contrary view, see Laurie Dahlberg, “The
Material Ethereal: Photography and the Alchemical Ancestor,” in Art and Alchemy, ed. Jacob Wamberg
(Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2006), 83-100.
William James Linton, “Art in Engraving on Wood,” Atlantic Monthly 43.260 (June 1879): 713.
Linton, “Art in Engraving,” 714.
readers in the nineteenth century were at least superficially aware of the terminology and
symbolism of alchemical transformation.
One of the most crucial, and common, symbols in the alchemical literature was
that of the smith. Historically and artistically, alchemy had been linked to the metallurgic
trades. Vulcan, Roman god of fire, was an important symbolic deity in the alchemical
pantheon, representing “the artificer [alchemical adept] busy with the different metalprocessing stages.”68 In European painting, the tradition of “Vulcan’s forge” scenes
familiarized viewers with the lame god in his smithy, often with hammer raised to forge
implements of war. Allegorical representations of forging activated many oppositions in
early modern viewers, including that of Vulcan and his wife Venus, whose physical and
implied allegorical characteristics are juxtaposed in Baroque paintings such as Venus at
the Forge of Vulcan by Anthony van Dyck (c. 1632). As Klaus Türk writes: “The figure
of the smith is formed around typical binary codes: man-woman, ugly-beautiful, warlove, rational-erotic, work-art, exclusion-belonging; all these are against the background
of a process of material-metamorphosis.”69 These ancient binary understandings of the
symbolic meanings of Vulcan and metalworking more generally have an alchemical
undercurrent: the uniting of the “two principles” is a central tenet of alchemy.70 Michael
Fried argues that rather than being mutually exclusive, these binary categories overlap
and intertwine, writing that because of the mythological history of Vulcan and Venus’s
relationship, all forge imagery—including modern industrial representations such as
Matilde Battistini, Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy in Art, trans. Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia (Los
Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), 308.
Klaus Türk, Bilder der Arbeit: Eine ikonografische Anthologie (Wiesbaden, Germany: Westdeutscher
Verlag, 2000), 73. (“Die Figur des Schmeides ist um typische Binärkodes herum gebildet: Mann-Frau,
hässlich-schön, Krieg-Liebe, ratio-libido, Arbeit-Kunst, Ausgestoßensein-Dazugehörigkeit; dies alles vor
dem Hintergrund einer Arbeit der Stoffmetamorphose.” Trans. V.M. Schulman.)
Eliade, Forge and Crucible, 161. See also Battistini, Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy, 253, 273, in which
she discusses the importance of dark-light and male-female binaries in alchemical philosophy.
Adolph von Menzel’s Iron Rolling Mill (Fig. 56)—is charged with an underlying theme
of Eros, and is often explicitly sexual.71 Fried’s claim that masculine and feminine, Ethos
and Eros, combine to form new meanings is actually a simplified description of the
alchemical wedding, symbolized by the androgynous figure of Hermetic Mercury.72 The
formal echo between images of Vulcan and a series of Baroque woodcuts by Domenico
Beccafumi cataloguing steps of the alchemical process emphasizes the interchangeability
of these representations (Fig. 66). The forge of Vulcan could stand in for the entire
profession of metalwork, which was implicitly and visually tied to alchemical discovery.
Thus any representations of forge labor could implicitly be connected with alchemical
transformation. Even into the nineteenth century, images of metalworking dealt directly
and specifically with the magic of the alchemical process.
The connection between alchemical magic and modern metallurgy can be seen in
the dozens of images of iron and steel workers that appeared in the pages of the popular
press in the 1860s through early 1880s. One of the most dramatic of these dates from
1874: “The New Steam-Hammer at Woolwich Arsenal, England,” by W.B. Murray (Fig.
67). The scene depicts the moment when, “with a scream the monster rises, and with a
roar he comes down, driving up all those tons of twisted iron into a compact breech or
trunnion-piece,” or when “this ‘hammer of Thor’ comes thundering down, mashing the
hot iron into shape as easily as if it were crimson dough, squirting jets of scarlet and
yellow yeast.”73 The focal point is the plug of white-hot iron, destined to be an eighty-ton
gun for the British navy, which illuminates the entire scene with a light that almost sears
the eyes. In a particularly frightening, or exciting, flourish, the artist brings the scene
Fried, Menzel’s Realism, 120-121, 243-244.
Battistini, Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy, 279.
“The King of Hammers,” HW, Aug. 1, 1874, 646-647.
forcibly into the viewer’s space: the left side of the image itself appears to be on fire, with
flames sprouting from an unknown source and ready to consume the whole if not
properly controlled. The metalworkers are “attendant Vulcans,” all that stands between
the viewer and a fiery conflagration; their experience and knowledge keeps danger in
check without sacrificing any of the terrible beauty of the scene. It shows unruly
technology controlled by an elite group of attendants, or adepts. The ceiling recedes into
grim gray space, with echoes of Piranesi’s eerie prisons and Weir’s empty sketches of the
West Point Foundry. Sparks rise from the iron as from the sputtering fire of The
Alchemist. Nineteenth-century illustrations, despite lacking the vivid color of oil
paintings, could thus also enact the alchemical sublime. Though these images do not
always couch the actions they depict in a straightforward language of transformation, the
always-underlying link between alchemy and metallurgy forcefully recalls transmutation,
creation, and sublimation.
The connection between the trade of metalworking and the science of alchemy is
also evident in a portrait by John Neagle, Pat Lyon at the Forge (Fig. 68). Though dating
from the first third of the nineteenth century, and thus earlier than the primary time period
discussed in this chapter, this painting, Neagle’s second version of the subject, is an
important precursor to later “alchemical” images. Pat Lyon metaphorically forges a link
between American metallurgy and the alchemical sublime. This painting’s historical
background has been given at length by Laura Rigal and others, but is important to
summarize, as it bears on the meaning I wish to draw from Neagle’s representation of the
smith. Pat Lyon was a Philadelphia blacksmith who, in 1798, was wrongly accused of
bank robbery. Prior to the robbery, Lyon had made and installed new doors for the Bank
of Pennsylvania’s safe, something Philadelphia authorities considered proof of his guilt.
He was imprisoned for three months in the Walnut Street Gaol. Though Lyon’s
innocence was eventually proved in 1805, he held up this event as a major turning point
in his life, one that was in some ways commemorated in Neagle’s portrait, made a quarter
century later. By this time, Lyon was a successful engineer and had become a wealthy
man, clearly rising above what he suggested was his most stubborn obstacle, his brief
incarceration and the suspicion it threw over his business until he was finally cleared.
Many authors have noted Lyon’s desire to be portrayed not “as a gentleman—to which
character I have no pretension” but rather “at work at my anvil, with my sleeves rolled up
and a leather apron on,” and most interpret this within the rubric of Jeffersonian
American Republicanism.74 The painting in this formulation becomes an emblem of
respect for the small landholder or business owner, whose valiant work ethic and honesty
were upheld as the backbone of American society.75 Laura Rigal argues instead that the
painting is connected to major shifts in the workforce occurring during the first decades
of the nineteenth century, in which shops were becoming closed to journeyman
apprentices, craft education was becoming less common, and many industries were
beginning to transition to larger, unskilled workforces through the adoption of
mechanization. Deskilling restructured the relationship between business owners and
laborers not as one between teacher and student but rather as one between employer and
Quoted in Laura Rigal, The American Manufactory: Art Labor, and the World of Things in the Early
Republic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 181.
Kasson, “The Emergence of Republican Technology,” in Civilizing the Machine, 3-51.
employee.76 Thus this image is about the passing-away of a system of shared knowledge
between older and younger men.
However, the sharing of mechanical knowledge is not the only change chronicled
in this image. The transformation wrought in Lyon’s body itself during the approximately
thirty years between his arrest and the portrait also speak to radical change. Though he is
not portrayed as a “gentleman,” Melissa Dabakis has noticed the fine metal buckles on
Lyon’s shoes, and Rigal has noted that despite having his sleeves rolled up, the subject of
the portrait is essentially at rest.77 I would add that Lyon’s immaculate white shirt and
leather apron—untorn, unpatched, and apparently untouched by the fire’s heat—signify a
man of leisure, newly-minted. He is a man who has “made it” and who no longer needs to
get his clothes dirty at the forge. He displays a sort of “nobility,” the nobility of a man
who has been transformed from his former state of being “common,” “crude,” or “not
ripe.”78 Lyon has gone through an alchemical transformation.
Pat Lyon, according to the prejudices and social structures of his day, began his
career in Philadelphia as a “base” material. When left to their own devices, the metals
slumbering beneath the earth’s surface might take years, generations, even centuries to
mature into gold. Alchemy seeks a shortcut, which it achieves through skilled processes
of metallurgy. There is no way around the steps of transformation: “base” metal cannot
become gold directly, but must be taken through all the stages. Pat Lyon also attained
“nobility” through metallurgy, by means of his skill with refining and transforming
David Montgomery, Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and
Labor Struggles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Montgomery, “The Working Class of the
Pre-Industrial American City, 1780-1830,” Labor History 9.1 (Winter 1968): 3-22; Rigal, American
Manufactory, 191-196.
Melissa Dabakis, Visualizing Labor in American Sculpture: Monuments, Manliness, and the Work Ethic,
1880-1935 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 12; Rigal, American Manufactory, 181-182.
Eliade, Forge and Crucible, 51.
metals. The man Neagle shows in his portrait is the finished product of an alchemical
transformation, a man who retains traces of all the stages he has passed through on his
journey through different echelons of Philadelphia society. The scene around him
represents his earliest origins: in this forge he began as a humble mechanic; his tools—
most prominently his anvil and hammer—lie around him; his young apprentice, though
identified as his assistant Jamie McGinley, marks an even earlier stage of his own
development; the fire or crucible just behind his shoulder denotes the transformation that
is, even within this single painting, ongoing. And with the commissioning of a major
work by an emerging young portrait painter, he announces himself as a man of quality, a
patron of the arts, whose portrait identifies him as an important, wealthy citizen.
Anecdotal references suggest that Neagle himself was an alchemical subject as
well. Ransom R. Patrick, who was the first art historian to consider this painting in depth,
described his working method as one of experimentation, synthesis, and change: “That
John Neagle was constantly seeking through experiment to improve his craft is indicated
by the versions of the Pat Lyon portrait, and also by his ‘Common Place Book’ which is
full of technical notations and personal experiments.”79 Another, possibly apocryphal,
story suggests that Lyon supposedly showed some reluctance about the commission,
given Neagle’s status as a young, unproven artist, saying: “You know, Mr. Neagle, you
are still a very young man, and it has been shown me that it takes long experience to
produce such a picture as is proposed, and you might not succeed.”80 Without the
seasoning that experience could give, Neagle was still a green artist, undeveloped and
Ransom R. Patrick, “John Neagle, Portrait Painter and Pat Lyon, Blacksmith,” Art Bulletin 33.3 (Sept.
1951): 191.
John Sartain, Reminiscences of a Very Old Man, John Sartain, 1808-1847 (New York: D. Appleton,
1899), 191-193. Quoted in Mantle Fielding, “John Neagle, Artist,” in Exhibition of Portraits by John
Neagle (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1925), 10; Patrick, “John Neagle,” 188.
possibly still “base metal”; Lyon as himself the product of an alchemical transmutation
was understandably leery of the young artist’s lack of experience.
One final aspect of the painting that has come under much scrutiny is the paper
tacked to a board at the right side of the canvas, an element which only appears in the
second version of the portrait, and which shows a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. In
1951, Patrick suggested that the inclusion of the Theorem announced Lyon’s Masonic
identity to viewers who were in the know.81 It is a compelling interpretation: Pythagoras
was a central forefather in both Masonic and alchemical symbolism.82 Masonic political
activity prior to 1840 stressed the society’s role as an elite brotherhood, one that used a
symbolic language based around the trade of stonemasonry. Masonic identity during this
period reinforced the idea of the republican working man, but also stressed the
acquisition of arcane or secret knowledge.83
Alchemy was a discipline that was only available to a select brotherhood of men,
its constant secrecy and eternal reproduction ensured by the privacy of the adeptapprentice relationship.84 Like the labor of skilled craftsmen, the techniques and
foundations of the discipline had to be passed down to newly inducted practitioners by an
older expert. At the same time, the relationship between these two figures replicated the
alchemical process itself, as the adept—whose alchemical struggles were equal parts
search for wealth and self-formation—sought to reproduce both himself and his body of
Patrick, “John Neagle and Pat Lyon,” 192; Robert W. Torchia, John Neagle: Philadelphia Portrait
Painter (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1989), 85-6.
Bjelajac, Washington Allston, 69; Rigal, American Manufactory, 193.
For more on freemasonry in the Early Republic, see Steven C. Bullock, “Republican Masonry,” in
Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 17301840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 137-273.
Battistini, Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy, 358.
knowledge in the younger man. The death of an apprentice-less alchemist—as seen in
Elihu Vedder’s grim representation of The Dead Alchemist—signaled not only the death
of a single man, but the death of his stored body of knowledge as well (Fig. 69). The
manuscript Vedder’s alchemist was writing when he died with his hand still grasping the
quill cannot be read except by those already inducted; the arcane diagrams he has
scratched into the wall above his head come with no key for translation, their scored
surfaces a palimpsest, scribbled over with layers upon layers of markings and erasures.
Vedder’s image is thus a tragic scene of lost knowledge and an image that calls for
preservation of the reciprocal master-apprentice relationship.
The theme of lost or missing knowledge—often enacted through intentional
blocking and blindness inflicted on the viewer by the artist—runs through nineteenthcentury images of science and scientists. The similarity between Joseph Wright of
Derby’s scenes of scientific experimentation and R.W. Weir’s The Microscope, goes only
as far as their tenebrism, focus on scientific apparatuses, and intergenerational groupings
of figures (Figs. 49 and 50). Unlike Wright’s Experiment with a Bird in the Air Pump, in
which the spectacle of a scientific experiment is laid out in a tableau before the viewer,
we cannot look with the scientist into the microscope. What he finds there is eternally
unknown, mysterious. Having laid aside his regular glasses, the scientist peers into the
infinitely more powerful apparatus of viewing, but neither the viewer nor the family
group looking on are privy to the secret knowledge hidden there. Not only is the scientific
apparatus unavailable to the viewer, so too the metaphorical “light” of knowledge—here
apparently a mundane hurricane lantern—is blocked by the head of the family’s older
Scenes of scientific laboratories also partook of this visual language of lost,
hidden, or secret knowledge. Henry Alexander’s In the Laboratory appears at first glance
to overwhelm the viewer with factual detail about chemistry, but it, too, enacts a dance,
simultaneously permitting and blocking the acquisition of knowledge (Fig. 70). The
scientist sits in his laboratory, surrounded by several complex scientific instruments,
interconnected concoctions of test tubes, burners, and a distillation apparatus that visually
parallels an alchemist’s retort, filled with red, orange, green, and yellow liquids. A
machine for looking—a small microscope—sits to his left, unused. The painting confuses
by overwhelming the viewer with details, many of which could be interpreted with the
proper scientific knowledge. However, two sites trouble the legibility of the painting, and
prick the viewer with a sense of unknowability: the scientist’s notebook in the lower left,
and a glass cupboard at the righthand side of the image. The book, where presumably he
records his findings, makes calculations, or posits hypotheses, is empty. Labored swirls
of paint on its pages visually recall a page that has been written on and then erased. This
contrasts starkly with the crisp, illusionistic, and extremely detailed brushwork on the rest
of the canvas. The notebook, the ruffled, distressed edges of whose pages suggest
constant consultation, bears the marks of an object that has been read over and over
again—but its blank pages give no clues. Wiped clean, they present a radical erasure of
knowledge. The cupboard door at the upper right of the image presents a similar blockage
to the viewer’s eye. Its surface of frosted glass is created by long, textured brushstrokes
which again form a striking contrast to the fine rendering immediately abutting the
cabinet, a virtuoso representation of three shelves of variously-shaped glassware, the
reflective surfaces of the beakers created through delicate strokes of grey-white paint. By
contrast, the opaque glass of the cabinet hints at objects below, but gives no access.
Weir’s Gun Foundry functions in some ways like these representations of scientific
inquiry: its very fullness prevents the viewer from learning anything specific about the
manufacture of cannon, instead suggesting a larger metaphor for the process of creation,
both artistic and scientific.
The scientist as alchemist appears in a large Harper’s Weekly portrait of Thomas
Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” The prolific inventor’s playful nickname is clearly
apt in a portrait of the youthful Edison from an 1879 cover image by Henry Muhrman
(Fig. 71). The dense, heavily-worked engraving by Frederick Juengling shows Edison,
with tousled hair, bent over his labors, lit only by the brightly-sparking light of an
unknown experiment. Though the image is cropped close, there is still room for
delineation of some of the tools of his unique trade, including, not unlike in the
alchemist’s laboratory, glass vials and a case of small metal implements. It is indeed how
one might expect a latter-day magician to appear: rapt in his labors, creating strange and
unknown new forces to unleash upon the world. At this time, though many of his
inventions had already been adopted by the wider world, Edison still seemed cloaked in a
veil of mystery, creating and presiding over some of those humming invisible networks
that made up the vast, almost unvisualizable, system of technological infrastructure. As
Thomas Parke Hughes has written on the development of technological systems, one of
the important phases is that of experimentation and invention; Edison’s experimentation
with electric light was an example of a “radical” invention, one that “inaugurate[d] a new
system” and had the potential for sweeping organizational change.85 Like R.W. Weir in
Thomas Parke Hughes, “The Evolution of Large Technological Systems,” in The Social Construction of
Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology, ed. Wiebe E Bijker,
his studio, Edison’s force of mind, seen in his expansive forehead and furrowed brow, is
just as important an element in his creation as his hands. Though the inventor himself
famously quipped that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” here both sides
of his personality seem to take on equal power. Indeed, caught in the raking light thrown
up from his experiment, the concentration evident in Edison’s face seems to balance the
act of his hands. Without inspiration, no amount of perspiration will suffice.
In his history of the representation of American scientists, Glen Scott Allen
describes Edison as a figure similar to Weir, one who derived inspiration from unknown
and mysterious sources. At Menlo Park, Allen writes, Edison’s “‘invention factory’ was
essentially a drafty workshop filled with odds and ends that he could ‘fiddle with’ until
some idea ‘struck him unbidden.’”86 This “invention factory” is the site of the Harper’s
Weekly article, which describes the scene in thrilling detail:
A single flaring gas flame flickers at one end of a long room, disclosing an
infinite number of bottles of various sizes, carved and turned pieces of
wood, curious shapes of brass, and a wilderness of wires, some straight,
others coiled and spiral and kinked, the ends pinched under thumb-screws,
or hidden in dirty jars, or hanging free from invisible supports—an
indiscriminate, shadowy, uncanny foreground. … At an open red brick
chimney, fitfully outlined from the darkness by the light of fiercely
smoking lamps, stands a roughly clothed gray-haired man, his tall form
stooping under the wooden hood which seems to confine noxious gases
and compel them to the flue. He is intent upon a complex arrangement of
brass and iron and copper wire, assisted by magnets and vitriol jars, vials
labelled in chemical formulæ, and retorts in which to form new liquid
combinations. … He is a fit occupant for this weird scene; a midnight
workman with supernal forces … a modern alchemist, who finds the
philosopher's stone to be made of carbon, and with his magnetic wand
changes every-day knowledge into the pure gold of new applications and
original uses. He is Thomas A. Edison, at work in his laboratory, deep in
Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor J. Pinch (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 57. Hughes continues: “Radical
inventions often deskill workers, engineers, and managers, wipe out financial investments, and generally
stimulate anxiety in large organizations” (59).
Glen Scott Allen, Master Mechanics and Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist as Hero and
Villain from Colonial Times to the Present (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 51.
his conjuring of Nature while the world sleeps.87
Edison’s laboratory is described, and doubtless appeared, as a mad scientist’s haunt, the
sort of place where a latter-day Victor Frankenstein might work to create the next
Modern Prometheus. As one of the most important figures in inventing and marketing
electricity, it is almost impossible not to see how Edison might have been viewed as a
modern wizard, a lone man sitting at the center of one of the vastest and most influential
networks of technological systems in the late nineteenth century, the emerging electric
grid.88 At the same time, it is his mental exertions, his rational ordering of the world
through the exploitation of scientific laws, that made Edison such an important innovator:
he used the “truths and certainties of mathematical principles” to create new realities of
rationalism.89 Yet the author of the article describing his workshop in Harper’s Weekly
cannot seem to see him as a rational figure of scientific enlightenment. Instead, he is
portrayed as “a modern alchemist” with “supernal forces,” presiding over “retorts in
which to form new liquid combinations.” The article mentions, but the image ignores, the
vast army of assistants who worked in Edison’s laboratory; instead, Muhrman chooses to
focus in tightly on the face of the young inventor, cloaking the rest of his workshop in
obscure, stippled blackness (thanks in part to Juengling, whose textured, gloomy
treatment of the subject adds an even greater air of mystery). The portrait of Edison, at
about half life size, completely fills the cover of the issue, except for the journal’s
decorative masthead. I argue that at this point, prior to his successful trials on the
“Edison in His Workshop,” HW, Aug. 2, 1879, 607.
For an exploration of the development of the system of electric lighting, see Thomas Parke Hughes,
Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1983) and for more on Edison’s laboratory see Hughes, American Genesis: A Century of Invention
and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 (New York: Viking, 1989), 24-34.
Quoted in Torchia, John Neagle, 86.
incandescent light bulb, Edison would have been seen as an alchemist, a wizard, a
character whose motives and operations were cloaked in obscurity. Though he had
founded the Edison Electric Light Company the previous year, no one, whether lay reader
or scientist, would have known if his experiments would succeed, or the rapid and
dramatic effect that electrification would have on American life, whether domestic,
public, or industrial.90
A second portrait of Edison from the pages of Harper’s Weekly more than a
decade later demonstrates a marked contrast, suggesting that the mystery of Edison’s
maneuverings had worn off and that his inventions, while still miraculous, were now
commonplace and wide-reaching enough to be grasped, mapped, and understood. By
1891, an engraving drawn by Thure de Thulstrup showed an Edison transformed from
dramatic young wizard to solid older citizen (Fig. 72). “Thomas A. Edison in his
Laboratory” shows the inventor, now in his mid-forties but looking much older, standing
by a table in a three-piece suit and bowtie. His left hand rests on a phonograph, and a few
other items litter the table, but overall the composition is spare, the setting mundane.
Edison stands in almost-three-quarter view, lit evenly by a strong but constant source
from the right corner of the composition. There is nothing of sublimity, of wizardry, of
alchemy here: the inventor stands as a successful businessman and boldly addresses the
viewer. As this comparison of portraits shows, the language of alchemy waned in the
1870s. In the twelve years between the two stories about Edison, his image was
reimagined, and Edison himself was reconfigured as a prosperous and successful
businessman—perhaps an adept of a different kind, but one who no longer got his hands
Hughes, Networks of Power and “Evolution of Large Systems,” in which he discusses Edison’s maverick
identity and working style, as well as the frequent failure of “radical” inventions such as the incandescent
light bulb.
dirty in the alchemical workshop. In the popular press, some remnants of the alchemical
sublime did remain, though they became less frequent during the 1880s and 1890s.
Finally, the American city could be a site of the alchemical sublime. The example
of Pittsburgh demonstrates how an entire urban area can be conceptualized as an
alchemist’s laboratory, a place where the apparently irrational system of alchemy met the
orderly technological systems of transportation, communication, and industry. This can
be clearly seen in a lengthy Harper’s Monthly article from 1880, “The City of
Pittsburgh,” by G.F. Muller. This article is primarily known for its illustrations by Walter
Shirlaw, a Scottish-born painter and illustrator, who, though now obscure, was one of the
founders of the Society of American Artists (a league of young artists dissatisfied with
the NAD) and became its first president.91 In the pages of the Monthly, Shirlaw
delineated many of the industries characteristic of the Pittsburgh region in a smoky, dark
style quite different from the crisp, mechanistic effect of many illustrations of industry
seen in popular magazines (Fig. 73). Shirlaw’s offerings look like watercolors too long
exposed to the soot and grime of Pittsburgh’s air: heavy areas of dark ink now and then
relieved by patches of wispy whiteness. The central image for understanding this story is
“Emptying the Crucible;” a crucible was a vessel used in both alchemy and iron/steel
production. The text of the article addresses the idea of the city itself as a crucible:
Into the City of Smoke pours the ore of the producing counties of
McKean, Butler, Venango, Clarion, and Warren in the north and northeast;
the lumber of Forest, Clarion, Indiana, Jefferson, Armstrong, Potter, and
McKean counties on the east; the coke of Westmoreland, Fayette and
Allegheny counties on the southeast; while from all quarters of the
A biography of Shirlaw can be found in Leland G. Howard, Walter Shirlaw N.A.: A Biography &
Catalog Of His Art From Indiana Collections (Marion, IN: Triangle Publishing, 2005). Differing from
other sources, Howard gives Shirlaw’s year of birth as 1836.
compass comes by rail and river to Pittsburgh her matchless bituminous
coal; or departing over these highways, she sends it to the uttermost
corners of the South and Northwest. … Pittsburgh gathers the crude
wealth … to her murky bosom, while through the greater gateway she
sends the finished work of her coal-fed factories. … the homelier ores of
Michigan, Lake Superior, and nearer points, and the sand and alkalies [sic]
of distant States, to go forth as silver, copper, iron, and glass.92
The entire city itself is one massive alchemist’s workshop, which brings in “crude” and
“homely” materials and sends out valuable finished products as the results of mysterious
labors. The author of the article does little to inform the readers what actually occurs in
those many workshops, foundries, and factories, instead focusing on the mythic,
mysterious aspects of industrial production, the perfect match for Shirlaw’s confounding,
obscure illustrations. “Coal’s brighter and purer first cousin, coke,” provides much of the
town’s wealth, Muller notes, “but it is as the City of Iron that Pittburgh must go down
into remotest futurity. She is the Smoky City only because of her forest of chimneys,
whose tongues of flame speak of fires within that are boiling or melting the metal that
gives the name to the age in which we live.”93 Iron may be the material the city is best
known for, but it is steel that stands in for gold here in the alchemist’s schema: steel,
“that perfected, purified form reached through these crucial buildings and meltings and
hammerings.”94 Muller’s lengthy descriptions of the interiors of foundries leave no doubt
that these places are the sites of a terrible and obscure magic, performed by men who
reach almost mythic stature:
Here, after night-fall, the livid light of thirty-two electric lamps gives the
glare of the furnaces a gory hue. The brawny forms of negro puddlers
glow in the light of the pools of liquid metal they stir. In this labor they
summon from space about the mill deepest shadows that wage a warring
conflict with dazzling beams of light. Dante, in conceiving his “Inferno,”
G. F. Muller, “The City of Pittsburgh,” HNMM 62:367 (Dec. 1880): 49.
Muller, “City of Pittsburgh,” 57.
Muller, “City of Pittsburgh,” 57.
must have had in mind just such as scene as is witnessed nightly in the
crucible department of a Pittsburgh steel works. … Salamander muscles
come into graceful play as the melter beheads the sealed crucible, which
he tilts slowly until its contents are decanted, amid vivid coruscations, into
the mould. In raiment the melter from his waist down is an Esquimau,
from his waist up a Hottentot, a Zulu, or anything innocent of clothing.95
If the prose is purplish, it is also astoundingly visual in its vivid evocation of the process
of steel-making. The “livid light” of electricity, the “gory hue” of the furnaces illuminate
the almost demonic figures of puddlers at their dangerous and difficult tasks. The article
engages in lengthy descriptions of sensations and actions, yet, like Shirlaw’s illustrations,
it does not give much concrete information about how these processes are actually
occurring. In “Steel Works—Puddling,” Shirlaw gives two different pictures of the
operation: one in which a single puddler stirs the metal with his rabble, tending the metal
and removing or separating its impurities. In the upper image, the steam hammer works
upon a bar of glowing white steel, tended by workers whose shadowy forms are the
opposite of those heroic physiques seen in Weir’s paintings. Muller’s description of the
puddlers as “negroes,” and his likening of them to “Hottentots” or “Zulus” adds a
racialized element to his description. In fact, though only a very small percentage of steel
workers were African American, Shirlaw exaggerates their presence in the industry
throughout this series of illustrations.96 In combination with Muller’s simultaneously
admiring and pejorative description of the workers, Shirlaw’s illustrations make all
workers seem part of a racialized or infantilized Other, a mysterious race of men who toil
Muller, “City of Pittsburgh,” 57-58.
In fact, as Rina C. Youngner notes, African Americans were very rarely hired as puddlers, and comprised
only 4% of steel workers by 1900. Youngner, Industry in Art: Pittsburgh, 1812 to 1920 (Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), 83.
underground.97 The Vulcans or “Cyclopes” of Weir’s imagination are deheroicized,
turned into “innocent[s] and “Hottentot[s].” Interestingly, in the alchemical system,
blackness or nigredo was associated with the most basic, impure materials, and also with
death.98 However, death represented not a negative, but a positive, the first step in the
transformative process, as Eliade writes: “There was no hope of ‘resuscitating’ to a
transcendent mode of being (that is, no hope of attaining to transmutation), without prior
‘death.’”99 This initial step was also “equated with the regression to the pre-natal state,”
suggesting that the black men pictured here, though imagined as “innocent” and helpless
infants, may in fact be alchemical apprentices.100 Not the master-alchemists, they are
mere assistants, whose labors produce, they know not how, that “perfected, purified
Muller focused on a national network of systems, positioning Pittsburgh as an
important center, staging post, and workshop in a much larger matrix. “There are squares
of great foundries,” he wrote:
streets of machine-shops and locomotive-works and engine-making
establishments, besides huge shops that send wrought-iron and steel
bridges into the world, that furnish steel steamers for South American
rivers, cold rolled shafting for Antipodes, and ploughs for “all creation,”
and that send iron tanks into the oil regions to hold the surplus of
Pittsburgh’s role as one of the laboratories of the nation and indeed the world, one of the
sites where a mystical marriage of base metals with the kiss of flaming heat produces the
Randall C. Griffin discusses the Othering of workers, in relation to race, ethnicity, and class. Griffin,
Homer, Eakins, & Anshutz, 56-57.
For another discussion of the relationship between blackness and death, see Burns, “The Deepest Dark,”
in Painting the Dark Side, 101-127.
Eliade, Forge and Crucible, 152. See also Taylor, The Alchemists, 149, on the necessity of alchemical
Eliade, Forge and Crucible, 154.
Muller, “City of Pittsburgh,” 62-3.
miracle of steel, does not prevent it from also functioning as an important link in the
rational, mapped-out chain of technological systems. Thus the case of Pittsburgh is a
complex one: a group of images that lead the viewer both to consider the processes that
are being undergone and their relation to larger issues such as technology, politics, and
race, but also to appreciate and take part in the alchemical process of viewing an
alchemical process: to synthesize and adapt multiple readings of an image.
When he was an older man, Weir wrote two books on the transformative power of
revelation. Though these works are explicitly Christian in character, Weir’s descriptions
of enlightenment as an event with magical, unknown origins forcefully recall his earlier
writings on the nature of artistic inspiration. In one of these, The Way: The Nature and
Means of Revelation, Weir wrote: “By whatever agencies man is enlightened in the
course of nature … Revelation is a supernatural disclosure, apart from the means
whereby man commonly acquires knowledge.”102 That acquisition of knowledge, the
concept of personal growth and purification, was central to the alchemists’ doctrines,
more important even than the discovery of the means for manufacturing gold.103 In the
final analysis, for Weir, life was the alchemist’s workshop; the alchemical material was
the artist himself. Beginning as a base material, man could eventually hope to resolve
himself into pure spirit, pure soul: the soul, as Weir described it, “a substance so
infinitely sublimated.”104
John Ferguson Weir, The Way: The Nature and Means of Revelation (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin;
Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1889), vi.
Nye, American Technological Sublime, 4; Taylor, The Alchemists, 158.
Weir, The Way, 280.
Weir’s example is only the most prominent. The intention of this chapter was to
demonstrate that a language of alchemy—as an alternative to the rationalizing acceptance
of technological systems discussed in Chapter One—was current during the midnineteenth century, and was applicable to representations and discussions of labor and
technology. All these systems engaged in a discourse of transmutation, change, and
process that adapted the language of traditional alchemical discovery to the realities of
modern life and contemporary technologies.
In all these images, something new is being created, whether it is the persona of a
young emerging artist, the public role of a workingman turned successful community
member, or a young inventor become wealthy tycoon, the capitalistic gain when materials
are transformed into gold through sale on the market, the role of a city as a way-station
for many of the diffuse products of the nation, or, as in all the examples, the radical
transformation metals may go through when heated to extremely high temperatures,
coming out on the other end of the process as something purer, stronger, and closer to
their ideal, finished form.
Chapter 3:
Managing Visions of Industry: The Managerial Eye1
After fifteen years of publication, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine opened the
doors of its building in downtown New York. The editors proposed to demonstrate “the
entire series of operations through which each of these Numbers has passed until it comes
in its perfect shape before the reader.”2 However, it was not through an actual visit to the
facility that the Harper’s subscriber would catch a glimpse of “making the magazine” in
action; rather, the steps were laid out in a lengthy article by editor-in-chief Alfred H.
Guernsey, filled with illustrations of each stage of the process, and culminating in a
dramatic cut-away view of the factory that laid each segment open to the eye of the
observer (Fig. 74). Not only did Guernsey’s article and the accompanying illustrations
demonstrate for the viewer the complex process of putting together each issue of the
magazine, they also framed the periodical itself as one of many mass-produced
commodities that were treated in similar visual fashion in illustrations from the 1860s
through 1890s.
Illustrations of this period demonstrate a consistent interest in exploring the
processes and steps required to bring a commodity to the market, and a desire to explicate
through visual means the connectedness and inter-reliance of each phase of manufacture.
Clearly a manifestation of the impulse toward clarification and explicitness in artistic
attention to technological systems, this style of illustration takes the viewer inside the
This chapter focuses on wood engravings from three magazines: Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s New Monthly
Magazine, and Scientific American. Though Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper also printed the kinds of
images discussed in this chapter, it tended to focus on sensational images of technology, such as train
crashes. Furthermore, Harper’s pioneered many of the visual techniques discussed here, making them a
logical focus for this chapter.
A.H. Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (hereafter HNMM) 32.187
(Dec. 1865): 2.
factory walls to observe the making of everyday consumer goods such as clothing, shoes,
nails, matches, sewing machines, canned goods, firearms, and even paper and silver
currency.3 A similar style was used to depict heavy industrial activities such as glass
blowing, iron and steel working, mining, and the manufacture of machine parts. Taken
together, these images suggest a surprising interest in the minute details of manufactures
of all kinds, and an editorial presumption that viewers wished to have these processes
explained to them using a combination of narrative and imagery.
I call this mode of representation the managerial eye, and in this chapter I will
explore how this style of viewing enabled readers of magazines such as Harper’s Weekly
and Monthly and Scientific American to position themselves in relation both to the
commodities they purchased every day and to the workers who made and distributed
those products. Visual techniques such as cut-aways, panoramas, and multi-paneled
images give the viewer a sense of power, control, and knowledge over manufacturing. I
argue that this attention to the details, sequence, and interdependent nature of protoassembly line and proto-mass production techniques arose simultaneous to the
emergence, for the first time in the United States, of a managerial class who were more
specialized workers than the overseers common the generation before. Thus a revolution
in the way manufacturing structured its operations went hand-in-hand with a shift in the
creation of images representing that production.
Though all these images cannot be explored here, see: “American Industries, No. 7—The Manufacture of
Horseshoe Nails,” Scientific American (hereafter SA) 40.9 (March 1, 1879): 127, 130; “American
Industries, No. 8—Ale Brewing,” SA 40.11 (March 15, 1879): 159, 162; “American Industries, No. 29—
The Manufacture of Revolvers,” SA 42.4 (Jan. 24, 1880): 53; “American Industries, No. 42—A Shirt and
Collar Factory,” SA 42.20 (May 15, 1880): 303, 309; “Fresh Beef from Chicago,” Harper’s Weekly
(hereafter HW), Oct. 28, 1882, 697; “How Matches are Made,” HW, June 22, 1878, 488, 490; “How Uncle
Sam Makes his Paper Money,” HW, Feb. 15, 1890, 113-116; “A Lobster Factory,” HW, Aug. 8, 1868, 509;
Howard Mudge Newhall, “A Pair of Shoes,” HNMM 70.416 (Jan. 1885): 273-291; “Salt-Works at
Syracuse, HW, Nov. 13, 1886, 735; as well as dozens of other examples dealing with industries not
mentioned above.
It would be an oversimplification to approach these images as purely truthful or
accurate depictions of industry in the nineteenth-century United States. Instead they
present a hybrid of reality and desire, based around the needs of the increasingly
prevalent discourse of management and rationalization. Though these images seem
purely scientific or logical, they also have a sense of imagination about them that
suggests the lingering power of the irrational, alchemical, or sublime. As systems
themselves became more complex, the managerial eye participated in a project of
simplification, contributing to the increasingly fantastical notion that all parts of a system
could be visually and conceptually grasped by any single viewer, manager or
inexperienced magazine reader. In addition, it is fairly evident that many of the
representations and articles featured in this chapter present a combination of facts and
fantasies that contributed to the narratives viewers and managers wanted to hear about
industry in their country. Illustrators manipulated their images to seem more authentic
and accurate, simultaneously presenting the public with a dream of cohesive and fully
controlled industry.
It is also crucial to consider, and as we shall see, the article on “Making the
Magazine” helps us do this, how the wood engravings printed in major popular
periodicals were themselves mass-produced images. Emphatically hand-crafted items—
each wood block would have to be laboriously carved by up to a dozen engravers,
depending on the size and complexity of the finished illustration—the representations of
industry found in the pages of Harper’s and other magazines are also almost infinitely
reproducible, and were part of a mass culture of images during the nineteenth century.
Harper’s Monthly alone, in its first fifteen years of production, circulated an average of
110,000 copies per month, according to its own records.4 Printing itself was a modern,
structured, and mechanized industry. Printing and paper-making advances of the 1830s
through 1860s allowed for mass publication of relatively inexpensive books and
magazines, while a major restructuring of the industry separated the expert work of
typesetting and electrotyping from unskilled tasks such as press operation, cutting, and
binding.5 This allowed for more streamlined work flow, greater output, and an increased
proletarianization of certain workers in the Harpers’ factory. The factory cut-away image
in “Making the Magazine” emphatically reminds the reader of these recent developments
in the printing industry, and recalls the mass distribution of the magazine itself. Thus this
image is an excellent site for the interrogation not only of the managerial eye and what it
meant for viewers in the nineteenth century, but also how images of early mass
production were themselves commodities produced on a vast scale.
The emergence of managerial capitalism in the nineteenth century was a
complicated and gradual process that strove for nothing less than a complete revolution in
American society and industry. In Working for the Railroad, Walter Licht contends that
the appearance of a class that could be called managerial dates to the period of early
railroad expansion in the 1820s and 1830s.6 Because of the complexity of the railroad
network, as well as the clear danger disorganization could bring, there was a need for a
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 2. Historian of American magazines John Tebbel estimates 1861
circulation at 200,000, significantly higher than Harper’s Monthly’s own approximation. Tebbel, The
American Magazine: A Compact History (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969), 108.
Ronald J. Zboray, “Antebellum Reading and the Ironies of Technological Innovation,” American
Quarterly 40.1 (March 1988): 69-71.
Licht, Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1986). Also discussed in Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: The
Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1977),
small group of workers who could act as organizers and overseers across miles of track
and interconnected routes. Licht argues for the unique and revolutionary nature of the
railroad’s particular need for a managerial structure:
The rail companies that had emerged in America by mid-nineteenth
century were vastly different kinds of business enterprises and employers
than had ever existed. In terms purely of size—of initial capitalization,
operating expenses, revenues, and number of laborers engaged—the
railroads were comparable to no other concerns. In terms, too, of the
complexity, diversity, and geographical range of operations, the railroads
were rivaled perhaps only by earlier military organizations and
Other scholars corroborate, noting the railroad’s particular need for a hierarchical
structure of management and control.8 With the rise of larger and more geographically
spread-out business models such as the railroad, the need for complex administrative
structures was a pressing issue. However, management’s development was uneven,
differed widely across industries, and involved a process of trial and error. In the case of
the railroad, for instance, until 1877 managers were not a “cohesive class” with
specialized training but instead worked on a looser, more individual set of assumptions
about the smooth operation of business.9 Scholars suggest that the emergence of
managerial structures in American business was often “chaotic,” especially during the
turbulent years of the post-Civil War period, when managerial ideology was in its
Licht, Working for the Railroad, 5.
Stephen Salsbury, “The Emergence of an Early Large-Scale Technical System: The American Railroad
Network,” in The Development of Large Technical Systems, ed. Renate Mayntz and Thomas Parke Hughes
(Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Campus Verlag; Boulder, CO: Westivew Press, 1988), 37-68. Chandler also
makes this point: “…safe, regular, reliable movement of goods and passengers, as well as the continuing
maintenance and repair of locomotives, rolling stock, and track, roadbed, stations, roundhouses, and other
equipment, required the creation of a sizable administrative organization” (Visible Hand, 87).
Licht, Working for the Railroad, 25.
formative stages.10 The tripartite structure of labor, managerial class, and capital was by
no means predetermined, but evolved gradually throughout the century.
Other than the railroad, the primary industries that adapted early to management
systems—however informal—were textile and shoe factories in New England. As early
as the 1820s, writes historian Richard D. Brown of the textile industry, “rational planning
and calculations for optimum efficiency determined the locations of the machines, as well
as the labor force, and directed their interactions minutely.”11 The shoe industry also
underwent massive transitional changes in the antebellum period; a federal report of 1860
described shoe production in Lynn, Massachusetts in language that would not sound out
of place twenty, or even forty, years later: shoemaking was “being conducted in large
establishments of several stories, each floor devoted to a separate part of the work, with
the aid of steam-power, and all the labor-saving contrivances known to the trade.”12 This
approach, which relied on the interaction among architecture, machines, and workers to
streamline production, is a direct precursor to the imagery that appeared in illustrated
magazines during later decades of the century. While the railroad’s managerial
organization had mostly to deal with questions of timing and personnel on a large
geographical scale, the early experiments of the textile and shoe industries focused on the
more circumscribed canvas of the factory site.
By the years following the Civil War, an impulse toward organization and
efficiency began more uniformly to affect the realm of consumer and industrial goods
Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1910 (1973; repr., Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson,
1992), 19.
Richard D. Brown, Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600-1865 (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1976), 129. See also Daniel Nelson, Managers and Workers: Origins of the Twentieth-Century
Factory System in the United States, 1880-1920, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995),
Quoted in Alan Dawley, Class and Community: The Industrial Revolution in Lynn, 25th anniversary ed.
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 77-78.
production. Though this impulse would not reach its zenith until the turn of the twentieth
century, with the efficiency experiments of Frederick Winslow Taylor and the
implementation of scientific management, starting around the end of the Civil War,
industries more uniformly began to implement organizational, technological, and
architectural innovations to make production speedier, more efficient, and more costeffective. While the roots of the shift lie in the antebellum period, scholars attribute the
meteoric postwar rise in management principles to political, ideological, and economic
shifts, partially resulting from the massive mobilization of the war and the political need
for order and control during Reconstruction.13 By 1872, only seven years after the war,
the economic theorist Amasa Walker wrote that traditional industries were fast
disappearing: “Every different kind of boot and shoe is now produced in large
manufacturing establishments, not by hand labor, as formerly, but by the most powerful
and effective machinery. The trade is totally revolutionized. The same may be said of
almost any other mechanical trade.”14 Expansion of goods production and transportation
networks led to a new ideology, which focused around ideals of speed and efficiency.
Chandler writes that the needs of this new economy were “the development of new
machinery, better raw materials, and intensified application of energy, followed by the
creation of organizational designs and procedures to coordinate and control the new highvolume flows through several processes of production.”15 It was not only a philosophy of
efficiency that impacted the emergence of managerial capitalism, however. Frequent
Lindy Biggs, “Rationalizing Production in Nineteenth-Century America,” in The Rational Factory:
Architecture, Technology, and Work in America’s Age of Mass Production (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1996), 8-35; Richard Slotkin, “Regimentation and Reconstruction: The Emergence of a
Managerial Ideology, 1860-1873,” in The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of
Industrialization, 1800-1890 (New York: Atheneum, 1985), 281-300.
Amasa Walker, “Labor and Capital in Manufactures,” Scribner’s Monthly 4.4 (Aug. 1872): 461.
Chandler, Visible Hand, 244.
depression cycles and stiff competition between 1865 and 1900 forced industrialists’
hands. Bruce Laurie writes: “No employer … could withstand the frenetic competition
and recurrent recessions without trimming costs and exercising more control of the labor
process.”16 The desire for increased speed and control naturally ties in with the ideology
of technological systems: revolutions in communication and transportation that spurred
the growth of American manufactures posit the factory as merely one part, a link in the
chain, of vast continental and international networks. At the same time, managers and
capitalists worked together to redesign and restructure the factory itself as a system in
miniature, with logical flow of goods and materials through a series of processes linked
together in a logical, orderly fashion.
Thus the representation of factory interiors and other work sites in the years
between the end of the Civil War and 1893 partakes of the language of technological
systems, attempting to clarify causal relations for viewers. At the same time, the images
position the viewers as members of the powerful and educated new managerial class,
providing them with apparently specialized knowledge about the inner workings of
America’s factories. Especially interesting is the fact that the industries profiled and
illustrated in Harper’s and Scientific American—including metallurgy, petroleum, sugar,
matches, cigarettes, clothing, canning, butchering, milling, munitions, nails, and
industrial and domestic machines—are also the industries Chandler identifies as the
earliest to adapt new managerial structures. Into the 1890s, however, many industries still
relied on custom or small batch production. These included furniture, jewelry, carriages,
and carpets, and specialized machinery, industries comparatively missing from attention
Bruce Laurie, Artisans into Workers: Labor in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Hill and Wang,
1989), 120.
in the mass periodicals.17 This suggests that illustrators and journalists focused on those
types of production that were using the newest and most advanced techniques, including
the incorporation of deskilling and managerial hierarchy. Viewers were receiving up-todate, detailed visual representations of the most dynamic and modern industries, many of
which were in the business of producing everyday consumer goods. Anyone who viewed
these images, then, could claim some degree of knowledge about the goods he used on a
day-to-day basis, and could imagine himself as a member of the emergent management
At the same time, however, the emergence of a managerial class, as Barbara and
John Ehrenreich argued in their 1979 work “The Professional-Managerial Class,” led not
only to a reorganization of work but also a “reorganization of working-class life” through
the combined forces of the “social control” implemented by management and the
“destruction of autonomous working-class culture” by mass culture.18 Though the
Ehrenreichs idealize the role of workers in pre- and early capitalist economies, it is
crucial to note that the emergence of a management class was vastly more beneficial to
capital than to labor, and that instituting structures of management and surveillance over
workers was a source of constant resentment and resistance into the twentieth century.19
Taking into account that many Harper’s readers (especially of the Weekly) were
presumably middle class or below, we may perhaps complicate the reading of these
Philip Scranton, introduction to Endless Novelty: Specialty Production and American Industrialization,
1865-1925 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 3-24.
Barbara and John Ehrenreich, “The Professional Managerial Class,” in Between Labor and Capital, ed.
Pat Walker (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1978), 16.
David Montgomery, Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and
Labor Struggles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 10-15. On the twentieth century, see
Mike Davis, “The Stopwatch and the Wooden Shoe: Scientific Management and the Industrial Workers of
the World,” Radical America 9.1 (Jan.-Feb. 1975): 68-95.
images by recalling that the feeling of control granted through the managerial eye was
often chimerical and misleading, giving viewers a false sense of knowledge or security.20
The logic of management gave viewers a stake in the world of industrial
production, while naturalizing the idea that the middle class, in the figure of the factory
manager, exercised a measure of control not only over the means of production but also
over the working class itself. The Ehrenreichs argue that the managerial class was a
“reproductive” rather than a “productive” group that served to reinforce and constantly
re-produce the restrictive ideology of profitability and wage capitalism. Considering
another meaning of the word “reproductive,” we could also consider the illustrators of
industrial imagery as a class of “managers,” overseeing and shaping their readers’
expectations about and reactions to industry throughout the later part of the nineteenth
century. Like managers, magazine illustrators served as an intermediary class in the
structure of publishing: above them, editors controlled content, while beneath them on the
hierarchy were the wood engravers who translated illustrators’ dictates into printable
images. Though engravers were well-paid, skilled laborers, their work was not considered
as important as that of the illustrators, many of whom had national name-recognition. The
compensation for their jobs was also not comparable.21
While it is difficult to obtain information on the typical reader of Harper’s Weekly, Barbara Sicherman
argues that periodical reading was an important element of working-class life. Sicherman, “Ideologies and
Practices of Reading,” in A History of the Book in America, Vol. 3: The Industrial Book, 1840-1880, ed.
Scott E. Casper, Jeffrey D. Groves, Stephen W. Nissenbaum, and Michael Winship (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, in association with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007), 295-297.
In 1883, J.G. Smithwick, head of engraving for Harper’s Weekly and Monthly, earned $80 per week,
while Charles Parsons, head of the art department, was paid $120 per week. During the same years, top
illustrators such as Howard Pyle could expect to receive up to $150 for a single-page illustration in the
Monthly. Harper and Brothers Records, 1817-1929. Butler Library, Columbia University. Reel 25, salary
ledger, frames 64, 68; Eugene Exman, The House of Harper: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Publishing
(New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 117.
However, the analogy is not an exact one: taken together, illustrators and
engravers can also be compared to workers on an assembly line. Illustrators stressed the
importance of artistic work as a process of labor. In 1922, illustrator William Allen
Rogers recalled of his time at the Weekly: “Many a night I have worked straight through
from dark until dawn. … It would have been very easy for us to give up high ideals and
fall into a mechanical grind.”22 Rogers suggests the importance of pride in one’s artistic
production, while reminding his readers that working for Harper’s was, in fact, work.
However, Rogers’s description of the collaboration process sounds more like an assembly
I was once sent to Boston for Harper’s Weekly and brought back sketches
… [Edwin Austin] Abbey came down from his Thirteenth Street studio
and drew the foreground figures, while I filled in those in the middle
distance and background. Old “Dory” [Theodore R.] Davis, a veteran
“special artist” of the Civil War, drew the architecture. … We used to pass
the blocks we were working on back and forth to one another.23
This description of the working process notes how each artist was responsible for a
certain, circumscribed category of representation. It also calls into question ideas of
artistic authorship, explaining why so many nineteenth-century magazine illustrations
went unsigned: not only several engravers, but also several artists, could potentially put
work into a single drawing. The artistic process was a collaborative one that involved
both artists and engravers, under the “management” of editors.
The entire magazine staff worked to produce a massive corpus of imagery that a
broad reader- and viewership could understand. As managers of the visual realm,
illustrators mythologized and reframed industry so that, eventually, readers/viewers knew
William Allen Rogers, A World Worth While: A Record of “Auld Acquaintance” (New York: Harper and
Brothers, 1922), 236.
Rogers, World Worth While, 12-13.
what to expect from stories about manufacturing. Sophisticated viewers adapted to and
absorbed the primary techniques artists used to visualize production, and, like factory
managers, could claim intimate knowledge of machines, tasks, and engineering, all
through experience gained from reading popular periodicals. By venturing inside the
walls of the factory, mine, refinery, or slaughterhouse, illustrators expanded on the wealth
of imagery available to viewers of technological systems.
Returning to Harper’s Monthly, what would readers have learned when they
ventured vicariously into the building on Franklin Square? Guernsey’s article is
structured like a guided tour through the factory, beginning in the editorial department
and working its way through each segment of production. This touristic approach would
have been a mode of viewing that was familiar to some readers. While regularlyscheduled factory tours were uncommon before the end of the century, visitors could
usually apply to the administrative offices of factories to request a tour.24 One of the key
stops on the tour is the type compositor’s shop, where the viewer is confronted with a
sketch of a youthful-looking male standing before a large compositor’s case. In this case,
Guernsey notes, the compositor knows the place of individual letters “so thoroughly that
his hand will go to each without any conscious effort of the mind, just as the fingers of
the experienced piano-player go to the proper keys without his stopping to think,
William Littmann, “The Production of Goodwill: The Origins and Development of the Factory Tour in
America,” in Constructing Image, Identity, and Place: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture IX, ed.
Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 71-84;
David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 127-129.
Guidebooks urged tourists to apply for entry to factories, foundries, waterworks, and slaughterhouses. See
Appletons’ Illustrated Hand-Book of American Cities; Comprising the Principal Cities in the United States
and Canada, With Outlines of Through Routes, and Railway Maps (New York: D. Appleton, 1876), 78, 9495, 116, 130.
consciously, that he must strike such a key with such a finger”25 (Fig. 75). This
description of the typesetter’s trained, nimble fingers presages the modern assembly line
era, when the hand became “a synecdoche for the industrialized worker [who was]
increasingly invisible under scientific management.”26 The separation of the typesetter’s
hand from his mind and the rest of his body also reinforces the idea that the magazine
itself is a mass-produced item, in which the labor of many isolated workers is combined
to form a streamlined process. Even more striking is the focus—even at this early date—
on efficiency of movement. Guernsey describes how the arrangement of the letters in the
case is pegged to their frequency of usage, to facilitate setting of frequent words such as
“the” or “and,” and to have the letter “e,” for example, always close to hand. Eugene
Exman, house historian for Harper and Brothers, estimated that a skilled typesetter could
set about 12,000 characters per hour with only a 0.17% error rate.27
An accompanying diagram, with foreshadowing of the motion studies of Frank
and Lillian Gilbreth and Etienne-Jules Marey, describes the arc of the compositor’s hand
required to set the word “jealously”28 (Fig. 76). In this example, Guernsey feels the need
to explain away the lack of efficient organization: “This is rather an extreme case, the
letters forming the word lying more widely apart than usual.”29 Despite its relative failure
to represent the rationality and economy of motion described on proceeding pages, this
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 7.
Elspeth H. Brown, The Corporate Eye: Photography and the Rationalization of American Commercial
Culture, 1884-1929 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 65. For more on the alienation of
the body from work in imagery produced by the scientific management movement, see Sharon Corwin,
“Picturing Efficiency: Precisionism, Scientific Management, and the Effacement of Labor,”
Representations 84 (Autumn 2003): 139-165.
Exman, House of Harper, 75.
Marta Braun, “Marey and the Organization of Work,” in Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules
Marey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 320-348; Brown, Corporate Eye, 69-81; Corwin,
“Picturing Efficiency,” 141-148.
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 9.
image displays an early interest in tracking the working body through quasi-scientific
examinations of motion. Doubtless Taylor would have had something negative to say
about the work-time wasted in the “165 inches” the typesetter’s hand had to travel in this
example; the reader, too, is implicitly invited to come up with his own solution to
streamlining the process.
The firm of Harper and Brothers had adopted advances in printing technologies
earlier than several other major presses, something that Guernsey emphasizes in his
factory tour.30 Visually, the article provides readers evidence of the magazine’s modern
production: the illustrator contrasts an engraving of a “Copper-Plate Press” with a
representation of an “Adams Press,” the type of machine used to print the Monthly (Figs.
77 and 78). The copper-plate press, used to print more expensive and high-quality steel
and copper engravings, is coded as nostalgic by the outdated clothing of the operator,
whose ponytail and breeches suggest the eighteenth century. He labors alone and out of
context, in sharp contrast to the clear factory setting and bevy of workers in “The Adams
Press.” That illustration, with its overhead system of pulleys, rank upon rank of presses
run by teams consisting of a female “feeder” and male operators, and lively atmosphere,
has an air of dynamism and modernity reinforced by the focus on the complex and
sophisticated machinery. By contrast, the text fails to evoke an air of efficiency, with its
advanced, but confusing, technical descriptions; references to friskets, knee-joints,
endless tapes, crabs, and distributing-rollers might be lost on many readers.31 However,
even without the occasionally bewildering text, the reader is assured of the superiority
and efficiency of the Adams press through the illustration, which gives a clear vision of
J. Henry Harper, The House of Harper: A Century of Publishing in Franklin Square (New York: Harper
and Brothers, 1912), 91; Zboray, “Antebellum Reading,” 69.
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 17.
an orderly and functional industrial space. The “tour” covers several other steps in the
magazine’s production, including drying, pressing, folding, sequencing, stabbing,
binding, and distribution, all with careful attention to the flow of the product through the
facility. To be bound, the “folded sheets are then taken up another story,” for instance,
and when binding is complete, they are “carried down by the ‘Steam Paddy’ three
stories.”32 This presumably allows the alert reader to track the flow through the building,
just as he was asked to view and assess the back-and-forth movement of the typesetter’s
A visit to the distribution department adds to the reader’s feeling that the factory
is a well-organized system of interconnected processes. This time the viewer himself is
included as part of that system. In the distribution department, the reader is assured that
the names and addresses of subscribers are all “set up in type” and “kept standing” to
avoid errors and ensure “a great increase in accuracy.” Only through failure of another
system—“that much-abused … institution, the Post-Office Department”—could the
monthly number of the magazine fail to arrive.33 Thus every subscriber (though not every
reader) of Harper’s Monthly was part of a massive archive of names, addresses, and
subscription information that kept the magazine itself running, connected in an invisible
but potent relationship of reciprocity. This stop on the tour complicates the managerial
eye, pulling the viewer momentarily out of his feeling of power and control. Despite his
ability to survey the entire Harper establishment, the reader is forcefully reminded that in
the catalogued matrices of both the Monthly’s subscription lists and the postal service
(and perhaps, by extension, the federal government), he is merely another name “set up in
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 20.
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 22.
type,” and not truly an all-powerful observer.34 Though this consideration of the viewer’s
own imbrication within technological systems momentarily breaks the spell of
managerial control, the article’s next, climactic image reinstates the apparent omniscience
of his position.
This scene, more than any other in the tour, allows a privileged and overseeing
view into the factory. Though this type of illustration, which cuts away the side of the
building and exposes the interior to the viewer, would become more common in the
coming decades, in 1865 it was still unusual and probably quite exciting, presenting as it
did a new means of grasping industrial production. Though small, it is extremely detailed,
and is clearly meant to be read along with the text (Fig. 74). Guernsey writes: “Let us
now, by aid of the Sectional Diagram on page 30, briefly retrace the operations which
have been described. In this the front wall of the manufacturing building is supposed to
be removed, so that the entire series of operations can be seen at a glance.”35 The fact that
the reader must be told that “the front wall … is supposed to be removed” suggests that
this cut-away mode, more common to technical journals or architectural drawings before
this period, would be unfamiliar and perhaps bewildering to the viewer, and required
explanation or deciphering. The illustration and text also reiterate the logical, streamlined
movement of materials through the building. In the basement the paper is prepared, and it
moves up through the facility for each successive step: “It will be seen that the sheets of
paper go regularly up for six stories in a continuous stream, almost automatically when
I am grateful to Tim Sieber for challenging my original reading of the reader’s experience in the
distribution department. My dissertation group—Tim, Krystal Hauseur, and Mary Trent—forced me to
think more carefully about this chapter, especially the elusive and sometimes misleading nature of the
viewer’s managerial power.
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 29.
once started. They can not [sic] stop for more than the briefest interval.”36 Hundreds of
miniscule figures represent the men and women of the magazine’s staff, each engaged in
a specific phase of production. Each floor has its own specialized tasks, overseen by floor
managers, all intent on the production of what Guernsey regards “simply as manufactured
articles.”37 The workers themselves, especially the aproned women running the row of
printing presses on the second floor, also seem to be little more than mass-produced
commodities; the illustrator makes no effort at individuation, but represents these
working bodies as interchangeable and replaceable, just like (ideally) the parts of the
printing press or the typesetter’s letters. The image powerfully presages the early
twentieth century, when “the distinction between humans as manipulators and machines
as manipulated was erased” (emphasis original).38 Harper’s Monthly’s exploration of its
own production is thus an image that simultaneously exposes a factory to the viewer’s
eye and allows him to set himself in opposition to the workers pictured there, instead
allying himself with the controlling, powerful class of managers and superintendents.
This image is both a wonderful early example of the managerial eye at work, and a potent
reminder that many of the images under scrutiny in this chapter and dissertation as a
whole were produced by the very technological systems they depicted.
There are major precedents for this type of illustration. Medieval artists connected
artisanal trades with labors of the month in illumination and stonecarving.39 Beginning in
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 29.
Guernsey, “Making the Magazine,” 29.
Brown, Modernization, 192.
Alison M. Kettering, “Men at Work in Dutch Art, or Keeping One’s Nose to the Grindstone,” Art
Bulletin 89.4 (Dec. 2007): 696-698; Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution (London:
Noel Carrington, 1947), 52.
the early modern period, with the invention of techniques for producing what the
preeminent print historian William M. Ivins, Jr. calls “exactly repeatable pictorial
statements,” artists turned their skills to making popular representations of work.40 One of
the most crucial visual forms in the prehistory of the managerial eye is the book of trades,
an early form of mass-reproducible pictorial sequence illustrating the skills of different
artisans. Among the most famous of these is the German “Ständebuch” (Eigentliche
Beschreibung Aller Stände auff Erden, 1568) written by Hans Sachs, with woodcut
illustrations by Jost Amman. Sachs and Amman’s representation of work situated skilled
artisans within a context of Protestant labor and eventual salvation, with Sachs’s poetic
commentary reinforcing a hierarchy of usefulness (the Stand in Ständebuch meaning
simultaneously trade and social rank). Trade books in the modern era, such as the
nineteenth-century Book of English Trades (1818) served the dual purpose of introducing
youths to potential occupations and reinforcing the imperial domination and
interconnectedness of the United Kingdom. The cooper, or barrel maker, for instance,
utilized oak from America, and “derives large profit … from the West-India trade,” while
the coach-maker’s products might be exported to America, the Continent, and the “EastIndies.”41 Visually, images from trade books do not bear much resemblance to scenes of
modern managerial control, since they usually depict lone artisans posed at a single stage
of production. However, their visual clarity and ability to be mass-produced provide an
important precursor to nineteenth-century magazine illustration. The images, though
single-frame, also provide a narrative or sequence for the viewer. In the case of Sachs and
William M. Ivins, Jr., Prints and Visual Communication (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), 2,
The Book of English Trades, and Library of the Useful Arts, revised ed. (London: J. Souter, 1818), 116,
117, 103.
Amman, the sequence replicated the cosmic significance or relative worth of each trade,
beginning with intellectual occupations and moving “down” to those requiring physical
labor.42 Scholars of the comic strip have identified these kinds of sequential pictorial
statements, whether in book or broadsheet form, as an essentially modern mode of
depiction, based on mass reproduction and popular dissemination.43 In this sense, as well,
then, these images are important precursors to nineteenth-century journalistic illustration.
A more visually similar counterpart to the managerial eye can be found in
Enlightenment attempts to catalog and order the world. Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie
(1751-1772) is the most famous example of a large-scale project dedicated to depicting
the mechanical arts, though British encyclopedist Temple Henry Croker also focused on
production techniques and provided extensive illustrations.44 Like images of the
managerial eye, the engraved plates of the Encyclopédie and Croker’s Complete
Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1764-1765) often combine one or more views of a
scene, in order to provide a holistic representation of a trade, process, or machine. Under
the instruction of Diderot and the head draftsman Louis-Jacques Goussier, artists for the
Encyclopédie attempted to create an all-encompassing, ideal catalogue of industries. Like
later artists for American periodicals, Goussier, who himself did many of the illustrations
for the Encyclopédie, “did not portray workers as knowledgeable individuals,” instead
Kettering, “Men at Work,” 698.
Thierry Groensteen, “Töpffer, the Originator of the Modern Comic Strip,” in Forging a New Medium:
The Comic Strip in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Pascal Lefèvre and Charles Dierick (Brussels, Belgium:
VUB University Press, 1998), 108-109; David Kunzle, History of the Comic Strip Volume I: The Early
Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c. 1450 to 1825
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 1-5; Patricia Vansummeren, “From ‘Mannekensblad’ to
Comic Strip,” in Forging a New Medium, ed. Lefèvre and Dierick, 39-48.
Many of Croker’s images were plagiarized from the Encyclopédie, which had itself plagiarized around
150 plates from the French Royal Academy of Science’s Descriptions des Arts et Métiers (1761-1788).
Werner Hupka, Wort und Bild: Die Illustrationen in Wörterbüchern und Enzyklopädien (Tübingen,
Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1989), 108, 105.
emphasizing “mechanical systematization.”45 However, in advertisements for the series,
Diderot claimed that “because of the difficulty of describing the ‘Mechanic Arts,’” the
authors had been “informed by the ‘workmen themselves’” of the details of the featured
processes.46 These two contradictory positions suggest a curious tension that is also
present in the managerial eye: the artist desires to abstract the workers out of the
composition, but requires their presence to give the images a sense of detail and
specificity. Another important element of the Enlightenment-era illustrations that has
echoes in the nineteenth century is the relationship between text and image. In both the
managerial eye and the eighteenth-century encyclopediae, images are situated with
accompanying texts in order to clarify and explain them. In the case of Diderot’s
Encyclopédie, the text can be a means of establishing a narrative between parts of the
image that are “temporally discontinuous,” a technique that is also used by nineteenthcentury journalists to help viewers read images of factory labor.47
However, despite these similarities, such illustrations cannot be true precursors to
nineteenth-century imagery because they show skilled, artisanal labor rather than
deskilled modern labor. Visually, encyclopedia images usually show a group of laborers
working together, rather than separated clusters of workers at discrete tasks. These
eighteenth-century images privilege an ideology of collective and holistic effort rather
than one of circumscribed movement, specialization, and separation from other workers.
Another crucial distinction between these two forms is their audience and their cost:
John R. Pannabecker, “Representing Mechanical Arts in Diderot’s Encyclopédie,” Technology and
Culture 39.1 (Jan. 1998): 48.
Hupka, Wort und Bild, 108. (“Im Advertisement behaupten die Herausgeber wie Diderot vor ihnen,
wegen der Schwierigkeit der Beschreibung der ‘Mechanic Arts’ sich bei den ‘Workmen themselves’
informiert zu haben.” Trans. V.M. Schulman)
Olivier Lavoisy, “Illustration and Technical Know-How in Eighteenth-Century France,” Journal of
Design History 17.2 (June 2004): 148.
multi-volume encyclopediae could not reach the average, middle class viewer, let alone
the working class. A subscription to the Encyclopédie cost “about the annual wages of a
Parisian workman.”48 By contrast, in 1883, an issue of Harper’s Weekly or Frank Leslie’s
Illustrated Newspaper cost ten cents, only about 1% of the weekly salary of the lowestpaid adult male operatives in the Harper and Brothers factory.49
Perhaps the strangest precedents—and ones that establish a direct tie between the
alchemical sublime and the managerial eye—are the “mute books” of alchemy, illustrated
volumes that dispensed with the often nonsensical texts and obscure symbolic
illustrations of alchemical tracts (Fig. 79). These books purported to give the reader
direct, clear pictorial instruction in the steps needed to turn base metals into gold. Among
them was the seventeenth-century Mutus Liber, whose dramatic series of plates show the
process with “considerable precision.”50 In its determination to provide visual
instructions for a process completely devoid of instructional text, it is even more radical
than the cut-away image in “Making the Magazine.” It envisions the process of making
as one that relies on a regimented series of actions, completed in a preset order.
Collapsing time, its frames are laid open to an unknown observer; in the cosmography of
alchemy, that ultimate observer is always envisioned as God, who is also the ultimate
managerial figure. Though the processes it depicts are in some ways the antithesis of the
rational, orderly scenes of making typical of the managerial eye, Mutus Liber provides
the most powerful, and most disturbing, reminder of the ongoing tension between the
known and the unknown, the managerial and the alchemical.
Lavoisy, “Technical Know-How,” 149.
Harper and Brothers Records. Reel 25, salary ledger, frames 6-8, 51-53, 57, 62-63.
Lee Stavenhagen, “Narrative Illustration Techniques and the Mute Books of Alchemy,” Renaissance
Culture 5 (1979): 65.
Nineteenth-century illustrators may not have been familiar with alchemy’s mute
books, but they were certainly aware of the long pictorial history of sequential, massreproducible images of work, workers, and machines. The development of the managerial
eye rested solidly on popular imagery in the Western tradition. The rest of this chapter
explores three primary modes that illustrators used to deal with the modern industries of
nineteenth-century managerial capitalism. These modes, which represent updated,
reworked versions of the historical precedents discussed above, are the multi-paneled
image, the cut-away, and the panorama. A comparison of two picture stories of the same
industry, dated thirteen years apart, will demonstrate how illustrators gradually adopted
these techniques into their work.
One of the earliest industries to adapt to proto-assembly-line techniques, and one
which was represented in several major Harper’s Weekly articles, was that of butchering
animals, primarily hogs and cattle. As early as the 1830s, American slaughterhouses had
begun to develop efficient “disassembly lines” perfecting techniques for the efficient
mass killing, disemboweling, butchering, and packing of meat.51 By 1857, the processes
were so routinized that Frederick Law Olmsted referred Cincinnati butchers as “human
chopping machine[s].” Other technological advancements led to increased volume and
acceleration of meatpacking in the 1840s through 1860s. Due to the speed allowed by the
railroad, meat slaughtered in Midwestern centers such as Cincinnati and Chicago was
quickly available to purchasers on the East Coast. Also, the development of a basic form
Biggs, Rational Factory, 24-27; Paula Young Lee, “Siting the Slaughterhouse: From Shed to Factory,” in
Meat, Modernity, and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse, ed. Paula Young Lee (Durham: University of New
Hampshire Press; Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2008), 46-70; Dominic A. Pacyga,
“Chicago: Slaughterhouse to the World,” in Meat, Modernity, ed. Lee, 153-166.
of refrigerated car in the 1850s allowed the safe transport of butchered and dressed meat
from slaughterhouse to market.52 Though full-scale networks of mass transportation of
beef and pork from the West and Midwest were not perfected until the 1880s, more basic
systems emerged decades earlier. Two articles about hog butchering in Cincinnati
demonstrate the gradual transition to principles of rationality and management.
The first article, from February 1860, reveals “Porkopolis” as a major hub of “a
vast centralized and systematically established trade, that gives employment to millions
of dollars annually.”53 Within the hog itself, the author locates a symbol for this extensive
business: it is reared on “the beech-nuts, hickory-nuts, and acorns that abound in the
forests of the luxuriant West,” comes to the “Queen City” on its “reluctant pilgrimage,”
and from there its carcass and affiliated products are “distributed among the nations of
the earth.” 54 The hog must “see Cincinnati, and die,” but in its lifespan it takes
advantage of the entire network of systems, moving from West to Midwest, and
eventually to the East and beyond.55 Though the tone of the article is comic, it presents
the reader with a vivid and detailed description of how and by whom these hogs are
transformed from live creatures to a vast litany of finished products, including not only
meat but also lard, candles, Prussian blue pigment, brushes, and mattresses; even bones
are rendered into carbon fuel. “Every scrap,” the author recounts, “even the apparently
most worthless, is saved and turned to account, either as an article of food or for use in
the arts.”56 So the “entire animal” is “consumed and converted, to the continued
Chandler, Visible Hand, 299.
“The Hog Trade of Cincinnati,” HW, Feb. 4, 1860, 72.
“The Hog Trade,” 73, 72.
“The Hog Trade,” 72.
“The Hog Trade,” 74.
advantage and profit of innumerable economical and flourishing trades.”57 The language
of this piece explicitly connects pork-packing with the idea of larger systems of
production and distribution. The hog itself, and its products, span a large area and are
moved and processed using a variety of technologies. But can the illustrations also
perform the work of assessing and representing the interconnectedness of technological
The five accompanying images, three of the factory interior, show a visual style
common to early issues of Harper’s Weekly, when the magazine typically ran full-, half-,
and quarter-page illustrations that stood alone in typeset pages. During the 1860s,
apparently in connection with war reportage, the staff illustrators began a shift toward
compositions that encompassed a large number of smaller, interlinked vignettes, giving
greater complexity and visual interest. In 1860, however, it was more common to find
these half-page images, each relatively disconnected from other pictures accompanying
the same story. At first glance, two images from the “Hog Trade” appear isolated and
difficult to connect to the broad-ranging implications of hog butchering lauded in the
article (Fig. 80). However, the composition of the images, and their accompanying text,
suggest an intermediate point between isolated images and integrated illustrations. The
first, gruesome image depicts the slaughter of the animals as they are driven en masse
through a chute, and picked off one by one by a burly worker wielding a sledgehammer,
“which done, [the hog] is immediately seized by the butchers inside, and stabbed, bled,
scalded, scraped and cleaned out … He is converted into pork in about three minutes.”58
The river of blood running from the slaughtering table, and the rows of slashed carcasses
“The Hog Trade,” 74.
“The Hog Trade,” 74.
seen hanging behind the tableau give the image an air of realism compounded by the very
specialized and legible tasks of the workers, who apply themselves vigorously to their
labors. Reading from left to right, the viewer begins to put together a narrative of the
process for dealing with each carcass. The next image appears, on first glance,
unconnected to the image on the preceding page. However, there are some visual clues
that link the two images together: the rhythm of the support beams suggest that, moving
from left to right, this scene shows the next step, something just outside the frame of the
initial engraving. The author notes how “the work is divided into several branches, each
demanding its separate squad of workmen.”59 Together, images and text give the viewer a
sense of the overall organization of slaughtering. A tantalizing hint of management
appears in the well-dressed, top-hatted man at the far left of the second image. However,
an overall impression of process can only be achieved by reading the text and images
together, and cannot be gleaned from a glance at the illustrations alone. These images
suggest the interconnectedness and fluidity of the slaughtering process, but offer it to the
viewer only synthetically. Thirteen years later, however, another Harper’s Weekly
illustrator would unite these processes in a visually powerful series of images.
These images by Henry F. Farny demonstrate the simultaneous modernizing of
the pork-packing industry and of the techniques artists used to represent that industry
(Fig. 81). Historian Paula Young Lee writes that “the slaughterhouse only became
‘modern’ when it was re-imagined as a productive place where meat was made … [and]
no longer a symbolically ‘dirty’ site where innocent animals were butchered.”60 Farny’s
clean, orderly, and logical series of images participate in this modernity, simultaneously
“The Hog Trade,” 74.
Lee, conclusion in Meat, Modernity, ed. Lee, 238-239.
removing the blood and gore of the earlier meatpacking scenes and reimagining how to
represent the interior of a factory. In 1873, Farny had been doing illustrations for
Harper’s Weekly for eight years.61 However, this image was not originally created for
publication in the magazine, but reached its pages through more complex channels. The
Pork-Packers’ Association of Cincinnati commissioned Farny’s dramatic and detailed
composition of hog butchering for a large-scale display at the 1873 Vienna World’s
Fair.62 The massive work, approximately 81 feet long, showed life-sized figures in what
art critic John R. Tait called “the Odyssey of the Pig, from the period of his slaughter
until his apotheosis as Pork.”63 The scenes were translated into a lithograph by the
Cincinnati firm of Ehrgott & Krebs, possibly as a public relations image for the city,
whose slaughterhouses were “highly interesting” sites that would “repay the tourist.”64
Finally, Harper’s Weekly translated the lithographs into illustrations for a second in-depth
article on pork processing.
The images, whether displayed in life size, or dramatically shrunk to fit the pages
of Harper’s Weekly, demonstrate major changes in representing factory interiors that had
occurred during the previous thirteen years. Like the earlier images, these three
panoramic vistas also read from left to right, but instead of a disconnected series, they
present a continuous process, with each step carefully labeled. Each man stands almost
stationary at his task; instead of the men, the viewer follows the hog through each step of
its disassembly. Unlike the miniscule workers in “Making the Magazine,” these men are
Denny Carter, Henry Farny (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1978),16.
Peter C. Marzio, The Democratic Art: Pictures for a 19th-Century America: Chromolithography 18401900 (Boston: Godine, 1979), 146.
John R. Tait, “On Picture Hanging,” Art Review 2.1 (1887): 15. Quoted in “Henry Farny,” in Artists in
Ohio 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance, and
Brian L. Meggitt (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), 280.
Appletons’ Illustrated Hand-Book, 102, 106.
differentiated through clothing, pose, and even race, as two darker-skinned men work
alongside the rest. There is a sense that architectural space has been expanded to give an
all-encompassing viewpoint. Indeed, the article notes, despite his careful attention to
realistic detail, “the artist has taken liberties which were indispensable for the proper
exhibition of this process.”65 Farny achieves this by placing the butchering tables in a
single, straight line, rather than the actual layout, which is described as closer to a
horseshoe. In other words, privileged readers of the magazine are given even more
information at a single glance than even the most competent manager could hope for.
Farny subtly but crucially restructures the abattoir floor in order to provide a more
detailed, informative perspective.
Another striking difference between this set of images and those from 1860 is
that, rather than merely being told about the many products created from the single hog,
the viewer witnesses the creation of those products, and can envision them making their
way to his table. For instance, chutes below each cutting block spill sausages, hams,
heads, and sides of pork, each easily-recognizable. This set of images speaks to a truly
large-scale production of comestibles.
Only in lowest register of the composition is there a hint at anything outside the
rational, straightforward visual impulse. In the curing cellar and the lard-rendering
station, the men toil no less diligently, but, especially on the left, they are enveloped in an
atmosphere of murk and gloom, their faces invisible and their actions obscure. From
below, two mysterious laborers arise from an even deeper cellar area. This register of the
composition hints at a mysterious netherworld of burly toilers, those “attendant Vulcans”
“Pork-Packing,” HW, Sept, 6, 1873, 778.
described by John Ferguson Weir in relation to his industrial canvases. Only here does
the realm of magical industry seem to encroach upon the rational, organized world above.
Most important for this discussion, however, is the way Farny accomplishes what
the earlier artist could not: he gives the viewer an explicit, detailed, and almost seamless
representation of hog butchering, from live hog to edible and subsidiary products.
Finally, these unlucky hogs will join the larger network of technological systems, sent
forth to nourish the world, in U.S., European, and even Asian markets: “Now the eyes of
dealers are expectantly turned westward, looking for a demand which they believe will be
sure to come at no far-off day from the Celestial Empire. Chinamen learn to relish pork in
California, and going home they bear testimony of its qualities to the teeming millions of
China.”66 In other words, the destination of these products could be (almost) anywhere in
the world. The viewer sees not only the industrial processes that render the animals into
usable commodities, but can also imagine the potential global markets for American
goods, delivered through ever-expanding transportation systems.
What makes these scenes “managerial”? I believe that images of this kind,
whether or not they depict any scene that could actually be viewed by a real human being
(as many clearly could not) operate to provide the viewer with a particular kind of
knowledge, however inaccurate, manipulated, or optimistic. The managerial eye is not a
literal manager’s view but instead asks the viewer visually to understand what a manager
would have to know. That is, in this form the managerial eye often shows an impossible,
all-seeing viewpoint, which includes the many different kinds of knowledge an actual
manager would be required to have: the situation of the site in relation to networks of
“Pork-Packing,” 778.
production and distribution; the topography or important geographical features that might
impact the industry; the different kinds of machinery operating within a single plant,
factory, or mine; the many separate tasks that would have to be performed; and the
architectural layout of the site’s building or buildings. All these kinds of knowledge
would have come under the purview of early managers in the 1860s through 1880s, and
the managerial eye’s impossible stance allows the viewer to be exposed, even if not in
exhaustive detail, to the many concerns and responsibilities of the manager.
Over time, ways of representing the systems of managerial capitalism evolved
into a rational, streamlined visual language. Multi-paneled, cut-away, and panoramic
images gave viewers certain kinds of information about manufacturing and industrial
processes. One of the major techniques illustrators used to give viewers information
about industrial manufacturing was the multi-paneled image. In the earlier part of the
century, most manufacturing was taking place in small-scale establishments, but with the
new ability to ship raw materials, fuels, and finished products at high speeds, many larger
factories began to, if hesitantly and incompletely, integrate vertically.67 This meant that
one could trace the source of a product from raw materials to finished commodity
through a series of steps, often occurring at different facilities. In this sense, these images
collapsed time and space, showing several steps that did not occur at the same time, or
even in the same location, as simultaneous and interconnected. One way the managerial
eye was used by nineteenth-century illustrators was to condense these processes and give
viewers a snapshot of this sequence, often eliding the many geographical moves a
product might make in order to provide a more unified composition.
Agricultural products made good subjects for illustrators interested in
Chandler, Visible Hand, 240-249.
representing processes of production and distribution. Because products such as cotton,
sugar, rice, fruits, meats, and shellfish often needed to be processed, preserved in some
way, and distributed to faraway purchase points, they provided illustrators with multiple
stages on which to focus. Fish and shellfish—including lobsters, sardines, oysters, and
clams—were a frequent topic of illustration in the pages of Harper’s. Granville Perkins’s
attractive multi-panel design of sardine fishing and canning organizes a narrative from
raw materials to distribution, while maintaining the special knowledge and in-depth
approach typical to the managerial eye (Fig. 82).
Perkins’s images profile the American Sardine Company, a New Jersey-based
venture that fished, cured, tinned, and distributed sardines. The story promises the
illustrations will take the viewer through “the several processes through which the fish
are passed after being taken,” a procedure which takes about three days from start to
finish.68 The center of the composition is dramatically taken up by a marine scene of
fishing, while just above this central panel boats land their catch. Surrounding the central
panels are a series of smaller scenes depicting the many stages, each with a specialized
operative, required to clean, cook, and package the fish for shipping. Though the
organization is not entirely self-evident from the image itself, a quick glance at the article
on the next page suggests that the viewer should begin in the lower left corner, where
three men sit hunched over a spiked, revolving scaling machine. Continuing around the
central frame counterclockwise, readers may follow the next steps in the process,
cleaning, washing, pickling, and steaming. In the frame representing steaming, it is
interesting to note the dress of the main figure, who inexplicably wears the apron and
square hat usually associated with mechanics, masons, or other skilled craftsmen. This
“Sardine Fishery,” HW, April 18, 1874, 333.
man’s hat and fine shoes differ markedly from the more typical brimmed hats and kneehigh boots worn by the workers in the four lower frames, and ties him visually to the two
solderers shown directly across the page from him. The overlarge tins they solder shut
point to another visual technique that is frequently used in magazine illustration of
manufacturing: a skewed sense of scale that amplifies the size of the products illustrated.
Though this gives the illustration a clunky look and disorienting sense of perspective, the
frequency with which exaggeratedly-sized products appear in these kinds of illustrations
suggests that it is an intentional choice made by the artist to give the viewer a better look
at what is occurring. By magnifying the size of the product, the artist enables minute
details to be seen clearly. Above the scene of soldering is the packing room, where a wall
of tins, artfully stacked, give a nice diagonal thrust to the image. This is mirrored in the
upper righthand corner, the scene depicting workers filling tins with oil, and the only
image that does not seem to fit comfortably into the natural flow of the composition.
Instead, however, this panel, with its mirroring of the diagonal across the page, gives a
hint at the technique of the cross-section view. Here the diagonal is created not through a
pile of fancifully-stacked cans, but through a cut-away which leaves part of the wall
intact, denoting that the viewer peers into a private space with a penetrating gaze.
Throughout the exploration of sardine canning, the viewer has clearly attained a
privileged view of the factory, but in this panel it is made most explicit. A final scene
hints at the future of the sardines: at the bottom of the composition they are ready to be
“shipped in large quantities to every part of the country.”69 This set of images presume to
inform the viewer about a comprehensive set of processes that allowed his sardines to sit
on the Saturday morning breakfast table, right next to his issue of Harper’s Weekly.
“Sardine Fishery,” 333.
A much later multi-panel illustration by Theodore R. Davis continues the theme
of materials-to-commodities, giving the reader a broad-ranging set of vignettes, each
depicting some specialized activity within a glass foundry. Though it does not explicitly
narrate a telos of raw materials into finished goods, the many images making up the
composition give a dramatic and tense overview of the different uses to which glass may
be put (Fig. 83). The initial step, the foundation for all these skilled tasks, may be seen at
the lower righthand corner, in a panel executed in a loose, informal style and engraved
with light lines and minimal hatching for a quick, impressionistic glimpse. Many of the
panels in this illustration are executed in a similar way, creating a sharp contrast between
these outer vignettes and the moodily-lit sublime of the middle panels. In “Mixing the
Batch,” two workers handle the sand and other raw materials, while in the background is
visible the forge where the mixture will be melted, collapsing these two steps into a
single image. Continuing around the outer rim of images, many of them show not
separate steps in a single process but rather discrete processes for the production of
various types of glass. This suggests the many uses this single product may have, and
encourages the viewer to think about all the times he encounters glass in his everyday
life—including windows, bottles, and drinking glasses, three of the major products
illustrated here.
While this composition lacks the strong organizational layout of “Making the
Magazine” or Farny’s scenes of hog butchering, it does convey an overall powerful
impression of industriousness and attention to detail. The extreme fragility of the glass is
rendered excellently by the engravers throughout, though the largest panel, which
combines several different stages in the making of window glass, shows an especially
fine treatment of different textures—transparent and shining or molten and luminous. The
high level of detail about different processes is matched only by the sublimity and
eeriness of that large central panel, in which a consistent, strong raking light from the
open furnace doors illuminates the scene. In the upper scene, too, which shows druggist’s
glass blowers with their young apprentices, the scene weds the eerie aesthetic of the
alchemical sublime with the informational content of the managerial eye. Other scenes,
too, though they lack the painstaking detail of these two central frames, give a sense of
being able to grasp, understand, and ultimately, control, many different activities at once.
Davis shows, for example, the men and boys engaged in “Pressing and Bottoming
Goblets,” “Blowing Bottles,” and “Cutters” as different elements in the overall process of
the glass foundry, component parts that must always remain ordered and organized for its
operation and regulation. Though each group of artisans goes about its work apparently
quite separately from one another, they are all united by the material they work with and
by the fact that each fills a specific role within a single company. The viewer may, in
fact, be better able to understand the overall significance of their output than they are,
since he acts as a stand-in for the absent or invisible manager supervising the ensemble of
This overseeing gaze is made explicit in Davis’s “Pleasant Valley Vineyards” of
1872 (Fig. 84). In this series of images, Davis depicts the production of sparkling wine
throughout several stages, giving the viewer access to various different sites of both semiindustrial and agricultural labor. The composition powerfully suggests the multi-paneled
image’s ability to collapse time, as well as explicitly paralleling the manager and viewer.
Davis gives his viewer two crucial overview images, one of the main building of the wine
cellar itself, and another of the grape harvest in the fields of Steuben County, New York.
The tiny harvesters are remarkably similar to the Harper’s workers in their static poses
and repetitiveness, and their labor is simultaneously deemphasized and put in a central
part of the composition. Though the arrangement of the images seems haphazard, there is
an underlying logic in the placement of at least some of the images. On the top row are
two seemingly unrelated but key frames: one of a “sampling party” and the other a
portrait of Jules Masson, a French winemaker who was brought in by the Pleasant Valley
company to ensure the authenticity of their Champagne-style wines. The boozy yet
snooty attention the samplers give their coupes, and the many empty bottles littering the
ground hint at a scene of restrained hilarity, but the image’s placement at the top of the
composition suggests that this tasting is the apex of achievement, the end goal of all the
work going on in the frames below, whose solid specificity bolster and make possible the
eventual consumption of the product being created. The other image, that of Masson,
suggests the Frenchman’s watchful, surveying eye over the processes of pressing,
bottling, and fermentation. In fact, the article describes Masson’s all-knowing managerial
It would seem as if this curiously versed man knew the chemical atoms in
each cask (it is said that he does), the moment at which each must be
looked after to check or hasten fermentation. … He is personally
responsible for the condition of each cask and, one might say, bottle. The
president, Mr. D. C. Howell, or C. D. Champlin, the secretary and
treasurer, who exercises general control at the vineyards and wine-cellar,
will wait patiently “until Jules comes” before the bung of any cask is
knocked out, or a particular vintage is inspected.70
Davis’s image not only gives the viewer an indication of the path from raw materials,
through various specialized stages of production, and on to final consumption, but he also
“Pleasant Valley: The Rheims and Epernay of America,” HW, May 11, 1872, 367.
sets up the image so that the portrait of the discerning managerial figure is made to hover
above and survey all the other actions going on below, his “visible hand” a marker of his
almost absolute control over the Pleasant Valley company.
The managerial eye lacks a common, unifying aesthetic but constantly addresses
the themes of industrial process and specialized knowledge being laid bare for the viewer.
Even in scenes where no managers are present, these images demonstrate a remarkable
interest on the part of readers in the minutiae of production, even in industries, such as
that of sardine canning, that offer little in the way of sublime visual experience or
excitement. In many of these cases, the ability to trace a product from source to market,
and thus, somehow, to grasp technological systems through a visual language of
rationality and organization, gives viewers a powerful sense of familiarity and control in
a rapidly-changing world. The operation of the cut-away view was another technique that
enabled readers of popular periodicals to visualize management, both in the
representation of commodity production and in the depiction of technological or
engineering feats, such as subways, tunnels, and bridges.
The cut-away view could be accomplished in several different ways, almost all of
which allowed viewers a perspective virtually impossible to accomplish in real life or
with a photograph. The side of a factory wall could be dramatically cut away, as in
“Making the Magazine,” giving the viewer a direct view into the facility. Other images
cut dramatically into mountains or hillsides, venturing through underwater tunnels or
down mine shafts to open up unreachable scenes to the eye of the viewer. Least
dramatically, the illustrator could merely depict the interior of the factory, without calling
direct attention to the cut-away effect. In this technique, the cut-away lacked drama, but
powerfully naturalized the viewer’s assumptions about his ability visually to pierce the
factory or mine and gain knowledge about the activities that went on within. As Farny
had done, illustrators often subtly altered the actual interior spaces of factories in order to
give a more legible and orderly composition. In many representations of industrial
interiors, as with Perkins’s account of canned sardine manufacture, viewers peer inside
the factory without having to be reminded that they have burst through now-invisible
walls. Occasionally half-built walls or framing structural supports remind the viewer of
the cut-away device, but most frequently these images naturalize this mode of viewing,
presuming viewers will implicitly understand.
One of the most dramatic cut-away images in thirty-five years of Harper’s Weekly
illustration is a representation of a grain elevator on the New York Central and Hudson
River Railroad (Fig. 85). In this image, W.P. Snyder and Theodore Davis depict the inner
workings of the massive structure by demolishing one of the building’s short walls and
peering inside the cavernous space within. Minute labels direct the viewer’s attention to
the grain pipes and bins, and the reader is treated to an exhaustive catalog of dimensions
and capacity, as well as a scorecard comparing New York’s number of stationary grain
elevators (a paltry “one”) with those at Chicago (fifteen, the greatest number),
Milwaukee, and St. Louis.71 This image not only captures the interior works of the grain
elevator, but also gives a detailed picture of its exterior, with grain chutes for loading, and
a large ship docked nearby. The image also treats the viewer to an impression of the busy
New York harbor glimpsed from afar in Thomas Moran’s Lower Manhattan (see Chapter
One): here a huge variety of ships—tugboats, barge, sailing ship, small sailboats, and
even rowboats—create a bustle of activity on the wharf near the grain elevator. The
“A Grain Elevator,” HW, Dec. 22, 1877, 1010.
careful attention to detail in the foreground gives the scene a sense of restless energy and
a quality of immediacy: smoking rail cars come in and a tugboat crew throws a line to
another craft. Looming over all these details is the hulking mass of the grain elevator
itself, which begs the viewer to decipher and comprehend its inner workings. In this form
of the cut-away image, the viewer is thus given a sense of systemic connections—the
boats, the railroad, the grain trucked probably from the Midwest—and a managerial
glimpse at the local systems or processes of this particular site. In these kinds of cut-away
images, the viewer is granted an impossible viewpoint assimilating many different kinds
of knowledge into a single image.
This can also be seen in a page from the United States’ first popular technical and
scientific periodical, Scientific American.72 The journal ran a series titled “American
Industries,” which profiled almost 100 separate manufacturing firms from 1879 to 1885,
illustrating an enormous range of consumer products and industrial machinery.73 These
articles were, in essence, paid advertisements whose content was carefully controlled by
the owners and managers of the factories they featured.74 Their insistent focus on
management, organization, and efficiency, whether or not these were always a reality,
reinforces the fact that the managerial eye was always a blend of fact and fiction, of the
actual present and desired future. In “American Industries, No. 24—Soap Manufacture,”
On the popularization of Scientific American and its role in debates about general technical education,
see Edward W. Stevens, Jr., “Technology, Literacy, and Early Industrial Expansion in the United States,”
History of Education Quarterly 30.4 (Winter 1990): 523-544.
Carroll W. Pursell has compiled a helpful, complete chart of the stories in this series. Pursell, “Testing a
Carriage: The ‘American Industry’ Series of Scientific American,” Technology and Culture 17.1 (Jan.
1976): 85-91.
David A. Hounshell, “Public Relations or Public Understanding: The American Industries Series in
Scientific American,” Technology and Culture 21.4 (Oct. 1980): 589-593. The article is a response to
Pursell’s suggestion in “Testing a Carriage” that historians of technology could use “American Industries”
to learn about the realities of manufacturing in the nineteenth century. Hounshell suggests, and I agree, that
these images and articles tell the contemporary scholar just as much about what was desired as what was.
the image opens up the Babbitt soap works for the viewer to scrutinize the production of
the popular brand “Babbitt’s Best Soap” (Fig. 86). In this factory, everything “is subject
to regular system. Nothing is wasted, nothing neglected. The gigantic operations proceed
with perfect regularity” under the careful scrutiny of the proprietor-inventor, Benjamin T.
Babbitt. Possessed of “business talent of the highest order,” Babbitt acted as his own
manager, using his “inventive and mechanical skill” to streamline the production
process.75 In the image, which has some similarities to both the cross-section of the
Harper’s factory and the New York grain elevator, the artist gives four scenes of the soap
works, in which men preside over vats of potash (used as a fertilizer) and cut and shape
soap cakes, while women weigh and package saleratus or baking soda. These four scenes
give a sense of the various products produced by Babbitt’s large works in Manhattan,
while at the right, a five-story cut-away image gives a view of one of the massive soap
vats or “kettles.” In this crucible, one of several located on the premises, the annual
intake of tens of thousands of barrels of tallow, resin, and potash from Texas, the
Carolinas, and Europe was boiled and refined to create the finished product.76 Like
“Making the Magazine,” the scene gives an architectural-style cut through the building,
showing activities and workers on different floors, and even the connecting staircases that
led workers through the factory structure. The fact that it reaches down five stories also
helps underscore the massiveness of the vat and the factory’s output. In the combination
of the cut-away and the more detailed close-up images, the viewer assimilates in his mind
the varied operations of the Babbitt soap works.
“American Industries, No. 24—Soap Manufacture,” SA 41.22 (Nov. 29, 1879): 340.
“Soap Manufacture,” 340.
Illustrators also frequently used cross sections to represent engineering works and
coal mines, operations which required excavation—increasing the visual excitement of
venturing into those spaces. In addition, the many engineering projects that went on
during the nineteenth century partook of innovative new technologies, and often the best
way to represent them was through diagrams and cut-away images, since these pictorial
devices could communicate the most information to viewers. Extensive coverage of the
building of aqueducts, tunnels, and, later, subways, was popular in Harper’s Weekly and
other periodicals. As early as the 1860s, the magazine began publishing images featuring
the construction of railroads and civic engineering projects, as well as stone quarrying.
The articles depicting these feats often focused on statistics, while the images gave visual
information, usually in a combination of different stylistic techniques. Dramatically,
viewers could see through mountains, under water, and into foundations. Examples from
the 1860s through 1880s demonstrate the public fascination with engineering works and
the many ways illustrators chose to communicate information about those works. Even
though these images do not depict the production of commodities, as many other
examples of the managerial eye do, they still require the viewer to think like a site
manager and work through the technical difficulties presented by each project.
In these images, W.P. Snyder, Charles Graham, and George G. Rockwood depict
the processes of several dangerous and exciting engineering feats through dramatic use of
the cut-away technique, allowing viewers to position themselves in the sides of
mountains, underwater, and in the middle of a tunnel under the Hudson River.
Rockwood’s early images of the Hoosac railway tunnel give the viewer three different
approaches to thinking about the tunneling process: a diagram that looks like a simplified
engineering section, a sketch of the actual tunnel and operation of the drilling machine,
and an engraving of one of his photographs showing the almost-bucolic entrance to the
uncompleted tunnel, with a rail line leading into the gloomy dark of the passageway (Fig.
87). Similarly, Graham’s series of illustrations for the Hudson River Tunnel show a
diagram of the proposed tunnel, a section without workers, and three rondels containing
scenes of the works that mimic the form of the tunnel itself (Fig. 88). Both of these
compositions allow the reader to approach the engineering problems depicted from a
variety of angles in order to get the fullest picture of the project. These scenes, with their
dangerous engineering processes and the horror of being trapped underground give the
viewer both a frisson of danger and a rational, managerial glimpse at the works in
progress. Both accompanying articles mention the importance of skillful management: in
the article on the Hudson Tunnel the author notes that the “managers feel much pleased
with the success” of the compressed air system used in the construction of the tunnel, and
in the case of the Hoosac Tunnel the author writes hopefully that “with money and
management the tunnel could be readily completed in six years.”77 Tragically, with the
failure of the compressed air technology, part of the Hudson River Tunnel collapsed only
two months later, killing twenty workmen, bearing out the somewhat eerie and haunting
nature of Graham’s illustrations.78 The backlit workers seem almost to dance macabrely,
especially in the central image, which shows the use of electric lighting for improved
tunnel visibility.
Despite the occasional failure of such projects and the implicit threat in some of
these representations, cut-away style images could still give viewers a powerful sense of
“The Hudson River Tunnel,” HW, May 1, 1880, 276; “The Hoosac Tunnel,” HW, Dec. 5, 1868, 781.
“The Hudson River Tunnel; Steadily Being Pushed Toward New-York,” New York Times, Nov. 6, 1881.
The tunnel was finally completed in 1908, after numerous stops and starts.
knowledge, and were much more accessible to the lay viewer than the detailed technical
drawings included in books like S.D.V. Burr’s 1885 Tunneling Under the Hudson River.
Cross-section images also introduced viewers to perspectives on construction projects
they could otherwise never hope to see. For example, W.P. Snyder’s “Removing Pilgrim
Rock,” which documented the detonation of a large submerged rock that had been
responsible for a major shipwreck in New York Harbor, showed a dramatic new version
of the cut-away: an underwater cross section that depicted not only the ship on the
surface but also the tiny divers working on the harbor floor and the ghostly crates being
lowered to them from the surface world (Fig. 89). The skewed perspective allows a
simultaneous view both above the surface of the water (looking down on the gentle
ripples of the harbor’s surface) and level with the activities going on below. An image of
a similar operation, taken from a photograph by Rockwood, also gives a compound
perspective on the scene (Fig. 90). Again the viewer looks below the surface of the water,
this time into a deep shaft created through a complex series of dams, a project to
demolish another rock formation that blocked water entrance into New York. This
engraved reproduction of a photographic image clearly takes liberties with perspectival
representation: split with an imaginary horizontal line, each half of the composition
seems to be taken from a different angle, an effect impossible to achieve with a
photograph. The upper portion of the image, like Snyder’s, is seen from a perspective
above the surface of the water, with a level view across the harbor to the shore beyond. If
the upper half of the image is covered, however, the perspective seems to shift to the bay
floor, level with the workers toiling there. Instead of looking down on the central three
figures as from a great height, the viewer feels he is on the same level as they are. This
granting of two or more perspectives at once is not uncommon in magazine illustration,
and is another version of the kind of composite knowledge granted by the multi-frame
manufacturing scenes. F.D. Klingender, one of the first scholars to give serious attention
to representations of industry, notes a precursor for this multi-perspectivalism in early
seventeenth-century illustrations, in which some elements “have perhaps a strictly bird’seye view … while living objects in the foreground are seen as by a spectator on foot.”
Despite the apparent inconsistency, he writes, “these representations convey a curious
sense of reality.”79 In this single image, the viewer seems to hover above the worksite,
then swoop down from a great height to settle at the base of the image.80
Cross section techniques were also utilized for the representation of coal mining,
another industry that required workers, managers, and viewers alike to descend beneath
the earth. As with the Hudson River Tunnel, the specter of industrial disaster always hung
over representations of mining, as collapses and floodings were well-documented and
often sensationalized in the press. Nineteenth-century readers celebrated the miner
perhaps more explicitly than any other worker, and would be familiar with both rosy and
bleak depictions of miners, including sentimental stories of domestic life, dramatic tales
of underground terror and valiant rescue, and cut-away representations of both tourism
and travail in the mines themselves. As with engineering, mining lent itself well to the
cut-away technique, because of the necessity to burrow underground to extract the coal;
any representation of conditions in the mines would be especially revealing for readers
who would probably never themselves venture into such a space.
Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution, 69.
Another clear spatial exaggeration allowed by the medium of engraving: the article “Mining Operations
at Hallet’s Point” notes the depth of the excavation as only twenty-two feet, but using the height of a single
figure as an approximation, it appears to be at least twice that deep. “Mining Operations,” HW, Sept. 23,
1871, 887.
Two Harper’s Weekly illustrations from fourteen years apart demonstrate
different use of the cross section technique by Paul Frenzeny and John Durkin (Figs. 91
and 92). In each the viewer gets a privileged glimpse inside a coal mine, though the kind
of information gleaned is quite different. In Frenzeny’s multi-frame image, which
supplements a larger cover image and story about the history of American coal mining,
the reader experiences visually “the various processes by which the coal is worked out
from its bed in the mountain and prepared for the market.”81 This text prepares the reader
for his examination of the many different types of jobs required to extract the valuable
ore, in these years a valuable commodity that most readers would come into contact with
on a daily basis.
In the central image of his composition, Frenzeny uses a striking example of the
cut-away technique when he blends into a single seamless frame the aftermath of a
“blasting” and a scene of miners going “up the airhole.” The jagged edge of the recentlyblasted rock provides the image with picturesque irregularity, while the three miners in
the lower righthand corner form a link between the viewer’s space and the central
vignette. Just beyond the blasted “breast,” a miner, haloed by the light emanating from
his helmet, emerges from a tunnel. He almost forms a mirror image of the men going “up
the airhole”; all are simultaneously about to emerge into the large central cavern. Around
this main image, the viewer gets glimpses of several specialized trades within the mine,
such as the fire boss, whose job is to check for dangerous fire damp, and the surveyors,
who decide the best way to approach the vein. All these scenes, along with the dark
atmosphere of the overall composition, give a sense of tunneling through the rock: rough
edges and tunnel walls surround almost all the vignettes, reinforcing the enclosed nature
“Down Among the Coal Mines,” HW, Feb. 22, 1873, cover.
of the mine. A final panel is worth close inspection, because it depicts actual managerial
control over the miners: the counting board, shown in the upper right corner of the
composition. This board served as a means for the manager to keep track of the
productive output of each employee:
Going down to work, the miners have to pass the “counting board,” on
which are a number of pegs bearing the names of the workmen, and on
each peg a number of wooden checks marked with corresponding names,
each check representing a car-load of coal. These are distributed to the
men as they pass in. When the trains come up with their loads of coal they
have to pass this same point, and as they do so the drivers hand the checks
to the counting boss, who returns them to the pegs, and at the end of the
day there is the record of each man's labor, about which there can be no
In this system, the counting boss represents the economic interests of the mine owners,
and points to an important aspect of the mining industry. Chandler writes that as early as
the 1840s, mining establishments began expanding and professionalizing their operations,
as well as employing greater numbers of men. By the time Frenzeny’s images were made,
many railroads and other manufacturing interests were purchasing shares in coal mines,
thus reinforcing the ideology of vertical monopoly.83 Coal mining served as an important
locus of control over workers, and as an example of the increasingly corporate, managed
nature of the U.S. economy in the nineteenth century.
John Durkin’s large, beautifully-engraved image of a Tennessee coal mine gives
quite a different version of the cut-away technique, in which only a single vertical
support at the left of the picture suggests visual penetration beneath the earth’s surface.
Beyond the implicit employee surveillance of the counting board, an actual manager is
depicted in the scene. At the far right of the image stands a well-dressed, bearded man
“Down Among the Coal Mines,” cover.
Chandler, Visible Hand, 52, 153.
with one hand on his hips, a type who recurs more dramatically in Theodore Davis’s
“The Coal-Mines of Pennsylvania—Preparing the Coal for the Market” (Fig. 93). The
two men are almost mirror images of one another, though the figure in Davis’s
illustration is more casually dressed. Both sport beards and stand with a body language
that exudes confidence, watching over the work of the men and boys. The man in Davis’s
image holds a switch, particularly disturbing to the twenty-first-century viewer as it
becomes evident that many, if not most, of the workers over whom he presides are young
children. Davis provides a vision of disciplinary and even violent managerial oversight,
in a scene that places the viewer in a similar position of power over the young laborers,
described as “smutty young blackbirds” or “urchins.”84 The manager stands on a ledge,
fairly high above the vast and undifferentiated sea of operatives. Except for a row in the
immediate foreground, most of these youths are delineated with a few strokes, and
merely add a sense of scale to the scene. Surprisingly for a journal that was already
expressing concern over child welfare, the plight of these young boys makes no
emotional appeal to the reader; almost all of them, even the closest, are shown either
turned away or in profile, disabling an affective relationship between viewer and worker.
Instead, the obvious person with whom to identify, given the compositional strategy, is
that of the manager.
Representations of managerial figures such as this began appearing in Harper’s
and other periodicals in the 1860s. Two images from Scientific American demonstrate the
ever-presence of the manager in the realm of commodity production (Figs. 94 and 95).
Coincidentally, both the companies profiled in these images are still in business, Reed &
“Coal-Mining and the Coal Market,” HW, Sept. 11, 1869, 583.
Barton flatware and Clark (now Coats & Clark) thread. Clark’s thread works in particular
adhered to an ideology of efficiency:
Without doubt the manufacture of thread, as conducted at the
establishment of Messrs. Clark, may be taken as an example of the best
practice. Entering their extensive manufactory, in Newark, N.J., one can
but notice, first of all, the system, order, and cleanliness that everywhere
prevail; the gleam of polished machinery, the hum and flutter of the
thousands of spindles, spools, and reels, the ceaseless progression of the
material from the raw to the finished state.85
All this efficient labor is conducted by female and young boy operatives, under the
watchful eye of the mustached manager and his bearded companion. In this image, part of
a series representing the Clark factory, the central panel depicts both the isolation of the
working women—advances in spooling machinery meant the factory needed only a
single woman to tend each row—and the ever-vigilant eyes of the manager. In this
specific industry, where many workers were traditionally female, the presence of a male
controlling figure strengthened the power dynamic between labor and management. As
with the young boys in the mines, an already unequal dynamic between worker and
manager is compounded and magnified by a social power inequity as well. Most viewers,
who were presumably adult white males, almost automatically side with the manager.
Even when the workers shown are also male, the manager’s body language
reinforces the relationship of power, as in the Reed & Barton illustration, in which rows
of men dip flatware into silver-plating baths. Off to the left in the raking light created by
the factory’s slit-like windows, the manager, in vest and bowler hat, stands with his hand
on his hip—a not-uncommon pose. Both his body and the piercing gaze he directs at the
row of laborers demonstrate his control; even his shadow seems to stand with authority,
feet planted firmly apart. In these illustrations, the superiority of the managerial class
“American Industries, No. 11—The Manufacture of Spool Thread,” SA 40.19 (May 10, 1879): 289.
over the working class is constantly reinforced, and the viewer is asked over and over
again to identify himself with those figures who straddle the line between labor and
More common than this explicit depiction of the managerial class is the kind of
imagery that grants the viewer an unusual or elevated perspective, or broadens the field
of vision to give a panoramic effect. Artists primarily used this technique to convey quick
and complete information with a single glance, as in Scientific American’s representation
of the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut (Fig. 96).
Here viewers are privileged to oversee the entire machine room of a sewing machine
factory at a single glance—1,003 machines in total, if the article’s statistics are reliable.86
The machine room appears to recede into almost endless space, conjuring up visions of
the 1876 Centennial or other vast shedlike exposition buildings in which thousands of
machines and products were collected for display. The raised perspective and the
extremely wide angle of the view suggest an impossible vantage point, the imaginative
creation of an artist desiring to give a representation that is both informational and
aesthetically pleasing. Like many factory representations of the period, the image depicts
several middle-class tourists who also survey the works from a position of unrestricted
access. Viewers may choose to identify with one or more of these potential surrogates,
but is ultimately granted more information than any of them; this perspective is the one
“best view” that could be achieved from a single viewpoint.87 Though its details recede
“American Industries, No. 10—Sewing Machines,” SA 40.18 (May 3, 1879): 274.
The idea of the “best view”—a composite view from a number of viewpoints and thus an impossible
view—was more famously used by artists in touristic renderings of nature. See Floramae McCarron-Cates,
“The Best Possible View: Pictorial Representation in the American West,” in Frederic Church, Winslow
Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape, ed. Gail S. Davidson and McCarronCates (New York: Cooper Hewitt and Bulfinch Press, 2006), 75-117.
into shadows, the image nevertheless gives an impression of mastery and control, the
viewer’s imagined control, over “the organization and maintenance of the perfect system
which prevails throughout these works.”88
An even broader panorama is granted in Davis’s representation of ice harvesting
on the Hudson River, a scene that gives the viewer more information than a single glance
of even the sharpest unmediated vision could hope to do (Fig. 97). The lower panel,
powerfully horizontal, shows a vast expanse of river ice being measured by horse-draw
sledges, cut, and floated down a water channel to the huge, factory-like ice house on the
left. All different stages of the cutting are shown simultaneously, and despite the stillness
of the scene, the masses of men, who show up as black blobs against the ice in the middle
ground, give an effect of quiet industriousness. An estimated “three thousand men and
boys” were employed at the seasonal work of harvesting a commodity that was, by 1874,
“an article for household use which is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.”89 Richard D.
Brown supports this contemporaneous observation, writing that technological and
organizational improvements pioneered by Boston industrialist Frederick Tudor around
1850 shifted ice from a “luxury of minor commercial significance” to “a national industry
exercising a major influence on the American diet” with an intricate distribution and
storage system.90 Ice’s essential role in other mutually reinforcing industries such as
brewing and meatpacking also contributed to its rapid rise from luxury to necessity.91 The
lower panel also repeats a stage of the process from the middle scene above, which shows
“Sewing Machines,” 274.
“The Ice Crop of the Hudson,” HW, March 7, 1874, 222.
Brown, Modernization, 132. See also Joseph C. Jones, Jr., America’s Icemen: An Illustrative History of
the United States Natural Ice Industry, 1665-1925 (Humble, TX: Jobeco Books, 1984).
Henry Hall, The Ice Industry of the United States, with a Brief Sketch of its History and Estimates of
Production in the Different States (1888; repr., Early American Industries Association, 1974), 5.
men loading the cut ice onto an external conveyor belt for ease of transport into the ice
house. From there, the viewer travels up the ramp with the ice blocks and down again
into the house, where a dozen men are “stowing the ice” in the upper right corner of the
composition. In this series of scenes, it is the lower panorama that offers the most striking
and informative vista; the other frames merely serve as enlarged details of the overall
The series, cut-away, and panorama techniques were rarely used in isolation. As
multi-framed images became more common, artists increasingly used a combination of
these techniques to dramatize production and allow viewers to establish their role as
vicarious managers through all the visual techniques they had learned to interpret and
expect. Often, these composite images looked quite orderly and restrained, but
occasionally they could become frenetic, cluttered and even whimsical. Particularly when
these visual techniques were applied to industries that had not yet adopted modern
managerial capitalism and mechanization, the logic of the images became obscured, and
attention to order, process, and rationality fell away. One such image is Julian Oliver
Davidson’s “Cotton Culture in the South, No. 3” (Fig. 98). Disorder rules in this
depiction of Southern cotton production, which includes a bewildering number of visual
approaches in its twelve frames. Combined with the irregular shapes of several of the
frames, this visual cacophony gives the would-be managerial viewer few specific details
on which to focus. The vignettes are laid out like the postcards or photographs pinned to
a board in contemporary trompe l’oeil paintings such as William Michael Harnett’s rack
pictures. Despite a superficial similarity, however, the silent indeterminacy of Harnett’s
paintings is a far cry from Davidson’s attempt to give the viewer a full picture of the
Southern cotton industry. Though the initial impression is one of confusion, there is an
internal logic to the arrangement. Roughly speaking, the image should be “read” from top
to bottom, beginning with the harvest of the raw material and concluding with the final
product ready for shipping. Like other images that trace a commodity from its raw
materials, these scenes endeavor to give the reader a journey through the life-cycle of
cotton “from the seed to the spindle … [to] the noble steamer which leaves the port of
New Orleans for the mills and looms of Manchester.”92 Despite its attempt to conform to
the orderly, linear format of other managerial imagery, this image’s visual vocabulary is
overloaded and confusing. The composition suggests that both the cotton industry and
Davidson’s image itself need to be brought under a firm managerial hand.
Through many different means of visual framing, then, artists throughout the later
part of the nineteenth century successfully communicated to periodical readers the
complexities and details of commodity production in the growing economy of the United
States. During these same years, American businesses were expanding and implementing
new techniques of management that were constantly evolving throughout the century. A
startling coincidence between the industries that were early adapters to managerial
systems and those depicted in periodical illustration convinces me that artists intended to
showcase the new ideas of efficiency, streamlined production, linear narrative, and ability
to oversee many phases of production that were an integral part of the ideology of
management. These industries included iron and steel production, canned goods, meat,
and distilled beverages, consumer articles, railroads and engineering, and other heavy
industries such as mining and glassmaking, all of which have been examined in some
depth here. Talented magazine illustrators developed the visual vocabulary best suited to
W.M. Burwell, “Cotton. From the Plough to the Loom,” HW, July 14, 1883, 446.
the representation of manufacturing and technology in order to give viewers privileged
information and allow them to construct a fantasy of complete managerial knowledge.
Viewers were also expected to ally themselves with the emergent management class
through these visual means.
These styles of representation were unique to the popular press, and were most
effectively utilized through the medium of wood engraved illustration. That this medium
was particularly apt for this kind of representation may be seen when wood engraved
images are compared with some of the photographs published in Harper’s Weekly during
the early 1890s. These photographs, printed using the halftone process, give an excellent
indication of why wood engraved illustration could be considered a superior method for
conveying the managerial eye to viewers, despite its much greater cost (see Introduction).
By comparison with engraved images of similar industries, the photographs fall short on
almost every front: detail, clarity, and ability to use physically impossible perspectives to
give readers more information about a particular site or industry.93 Despite the higher
quality of engraving technology, the indexicality of the photograph made it a more
convincing source of visual journalism, leading to the eventual phasing-out of inaccurate
(not to say laborious and expensive) wood engravings.94 However, when halftone
This is a primary argument of Marianne Doezema, “The Clean Machine: Technology in American
Magazine Illustration,” Journal of American Culture 11.4 (Winter 1988): 73-92. However, Doezema
focuses on the representation of machinery, rather than production. See also Estelle Jussim, Visual
Communication and the Graphic Arts: Photographic Technologies in the Nineteenth Century (New York:
R.R. Bowker, 1983); Jo Ann Early Levin, “The Golden Age of Illustration: Popular Art in American
Magazines, 1850-1925” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1980), 66-69.
Neil Harris, “Iconography and Intellectual History: The Half-Tone Effect,” in New Directions in
American Intellectual History, ed. John Higham and Paul K. Conkin (Baltimore: John Hopkins University
Press, 1979), 209. Peter Bacon Hales also discusses the preference for photography in social exposé
imagery. Hales, Silver Cities: The Photography of American Urbanization, 1839-1915 (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1984), 169.
printing was in its infancy in the early 1890s, photographs and engravings continued to
exist alongside one another in the pages of weekly magazines. Clearly the representation
of the factory interior during this transitional period presented an example of what Neil
Harris calls “categories of appropriateness,” categories in which “certain kinds of visual
representation” such as wood engraving are chosen over other, more modern processes
such as photography because they “seem more valid in certain situations.”95
Two representations of iron production forcibly demonstrate the shortcomings of
photographic reproduction in the 1890s (Figs. 99 and 100). A representation of a
Birmingham iron foundry displays a spectacular and sublime scene of industry, but one
that also conforms to the panoramic urges of the managerial eye. The viewer sees the
scene from one end of a vast hall: almost twenty laborers are clearly visible with their
long rabbles, prodding and stirring the iron, which emits fantastic sparks, rendered as
pure white gouge marks in the center of the image. The perspectival construction of this
interior is fanciful: in the foreground, a car track, clearly straight, curves to be
accommodated into the composition. The viewer’s position is an impossible one, almost
as if he were dangling halfway down from the ceiling, a point of view that allows him to
look just slightly down on the scene. These elements combine to give a sense of
panorama, as if the setting had been captured with a wide-angle lens (the apparent
distortion or curvature of several structures within also gives this effect), and the large
size format of the Weekly gives this double-page spread even more visual impact. Though
it contains some unexplained elements—such as the apparently running woman against
the arched wall—for the most part it presents a vision of straightforward and rational
industry; only a few figures overlap one another, and each performs his appointed task.
Harris, “Half-Tone Effect,” 199.
Details of the composition lend a sense of realism one might expect from a journalistic
representation; a resting man in the foreground mops his brow with a handkerchief, for
instance. These small gestures all convey an image of truthful reportage, while at the
same time, the compositional distortions lend the familiar sense of power and control.
By contrast, a photograph from only six years later demonstrates the
disappointing initial implementation of photography’s promise. The photograph “View of
a Great Smithy” presents such an unrelenting greyness that at first it is difficult to tell
what is being depicted at all. Once the viewer’s eyes adjust to the flatness of tone and
begin to examine the details of the scene, he can make out a bit more, but there is no
instantly-graspable message from this image; instead, it presents a jumble of workers,
tools, and products without any overriding logic or lesson. On a table in the center
foreground sits an assemblage of items, including what look like firedogs and wall
sconces but are impossible to identify. Behind this display and to the left, three workmen
bow over a long table but, again, the work they do is unclear; they seem to be working on
a long decorative wrought iron grille, but the flatness of the photograph vaguely suggests
that these objects are closer to the picture plane than the workers are. The illegibility of
the workers’ hands in this straight-on perspective demonstrates the reason why a slightly
elevated viewpoint and enlarged size of objects, which could have given clearer views of
the tasks performed, were so often used in illustration. On the whole, the photograph
leaves the viewer in confusion. Most interesting about this article and image pairing is the
way the author, Charles De Kay, deals with the absolute visual failure of the photograph.
While articles accompanying illustrations of industry occasionally included vivid
descriptions of the work processes, this was rare. More typically, the author would supply
the viewer with just enough information to support the work of the images. These articles
tended to be full of the kinds of information the images could not provide—statistics,
scale of production, size and capacity of facilities—rather than impressionistic
descriptions of the factory or mine interior. In the case of De Kay, however, the
photograph is so lacking in information that he seems driven to do with his pen what the
photographer could not with his camera. De Kay writes, evoking a magical and dramatic
scene completely lacking in the published photograph:
In darkish corners under the high sheds glow the fires, in which bars of all
sizes and shapes are roasting. Bare-armed men drag various pieces of
metal in and out of the coals, place them on the anvils, and stand serene
while the hammers of their fellows, wielded by muscular arms, dash
cascades of sparks over them from the white-hot ends. Under the
picturesque light and shade the smithy has that exhilarating din when labor
which is heard fashions shape out of shapelessness. … A great smithy,
such as the one I am thinking of—the reader can get a glimpse of one part
of it in the illustration—is a place where all kinds of things are fabricated.
… Singular to see how resistless is the power of these hammers when the
material has been properly roasted. Through the Japanese fireworks of
sparks the trio of smiths look grim and determined.96
With the visual failure of the managerial eye, the article presents a literary attempt to
evoke the same kind of drama evident in images such as Graham’s “Great Industry of
Birmingham.” This description bears no resemblance at all to the photograph of a “Great
Smithy.” Instead, it tries to complete for the viewers of the photograph what they expect
to see and desire to know about the production of wrought iron.
Another comparison of engravings and photographs also demonstrates the
superiority of the former for representing the ideal managerial eye. In these two
compositions, the viewer is taken inside the Philadelphia Mint and the U.S. Treasury to
see the minting and storage of silver currency (Figs. 101 and 102). The drawings of the
Charles De Kay, “Iron in Decorative Design,” HW, Jan. 14, 1893, 35.
Philadelphia Mint use several techniques with which we have become familiar, including
a modified version of the cut-away, panorama and spatial distortion, the inclusion of
middle-class spectators (if not actual managerial figures), and the careful leading of the
viewer through several stages required to produce the finished commodity. In these
images, it is clear that the Mint welcomed and was perhaps even designed for the touristic
visits of middle-class citizens, several of whom are shown perusing its various
departments. Stretching a point a bit, it could be argued that this industry was particularly
open to “management” from everyday Americans, since it was a federal service in this
government of, by, and for the people. This image is, I believe, unique for showing not
one but four separate tourist couples, which could be construed as support for a reading
that this particular “product” was even more susceptible to outside managerial
involvement from non-specialist citizens. Other than that detail, there is nothing
particularly striking about this series of scenes; it merely gives, once again, a familiar
arsenal of visual strategies of vicarious management.
However, its effectiveness becomes more evident when compared with a pair of
photographic images that document what happens to the silver once it leaves the
“factory” of the Mint. In these photographs, probably by William Bell, the reader
ventures inside the treasury vaults to witness the weighing and storage of gold and silver
coinage.97 In these crowded photographs, a mixed-race crew of employees works
together. Unlike the previous photograph discussed, these images do allow the viewer to
see what exactly the workers are doing; here the questions are: why are there so many of
The caption merely reads “by Bell.” I assume the photographer was William Bell, based on his earlier
employment by the U.S. Government on several Western and South American surveys, and his known
activity during the early 1890s. Will Stapp, “William Bell (1830-1910),” in Encyclopedia of Nineteenthcentury Photography, vol. 1, ed. John Hannavy (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2008): 142-143.
them, and what are the ones who are not working doing? The flatness created by early
flash technology piles the men almost one on top of another, creating an unrealisticfeeling and cramped workspace. This claustrophobic effect is heightened by the pointed
leisure of more than half of the workers, who seem to be posing or lounging, perched on
stacked crates of money, while their coworkers perform the actual weighing. Even the
work occurring looks posed and static, as can be seen in the righthand photograph of a
young African American worker who looks down at the scale with his hands held out
stiffly. In this photograph, if the actions of labor are not obscure, they are at best
uninformative. In a strange way, because of his restriction by actual architectural space,
the photographer has had to get too close to the work being done—there is not enough
sense of the larger context of the men’s actions.
However, the managerial eye seems to live on in the older white man who stands,
hand on hip, at the rear of the room. Once again, I speculate, the image asks the viewer
to ally himself with the manager or boss, this time not through a compositional parity but
instead one of skin color. Though the employment of the Treasury is shown as integrated,
there is no doubt who is in charge. In the left photograph, several African American
workers are located higher in the composition than the white central figure, but they are
shadowy and indistinct in the background. The authoritative pose and sharp focus of the
large white man in the righthand photograph, however, marks him as important and
signals to the reader with whom to identify. The juxtaposition of white and black
laborers, with whites in the position of authority, was not new. An image of Civil War
engineering work demonstrates how both perspective and race were combined to create
an image of white management and black labor (Fig. 103). In this “picturesque and
interesting sketch,” not only are middle class viewers divided from the African American
workers by race, but they also clearly stand above them on a shelf of earth five or six feet
high.98 A single black soldier is also shown on this level, but sitting, so as not to obscure
the view of the two white men overseeing the digging, one in an officer’s uniform. The
proud officer and his companion are the ones who are shown as, literally, on the viewer’s
“level.” They are also some of the only people who, like the viewer, avoid being cast
under the slanting shadow that obscures many details within the earthwork. Images such
as this one, then, could use the techniques of the managerial eye to reinforce both class
and racial dominance in the mind of the viewer.
There are no statistics available on the racial makeup of the Harper’s reading
audience, but throughout its run it had been ambivalent about how to treat African
Americans and, not surprisingly, white-centric. Thus, by assuming the reader as white,
the 1893 photographs expect him to identify with the authoritative central figure, just as
they had back in 1865. Bell’s photographs implicitly reinforce the racial power dynamic
of the U.S., assuring the reader of continued control both over blacks and the working
class, and presenting a final vision of managerial dominance, despite a marked departure
from the many visual strategies that had been used by artists and engravers throughout
the previous thirty years.
These final images bring us, in a way, full circle to the first images that showed
viewers how a vast team of employees at Harper’s Monthly made the magazine. While
that series of vignettes reminded the viewer of the mass production and distribution of the
very magazine he was reading, representations of the minting of money serve as a potent
“The Dutch Gap Canal,” HW, Jan. 21, 1865, 38.
reminder that all the images seen in this chapter rest on the proper operation of
commerce. That money itself was, in a way, a mass-produced commodity, is important to
consider in the technological system of production and exchange conjured up by images
classified under the managerial eye. That even a basic unit of currency had to be
manufactured—and broken down into specialized steps in a similar way to the
commodities that money would be used to purchase—is a compelling reminder of the
interconnectedness of all these seemingly disparate images.
Lest the reader think, then, that the only connecting thread between the images
considered in this chapter is their use of shared visual techniques for the production of
detailed knowledge about industrial processes, the scenes of the Philadelphia Mint
remind us that we, and nineteenth-century viewers, must think more broadly than that.
The managerial eye was not only a means for understanding the workings of a particular
factory, mine, or engineering project. Instead, it was a powerful set of visual tropes that
allowed readers of Harper’s Weekly and other popular magazines to situate individual
manufactures, products, and services within the larger, and ever-present, matrix of
technological systems, and to carve out a privileged site for themselves in that nexus. The
power of the managerial eye suggests the beginning of a major shift away from
irrationality and toward a more structured, straightforward, “managed” society. However,
as we will see in the case of imagery of Reconstruction and reconciliation after the war,
the two contradictory modes—the magical and the mundane—continued to coexist at
least until the 1890s.
Chapter 4:
Swords into Ploughshares: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Labor
I see around your work-shop
Stark implements of war—
Can it be that you are forging
Some new-born quarrel for?
Not so, my jovial farmer,
The weapons that I forge
No manly limbs shall sever,
Draw no gore-drops, cut no gorge:
Sword I’m turning into plow-share,
Into reaping-hook the gun,
Here are bayonets by the bushel—
Shall I shoe your horse with one?1
The poem “After the War” by Charles D. Shanley, part of which is quoted above,
ran on the front page of the August 1865 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. In
the wood engraving above it, an almost pastoral scene appears: Yankee farmer and
Yankee blacksmith greet each other with smiles in the latter’s modest shop (Fig. 104).
The handsome blacksmith, whose features bear a resemblance to the Victorian character
type of the honest working man, stands at his anvil, preparing to hammer a sword.2 The
Yankee farmer with his hat, whip, and long coat is another well-known type; viewers
would recognize him from earlier genre paintings such as The Painter’s Triumph (1838)
by William Sidney Mount, though the intervening years have added some flesh to his
belly and some lines to his face. The two stand in amiable conversation as the farmer
Charles D. Shanley, “After the War,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (hereafter HNMM) 31.183 (Aug.
1865): cover.
Mary Cowling, The Artist as Anthropologist: The Representation of Type and Character in Victorian Art
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 170, 174-175. The “noble worker” type appears in Frank
Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Monthly, and Vanity Fair, and clearly derives
from British models.
waits for the blacksmith to “shoe his horse” with a bayonet from the field of Gettysburg
or “a broken fetter / From the South.” This typical preindustrial working man labors at
something more momentous than simply shoeing a horse. He is participating in the postCivil War discourse surrounding reconciliation between North and South. Though both
men in the image are Yankees, they stand in for the nation as a whole: getting back to
business as usual, but using the detritus of the devastating war as a foundation for future
peace. Only four months after the war, this industrious worker is striving to obliterate its
memory by beating “sword … into plow-share” and “bayonets by the bushel” into useful
items such as horseshoes and other agricultural implements. On the wall behind the
blacksmith hang artifacts mapping the progression from warlike to peaceful state: to the
left hang several swords, to be subjected to the same process as the one now on his anvil,
eventually adding to the array of horseshoes hanging at right. By taking the materials of
warfare and forging them into something new and useful for peacetime, the figure enacts
a literal and symbolic repudiation of war and disunion, focusing on getting back to work.
At the same time, getting back to work also meant getting the South to work, forging its
smoking ruins into a newly-thriving society on the model of Northern manufacturing and
commerce. This humble blacksmith is one of a large group of images that struggled to
make sense of reunification after the war and did so through a single metaphor: work.
This chapter argues that representations of reunification between South and North
imagined Reconstruction and reconciliation as a kind of symbolic labor; in these images,
reunifying the states was something that had to be worked at. This theme appeared in
several media, including political cartoons, traditional European-style history painting,
cityscapes and factory views of growing Southern industrial hubs, and imagery of
expositions held between 1876 and 1884. Most, though not all, of the visual documents
examined here were created in the North. Though these paintings (or their reproductions)
and illustrations circulated throughout the Union, the group of images as a whole
represent a Northern hegemonic view of reconciliation. The social and economic, no less
than the political, terms of Reconstruction were dictated by the North and imposed upon
the South in explicit ways. Because the North was also the center of the national print
culture, authors and illustrators based in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia had the
power to shape an entire nation’s views about the work of reunification. In addition, the
North’s role as the most technologically advanced section of the country meant that the
other regions had to accept modernization as a central tenet of U.S. identity. As historian
Richard D. Brown writes, “because of the Northern triumph the Northern vision of
United States society became the national vision. … The Union victory officially
established modern ideals.”3 Historian Richard Slotkin goes further, arguing that
Northern victory in the Civil War caused a nationwide ideological shift toward official
support of big business and managerial techniques. In fact, Slotkin writes, Northern
leaders viewed Reconstruction as an opportunity to treat the country itself like a massive
factory, in which the most desirable political skills overlapped with those of rationalized
industrial management, including “conceiving and managing large enterprises, of
disciplining great masses of men and organizing huge quantities of capital goods, of
generating the finance capital necessary to underwrite such enterprises.”4 Images of
Richard D. Brown, Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600-1865 (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1976), 183.
Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 18001890 (New York: Atheneum, 1985), 282.
reunification partook of this language to shape viewers’ opinions about the “New South”
and its role in national life.
Despite a dominant focus on labor and the development and expansion of
technological systems, many images continued to use the language of symbol and
allegory—sometimes verging on the alchemical—to express hopes and desires about the
strength of the rebuilt nation. However, the air of optimism surrounding many of the
images shrouded continued unease about the future. Unitary rhetoric masked ongoing
anxieties about reunification, race, and industry using an allegorical vocabulary that
recalled the European era of state formation. In this way, the visual language of allegory
indirectly cited the martial and imperial precedents of European powers such as France,
Spain, and Great Britain as models of stability and national identity-formation. The need
constantly to reassure viewers of national unity points simultaneously to a deeply rooted
anxiety about the future of the United States and an optimism based on ideas of
technological determinism and Manifest Destiny.
Unsurprisingly, tensions between North and South remained high during
Reconstruction, and lingered long after its official end in 1877. In popular magazines, in
particular in Harper’s Weekly, where Thomas Nast’s virulent anti-Southern, Radical
Republican cartoons continued into the mid-1880s, the reunification was depicted as
slow, painful, and difficult. The North still feared and mistrusted the South; the devious
and hateful Confederate veteran, with his pointed beard, beady eyes, and frequent angry
snarl, became a stock character in Northern political cartoons.5 Later images of
reconciliation transformed this character into a new, at times uneasy, friend for the North,
See, for instance, Thomas Nast, “The Georgetown Election—The Negro at the Ballot Box,” Harper’s
Weekly (hereafter HW), March 16, 1867, 172.
while retaining echoes of its prior symbolism of racism, hatred, backwardness, and
deception. The war could not be erased from the national consciousness; its specter
always lurked behind even the most optimistic images of unity and national concord.
At the same time artists were depicting reunification as an act of symbolic work,
the periodical press used the informational mode to educate Northern readers about their
newly-rehabilitated Southern neighbors. Major periodicals touted the burgeoning
industrial strength and welfare of the South, expressed through Northern fact-finding
missions and journalistic series focusing on the vibrancy and variety of Southern
technology and manufactures. For the most part the tone of these articles was
informational and celebratory, though they sometimes alluded to fears that Southern
industry might outstrip the North.6 Some of these trips were intended to dispel myths
about the homogeneity of the South, which was in fact quite diverse in its history,
peoples, landscape, industries, and natural resources.7 Reporters and illustrators from
Northern magazines traveled to a large number of Southern cities to amass statistics and
establish goodwill with mayors and businessmen. Using the informational city view and
the techniques of the managerial eye, artists represented the South as integrated with the
rest of the nation in a web of technological production, distribution, and communication,
allowing the reader to grasp an entire nation from the comfort of an armchair, and
establishing a national “imagined community” through shared print culture.8 This shared
culture was undoubtedly dominated by the North, and was shaped by the desires and
This fear is made evident in a back-page cartoon: Thomas Nast “Peace Hath Her Victories No Less
Renowned Than War,” HW, Aug. 22, 1885, 560.
For an overview of the Southern regions, see Edward L. Ayers, “Junction,” in The Promise of the New
South: Life After Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 3-33.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised
ed. (London: Verso, 1991).
expectations of mainly New York City-based magazine editors. However, the periodicals
studied here had genuine national appeal, despite their frequently partisan politics.
Because the South could boast no comparable illustrated news periodicals, Harper’s
Weekly and Frank Leslie’s among others had a major role in shaping national
expectations about reunion. The rejuvenated country included North, South, and West as
balanced—if not quite equal—players in national life.
Putting the nation back together was difficult and sometimes unpleasant work,
with the ultimate goal of returning the country to a life of peace and prosperous
commodity production and industrial expansion. In the Northern press, writers commonly
evoked a Biblical quotation to sum up the postwar situation: “They will hammer their
swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against
nation, no longer will they learn how to make war.”9 With its vivid imagery of an
industrious shift from warlike to peaceful implements, the verse was a touchstone quoted
in magazine and newspaper editorials, poems, and songs from 1865 into the 1870s.10 The
appeal of the phrase was national; one commentator wrote from the South to the Daily
National Intelligencer:
Commercially, the cities and towns [of the South] are reviving. Merchants
are returning to their desks, sending circulars to their old friends, and
buying and selling; and mechanics, to their benches; in fact, everybody in
his place, and thousands of newcomers seeking places of employment.
The farmers have commenced again to develop the resources of the earth.
Isaiah 2:4 (New Jerusalem Bible Standard Edition).
See, for instance, C.K.W. [pseud.], “New Occasions Teach New Duties,” The Liberator, May 26, 1865;
“The opening of the Tenth Mechanics’ Fair today…” Boston Daily Advertiser, Sept. 20, 1865; “Peaceful
Times,” HW, March 6, 1875, 198; “The Thanksgiving of 1865,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
(hereafter FLIN), Dec. 23, 1865, 221; John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Peace Autumn,” Atlantic Monthly
16.97 (Nov. 1865): 545-546.
In truth, everybody is returning to domestic pursuits; none for war. They
have really turned their swords into ploughshares.11
Echoes of this often-invoked Biblical passage reverberate not only in Shanley’s poem,
quoted at the beginning of this chapter, but also in the visual culture of the postwar era,
most famously in Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field (Fig. 105). Homer’s
enigmatic image was created just months after Appomattox, and showed, literally, one of
the “hundreds of thousands of soldiers emancipated from the field of arms to the field of
labor.”12 To address the unprecedented nature of the conflict, Homer created an image
packed with contemporary allusions, several of which have been identified by
Christopher Kent Wilson and Nicolai Cikovsky. The harvest was not only a positive sign
of recovery; it also referenced death and the grim reaper, which consequently recalled the
war.13 In its depiction of a man putting aside his uniform jacket and instead grasping a
scythe, Homer’s painting also referenced the ancient Roman Cincinnatus, a military man
who put aside politics and chose to retire to his farm, and in the United States a common
symbol of ideal, self-sustaining republican citizenship.14 Thus the painting—published as
a wood engraving in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in July of 1867—encapsulates
a multiplicity of meanings that at once provoke thoughts of the stormy past and uncertain
future and suggest the distinct possibility of regeneration through productive labor. A
similar tension underlies many of the images discussed in this chapter, images that also
deal with the question of how to work at rebuilding the nation after the tragedy of the
Civil War. The problems at hand went far beyond the agrarian field of Homer’s veteran,
Boston Mountain [pseud.], “Letter from the South,” Daily National Intelligencer, March 16, 1866.
“Thanksgiving of 1865,” 221.
Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., “A Harvest of Death: The Veteran in a New Field,” in Winslow Homer: Paintings
of the Civil War, ed. Marc Simpson (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1988): 82-101;
Christopher Kent Wilson, “Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field: A Study of the Harvest
Metaphor and Popular Culture,” American Art Journal 17.4 (Autumn 1985): 3-27.
Cikovsky, “Harvest of Death,” 86.
however. In this chapter I will consider not only the agrarian work, the ploughshares and
sickles, but also the blacksmiths, ironworkers, cotton spinners, and engineers: the ways in
which metaphors of reunification encompassed a larger field of labor and industry,
grasping the technologies of peace as ways to overcome, to work through, the trauma of
war and division.
The symbolic representation of the struggle for national unity as work—often
attempted by a skilled craftsman—did not originate with the end of the war. During and
even prior to the conflict, political cartoons represented a series of real and imaginary
figures, laborers whose primary job was to strengthen or shore up the Union. These men
usually practiced artisanal, rather than industrial, trades, and one of the most common
was the blacksmith. The symbol of the hardworking, muscular, and industrious
blacksmith was drawn from a European allegorical language of Renaissance and Baroque
painting, and repurposed for the modern United States. The theme of Vulcan’s forge was
the earliest “industrial” imagery in high art, one which also referenced the alchemical
workshop (see Chapter Two).15 Blacksmiths also stood for a specifically Northern idea of
“free labor as opposed to slavery” in the popular imagination.16 Political cartoons in
Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s intentionally drew on these dual inspirations to
create a new hybrid. Cartoonists combined European models of Vulcan, symbolizing
power, endurance, and industriousness, with references to the American blacksmith to
create strong, legible calls for unity in the face of conflict and threatened rebellion.
“The god of fire represents the artificer [or alchemical initiate] busy with the different metal-processing
stages,” writes Matilde Battistini. Vulcan is just one of the alchemical symbols lurking beneath apparently
straightforward allegorical representations; Mercury or Hermes is another, as we will see. Battistini,
Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy in Art, trans. Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty
Museum, 2007), 308.
Lois Dinnerstein, “The Iron Worker and King Solomon: Some Images of Labor in American Art,” Arts
Magazine 54.1 (Sept. 1979): 115.
Because the blacksmith symbolized the dignity of free labor, he could stand in for an
idealized vision of the entire post-slavery nation, not just the North.
Even during the war, the Northern press was already imagining a re-forged or
strengthened Union tempered in the flames of the blacksmith’s shop. An 1862 cartoon
from Harper’s Weekly shows the hawklike profile of “Brother Jonathan,” a youthful
personification of the United States, furrowing his brow in concentration over his anvil
(Fig. 106). Here the usually lanky Jonathan is shown with impressively large forearms
and a clearly muscular torso under a star-spangled shirt with the sleeves rolled up above
the elbow. He wears the typical leather apron of a blacksmith, but instead of his usual,
tighter-fitting trousers, he appears to be wearing the loose bloomers and button-up leather
gaiters of the American Zouaves, volunteer regiments who based their uniforms on
French imperial soldiers fighting in North Africa in the earlier part of the century. The
Zouave volunteer regiments distinguished themselves in combat in the Civil War, and
their picturesquely Orientalist uniforms were a favorite topic of war reporters.17 The
Zouaves were renowned for their bravery and skill, so by appropriating a part of their
typical costume, Jonathan reinforces his powerful and imposing appearance. Jonathan’s
power is especially impressive when compared with the morbidly obese, gouty, drinkreddened caricature of John Bull in the left panel.
The cartoon, which mocks the South’s inability to win the war despite monetary
assistance from Great Britain, distinguishes what many in the United States considered
the native physiques and traits of each country: Britain is weak, pettish, drunk, and lazy,
See the illustrations: Edwin Forbes, “Battle of Antietam … Brilliant and Decisive Bayonet Charge of
Hawkins’s Zouaves … Utter Rout of the Rebels,” FLIN, Oct. 11, 1862, 40-41; Winslow Homer, “A
Bivouac Fire on the Potomac,” HW, Dec. 21, 1861, 808-809; “Uniforms of United States Volunteers and
State Militia,” HW, Aug. 31, 1861, 552-553; “The Wounded Zouave in the Hospital at Washington,” HW,
Aug. 17, 1861, cover.
while the North is strong, hard-working, determined, and productive. The contrast is
particularly marked here—for Brother Jonathan is usually depicted as weedy but shrewd,
rather than beefy.18 The interplay between these two figures would have been familiar to
readers of Harper’s Weekly from the years before the war, when Great Britain was
satirized as fat and impotent. One year earlier, another cartoon in Harper’s mocked John
Bull’s girth when compared with the bulging biceps of “Jonathan North,” this time shown
as a woodsman who has momentarily put down his axe (Fig. 107). Gaping at the
impressive display, John Bull croaks: “Lor’ bless me, me dear Fella! I ‘ad no idea you
were so strong!” The cartoon addresses current events but also alludes to an older
relationship of antagonism between the two nations, especially as the United States began
to flex its industrial and military might after success in the War of 1812. In antebellum
literature, for example, the U.K. had been spoofed in James Kirke Paulding’s satirical
fairy tale of 1827, The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan, in which
John is characterized as miserly, belligerent, and overbearing, while Jonathan has
qualities of industry, ingenuity, and strength.19 In sum, John Bull and Brother Jonathan
had a long public history of rivalry, depicted in visual, performative, and literary media
dating back to the 1820s, that many viewers would have called to mind upon viewing this
However, the cartoon of Brother Jonathan as a blacksmith also constitutes a
significant re-imagining of his character and of the nation, one that took hold even more
strongly after the war. He is shown unambiguously as a working man, raising his hammer
Winifred Morgan, An American Icon: Brother Jonathan and American Identity (Newark: University of
Delaware Press, 1988), 22.
James Kirke Paulding, The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan (Philadelphia: Robert
DeSilver, 1827), 4-8.
Morgan, American Icon, 73.
to forge and repair a great iron ring labeled “Union” and “Constitution.” John Bull
complains petulantly: “He won’t die—he won’t give up restoring the Union, though I’ve
told him, over and over, that it is no use.” Jonathan takes no notice of John’s tantrum, but
seems intent on his task: repairing the Union by holding it together. At his feet lie
cannon, bayonets, and grape shot, ready to help him enforce his job of reunification, if
necessary. His pose is Vulcanic, but his accessories are those of the “blacksmith’s shop”
of contemporary genre painting by artists such as Eastman Johnson (Fig. 108). This
hybrid quality gives Jonathan a fresh new appearance, and a monumental symbolic
significance. As a stand-in for the entire nation, Jonathan’s changed appearance in this
image changes his prior representation as a rural and Jeffersonian yeoman into a laboring
man who could represent the changing character of the United States.21 This cartoon
suggests the war can be won and the nation rehabilitated through the efforts of working
people. The unapologetic depiction of the United States as a blacksmith suggests not only
the dignity of labor but also identification with and admiration of those who worked to
keep the Union together. The image’s roots in both European precedents of Vulcan
imagery and vernacular depictions of national spirit and industriousness place the U.S. on
a par with—or even superior to—the developed, powerful empire of Great Britain.
Though this image represents a coercive, rather than cooperative, approach to keeping the
nation together, it still reinforces the powerful desire to forge a stronger Union.
When Union enemies were shown as working men, artists were less kind, turning
to highly critical humor. In “A Word to the Wise (?),” the aristocratic British Prime
Minister Lord Palmerston is transformed into a figure of ridicule and disdain (Fig. 109).
In this image, Palmerston stands at the anvil forging a sword, but the contrast with the
Morgan, American Icon, 21, 64.
strength and dignity of Brother Jonathan could not be more marked. Palmerston, chewing
on a hayseed, is given the upturned nose and thin lips often used to represent lower class
Irish workers in both British and American popular media, and his square hat, usually a
dignified emblem of the skilled laborer, reads “LIMEYS” and is caved in at the back,
lending him a slovenly air.22 All these elements mark him as a degraded, rather than a
heroic, laborer. Even worse than his appearance, he is not very good at his job. When the
bemused “Yankee Doodle” (another name for Brother Jonathan) asks what he is doing,
Palmerston replies that he is making a sword for the President of the Confederacy,
Jefferson Davis.23 His lack of skill at his trade is suggested in the Yankee’s response:
“Wal, look out it don’t fly up and hit yer in the eye!” The riposte attributes to Palmerston
carelessness and incompetence, quite the reverse of the calm and productive Jonathan at
his anvil. By providing arms to Confederate troops, the cartoon suggests, the British are
both sabotaging themselves, and revealing their degraded nature. In this image, the
cartoon of the symbolic Union blacksmith is knowingly turned on its head for comic
The blacksmith was not alone in these wishful wartime representations of restored
unity. Before the war had even begun, President Abraham Lincoln’s roots as a working
man and his nickname of “rail splitter” were exploited in the press for both comic and
heroic effect. In mainstream Northern periodicals, it was common to see positive images
of Lincoln, or Lincoln-esque figures, in many workingmen’s guises, using their skill to
The importance of the nose for establishing character cannot be underestimated. Based on physiognomic
treatises, an upturned nose was “associated with individuals of little worth and of a low social order”
(Cowling, Artist as Anthropologist, 81). Noses more generally are discussed on 79-83. On the Celtic type in
British illustration, 124-130.
Yankee Doodle was another name for Jonathan. Here his appearance and clothing mark him as a
transitional figure between Jonathan and Uncle Sam. Morgan, American Icon, 108-109.
put the Union back together. In 1860, for instance, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly
featured a cartoon of President-Elect Lincoln as “The New Cabinet Maker,” patching up
a crack between North and South with “Union Glue” (Fig. 110). The punning caption
suggests that the Cabinet appointment choices Lincoln makes as President will influence
whether or not the Union stays together.24 A month before his inauguration, Lincoln
appears young and confident, dressed in a smock and working boots. He is not burly or
imposing, like Brother Jonathan, but calmly goes about his carpentry, despite the gaping
crack in the furniture he is repairing. He appears both as the skilled worker—carpenter’s
tools at his knees—and the calm, reasoned statesman, determined for success.
A year and a half later, now bearded and worn-looking, Lincoln allegorically
adopted another profession, that of barrel-making, in a cover cartoon for Vanity Fair (Fig.
111). Instead of a cabinet, he now works to repair a leaky barrel, with the help of a
dashing Zouave, who hands him staves labeled with the names of Confederate states.
Lincoln attempts to make these individual parts hold together with the rest of the barrel,
whose slats are similarly labeled with Union states. Another punning title, “Coöperation,”
(a cooper was a barrel-maker) links the struggle of Lincoln and the Zouave to a specific
artisanal trade. Gary L. Bunker interprets the Lincoln-Zouave relationship as a masterapprentice affiliation.25 The Commander in Chief takes on the role of the master,
overseeing and controlling the actions of the armed forces, his apprentices. While this
cartoon valorizes the vanishing world of skilled labor and the apprenticeship system, it
A reference to “cabinet making” and presidential labor had earlier appeared with reference to Andrew
Jackson in an 1832 cartoon, analyzed in Morgan, American Icon, 75-76. The same pun—also with visual
reference to craft labor—was reused in a Leslie’s cartoon of President-Elect Ulysses S. Grant in 1868.
“Cabinet-Making—The Boss and the Journeyman,” FLIN, Dec. 5, 1868, 192.
Gary L. Bunker, From Rail-Splitter to Icon: Lincoln’s Image in Illustrated Periodicals, 1860-1865 (Kent,
OH: Kent State University Press, 2001), 119.
also attempts a broader commentary on the relationship between the executive branch and
the armed forces: both are workers who take on a difficult, apparently Sisyphean task. In
his analysis of Lincoln’s image in periodical illustration, Bunker fails adequately to
address the choice to represent the President with the dress and attributes of a laborer.
This image, linking the beleaguered President with a useful and recognizable trade, is one
of several wartime depictions that capitalize on Lincoln’s actual past as a “rail splitter,”
showing him as a patriotic working man with a job to do.
In the postwar years, the imagery of skilled labor performed by recognizable
political figures was adapted to the new goal of Reconstruction and rehabilitation of the
Southern states. However, the representation of a single, identifiable laboring man
(whether real, such as Lincoln, or allegorical, as with Brother Jonathan) persisted, but the
professions became less heroized than during the war. President Andrew Johnson, for
example, was depicted in the pages of Frank Leslie’s as a tinker “mending the family
kettle” and a charlatan magician, while Uncle Sam was a prim schoolmaster disciplining
the South, a “Naughty Boy.”26 The laughable figure of “Andy” Johnson trying to ready
the South for reintegration into the Union “family” mocks the very paradigm of showing
politicians as skilled laborers (Fig. 112). Instead of a self-assured “cabinet maker,”
Johnson appears disheveled, unable to plug the leaks in the kettle of Reconstruction.
Continuing the tradition into the 1880s, Harper’s Weekly cartoons showed President
Grover Cleveland as a knife-sharpener, and Uncle Sam as a construction worker.27
“Andrew Heller Johnson’s Great Ring Trick,” FLIN, March 31, 1866, 32; “The Naughty Boy and Uncle
Sam,” FLIN, Jan. 13, 1866, 272.
“To Amend But Not Destroy,” HW, March 31, 1888, 236; Thomas Nast, “The Time Has Come,” HW,
July 25, 1885, 484.
This late image by Nast, instead of continuing the wartime tradition of hopeful
and powerful allegorical figures working toward national unity, shows a darker, more
cynical interpretation of reunification (Fig. 113). Despite his support of the Radical
Republicans throughout Reconstruction, Nast here shows exhaustion with the divisive
tactics of Northern politicians, who still sought to blame the South for the bloodshed of
the Civil War. His weary, yet determined Uncle Sam—who increasingly replaced
Jonathan as a symbol for the United States—prepares to lay sectional conflict to rest,
noting that he must either “bury the bloody shirt, or the party.” Nast suggests that the
Republican party is coming apart, and that its insistent negativism is damaging its
credibility. It is key to note that whichever he buries, it will become part of the
foundation of the “New Union,” whose cornerstone waits to be maneuvered into place.
No matter what, this “New Union” will be founded on sectional conflict and hatemongering between North and South—the bloody shirt is not merely to be buried and put
out of sight, but will become a part of the foundation, built into the fabric of a nation that
was still being rebuilt twenty years after the war. In that sense, this image, though on the
surface it continues the tradition of optimistic wartime political cartoons showing
laborers forging a new Union, represents a less hopeful outlook for national harmony.
The somewhat gloomy atmosphere of this cartoon and the haggard appearance of Uncle
Sam suggest an older, wiser nation, and perhaps a loss of innocence in the transition
between the rambunctious, youthful Jonathan and the middle-aged Sam.28 These later
Thanks to Jeffrey L. Meikle for pointing out this shift. Morgan suggests that Sam’s ascendancy was
based on his universal, rather than sectional, appeal—Jonathan and Yankee Doodle were, after all,
Yankees, and it was harder for them to represent an entire nation. Morgan, American Icon, 118. However, I
agree with Meikle that the shift also reflects the fading of optimism, based on the traumatic events of midcentury, including the war, frequent economic recessions, race riots, the 1877 strikes, and governmental
corruption in the administrations of both Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.
cartoons suggest that the nation can no longer rely on the valiant labor of preindustrial
craftsmen to mend the nation. Instead, other modes of representing reunion used different
symbolic touchstones in an attempt to promote harmony, peace, and national progress.
Prior to the Civil War, artists developed a visual vocabulary intended to
differentiate among the various sections of the country, attributing qualities thought to
inhere in the people, land, and character of each region. While the West was depicted as a
wild and exciting land, the North was commonly known as the seat of manufacturing, and
the South was represented as agrarian in character. Allegorical paintings from the 1850s
stressed the North/South dichotomy, crystallizing a standard visual language used to
signify each region’s place in the national system. Immediately after the war, painters and
illustrators continued to use this symbolism, which clearly enforced Northern dominance
and industrial productive capacity. Celebratory postwar paintings and illustrations
stressed the continued prowess of the North, using symbols of manufacturing and
commerce to contrast it with the South, apparently doomed to be stuck forever in its
symbolic role as an agrarian backwater. However, as the South rebuilt its transportation
networks after the devastation of the war, the former rebel states gradually expanded their
industries and followed the North’s lead, with the adoption of deskilling, labor-saving
machinery, comparatively rapid transportation, and managerial strategies. Though the
South’s industrial development never kept pace with the North’s, by the mid-1880s the
Southern states were producing sugar, tobacco products, textiles, furniture, and other
consumer products for purchase in a nationalized marketplace. Tobacco was the first
major industry of the South, taking off between the mid-1860s and 1880, and one of the
first Southern industries to be mechanized. Furniture and construction supplies were
modernizing their production in the same years.29 Cotton continued to be the major cash
crop of the Southern states, but innovations in labor saving machinery now allowed
textile mills to flourish. While before the war Southern cotton had been shipped to the
North or the United Kingdom to be spun and worked into cloth, the expansion of
Southern textile mills in the postbellum period resulted in up-to-date factories with
hundreds of employees.30 Southern politicians were explicit about the need to adopt
industrial developments, and also explicitly issued a challenge to Northern dominance
over production. In the short-lived Southern periodical The Land We Love, General David
H. Hill wrote: “We ought to excel the North in this branch of industry [cotton], and we
will be utterly inexcusable if we do not.”31 Despite many advances, until the twentieth
century a majority of Southern laborers continued to work in agriculture and heavy
industries such as mining and logging, rather than manufacturing.32 However, as early as
1870, when Southern manufacturing production again reached its prewar levels, the
North/South divide no longer adhered to a simple division between industry and
agriculture.33 Artists had slowly to reevaluate their representations of the South, moving
beyond this outmoded schism to embrace the complicated developments of the “New
Antebellum allegories of the United States tended to conform to a type
exemplified by Luther Terry’s An Allegory of the North and South, created just three
Ayers, Promise of the New South, 106-108.
Ayers, Promise of the New South, 111-112.
David H. Hill, The Land We Love 1.1 (May 1866). Quoted in Harold S. Wilson, Confederate Industry:
Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 272.
Ayers, Promise of the New South, 105.
Wilson, Confederate Industry, 272.
years before the outbreak of the Civil War, while Terry was living and studying in Rome
(Fig. 114).34 A wide-eyed Liberty draped in the American flag and topped with a
Phrygian cap, sits between two curvaceous daughters, each with an attribute of her
region: the demurely-clad North, on the right, points to an open book, while the slatternly
South, at left, leans languidly on a bale of cotton. Behind the shoulders of each, the
viewer sees the sources of their respective wealth and productivity: two slaves pick
cotton in the South, while a serene red-brick factory and orderly clapboard “city on a hill”
peek from the rolling landscape of the North. The South’s side of the painting is a
fascinating amalgam, with the cotton field in the background giving way to tobacco
plants and an orange tree shading the toiling slaves: Terry bundles together many
different forms of Southern agriculture, disregarding accurate geography to give a
snapshot of agrarian diversity. The body of the South herself also seems hybrid, with her
olive skin and kinky hair suggesting a racially mixed woman, when contrasted with the
auburn curls and blonde waves of Liberty and the North.
The painting clearly owes some influence to the “Four Continents” tradition of
allegorical representation that flourished during the age of exploration. In these feminized
personifications of the continents, difference or deviation from the norm of “Europe” was
marked with stereotypical racialized clothing, physiognomy, and skin tone. Though in
Terry’s painting the South’s long, straight nose is of the desirable “Roman” type, her
facial characteristics (small, dark eyes, black hair) as well as her relaxed pose and partial
undress, mark the South as a place of sensuality and looseness.35 However, the painting
Charles C. Eldredge, Tales from the Easel: American Narrative Paintings from Southeastern Museums,
Circa 1800-1950 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 20.
A “Roman” nose was highly desirable: British illustrator Charles Bennett wrote that “such noses
frequently belong to persons of superior intellect and high moral sentiment, and are often found indicative
does not wish to alienate the South, rather to corral her back into submission to Liberty:
the fasces in Liberty’s right hand was a Roman Republican symbol of concord and
strength. Earlier U.S. artists had used the fasces to symbolize national unity, and in
Terry’s painting it expresses a last hope at avoiding war. Even at a time when a divisive
civil war was almost certain, some artists still relied on traditional European symbols of
state power and national identity to reassure viewers of solidity and centralized authority.
The sectional divisions depicted during the antebellum period in Allegory of the North
and South continued to hold some resonance following the war. Constantino Brumidi’s
postwar fresco for the ceiling of the Vice President’s office, Columbia Welcoming the
South Back into the Union, shares Terry’s allegorical message, as well as his canvas’s
hybrid European-American quality (Fig. 115).
Brumidi’s fresco continues his tradition of European-inspired allegorical paintings
for the U.S. Capitol building. Despite Walt Whitman’s criticism that his paintings were
“inappropriate” and “un-American,” Brumidi’s frescoes do an excellent job of wedding
European compositional methods with subject matter exemplifying the new, modern
America of technological systems, transportation, and communication (see Chapter
One).36 Columbia Welcoming the South gently celebrates the reunion of the divided
nation with a subtle symbolic language. Using figures similar to Terry’s, and adhering to
the prewar truism of an industrial North and agrarian South, Brumidi presents an
amicable reunion. Liberty leads the South back into the nation, where Columbia and the
of great strength of mind and decision of character” (Bennett, “Notes on Noses,” Illustrated London News,
May 28, 1842, 36. Quoted in Cowling, Artist as Anthropologist, 148).
In a letter to his brother, Whitman bemoaned the “Cupids and goddesses” of the Capitol decoration,
calling them “without grandeur, and without simplicity” (Quoted in Francis O’Connor, “Constantino
Brumidi as Decorator and History Painter,” in American Pantheon: Sculptural and Artistic Decoration of
the United States Capitol, ed. Donald R. Kennon and Thomas P. Somma (Athens: Ohio University Press,
2004), 205).
North graciously greet her. The difference between the symbolic attributes held by North
and South—a caduceus and a bouquet of flowers—demonstrate the persistence of the
industrial/agrarian divide. The caduceus, a rod with intertwining snakes, is an attribute of
the messenger god Hermes/Mercury, and a symbol of commerce. Hermes was the patron
of merchants, and nineteenth-century artists often used him to signify free trade and
successful business. Brumidi’s painting upholds the symbolic differences between North
and South—and the necessary balance between the strengths of the two regions, a
balance that needed to be maintained for the proper functioning of the reunited U.S.
By contrast with these examples, Thomas Hogan’s composition “The Good Time
Coming” continues the language of allegory, but complicates and shifts the symbolism
established before the war. Hogan’s illustration reinforces the common dichotomy of an
industrial, rational North and an irrational, backward South (Fig. 116). Prematurely
celebrating the election of General Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency, “The Good Time
Coming” matches the celebratory rhetoric about Grant’s certain victory found throughout
this issue of Harper’s Weekly. The wispy angel at the upper right paraphrases Grant’s
campaign slogan—“Let Us Have Peace”—as she trumpets out “Peace, Union, Fraternity,
Impartial Suffrage, Universal Education,” over a bustling industrial port landscape. After
the troubling and turbulent first years of Reconstruction, the staunchly Republican
Harper’s Weekly looked forward to “the real Peace that is founded upon justice, [when]
prosperity and the general welfare will return” (emphasis added).37 The implication is
that the previous years under President Andrew Johnson, who was about to leave office
in disgrace, were a thwarted and incomplete attempt at Reconstruction, rather than the
“real” peace. However, beyond simply blaming Johnson for the contemporary political
“The Good Time Coming,” HW, Oct. 31, 1868, 691.
problems, the image by Hogan seems also, if subtly, to blame the South for many of the
nation’s evils.
The composition utilizes a strong divide between left and right, contrasted
primarily using light and darkness. The right side of the image is bathed in light from the
heavenly angel and also, apparently, from the glowing Capitol dome, above which the
words “Grant & Colfax” linger. The shimmering dome and haze of light around the angel
sweep darkness away, so it is banished to the upper left corner. Below the angel, hordes
of celebrating figures greet “The Good Time” with cheers, prayers, and outstretched
arms. The future is envisioned as an organized, modern, connected United States, with
bustling seaports, industrious factories, rapid trains, and willing pupils for the school at
the right. Chimneys stand as evidence of well-functioning industry and nonstop
production. The position of these future rewards on a hill inaccessible to most of the
people in the foreground suggest that this is a vision for the future, rather than a
contemporary reality, but the frenzied excitement of the interracial crowd and the glory of
the angel’s majesty leave little doubt about the widespread force of this dream.
And what of the upper left quarter of the composition? Agricultural workers atop
a hay cart linger in the dark, the jagged words “Anarchy, Disloyalty, Ruin” hanging
above their heads. This subtly reinforces what many Harper’s readers saw as the
backwardness and “disloyalty” of the South. Using the established symbolic
vocabulary—South as agrarian—the fact that the last remaining dark cloud hangs
ominously above these agricultural characters implies a distinctly anti-Southern message.
This interpretation is supported by the fact that Harper’s Weekly ran the same engraving
again four years later on Grant’s reelection. This time with the caption “The Good Time
Come,” the image accompanied an article by Eugene Lawrence, a Radical Republican
editorialist on political and social issues. In this essay, Lawrence gave a brief history of
the Republican party, in which he stressed how the policies of the Grant administration
had “[raised] great sections of our country once barbarous to civilization and good
order.”38 Lawrence noted that Republican control had “crushed again the elements of
disunion, [and] taught peace, industry, and economy” to workers throughout the country,
but especially in the agrarian South:
We believe that the chief and favorite labor of Republicanism will be to
educate the people … to raise the population of the Southern States into a
higher grade of civilization … to teach all men the duty of labor, and to
insure to every man a peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of his toil.39
Alongside Hogan’s bombastic engraving, this article demonstrates that six years into
Reconstruction many Northern writers still saw themselves as separate and different
from the South. This image, with its accompanying text, proposed that the South needed
to be brought out of a dark age into “a higher grade of civilization”; not equal partners,
the two regions retained the uneven relationship forged in the antebellum period.40
Constantly represented as backward, violent, racist, and premodern, the South maintained
a position of submission to and relative disconnection from the rest of the Union.
Yet not all illustrations of this relationship clung so doggedly to anti-Southern
sentiments. Embarking on the Reconstruction Era, Frank Leslie’s published a double
page spread that repeated the split between North and South, but with some modifications
that heralded the South’s ambitious industrial and social changes. The desire for a return
to peace, prosperity, and sectional cooperation—whether realized in reality or only in the
Eugene Lawrence, “Republicanism, Past and Future: The Good Time Come,” HW, Nov. 23, 1872, 910.
Lawrence, “Republicanism,” 910.
Lawrence, “Republicanism,” 910.
illustrator’s imagination—is evident (Fig. 117). The image draws some inspiration from
allegorical painting, but the artist chose to do away with the more typical females and
instead created an image using male citizens, with whom middle-class male readers could
identify. These two veterans are framed by a massive triumphal arch, crowned with the
American eagle and flanked by portraits of Washington and Lincoln. The arch’s stones
are engraved with the seals of each state, and, unlike the staves of cooper Lincoln’s
barrel, finally seem to be holding together. The scene that is framed by the arch, headed
by the word “FREEDOM,” is divided by the magazine’s gutter, which artificially
reinforces the division between the two sides of the image. On the left, a representation of
the South is recognizable by his work clothes and neckerchief, while the North is
dapperly dressed, his whiskers cut in a more sophisticated manner. Nevertheless, he doffs
his hat to the South as the two grasp hands over a portrait of President Andrew Johnson;
the South points aloft, to “freedom” and the eagle perched on the arch’s keystone. The
scenes behind the two figures already show more ambiguity than is evident in Terry’s
representation from just eight years before. In the South, we can see a bustling
waterfront, a few tiny workers carrying bundles of grain, and, at the far left, a smoking
factory chimney. By focusing on water transport and factory production, this artist
already looks ahead to a South that participates in the country’s manufacturing and
This rosy portrait of the South almost overshadows the North’s section of the
image. A factory village nestles in the low hills just to the right of Johnson’s portrait;
above it, a river snakes into the distance. The isolated factory village of Terry’s painting,
with its need for water power from the rivers of the Northeast, was already becoming an
anachronism in the post-Civil War north, where wartime tooling had increased the pace
of mechanization and deskilling, leading also to more urban and coal-fed factories. Oddly
then, this image represents the North as stuck in antebellum modes of production, while
the South holds out a promise for the future as a center for shipping, agriculture, and
manufacturing. This image already suggests how the traditional representation of
Northern and Southern regions would change in the 1870s and 1880s; no longer did
artists rely on prewar stereotypes. The focus on rebuilding and rehabilitating the South
became a major source of interest throughout these years, one that was often thought
about in terms of the South’s new place in the nexus of manufacturing, labor, and
technological systems.
The South had no major illustrated periodicals that could rival or even challenge
the hegemony of the North. Thus, the representation of the South also took on a
controlling function: the North needed to document and supervise its territories and
resources. At the same time, Northern magazines showed pride and interest in the
growing manufacturing sectors of certain Southern regions, perhaps as evidence that the
South had been successfully “colonized” with an appropriate, Northern idea of industrial
and technical progress.
Northern representations of the South unfailingly feature a Northern conception of
how the South should be changing or developing. Two maps of Georgia from Harper’s
Weekly, one from during the Civil War and one from just after, demonstrate the presumed
progress of that state, out of “barbarism” (represented by Native Americans and slavery)
and into the “modern” nineteenth century. The maps suggest a transition from an
economy based on the labor of enslaved peoples into a modernized network of rail lines
and depots. Both maps are part of different series profiling the Southern states: the first
used gradations of shading to demonstrate visually the percentage of the population who
were enslaved in each of the slaveholding states, and the second series focused on the
rehabilitation of these states and their industries after the war. In the series depicting
slavery percentages, the counties with the highest percentage of slaves are shaded almost
completely black, while the shading becomes lighter as the percentages decrease (Fig.
118). In Georgia, no county was entirely free of stain: the lowest counties are Union and
Rabun, with 3% and 4% slave populations respectively, but these are wooded,
mountainous areas of the state unsuited for agricultural development. In coastal Glynn
County where rice and cotton were farmed, the percentage was a staggering 86%, higher
than any other county in the state. Though the accompanying text does not offer any
moral message (except to note that the map will be of interest to “philosophers”), the map
itself visualizes slavery—not the black body, but the pernicious system itself—as a
creeping mass, a cancer at the heart of the South. Virtuous Northerners could
congratulate themselves on their freedom from such a taint, comparing the pristine white
North in a composite map, which included southern portions of Kansas, Illinois, Indiana,
Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, to the mottled black and gray of the Southern
Confederacy (Fig. 119).41 The map of Georgia was prominently displayed on the
magazine’s cover, trumpeting the shame of the South and its perceived backwardness to
This cartographic approach to representing slavery is not unique to Harper’s Weekly. Trish Loughran
analyzes an 1854 map in similar terms, suggesting that slavery is figured as a black “stain” that threatens to
encroach on the free soil of the West and Northwest. Loughran, Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age
of U.S. Nation Building, 1770-1870 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 367.
the rest of the country. It also reemphasized the importance of slave labor in what many
Northern viewers saw as an undeveloped, premodern economy.
Soon after the war, Harper’s Weekly printed another series of maps of Southern
states, this time focusing on the contributions these states would make as newlyreinstated members of the Union. These maps delineate not just county lines but also
major towns and cities, rivers, and rail lines, and each is topped by three scenes of the
state: one historical, one contemporary, and one allegorical or incorporating the state’s
seal (Fig. 120). In the map of Georgia, the war is expunged from the historical record;
instead the composition focuses on emancipation and the benefits it will bring to the state
and the nation through the labor of freed blacks. The narrative of Georgia history is
presented as follows: Spanish explorers are shown at left establishing contact with Native
Americans, in the center a simplified version of the state seal shows a figure in
Revolutionary War era dress under a neoclassical structure labeled “Constitution,” and at
right freed slaves toil at a busy port filled with factories, a grain elevator, steamships, and
a locomotive. The narrative features the overcoming of Native Americans to further the
founding of a British colony, and the prosperity that industrial development will bring to
the state. The righthand scene, whose depiction of valiant, free black labor was unrealistic
in the immediate postwar South, represents both an idealized present and hoped-for
future in which the South’s problems of race and labor are solved through Northern ideas
of industrial progress.
A “report card” on the following page lists the population of each county, and
other vital statistics such as the number of bales of cotton produced annually, topography,
rainfall, principal crops and natural resources (with estimated output), major rivers, miles
of railroad track and canals, and number of public schools.42 All these statistics, which
appear in separate issues of the Weekly for many of the other former slave states, suggest
the economic importance of these states for the Union—but their visual representation
also allows for a similar kind of control and comprehension as the city panoramas. The
minute details of the state report card allow the viewer to visualize exactly where certain
crops are grown, in what county his rice is cultivated, and what channels it likely takes to
reach him. The map coupled with the description—and with the added historical and
political implications of the three scenes above the map—give the reader what feels like
absolute knowledge about the state of Georgia and its utility to the Union. The idea of
utility is an important one, because most notably what these maps do is lay out the South
for the Northern reader, allowing him to understand how its mineral and agricultural
wealth might best be exploited: in other words, why the war was fought at all, how the
South can serve the North and West, and what those regions gained by sacrificing men
and money to force those rebel states to return.
After the end of the Civil War, when the South was still under martial law, the
army of the Potomac undertook an inventory and valuation of seized Southern goods and
buildings. One of the confiscated sites was the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond,
Virginia, which had been the Confederacy’s largest armory.43 Just as their special
correspondents had spent the war years reporting on battles, troop strength, and
armaments production, the national magazines continued to cover the South in the
“Georgia,” HW, May 12, 1866, 302.
The site is now a Civil War visitor center, where some buildings in the engraving may still be seen.
“Welcome,” The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, (accessed
Aug. 20, 2009).
aftermath of the conflict. Engraved from a photograph from the studio of Alexander
Gardner, a forlorn Harper’s Weekly image shows the Tredegar works a few months after
the end of the war (Fig. 121). The spot looks desolate and empty as two solitary men
survey the site; the road that leads to the works, located on the placid waters of the James
River, is unpaved and unkempt. The site, “always the most celebrated for the excellence
and facility of production,” seems to stand in mute testament to the South’s devastating
losses, both human and infrastructural.44 Two decades later, Charles Graham would
depict the Tredegar works in full steam for the cover of a Weekly supplement as a potent
symbol of the phoenix-like “New South” (Fig. 122). This image, though slightly later
than most of the images I will examine in this section, was part of ongoing efforts in the
national press to boost Southern industries after the war. The growth of Southern
manufacturing and infrastructure in the two decades following Appomattox was a central
focus for magazine readers, who witnessed wide varieties of Southern technological
growth and evolution.
With fiery chimneys to rival the “Smoky City” of Pittsburgh, Graham’s image of
Richmond’s Tredegar Works relies on a confluence of visual tropes. In the foreground, a
middle class couple overlook the works from a low hill, suggesting the familiar factory
visitors of the managerial eye; the most dramatic part of the image is just above the space
framed by their two bodies as they turn toward one another. The ironworks sit in the
middle ground, their spectacular chimneys emitting violent flames and mysterious sparks,
smoke that dissolves into a sky clearly engraved by one of Harper’s’ virtuosos. These
fires resemble the alchemical scenes of iron-making and other metallurgic industries,
with their bright glow in the gloom of the night. The middle-ground train, and the bridge
“The Tredegar Iron-Works,” HW, Aug. 5, 1865, 490.
from the works across the James River reinforce the South’s emergent networks of
transportation systems, while the diverse strolling crowd and recently-planted saplings
lining the path stress an atmosphere of civic pride and renaissance. The black man at the
far left of the composition, from his clothes and bundle probably identifiable as a tramp,
walks significantly away from the scene of industry, suggesting his unwillingness to
participate in the American social contract that equated work with productive citizenship
(see Chapter Five). In all, the pictorial elements of this image promote a complex
message about the Tredegar Works and other similar sites. The image posits the Tredegar
Works, and Southern industry in general, as advanced, admirable, and keyed into
contemporary definitions of the productive, modern, and connected city, situated in the
national matrix of technological systems.
Graham’s large illustration is not an isolated image, but instead forms part of a
larger journalistic focus on the development of the “New South.” Despite continued
political tensions between the sections, many Northern journalists were energetic
boosters who praised the great strides made by Southern manufacturers and
agriculturalists. The masthead of the Harper’s supplement in which Graham’s image
appeared is filled by five rondels that dominate the composition like architectural relief
sculptures. These vignettes trumpet the diversity of Southern efforts, including
“Manufactures,” “Iron,” “Tobacco,” “Cotton,” and “Sugar Cane.” These and other
industries were the focus of a large number of press illustrations, as well as series of
stories and commentary from literary journalists. Both Harper’s Weekly and Leslie’s sent
reporters to give descriptions of specific cities and factories of the South, while Harper’s
Monthly, Scientific American, the Southern industrial magazine DeBow’s Review, and
others covered Southern industry in a more sporadic manner. Major Northern periodicals,
including The Nation and Scribner’s Monthly, commissioned series of articles on the
civic, political, and industrial state of the South.45 Illustrated series in particular were
successful in bringing readers vicariously to important Southern sites; the young
journalist Edward King’s series for Scribner’s, exhaustively illustrated by James Wells
Champney, probably covered more (literal) ground than any other of the postwar series,
and was reprinted as a popular travel book in 1875.46 In 1886, Harper’s Weekly sent a
large party headed by essayist and editorial board member Charles Dudley Warner to
examine and praise “the great changes and improvements which had been made in that
section of the country since the Civil War.”47 The party was invited by the Southern
industrialist and entrepreneur John H. Inman, and included several editorial and artistic
collaborators, including Kirk Munroe, who wrote approximately half the resulting articles
for the magazine.48 Munroe and Warner’s chatty but informational texts supplied readers
with statistics, impressions, and anecdotes about specific Southern regions or cities, and
were almost always lavishly illustrated. The expedition benefited from the considerable
artistic talents of Graham and eighteen-year-old John Durkin, an emerging artist of
impressive skill. In 1912 J. Henry Harper recalled that this group found “a new and
healthy life had permeated the whole frame and activity of those States, which had
unquestionably made our common national life stronger and better. … Political
J.R. Dennett, “The South As It Is” (series, published intermittently), The Nation 1.3 (July 20, 1865)
through 2.42 (April 19, 1866); Edward King, “The Great South” (series, published monthly), Scribner’s
Monthly 7.1 (Nov. 1873) through 9.2 (Dec. 1874); Charles Dudley Warner, Kirk Munroe,, “The New
South” (series, published intermittently), HW, Dec. 4, 1886 through Aug. 13, 1887.
Edward King, The Great South: A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, The Indian Territory,
Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky,
Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1875).
J. Henry Harper, The House of Harper: A Century of Publishing in Franklin Square (New York: Harper
and Brothers, 1912), 550.
Harper, House of Harper, 550.
differences and the friction of races were found to be yielding to the beneficent touch of
healthy industrial enterprise and a fresh prosperity.”49 Once again, industry was held up
as a primary cause of successful reunion among the states.
The Weekly’s discoveries, while doubtless exaggerated, gave the impression of a
region bursting with capital, workers, and resources. Consider, for example, Warner’s
description of Lynchburg, Virginia:
Lynchburg was an easy-going place before the war, conservative and
antiquated in its business methods; the war struck out of existence most of
its property, and paralyzed its industrial life. For three years it was
clearing away the debris of the old civilization and laying new
foundations. … [now] the river slope is crowded with great ware-houses
and factories, large shops and handsome buildings, public and private.
Seen from Amherst, the foreground is one of great industrial enterprise. …
The streets are crowded with loaded teams and thronged with life. If one
wants to see what the New South is, let him get into the business whirl of
this place. Everybody is at work, white and colored.50
Graham and Durkin both provided full-page, multi-panel illustrations for Warner’s story,
Graham’s giving an impression of staid civility and Durkin’s more bustling, showing
scenes of the tobacco industry. Warner also faithfully catalogued the other industries he
found there: “flouring mills … a nail factory; a large establishment for making sashes and
blinds; a furniture factory; an ice factory; a blast-furnace … a large bark and dye-stuff
mill, an extensive and well-ordered blank-book and printing establishment.”51 Though
this was the most concerted and concentrated effort on the part of a national magazine to
show its readers how the South had improved since the end of the war, it was by no
means the only time when Northern magazines sent a correspondent south of the MasonDixon line to investigate. As early as the late 1860s, Northern readers were exploring
Harper, House of Harper, 551.
Charles Dudley Warner, “The New Lynchburg,” HW, Dec. 4, 1886, 791.
Warner, “The New Lynchburg,” 791.
vicariously the South’s railways, waterways, factories, mines, and urban centers and
celebrating the successes of rebuilt and new facilities—some of which were supplying
their clothes, food, and furniture.
The recognition that the South could be an important player in the national
economy had dawned fairly quickly after the war. Though some states of the South
remained under martial law for a few years after the close of the conflict, by the end of
1865 many Southern cities were trying to rebuild and return to business. In late 1865,
Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, formed a marked contrast to its ruinous
appearance only a few months earlier. Following the surrender, “there was nothing to be
seen on the landing but piles of disabled cannon and rusty fragments of war materials,
nobody to be met but a few idle negroes.”52 But six months later, when artist-journalist
J.R. Hamilton sketched a busy dock scene at Rocketts Landing, Richmond, the scene was
barely recognizable (Fig. 123). Though the buildings are smaller and fewer explicit visual
connections are made to other parts of the country, the image resembles scenes on the
bustling waterfronts of the North such as Alfred Rudolph Waud’s “Along the Docks,
New York City” (see Chapter One). This type of waterfront scene was a common means
of emphasizing a city’s interconnectedness with the rest of the country. In Hamilton’s
immediate postwar composition, he stresses the river-based transportation of both people
and goods, also noting in his comments that “the geographical position of this State …
her contiguity to all the great Atlantic markets, and the advantages she offers, as the
natural outlet to the ocean of all the pent-up wealth of the great West, are all attracting
already the serious attention of capitalists and immigrants.”53 Hamilton stressed the
J.R. Hamilton, “Rocketts Landing, Richmond, Virginia,” HW, Sept. 23, 1865, 596.
Hamilton, “Rocketts Landing,” 596.
newfound importance and convenience of the South’s resources visually and statistically,
emphasizing the suitability of Virginia for commercial interests. He catalogues its
impressive output of raw materials for industry, including gold, limestone, marble, iron
ore, slate, graphite, coal, and copper, and the crucial cash crops of wheat, corn, cotton,
and tobacco.54 Most importantly, “no State possesses greater facilities for transportation”;
the new Virginia presents an impressive distinction from the West “when consideration is
taken of the long, tedious, and expensive transportation which [the West’s] products must
undergo before reaching the great marts on the Atlantic seaboard. What a contrast, in this
respect, do the lands of Virginia present!”55 Hamilton’s unequivocally positive tone and
his busy illustration of the Richmond waterfront suggest a strong desire, even on the part
of Northern journalists, for the states of the rehabilitated South to take their place in the
national nexus of commercial, transportation, and communication systems.
Representations of Southern industries evolved over time. In the Reconstruction
era, many illustrators reinforced the sectional industrial/agrarian divide despite the
growth of several increasingly mechanized industries in certain areas of the South.
Harper’s Weekly images continually emphasized the idea that the South was almost
purely agricultural and unindustrialized, as can be seen in two early illustrations by
Edwin Austin Abbey. “Cotton Culture—Covering the Seed” of 1875 showed life in the
South as almost unchanged since the end of the war: African American laborers toil using
the same hand implements they or their parents would have utilized during the
antebellum years (Fig. 124). A year later, “A North Carolina Turpentine Distillery”
similarly framed the South as picturesque, backward, and little-changed from the days of
J.R. Hamilton, “The Natural Wealth of Virginia,” HNMM 32.187 (Dec. 1865): 38-40, 42. With its focus
on the “natural wealth” of the state, the article does not discuss manufacturing.
Hamilton, “Natural Wealth of Virginia,” 41.
slavery (Fig. 125).56 Despite energetic praise of the South’s impressive comeback, the
magazine’s images told a different story when focusing on individual crops or
industries—at least during Reconstruction.
By the 1880s, however, Southern factories and treatment plants for such
agricultural products as cotton (into thread, clothing, and cotton-seed oil), sugar (into
granulated and syrup), turpentine, and phosphates (into fertilizer) were getting the
managerial treatment familiar to magazine readers.57 While the first scene in his series
“The Sugar Industry of Louisiana” featured agricultural steps, including growth and
harvesting of sugar cane, in part two of the series Julian Oliver Davidson stressed the use
of specialized machinery, showing a minimal number of workers needed to tend each
step (Fig. 126). Davidson also used several familiar techniques for the representation of
labor, including the multi-panel illustration and a birds-eye view in the “Refining Room,”
where the viewer seems to stand in an elevated gallery with three other observers—one a
well-dressed lady—and oversee the process. Such illustrations visually put Southern
industry on a par with production in the North. Significantly, most agricultural workers
pictured in Harper’s illustrations of the South are clearly depicted as African American,
while the factory scenes of sugar refining show a mixed-race group of workers. At the
same time that the “old-fashioned sugar industry is steadily diminishing” and “great
The accompanying article notes that though it is “the most important branch of industry in North
Carolina,” turpentine distillation is marked by the retention of “primitive” methods. “This industry is
capable of immense development,” he writes, with an infusion of “Northern capital, machinery, and
business energy.” This suggests the South does not have extant within it the necessary impetus or “energy”
for successful industrial development. “A Turpentine Distillery,” HW, April 1, 1876, 265. Turpentine was a
huge growth industry after the Civil War; Ayers estimates that employment soared from 2,638 to 41,864
workers between 1869 and 1899. Ayers, Promise of the New South, 125-126.
Horace Bradley, “Atlanta, Georgia—Manufacture of Cotton-Seed Oil,” HW, Feb. 12, 1887, 123;
Bradley, “Atlanta, Georgia—The Manufacture of Gossypium Phosphate,” HW, Feb. 26, 1887, 160;
Bradley, “The Great Industries of Birmingham, Alabama: Coke Ovens,” HW, March 26, 1887, 216. For
information on the phosphate industry, see Ayers, Promise of the New South, 108-109; on iron production,
improvements are being made in the agricultural as well as the manufacturing
departments of the sugar industry,” it also seems evident from Davidson’s image that
newer jobs were allotted to white workers, while less specialized factory jobs and field
labor was raced as African American.58 This is unsurprising for the South, but makes a
contrast to images of Northern industry where white and black workers are occasionally
shown side by side, such as in Walter Shirlaw’s Pittsburgh images (see Chapter Two) or
Henry Farny’s Cincinnati pork factory (see Chapter Three). Despite differences in the
racial structure of labor between North and South, artists could almost directly map the
visual techniques of the managerial eye onto the growing industries of the South. In spite
of the South’s uneven development, Southern industrial sites worksites—including
factories, mines, and refineries—were celebrated by the Northern press as crucial
components of national economic stability and continued growth.
Fairs and expositions also became primary sites where the rhetoric of
reunification was worked out, and where the bounty of the constantly industrializing
Union could be displayed. The Centennial Exposition in 1876 was a particularly visible
and symbolic occasion, but Southern events such as the Atlanta International Cotton
Exposition (1881), the New Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial (1884),
and Southern Expositions in Louisville, Kentucky (annually, 1883-1887) provided the
South with chances to participate in the national spirit of reunion. These fairs offered an
opportunity to represent successful reunification using the visual language of allegory
and the alchemical sublime. They also, as historian Robert W. Rydell has noted, acted as
“The Sugar Industry of Louisiana, II,” HW, July 28, 1883, 471. Harold S. Wilson verifies this racial
division of labor. Wilson, Confederate Industry, 256.
more than “exercises in mimicry.”59 Rather than simply replicating the pomp of Northern
expositions, the Southern fairs focused specifically on the contributions the “New South”
could make to the nation in the realms of manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation.
The Southern fairs, unlike larger national celebrations, afforded Southerners their
first opportunity to boast of their regional progress: Richard Nixon, Secretary to the
Managing Board of the 1884 New Orleans fair, wrote in The Century that these events
provided a moment for the South to “[look] around and [see] the gratifying result of her
toil.”60 Other authors rejoiced that the fairs demonstrated the South’s desire to finally do
her duty as a part of the reunified nation. The Manufacturer and Builder wrote of the
pending Louisville fair in 1883 that “we heartily rejoice at this and similar evidences of
enterprise from that section of our country. … the first great and imperative need of their
section was the development of its industrial forces.”61 The Atlanta fair of 1881 had
showed, the writer continued, that “the people of the South had at length shaken off the
apathy and indifference of years, and had become fully alive to the patriotic duty of
developing the natural resources of their section, and of encouraging and fostering the
establishment … of the diversified industries that have made the North so prosperous.”62
The idea that it was not only desirable but required for the South to redeem itself through
the development of manufacturing stresses how important a factor industrialization was
in the imaginary of reunification.
The International Cotton Exposition at Atlanta, 1881, though focused mainly on
Robert W. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Exhibitions,
1876-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 73.
Richard Nixon, “Open Letters: The World’s Exposition at New Orleans: Its Scope and Expected
Results,” The Century 29.2 (Dec. 1884): 312.
“A Southern Exhibition,” The Manufacturer and Builder 15.3 (March 1883): 54.
“A Southern Exhibition,” 54.
technologies related to cotton spinning and weaving, nevertheless emphasized the great
technological strides made by the South in the fifteen years since the end of the war.
Though Reconstruction was in many ways considered a failure, journalists celebrated the
progress made by the South not only in rebuilding systems and factories destroyed by the
North toward the close of the war, but also in developing new routes for distribution and
modes of production tailored to the crops it was already growing. The Cotton Exposition
celebrated, in the words of one spectator, the ways Southern entrepreneurs discovered to
combat the “unbusiness-like and wasteful” production techniques of the antebellum
period.63 Of the New Orleans exhibition, Nixon similarly noted that Southern industry
had in the past been “handicapped by inferior methods and appliances,” but with
improved technology and an “intense desire to develop herself … there must come a
prosperity unexcelled in history.”64 In short, both fairs trumpeted the revolution in
Southern manufactures that had been occurring steadily since the end of the war.
With a combination of new machinery, improved managerial streamlining, and
exploitation of improved transportation speeds between South and North, Southern
planters had managed to modernize parts of the cotton industry, an outcome that would
provide “both the North and South [with] substantial benefits to the mill and farm.”65
Interestingly, unlike many other expositions at the time, the displays did not include
many finished products, instead focusing upon machinery and techniques. Edward
Atkinson of The Century, while surprised at this irregularity, praised the unique quality of
the displays, noting: “It might … be called an exhibition of the beginnings of new
processes and for the correction of errors in old methods. … Might we not call it an
“The World’s Work: The Atlanta Cotton Exposition,” The Century 23.3 (Jan. 1882): 476.
Nixon, “Open Letters,” 312.
“The World’s Work,” 479.
exhibition of the potentialities of the future?”66 This is exceptional praise considering that
less than ten years earlier Eugene Lawrence was blaming the South’s lack of education
and industry for the nation’s problems.67
Artists’ observations of the fair reinforced the optimistic tone of literary and
journalistic accounts. A Harper’s Weekly drawing from the fairgrounds by Horace
Bradley emphasizes Atkinson’s focus on the importance of modernity and the contrast
with the past (Fig. 127). In this image, a crowd of middle-class spectators looks on as two
exposition demonstrators enact the dichotomy between past and present. The first, an
elderly woman dressed in homely garb, tends a traditional spinning wheel. By contrast,
the second figure is an attractive and fashionably-dressed young woman who stands
controlling a bank of spools at a spinning machine so massive that it extends out of the
frame to the right. Both women stand erect and alert at their tasks, but the contrast
between their ages and clothing serves, just as much as the tools they use, to emphasize
the break with the past granted by new technology. The choice of an older woman
dressed in a conservative and outmoded manner clearly reinforces the message that the
spinning wheel, home or small shop production, are things of the past; the future is
presented as a spectacle and a celebration of the possibilities of the South. This “singular
contrast between the old and the new” clearly privileges the future: Harper’s Weekly
described the spinning machine as “perfect,” “delicate,” “noiseless,” and “wonderful.”68
The way this display was presented in the news media suggests a twofold redefinition of
national identity. First, it posits the new typical worker as a wage laborer in an industrial
Edward Atkinson, “Significant Aspects of the Atlanta Cotton Exposition,” The Century 23.4 (Feb. 1882):
Lawrence, “Republicanism,” 910.
“Governors at Atlanta,” HW, Nov. 12, 1881, cover.
setting, and second, it presents a geographical redefinition of the industrial sphere, with
virtual borders redrawn to include the industrializing South.
The Atlanta exhibition was organized rationally, divided in two sections: “a
display of appliances used in the production of cotton, from the actual plants growing in
the fields to the finished bale ready for market” existed alongside “a display of textile
machinery used in all the processes, from the opening of the bale up to the finished
cloth.”69 Thus the organization of the exhibition itself demonstrates the rational spirit of
the managerial eye, showing fairgoers, through displays of raw materials, machinery, and
demonstrations by machine operatives, the various steps necessary to go from cotton
plant to finished garment. At this time, since most clothing manufacturers were located in
the North, this bifurcated process also contains a geographical division; however, no
longer is it a manufacturing/agrarian divide: the production of cotton in the South now
extended beyond cultivation and harvesting. Instead, processes formerly done in the
North, such as spinning, could take place in the South due to the introduction of laborsaving machinery. Geography was becoming less of a barrier, as Southern industries
expanded their focus, and travel time was collapsed with improved transportation.
The expositions focused on the possibilities for taking advantage of the South’s
geographical assets, with the New Orleans fair particularly well-placed in that regard.
Nixon noted that as “the natural outlet for a large proportion of Southern trade” and “the
natural gateway for the vast commerce that must at some time spring up between the
United States and the Central and South American countries,” the port of New Orleans
occupied a prime spot in national and international trade, and could serve as a valuable
“The World’s Work,” 475.
site for the expansion of American markets and territories.70 Exploiting the developing
network of systems that connected the growing South with the established North and with
new markets and acquisitions in Central and South America, “the entire country would be
enriched.”71 Historian Kevin Fox Gotham notes that the fair was an opportunity for New
Orleans leaders to emphasize the city’s important role as both a location with a highly
unique, particular culture and history, and as a destination “on a global scale,” whose
happy geographical situation and diversity of manufacturing industries could provide
valuable links in national and international trade.72 A foldout celebrating the New
Orleans fair, illustrated by Charles Graham, appeared as a supplement to the December
13, 1884 issue of Harper’s Weekly (Fig. 128). In it, Graham represented technological
systems through a combination of bird’s eye and street views. He focused on buildings
and sites of interest, including an elevation drawing of the exposition grounds and the
Lee Monument, as well as several unidentified factories. The composition also
emphasized the city’s beneficial geographical location, stressing railroads, the busy wharf
on the Mississippi with many different kinds of ships ready to sail, and a broad road
leading to Lake Pontchartrain, just visible on the horizon about five miles away. This
focus on the South’s participation in national, not merely regional, networks of
transportation, was an important step in envisioning Southern cities as viable and vital
parts of the Union. By using the visual vocabulary of technological systems to represent
New Orleans, Northern periodicals framed the South as a fully rehabilitated region of the
country boasting broad-based manufacturing and transportation connections, and eligible
See Kevin Fox Gotham, “‘Of Incomprehensible Magnitude and Bewildering Variety’: The 1884 World’s
Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition,” in Authentic New Orleans: Tourism, Culture, and Race in the
Big Easy (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 45-68.
Nixon, “Open Letters,” 313.
Gotham, Authentic New Orleans, 57.
for the same representational treatment as major cities of the North and Midwest,
including New York, Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh (see Chapter One).
Fairs were also praised as sites where the problems of sectional conflict could be
resolved through interaction, discussion, and profitable industrial cooperation. Thomas
Nast’s Harper’s cartoons relating to the Southern fairs contained some of his most
positive representations of Southerners. Into the late 1870s, Nast almost without fail
lampooned Southern characters as racist, violent, and unwilling to work towards reunion;
by contrast, his representations of expositions contain some of his earliest concessions to
the possibility that the South could contribute to national life, whether culturally,
industrially, or politically. On the occasion of the New Orleans Cotton Centennial in
1884, he made one of his most ringing endorsements of peace and unity in the cover
illustration “On Earth Peace, Good-Will Toward Men” (Fig. 129). In this religiouslyinfluenced Christmas illustration, whose title invokes Luke’s account of the birth of
Christ, Nast uses the Cotton Centennial as the setting for a joyous reunification among
white Southern and Northern working men, and African Americans.73 With the
exposition building in the background, a Northern worker walks happily over the
threshold of a blacksmith’s shop that has been decorated for Christmas with mistletoe,
cheerfully raising his hat in a gesture of greeting. He is faced by two men standing over
an anvil—the anvil’s base bearing the favorite postwar inscription from Isaiah—who are
busy beating swords into ploughshares. The freed black and Southern white are shown as
brothers in labor, joined by their cheery Northern companion for the first time since the
end of the war.
Luke 2:13-14: “And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising
God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours” (New
Jerusalem Bible Standard Edition).
This image partakes of the spirit of the postwar Southern exhibitions in its focus
on unity, harmony, and cooperation. The fairs—even smaller, regional fairs—were
described as places where mingling and open discussion about the past could take place
without animosity between former enemies. Atkinson wrote of the Atlanta Exhibition that
it was a place where visitors could learn about the other half (North or South, rather than
an economic split), amend misapprehensions, and rise above the conflict of the past. The
exhibition, he wrote, was invaluable “for the correction of errors of opinion on the part of
citizens of the two sections of this country in regard to each other.” He continued that it
denoted an important shift in national consciousness when “the abolitionists of old time
can here meet ex-Confederate officers of high rank, and … take counsel together as to the
common interests and common needs of the future.”74 Nast’s image certainly holds out
this hope, celebrating unity through labor. The smith’s forge, the clothes of the men, and
the slogans on the walls suggest working people, and work, as one of the central ways of
continuing the United States’ success. “Dignity of Labor,” the walls read, “Industry,
Thrift, and Enterprise.” President Chester Arthur is even quoted as calling for the
“strengthening of the bonds of brotherhood,” here envisioned as a brotherhood of
working men across race and geography. Nast had used similar figures—without the
inclusion of an African American—in earlier cartoons such as 1881’s “The Real
Connecting Link—This Looks Like Business,” which celebrated the inauguration of
President James A. Garfield by depicting Northern and Southern Civil War veterans
bound together by a garland and led by the muscular “Industry” (Fig. 130).75
Atkinson, “Significant Aspects of the Cotton Exhibition,” 564.
Garfield’s predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, is primarily known for ending Reconstruction, but this
image demonstrates another aspect of his tenure. He was unpopular with labor because he sanctioned a
brutal reaction to the 1877 strikes. This cartoon appears to demonstrate optimism for cooperation under a
While Nast’s New Orleans cartoon envisions postwar labor as artisanal and shopbased, a cartoon of two years earlier, celebrating the Atlanta exposition, ties together the
South, the nation as a whole, and the promise of industrialized workforce (Fig. 131).
Almost certainly visually punning off Horace Bradley’s illustration from just a few weeks
earlier (note how the end of the machine appears to be directly copied from Bradley’s
image), Nast’s dramatic cover illustration shows a young and attractive female in
Phrygian cap, laurel wreath, and classical dress tending a long thread-spinning machine.
Her statuesque calmness and bearing mark her as a “Queen of Industry.” The subtitle
“The New South” can refer both to the woman herself and to the realm in which she
labors. Above her head passes the march of time: from a backward, exploitative white
plantation owner who literally keeps his slaves under his heel (“1861”) to a contemporary
idyll of technological achievement (“1882”) in which factories, steamboats, and railways
tie the South to its Northern markets. The doorway behind the young woman is
ambiguous: within it, African Americans still work by hand harvesting the cotton. They
are presumably meant as a contrast to the crushed and debased slave above, but their
labor is certainly not given the same status as that of the white woman in the foreground.
This image represents the country symbolically not as a skilled worker or artisan,
but as a wage laborer. In popular media, industrial workers rarely, if ever, stood in for
allegorical or symbolic concepts; when artists needed a symbolic depiction of “labor,”
they chose artisanal, skilled figures, not factory workers. Nast’s choice to depict a female
factory operative as a symbol not merely for the South but also for the industrial success
of the nation as a whole (note the “U.S.” monogram Nast added to the small star on the
new leader, sadly to be short-lived—Garfield was assassinated after serving only four months of his term
(dying from his wounds two months later), and the ensuing presidency of Chester A. Arthur was plagued
with economic depression and increasing alienation between labor and capital.
end of the machine) is surprising. It updates the tradition of using female allegories for a
modern era of managerial wage capitalism, and illuminates just how central labor was in
the imagination of post-Civil War national unity.
Painters too partook of the fair spirit to stress the ways that Southern
manufacturing was coming into its own. Apparently on Nast’s recommendation, the fair
organizers of the New Orleans Exposition commissioned artist and illustrator Alfred
Fredericks’s painting Genius and Invention to celebrate the fair.76 The canvas itself is
lost, but a lavishly-engraved copy graced the cover of the December 20, 1884 issue of
Harper’s Weekly under the title “The New Orleans Exposition—The Genius of the
Industrial Arts Awakened in the South” (Fig. 132). Fredericks was not alone. For the
Atlanta Cotton Exposition three years earlier, James Moser had painted another lost
work, The New South Welcoming the Nations of the Earth.77 Both these paintings used
allegorical figures to stress the burgeoning industrial power of the South; though from a
contemporary description in the Atlanta Constitution, it appears that Moser’s canvas also
contained a wealth of anecdotal and genre detail, including bales of cotton, “modern
cotton presses,” the “crowded levee” of New Orleans, “Mississippi steamboats,” and
“high brick cotton factories,” all combining to celebrate the “achievements of the New
South,” overseen by a grinning Uncle Sam.78 Fredericks took a more purely symbolic
approach, representing the industrial “genius” as a Greek maiden, flanked on one side by
Vulcan in a liberty cap, and on the other by the owl and helmet of Minerva, while the
infant Hermes plays at her feet. Industry, wisdom, and commerce mingle, suggesting the
Albert Bigelow Paine, Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (New York: Harper and Brothers,
1904), 510.
Mentioned in Eldredge, Tales from the Easel, 20.
Atlanta Constitution, Nov. 11, 1881.Quoted in Eldredge, Tales from the Easel, 66, fn. 44.
prominence and success of Southern industry at the fairs.
Another interpretation of this painting might suggest the awakening of the South
after undergoing a transformative, alchemical process; she may prove herself an adept at
arcane knowledge. Vulcan, as the god of the forge, was one of the major alchemical
deities. The snake on her armrest and the owl at her elbow were symbols used in early
modern alchemical manuscripts. The youthful Hermes stands for both the patron god of
alchemical experimentation and the symbol of commerce—both means of turning “base”
materials into “gold” or profit. An androgynous figure whose simultaneous male and
female characteristics embodied the dialectical nature of alchemy itself, Hermes could
also “adopt the form of any substance,” and thus stood for ideas of change and
transformation.79 Hermes’s powers of self-transmutation are reinforced by the similarity
in texture between the billowing clouds that seem to have wafted him there and the
smoke rising from the brazier—or crucible?—in the foreground. Intentionally or not,
Fredericks’s image is packed with fraught alchemical symbols, signifying the potential
for great change and continual distillation of the South’s essential powers. The image
partakes of an arcane visual vocabulary, with similar meanings to, but a different visual
approach from, the alchemical sublime. The idea of the South “awakening” in Genius
and Invention is a complex one, which may refer simultaneously to a persistent visual
language of the occult in nineteenth-century America, and to a continuation of Europeaninfluenced visual cues of nation-making exemplified in Terry’s Allegory and Yvon’s
Genius of America.
Atkinson wrote of the formerly backward South that “one of the most remarkable
chapters in social and industrial history was passing almost unobserved and unrecorded,”
Battistini, Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy, 279
obscured by political rhetoric and minor controversies.80 Southern progress did not go
entirely unrecorded, however. Artists and illustrators took note, and invited their viewers
to do the same.
Along with the Southern exhibitions, the 1876 Centennial Exposition in
Philadelphia was an important site for symbolic national rebuilding. The celebration of
two hundred years of national unity tended to gloss over what many commentators
euphemistically referred to as the “late conflict.” The fair was an important opportunity to
display the manufactures and machinery of South and North together, and to trumpet the
strength and vitality of the renewed Union to an international audience. The visual culture
of the fair triumphantly masked still-rancorous political tensions in a haze of rosy
nationalistic propaganda, intentionally turning technology into a marvelous spectacle of
American achievement and dominance.
The choice to make the Centennial Exposition an international exhibition was not
always popular, with lively debates about whether or not to limit participation to U.S.
manufacturers. Arguing in favor of a purely national celebration, Harper’s Weekly wrote
that “the essential idea of the event is nationality, and a ‘world’s fair’ upon the occasion
is wholly without reason, and even ludicrous.”81 Fearing that international contributions
would dim the impressive character of the American submissions, these media
commentators used the language of “nationality” to frame the fair as a showcase
specifically designed to promote the technologies and products of the United States. As
the date of the fair drew nearer, however, it became clear that the international character
Atkinson, “Significant Aspects of the Cotton Exhibition,” 570.
“The National Centenary,” HW, May 9, 1874, 391.
of the Centennial could be used to advantage, to juxtapose the fruits of the New World
with the perceived stagnations of the Old.
Prior to the fair’s opening, artists used familiar allegorical modes of
representation to express America/Columbia’s new place in the hierarchy of nations. In
“Calling on Miss Columbia—New-Year’s Day, 1876,” Nast depicts the delicate balance
of international politics in the language of the polite social call (Fig. 133). Just as a
powerful social figure—who might be “not at home” to undesirable callers—reinforces
her power by withholding her presence, Miss Columbia exercises her international
political might by leaving representatives of the world’s dominant imperial powers—
including Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and the Ottomans—waiting on her threshold.
In this illustration, Nast cleverly uses the language of middle-class social behavior to
posit the political might of the reconstituted Union. Other artists continued to use a
traditional allegorical vocabulary to make a similar argument. In a tableau packed with
Veronese-like genre detail, Charles Joseph Mettais portrays Columbia presiding over a
grand staircase, as Africans, Chinese, and Europeans file in, laden with goods from their
nations (Fig. 134). Here Mettais uses compositional structure, rather than social
metaphor, to express American dominance: Columbia stands on the highest pedestal
(significantly above Britannia). She addresses each nation in turn, then concludes by
explaining that while the United States is younger than the other nations, her contribution
to the exposition is nonetheless impressive:
Behold our lands, their wide extent; and yet from sea to sea
Our steeds of fire on paths of steel sweep on triumphantly.
Behold the lightning chained and bound, whose flash can well reveal
Each impulse at the nation's heart that guides the common weal.
And threaded by the silver streams traced out by man's own hand,
The produce of our prairies wide flows forth to all the land.
A thousand cities fleck the plain; their towers and steeples high,
They shimmer in the glittering sun, and point toward the sky.
Our ships ride on the swelling wave, and each one as it goes
Reveals the story of the wealth with which our land o'erflows.82
The poem encapsulates technological systems in rhyme. The focus on transportation,
interconnection, and new technologies (contrasted favorably in a previous stanza with the
“wonders of the Old [World]”) presents the United States as powerful, innovative, and
unified. A brief mention of the Civil War—“hushed be the brazen throat of war; the
battle-flags lie furled”—suggests that rather than being a traumatic and damaging event,
the war instead caused the country to be “united now as ne’er before.” Rather than
sectional conflict, the fair stresses peace, prosperity, and mechanical ingenuity—
especially “the lightning chained and bound” in the form of the Corliss engine, designed
and built by Providence-based engineer George H. Corliss.
Located in Machinery, Hall, the Corliss engine was the centerpiece of the entire
exhibition, a dramatic enactment of national unity and technological power. No article on
the fair was complete without some impressions of the Corliss engine, and those who
were able to visit the opening ceremony watched in awe as President Grant set the giant
machinery in motion. Many scholars have discussed the impact this massive machine
made on the crowd, and some of the contradictory feelings it created in spectators.83 I
argue that the Corliss engine served a three-pronged function at the Centennial
Exposition. As an American invention, showcased at a fair celebrating a century of
national unity and technological development, it served as a potent symbol for the
“Columbia Welcoming the Nations,” HW, May 20, 1876, 410.
Marianne Doezema, “The Clean Machine: Technology in American Magazine Illustration,” Journal of
American Culture 11.4 (Winter 1988): 82, 87; John F. Kasson, Civilizing the Machine: Technology and
Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976), 161-165; David E.
Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 120-123; Rydell, All the World’s a
Fair, 15-16; Julie Wosk, Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 73-74.
prowess and concord of the post-Civil War U.S. As a large and extremely powerful
machine designed specifically to be viewed by enormous numbers of visitors, it
participated in the current language of the American technological sublime. And as a
machine that both enabled the apparently magical production of commodities and
threatened to take on a life of its own, it embodied contemporary fears about the
destructive power of technology.
Press images of the Corliss demonstrate the importance of the engine for
generating national pride in viewers, as well as the patriotic fervor that surrounded the
Exhibition. The most often-reproduced image of the engine is probably Theodore R.
Davis’s illustration from the May 27, 1876 issue of Harper’s Weekly, though other
magazines, including Scientific American and Lippincott’s Magazine, also included
depictions of the engine (Figs. 137 and 138). Harper’s and Scientific American most
forcefully presented the engine as a product of American technological and political
might, as both chose to show the starting of the Corliss during the fair’s opening
ceremonies. The engine was started by President Ulysses S. Grant and a visiting foreign
dignitary, Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil. In both these engravings, the viewer is
positioned as a member of the crowd, who gazes up at these influential politicians and at
the machine that towers over even their powerful figures. In the body of Grant, elevated
above the crowd on a platform and level with the engine, American technology and
American politics are melded together for the viewer.
These crowd’s-eye views are reminiscent of an 1861 engraving of Abraham
Lincoln’s inauguration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, in which hordes of
spectators gather in front of the incomplete Capitol (Fig. 139).84 The viewer is forcibly
reminded of the experience of being in a large crowd: jostled, one of a panoply of types
and classes, straining to see and hear the event one is there to witness. In the case of
Lincoln’s inauguration, it was a major historic event that soon led to a devastating
conflict.85 The crowd seems restless; Lincoln himself is dwarfed and totally illegible: all
the viewer can really see is the canopy under which he takes the Oath of Office.
Towering massively above the events, technology actually takes center stage: from the
top of the incomplete dome of the capitol building looms a massive scaffold and several
cranes that presage the continuing work on what would become an important national
symbol, here understood as the product of industrial labor and technological know-how.
The composition prefigures the representations of the Corliss engine, with three tiers
from the bottom of the composition to the top: crowd, political figures, and massive
machinery. Both images have many layers of meaning embedded within their veneer of
pictorial reportage, and both seem to revolve primarily around the twin concepts of the
dwarfing of human endeavors by superhuman technology and the great importance of
that technology for producing narratives about American political and technical progress.
The half-finished dome—especially considering that many viewers in 1861 were
already predicting a sectional conflict—is not a perfect counterpart for the Corliss. As
Trish Loughran notes in her analysis of a photograph similar in composition to the
“View of the Capitol, Showing the Present State of the Dome—Taken During the Inauguration of
Lincoln, Monday, March 4, 1861—Photographed by Stacy,” FLIN, March 15, 1861, 261.
The artist John Ferguson Weir was present at the inauguration and his account demonstrates an
undercurrent of fear and tension: “I was at his inauguration … jammed in a dense crowd … No sooner had
he begun [the inaugural address] when the tops of the houses in the vicinity … bristled with armed soldiers,
while sections of artillery-batteries quietly drew up and commanded the avenues leading to the Capitol; this
was done without attracting attention.” John Ferguson Weir, The Recollections of John Ferguson Weir,
Director of the Yale School of the Fine Arts, 1869-1913, ed. Theodore Sizer (New York: New-York
Historical Society, in association with the Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University, 1957), 28.
Leslie’s engraving, the dome’s incompleteness is more important than its technological
meaning: it symbolizes not how far the nation has come, but how far it has yet to go.86 By
1876, the Civil War was in the past, and many—politicians, artists, writers—were doing
their part to ensure the success of the symbolic rebuilding. While Lincoln’s inauguration
was, in itself, a divisive national event, the fair by contrast celebrated the potential for
unity despite continued differences between the two main regions of the country. Though
the 1870s saw continued racial, sectional, and economic tensions that still threatened to
divide the nation, the positive representation of the Centennial seems to have succeeded
in creating an intense impression of unitary strength, centered around technology.
The rhetoric of the fair, specifically that surrounding industry, also reinforced this
message of unity. Scientific American’s engraving of the Corliss is likely intended to
represent Grant’s address to the assembled spectators (Fig. 138). In his lengthy speech of
welcome, Grant invited visitors to marvel at the achievements of a country that only one
hundred years before had been a nation of farmers. In the intervening century, he noted,
the American people had been notable for “felling forests, subduing prairies, building
dwellings, factories, ships, docks, warehouses, roads, canals, machinery, etc.”87
Continuing, Grant praised
what this Exhibition will show in the direction of rivaling older and more
advanced nations in law, medicine, and theology, in science, literature,
philosophy, and the fine arts. … I hope a careful examination of what is about to
be exhibited to you will … satisfy you with the attainments made by our own
people during the past one hundred years.88
Loughran, The Republic in Print, xvii. She continues: “However immemorially they might appear to
loom from a deep and distant past, nations are in fact always incomplete, cross-generational, noninevitable,
and ongoing enterprises” (xvii-xviii).
“Our Centennial,” HW, May 27, 1876, 422.
“Our Centennial,” 422.
Novelist and journalist William Dean Howells expressed similar sentiments, patriotically
writing that in Machinery Hall “one thinks only of skill and invention … All that Great
Britain and Germany have sent is insignificant in amount when compared with our own
contributions; the superior elegance, aptness, and ingenuity of our machinery is
observable at a glance. Yes, it is still in these things of iron and steel that the national
genius most freely speaks.”89 The Corliss drew admirers from across the country,
suggesting the Centennial’s power as a place to, as one Georgia newspaper put it,
“perfect the bonds of fellowship and fraternity, and cause North and South, East and
West, to strike hands, and stand shoulder to shoulder in all time to come.”90 One
Arkansas traveler marveled at the Corliss as “one of the most perfect pieces of
mechanism ever made,” while a correspondent from the Manufacturer and Builder called
it “ponderous and graceful.”91 No visit to the Centennial, no news report or letter home,
was complete without attention to the marvelous power of the Corliss engine.
The attention of a wide variety of spectators also helped cement the Corliss
engine’s role as a centerpiece of the fair and a symbol for American international
dominance. While art historian Marianne Doezema has given excellent attention to the
different angles used to represent the engine in the two major engravings from Harper’s
and Scientific American, she has not looked closely at the spectators who witness the
scene. The crowd provides a cross-section of fairgoers, both American and foreign,
similar to that mob described in the Harper’s article “Our Centennial”:
There was a picturesque commingling of nationalities and costumes never
before witnessed in this country—Japanese and Chinese side by side with
William Dean Howells, “A Sennight of the Centennial,” Atlantic Monthly 38.225 (July 1876): 96.
“The Centennial Celebration,” Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Journal & Messenger, May 25, 1875.
“Our Philadelphia Letter,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, July 27, 1876; “Notes on the Exhibition,” The
Manufacturer and Builder 8.9 (Sept. 1876): 202.
Europeans and Americans, French and Spanish officers in full uniform,
Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Congressmen, Senators, broad-brimmed
Quakers, and fashionably attired ladies.92
Another spectator commented on the veritable Babel of languages to be overheard: “from
our own familiar and vigorous Anglo-Saxon to the guttural of our barbaric Aboriginese
[language], or the sing-song jargon of the ‘heathen Chinese.’”93 The foreground of
Davis’s engraving reveals some “fashionably attired ladies,” almost all paired with
foreign military officers, perhaps those “French and Spanish officers in full uniform”
described above. Scientific American depicts a different, though equally diverse, cross
section of the crowd: slightly to the left of center in the foreground may be seen two
Chinese or Chinese American men, one with his back to the viewer and recognizable
only by his long queue, the other in profile and delineated with slanting eyes and seven or
eight strokes of the burin to lend his skin a swarthy sheen. Right of the center stand three
men, one, blonde and mustachioed, wearing a military medal on his chest, though dressed
in street clothes, and two who appear to be his companions sporting old-fashioned Prince
Albert whiskers, presumably British visitors. This cross section of domestic and foreign
visitors is gathered to witness the crowning technological achievement of the United
States. The Corliss engine generated American pride through its international appeal and
impressive modernity. One hundred years after the birth of the nation, the United States
had arisen as one of the primary political and technological forces of the industrialized
world, and the world was invited to Philadelphia to witness it.
In addition to its role as a national and international symbol of American
dominance and reunion, the Corliss engine was also a site of sublime experience. The
“Our Centennial,” HW, May 27, 1876, 422.
“The Multitude Admitted,” Press, May 11, 1876. Quoted in Rydell, All the World’s a Fair, 13.
sublime, theorized during the Enlightenment by European philosophers Immanuel Kant
and Edmund Burke, arose as an important category of aesthetic viewing during the
eighteenth century.94 The sublime privileged a perceptual experience that encompassed
simultaneous awe and fear, together creating a sensation of thrilling and heightened
perception. In the American context, the sublime increasingly became associated with the
experience of viewing technological marvels, rather than natural phenomena.95 Indeed, in
the U.S., it is difficult to separate national pride or patriotism from spectacular
technology, as technological historian David E. Nye writes in his key work, American
Technological Sublime. Nye argues that ideas of technological prowess and American
nationalism were wedded in the nineteenth century, stressing a democratic, group mode
of viewing and a belief in the frightening, yet ultimately redemptive, power of
technology. Instead of heightening individual subjectivity, Nye argues, the American
technological sublime produced a group identity and a “belief in national greatness.”96
The Corliss engine was referred to as “the sublime of mechanical power” by one visitor;
viewers agreed that its massiveness, power, and strength were both impressive and
terrifying, though it was difficult for news illustrations accurately to express the true
qualities of the engine.97
Architecturally, the engine itself was designed to impress. The first reaction was
often mute admiration, an indicator of the sublime in action. For instance, in Howells’s
Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
(1757; repr., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987). On eighteenth-century aesthetics, see Morton D. Paley, The
Apocalyptic Sublime (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).
Kasson, Civilizing the Machine; Nye, American Technological Sublime; Sue Rainey, Creating
Picturesque America: Monument to the Natural and Cultural Landscape (Nashville: Vanderbilt University
Press, 1994).
Nye, American Technological Sublime, 43.
“The Centennial: Survey of the Buildings and Grounds, Comparison with the Other Great World’s
Fairs,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, April 18, 1876.
account of his impressions, he recounts being first rendered speechless, and then noting
the machine as “an athlete of steel and iron with not a superfluous ounce of metal on it.”98
Howells’s lack of technical knowledge actually enhanced the sublimity of viewing the
Corliss; from a layman’s point of view, the machinery stood out as a wedding of
impressive might and ruthless efficiency. However, one contemporary observer, an
engineer and inventor, argued that he could have produced an equally powerful engine on
a much smaller scale. Charles T. Porter, who served as a Centennial judge, commented
on the inefficiency of Corliss’s machine. He argued that a single-cylinder engine of less
than half the size of the Corliss (proposing his own Porter-Allen engine as a contrast)
would “exert more power than is afforded by this monster, and would run with far greater
economy.”99 Porter, though critical, was cognizant of the importance of visual impact on
spectators. In his collected writings, Porter included two engravings that contrast the
Porter-Allen Engine with the Corliss (Fig. 140). The difference between the two
renderings heightens the visual spectacle of the Corliss: Porter shows his engine in a dry
technical illustration, while the publisher has used a lively wood engraving, similar to the
images found in contemporary periodicals, to illustrate the Corliss. The Corliss’s
elegance and symmetry are clear, when compared with the purely workmanlike form of
the Porter-Allen engine. Porter himself notes that the Corliss engine’s impact did not
derive from its actual efficiency; rather, it communicated to viewers a sense of power and
spectacle. Porter referred to the engine as “the most attractive single exhibit ever shown
anywhere.”100 John Hertzman makes this argument in his dissertation on the aesthetics of
Howells, “Sennight,” 96.
Charles T. Porter, Engineering Reminiscences: Contributed to Power and American Machinist (New
York: John Wiley and Sons; London: Chapman and Hall, 1908), 248.
Porter, Engineering Reminiscences, 248.
the Corliss: the machine was specifically designed so as to give an impression of sublime
power and harmonious efficacy, whether or not the symmetrical dual pistons were
actually the most efficient design. 101
Nearly one-fifth of the total U.S. population visited the Centennial Exhibition
during its six-month tenure; an even larger number would have been exposed to the
numerous representations of the engine, whether in popular press illustrations, souvenir
books, or prints.102 It was difficult to illustrators to suggest the awe and fear provoked by
the Corliss engine when translating these impressions into two dimensions; few were as
successful as the skilled and veteran illustrator Theodore Davis. Doezema notes that in
his Harper’s Weekly illustration, Davis attempts to heighten the machine in relation to the
viewer by taking a low perspective, giving the engine a “heroic vantage point [that]
enhances its central placement.”103 Davis also pays attention to the curvilinear aspects of
the machine, even exaggerating its sinuous curves and architectural elaborations when
compared with engravings of the Corliss from Scientific American, Lippincott’s, and
Porter’s Engineering Reminiscences, which emphasize straight lines. In these
interpretations, the artists shift away from the triangular composition of Davis’s
illustration, marring the “fearful symmetry” and syncopated grace of the engine’s design.
Though earlier technological boosters claimed the nineteenth century as a period
when man had “acquired a dominion over the physical and moral world,” as Jacob
Bigelow had claimed in the introduction to his 1831 handbook on the technical arts, the
John A. Hertzman, “Sources of the Technological Aesthetic: The Architecture of the Reciprocating
Engine in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” (PhD diss., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
1978). Summarized in Jeffrey L. Meikle, Design in the USA (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005),
Rydell, All the World’s a Fair, 10.
Doezema, “The Clean Machine,” 82.
relationship with technology became more complex in the 1870s.104 Bigelow had argued
that exploiting technology had “given the mind the advantage over the body” (emphasis
added).105 However, when considering images of spectacular technology from later in the
century, including Davis’s depiction of the Corliss and Leslie’s illustration of Lincoln’s
inauguration, the explicit relationship of mastery seems qualified, if not reversed. In these
images, the avatar of technology—whether the half-built dome or the massive steam
engine groaning into life—dwarfs its supposed masters, the men of state on the podium
before it. Machines take the dominant position in both images. These powerful images of
technological strength played into contemporary fears about what could happen when
man’s ability to harness nature broke down. The most successful images of the Corliss
expressed this tension, providing viewers with a way to relive the fair, to remember how
it felt to look up at the engine whose “mighty walking-beams plunge their pistons
downward, [whose] enormous fly-wheel revolves with a hoarded power that makes all
Many viewers even used language loaded with occultism to try and describe the
awesome impressions of the experience. As historian Henry Nash Smith has noted, these
conflicted responses—torn between patriotism and fear—were not unusual. Smith writes
of the reactions to the Corliss that they show a “tendency, common in that day, to regard
steam power as a supernatural force kept only precariously under human control.”107 He
continues, writing of Harper’s Weekly imagery of machinery more generally, that it
Jacob Bigelow, Elements of Technology, Taken Chiefly from a Course of Lectures Delivered at
Cambridge, on the Application of the Sciences to the Useful Arts, 2nd ed. (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little,
and Wilkins, 1831), 4.
Bigelow, Elements of Technology, 4, 5.
Howells, “Sennight,” 96.
Henry Nash Smith, Popular Culture and Industrialism, 1865-1890 (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books,
1967), 71.
partakes of “a supernatural quality, which often … is given a sinister aspect by references
to ‘monsters’ and ‘demons’ … suggesting dark subterranean forces beneath the brisk
ideology of enlightenment.”108 The varied responses to the Corliss reinforce Smith’s
argument. An author in the September 1876 issue of the Atlantic Monthly compared the
displays in Machinery Hall to “intelligent brutes,” “serpents,” and “will-o’-the-wisps,”
and argued that “there is something at once sublime and infernal in the spectacle.”109
Howells referred to the Corliss as a “prodigious Afreet,” referencing a character type
from Arabic mythology, a djinn or genie with magical and often evil powers; in this case,
the engine was an Afreet who “could crush [the operator] past all semblance of humanity
with his lightest touch.”110 Though Howells noted that fear of the engine was not his
overwhelming impression, the image of an unruly Afreet (or “slave,” as he also called it)
who toiled on sufferance and had the strength and power easily to crush its master was
not always reconcilable with positive national feelings.111 The reference to a slave
obliquely calls up the past specter of slave revolts, and ties in the technological sublime
with overlapping fears of blackness, death, and disunity.112
One observer from Georgia also wrote of the engine’s fearful power to dominate
its human controllers, even to take on a mysterious life of its own, writing, “Somehow we
have caught the idea that this mammoth power is endowed with more than ordinary
Smith, Popular Culture, 80.
“Characteristics of the International Fair, III,” Atlantic Monthly 38.227 (Sept. 1876): 358.
Howells, “Sennight,” 96.
Howells, “Sennight,” 96.
On the relationship between blackness and death in nineteenth century American visual culture, see
Sarah Burns, “The Deepest Dark,” in Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in
Nineteenth-Century American Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 101-127. On blackness
and death in alchemical symbolism, see Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, trans. Stephen Corrin
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 152-154.
intelligence.”113 In this account, however, the Corliss was more than just a specter of
artificially intelligent machine life. The correspondent goes on to describe the engine as a
spectacle of marvelous autogenesis, writing that the engine seems spontaneously to have
grown, or evolved, from raw minerals under its own motive force. He states: “Why not
give to the metals and materials of this vast power the same progressive principle from its
crude ores that Darwin gives to the animal creation from the mamal [sic] and molusk
[sic] germs? The idea seems quite as plausible.”114 While in Appleton’s Magazine,
William H. Rideing could write that the Corliss was evidence of “man’s power over
matter,” others insisted on the terrifying and uncontrollable nature of the machine.115 The
apparently magical quality of the engine thus had its ominous side, a side that could call
up unwanted specters of the past, or call into question man’s power over the world. As
with all manifestations of the sublime, the thrill and majesty of the sight is tempered, or
thrillingly cut, with an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty, a frisson of danger.
The engine also replayed the Gothic movement’s fears of the potential interlacing
of sexuality and technology. One author wrote that the Corliss was so overpowering that
“a young girl among the assistants was apparently overcome by it.”116 This anecdote
recalls Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818), in which the young, bourgeois
beloved of the title character is eventually murdered by his jealous creation, “the
monster.”117 As a powerful metaphor for contemporary fears about technology,
C.A.N. [pseud.], “The Centennial: Another Glance at the World’s Workshop,” Georgia Weekly
Telegraph and Journal & Messenger, Nov. 7, 1876.
C.A.N., “The Centennial.”
William H. Rideing, “At the Exhibition, II: Glimpses of Machinery Hall and the Government Building,”
Appletons’ Journal 15.377 (June 10, 1876): 759.
“Characteristics of the International Fair, III,” 359.
For reactions to Frankenstein, and its relationship to technology, see Glen Scott Allen, Master
Mechanics and Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist as Hero and Villain from Colonial
Frankenstein also emphasizes parallel fears of rogue technology and unrestrained female
sexuality. In the case of the Corliss engine, the woman who succumbs is not an exalted
flower of pure womanhood, but a wage-earning machine attendant working alongside the
Corliss display in Machinery Hall. This crucial shift in the identity of the “monster’s”
victim reinforces Nye’s arguments about the status of the sublime in the United States.
Rather than a preserve of bourgeois intellectualism, the sublime was a democratized
category of group experience, open and available to all. Of course, this meant that the
threatening effects of runaway technology and destructive sexuality could also affect any
citizen of the United States. Far from being limited to aristocrats such as Victor
Frankenstein, the infernal possibilities lurking beneath the unitary rhetoric of technology
also threatened the very fabric of U.S. society.
Machinery was thus strange, unknown, wearying, even dangerous. Consider a
final quotation from the Atlantic Monthly: “Machines … make no boast, but silently
perform their task before your eyes; the mode in which it is effected is a mystery; the
spools, shuttles, spindles, are there, so is the raw material; one sees the means and the
result, but the process is invisible and inscrutable as are those of Nature.”118 The raw
material is evident to us; so is the result, the products. But in so many cases of encounters
with technology during this period, the process is mysterious, invisible, unknowable. The
Corliss engine contained within it a power both transcendent and transgressive, one
which could overturn the neat dichotomy of mind over machine expressed by Bigelow
earlier in the century.
Times to the Present (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 33-39; Burns, Painting the Dark
Side, 114-177; Wosk, Breaking Frame, 68-69.
“Characteristics of the International Fair, III,” 358.
On the whole, the Southern fairs and the Centennial of 1876 were sites where
viewers were confronted with narratives of national unity and patriotic achievement.
These representations, though calculated primarily to give information about new
technologies and products, were also designed to create nationalistic and sublime feelings
in viewers—even viewers who could only experience their spectacle at a remove. These
images all participated in a narrative of reunification that took the triumph of technology
as a central tenet of the new Union, and of the rehabilitation of the South. While some
images partook liberally of occult and alchemical imagery, sending thrills of fear through
viewers, others more rationally attempted to demonstrate the progress of the New South.
However, lurking beneath the apparently calm façade of reconciliation, the specter of the
past still had power to rise up at unexpected times—in the “Afreet” of the Corliss engine,
or the apparently rehabilitated (but possibly unregenerate Confederate veteran. These
images promoting national unity demonstrate that during the 1860s and 1870s, the
rationality of the managerial eye was not yet fixed as the primary mode of representation;
magical and irrational images still competed with its dominance. However, in the
following decades, society in the United States increasingly became subordinated to a
standardizing, rationalizing impulse that envisioned the entire country as a vast factory,
and its political and social leaders as managers who had to train its citizens in proper
forms of “work.” In the final years of the nineteenth century, the rational, informational
mode finally crystallized as the dominant mode of representing technological systems.
Chapter 5:
Laziness and Civilization: Workers, Citizens, and the Representation of
Social Control
In 1910, the renowned social worker Jane Addams penned her memoir of social
activism Twenty Years at Hull House, in which she argued for the value of inter-class
communication and education, with an emphasis on the fact that “the superior class has
duties to the inferior.”1 Though this philanthropic middle class imperative is more
frequently associated with the Progressive Era, which began in the mid-1890s and
extended into the early twentieth century, Addams’s ideology of benevolent social work
was already manifest in the visual realm decades earlier. From the late 1860s onward,
American magazine readers encountered articles and images calling for a renewed
commitment to social justice and the creation and maintenance of organizational and
bureaucratic structures to deal with the widening social gaps of the Gilded Age.
Following the Civil War, the language of technological systems and the new logic of
management permeated not just the factory setting but also the social realm. A new era
was spawned in the popular press, as middle-class reformers dictated the proper standards
for citizenship in the United States through a visual and textual vocabulary that stressed
the centrality of labor.
The 1870s and 1880s saw the mass foundation and reform of charitable,
educational, and penal institutions, all with an eye to solving social problems through
increasingly rigidified systems of organization and regulation.2 As the century drew to a
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910; repr., New York: Signet Classics, 1961), 45.
See, for instance, Robert Hamlett Bremner, From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United
States (1956; repr., New York: New York University Press, 1967); George Fredrickson, The Inner Civil
close, American life became increasingly ordered and overseen, whether by teachers,
factory managers, union bosses, wardens, social reformers, or government civil service
workers. In the realm of culture, too, the postwar “enthusiasm for institutional
development” flourished with increased attention to artistic and didactic organizations,
schools, and publications, as art historian J.M. Mancini notes.3 This increasing
atmosphere of social control implicitly overlapped with profitable or productive labor:
being a good, and normative, citizen was often expressed using various metaphors of
“work.” In fact, historian Michael B. Katz notes a specific link between the emergence of
corporate capitalism and the structural changes occurring in the organization of schools
and other institutions, which “reflected the drive toward order, rationality, discipline, and
specialization inherent in capitalism.”4 Alternately, deviance of various kinds was an
expression of the failure to work properly: the streets teemed with gangs of young men
who refused the blessings of education, prisons were filled with perpetrators whose roles
as useful laborers were hotly debated, and those who violently or improperly exercised
their right to vote were undeserving of the name of “worker.” For those who slipped
through the cracks, the poorhouse operated as a site both of rehabilitation and of forced
utility: inmates were put to work, mainly at small handicrafts such as decorating bonnets
or soling shoes. Immigrants also had to be assimilated by taking on new jobs; like
prisoners, children, the poor, and the uneducated, immigrants were expected to become
War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (New York: Harper and Row, 1968); Walter I.
Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, 2nd ed. (New York:
Free Press, 1979).
J.M. Mancini, Pre-Modernism: Art-World Change and American Culture from the Civil War to the
Armory Show (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 46. See also Lawrence W. Levine,
Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1988).
Michael B. Katz, “The Origins of Public Education: A Reassessment,” in The Social History of American
Education, ed. B. Edward McClellan and William J. Reese (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988),
productive members of society and solid citizens through the purifying act of learning to
work. Finally, advocates for universal, required education suggested it as the most
effective way to socialize children and adolescents, and to ensure their productive
capacities. In the late nineteenth century, as historian James B. Gilbert writes, all these
social institutions were “given the task of forcing ‘abnormal’ populations to adjust to
modern life.” The “cure” for social, racial, mental, or physical abnormality “often meant
nothing more than the ability to return to the job.”5 This chapter argues that the
connection between social organization and honest labor was hammered home to viewers
through representations in the popular press that equated work and citizenship. Popular
imagery avidly declared the uplifting moral, economic, and personal rewards of working,
during the same years that technological reforms transformed traditional notions of what
“working” looked like.
David J. Rothman has written in The Discovery of the Asylum of the creation of
both charitable and restrictive organizations intended to control, survey, and define the
population during the Early Republic. Rothman argues that the usefulness of these
institutions for categorizing and monitoring the population was “discovered” during the
early years of the United States and was part of the country’s process of modernization.
Prescriptions of normality—of what was right and proper—included both positive and
negative attributes; it was defined just as clearly by what it was not as by what it was.
One of the ways to make the population conform to these standards of normality was to
subject it to institutions designed to create social order: those that locked away and
James B. Gilbert, Work Without Salvation: America’s Intellectuals and Industrial Alienation, 1880-1910
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 137, 138.
segregated certain types of people, which submitted them to forced regimes of
homogeneity, and which attempted to educate them about how they “should” behave.
Though of course such institutions as prisons existed during the Colonial period,
Rothman argues that the ideological importance of prisons, asylums, poorhouses, and
schools grew during the Early Republic and Jacksonian eras. Incidence of such
institutions increased during the early years of the nineteenth century, as relief of various
conditions—whether poverty, criminality, illness, or insanity—moved outside the home
and became part of a public mandate of order and control.6 This was apparent in the
earliest factory systems, such as those at Lowell, Massachusetts, which were part of this
impulse toward regulation and organization. Planned factory villages with strict time
schedules were designed originally for young women to work for brief periods before
they married or moved on. Working in one of the early factories in Massachusetts or
Rhode Island was intended as a temporary employment that would impress young
employees with a sense of organization, punctuality, discipline, and self-control.7
After the Civil War, as George Fredrickson and others have argued, unofficial
civil service reform began a second wave of institutional restructuring. Tasks previously
performed by volunteers were consolidated under state and federal control; between 1863
and 1886, twelve states formed State Boards of Charity, which oversaw poor relief and
also held educational and penal responsibilities.8 Within the government, an army of
clerks arose to process benefits for wounded veterans and the families of the deceased.
David Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1971). Rothman precedes Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish by four years, and
includes many similar observations about institutions and social control. Foucault, Discipline and Punish:
The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (1975; repr., New York: Vintage, 1995).
David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 112-113; Bryan Jay
Wolf, “The Labor of Seeing: Pragmatism, Ideology, and Gender in Winslow Homer’s The Morning Bell,”
Prospects 17 (1992): 284-286.
Trattner, Poor Law to Welfare State, 76. Also discussed in Bremner, From the Depths, 48.
When, in 1869, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper called for “more systematic
benevolent attention” to those still suffering from the war’s aftermath, it both confirmed
Fredrickson’s thesis and foreshadowed the greater institutional changes to come in the
following decades.9 Fredrickson connects the foundation of “national pensions, hospitals
and asylums” praised by Leslie’s with a larger interest in control that permeated the
political realm during the 1860s and 1870s, and led to the atmosphere of restriction that
Alan Trachtenberg would later call the “incorporation of America.”10 By this is meant not
only the conglomeration of large industrial and financial corporations during the Gilded
Age, but also a way of thinking about society in the same terms as business: the search
for an organized structure that could keep track of many bodies, many groups, and could
provide formulaic means of dealing with those bodies and groups.
The earliest roots of the Progressive Era ideology of middle-class social work
arose during this period—though it was not yet called social work. The New York-based
Journal of Social Science was founded in 1869, and its articles covered topics ranging
from urban poverty and education to immigration, social justice, and the proper running
of correctional facilities.11 It was later followed by the Publications of the American
Statistical Association (1888), Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science (1890), and the American Journal of Sociology (1895), all of which mandated
“Consequences of the Civil War, and Our Duties,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (hereafter FLIN),
Dec. 4, 1869, cover.
“Consequences of the Civil War,” 185. See also Fredrickson, Inner Civil War; Richard Slotkin, The Fatal
Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890 (New York: Atheneum,
1985), 282-286; Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age
(1982; repr., New York: Hill and Wang, 1995).
Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, vol. III: 1865-1885 (1938; repr., Cambridge:
Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1957), 313.
scientific examination of social and economic problems.12 As is evident from these dates,
professionalization of sociology did not really take hold until the 1880s and later.
However, private and amateur charitable groups embraced a proto-professional outlook
on dealing with poverty, education, immigration, and other social concerns.
The language of management and control began to take over soon after the end of
the war: the era immediately following the war advocated “scientific charity,” while in
the following decade the U.S. saw the foundation of over one hundred societies based on
the model of the London Charity Organization Society (1869).13 Rev. S. Humphreys
Gurteen, an advocate for Charity Organization, phrased the movement as a battle against
“concentrated and systematized pauperism.”14 Fighting systematized poverty with
systematized charity, Charity Organization Societies were designed to streamline,
rationalize, and conglomerate pre-existing philanthropic organizations to “bring order to
charitable work.”15 However, as Peter Hales argues, these changes often led to a more
restrictive, harsher world for those in need of aid: a growing theorization of the categories
of “worthy” and “unworthy” poor, combined with the influence of Herbert Spencer’s
theories of social evolution, caused many organizations to “withhold all aid from those
potentially capable of work.”16
The rhetorical language of many charities explicitly linked factory management
and philanthropy. As early as the 1840s, doctor and reformer John H. Griscom proposed
a highly structured, specialized, and bureaucratic “Health Police” for New York City, to
Mott, A History of American Magazines, vol. IV: 1885-1905 (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard
University, 1957), 191-192.
Bremner, From the Depths, 51; Trattner, Poor Law to Welfare State, 80.
Rev. S. Humphreys Gurteen, Phases of Charity (Buffalo: Haas, Nauert and Klein, 1877), 5.
Trattner, Poor Law to Welfare State, 80.
Peter Bacon Hales, Silver Cities: The Photography of American Urbanization, 1839-1915 (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1984), 166.
attack its sanitation problems in a “systematic form.”17 In later decades, social scientists
urged philanthropists “to do in charity what is done in commerce and industry—so to
arrange its different agencies and so to coördinate its different forces as to attain a certain
end with the least possible waste of energy.”18 This focus on the efficiency of charitable
work, and the managerial qualities of philanthropic organizers, reinforces the intimate
connection between the industrial and the social.
Like contemporary imagery of factory interiors, representations of social
structures helped viewers visualize their country in terms of process, organization, and
system. While industrial images taught viewers to see the world like managers,
representations of the social order between 1865 and 1893 showed viewers how to think
like reformers. As suggested by an 1876 guidebook, which lists New York’s Tombs
Prison, Philadelphia’s Eastern Penitentiary, and St. Louis’s County Insane Asylum as
sites of interest, middle-class travelers were accustomed to viewing penitentiaries,
asylums, and other institutional structures as sites of spectacle for touristic enjoyment.19
Now popular periodicals asked them to enter those institutions with an eye to reform. Just
as industrial imagery had coached viewers in the tactics of the managerial eye, magazines
asked their readers to “manage” questions of poverty, social fitness, and labor.
As early as the 1850s, mass-market periodicals were concerned with poverty and
social disorder, particularly in the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor.
Dr. John H. Griscom, The Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of New York, with Suggestions
for its Improvement (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1845), 42-43, 1.
Oscar C. McCulloch, “General and Specific Methods of Operation in the Association of Charities,”
Journal of Social Science 12 (1880): 91. Quoted in Roy Lubove, The Professional Altruist: The Emergence
of Social Work as a Career, 1880-1930 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), 7.
Appletons’ Illustrated Hand-Book of American Cities; Comprising the Principal Cities in the United
States and Canada, With Outlines of Through Routes, and Railway Maps (New York: D. Appleton, 1876),
10, 27, 115.
However, after the Civil War, public concern with a number of social issues—not just
poverty but also voting, immigration, exploitation of children, education, religion,
intransigence, crime, and vice—exploded. In the social realm, the language of industrial
management could also be applied to the management of the self, calling for the wellordered regulation and shaping of citizenry through work. Images were an important part
of the process: they not only taught viewers to think like philanthropists, but they also
powerfully worked to shape public opinions of deviance and its cure. Most of these social
systems, particularly those that involved either willing or forced incarceration in a
physical structure, are comparable to the managerial eye. The structures themselves are
put before the viewer, made visible, exposed, in order to clarify what goes on within
them; images cut into the sites of poor “relief” the way the managerial eye cut through
factories to reveal inner workings beneath brick exteriors.
One of the structures designed to reform and rehabilitate failed citizens was the
workhouse, a British institution that made the transition to the United States during the
Jacksonian period. These asylums distributed “indoor relief,” live-in support that was
repaid by labor from the inmate, as opposed to “outdoor relief,” or charity distributed to
the poor who lived in their own homes.20 By the end of the Civil War, Rothman records,
80% of long-term charity dispensed in Massachusetts was indoor; that means four in five
people in need of more than occasional charitable donations were basically incarcerated
in institutions designed both to help them and to make use of their labor for profit, while
reeducating them about the importance of the work ethic and the redemptive power of
order and diligence.
Rothman, Discovery of the Asylum, 183.
In an 1866 Harper’s Monthly article, “The Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,”
journalist William Henry Davenport took his readers to visit the complex of institutions
on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) in the East River off Manhattan. The
buildings included prisons, hospitals, an almshouse, a home for the blind, an insane
asylum, and the workhouse. By the time of Davenport’s article, the workhouse had
essentially become an informal prison for minor offenders such as petty thieves and
public drunkards. The island could only be reached by ferryboat, physically emphasizing
its inaccessibility from the city and its function as a site for the rehabilitation of social
deviants. Davenport’s article reinscribed contemporary notions of the “deserving” and
“undeserving” poor as an architectural separation between workhouse and almshouse.
While the inmates of the almshouse were primarily the disabled or elderly, those in the
workhouse were able-bodied but “had always been accustomed to idleness, and did not
care for nor feel shame consequent upon pauperism.”21 It was important for reformers
that there was “some line drawn, some distinction made—which could be impressed
upon the feelings of the poor themselves—between those reduced by uncontrollable
circumstances and those of a lazy, shiftless disposition.”22 By putting inmates to work,
the workhouse aimed “to impel the decrease of pauperism” by teaching inmates to
depend upon their own labor. Ironically, this labor was not rewarded with pay, since the
governors of the institution thought giving inmates a “few dollars” would encourage them
to “spend in a drunken debauch in the city.”23 Davenport admitted of this policy: “seeing
William Henry Davenport, “The Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine
(hereafter HNMM) 33.198 (Nov. 1866): 683.
Davenport, “Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,” 683.
Davenport, “Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,” 686.
that no remuneration thereunto accrues, no one expects them to work with much gusto.”24
As Davenport recognized, the workhouse was a poor place to demonstrate the redemptive
power of work, as inmates did not stand to gain from their labor. But, according to
nineteenth-century modes of thought, the workhouse provided an excellent barometer for
identifying the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, based on the willingness to work
without hope of material reward.
The illustrator (probably Davenport himself) visually marks the difference
between ”deserving” and “undeserving” in two illustrations contrasting “Work-House
Shoemakers” with those “Skulking from Work” (Figs. 141 and 142). The shoemakers sit
on their benches, diligently bent over their work, while the skulkers lean against the wall
idly. Though their equipment is slightly less advanced, it would be difficult for a viewer
to distinguish the “Work-House Shoemakers” from Theodore R. Davis’s roughly
contemporary illustration of Chinese men at work in a North Adams, Massachusetts shoe
factory (Fig. 143). Both images show figures at separate, individual stations, working
with bowed heads. While the central row of Chinese shoemakers operate automated
stitching machines, those flanking the windows at right and left continue to work
primarily by hand, reinforcing the correspondence between the two scenes. Only by
reading text and image together can the viewer assess the social status of the first group
as deviants; the similarity of the images suggests the workhouse inmates’ potential
incorporation into productive factory labor after their release.
Not so with the “shirkers.” They consist of three men and a young boy, an
important inclusion for a society that believed strongly in the impact of early
environment upon character. The boy is too early trained to his idleness, likely to
Davenport, “Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,” 700.
perpetuate the lazy outlook attributed to the “undeserving” poor. The second standing
man gazes at the viewer from under his hat, his displeasure marked by the set line of his
mouth. His pose is defiant—spread legs, one hand on his hip and the other holding a
cane—challenging the viewer to question his ability or worthiness. The other seated
figure appears to be a middle aged or elderly man. This suggests a particularly harsh view
of the poor: even the disabled, the young, and the old were expected to work for their
keep and could not rely on external assistance.
Assistance was only one side of the operations on Blackwell’s Island, however.
There was also an emphasis on discipline and, more importantly, self-discipline, which
sometimes had to be taught violently. Davenport described the sewing room at the
workhouse, where hundreds of women were put to work making and mending pants,
shirts, and vests, for the use of the other inmates on Blackwell’s Island:
I wondered at the order maintained amidst such a lawless set,
superintended only by a single matron, a slight woman in black, who
occasionally promenaded the aisle; until I thought of the dark cell, the
only punishment in vogue at the Work-house, but which is dreaded in
proportion to its isolation. Insolence was sure to be rewarded by
incarceration there.25
In this anecdote, by preemptively reacting to the threat of punishment with calm
cooperation, the inmates have become trapped in what Michel Foucault calls a “cruel,
ingenious cage” of self-discipline.26 The incarceration of many of the workhouse’s
inmates was so brief (anywhere from a single day to a few weeks) that it is unlikely many
of them had been committed to solitary confinement, or even seen the small, dark cell
where their punishment would take place. Whispered rumors and stories of its isolation
and sensory deprivation must have cast this punishment in such a light that order over
Davenport, “Workhouse at Blackwell’s Island,” 695.
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 205.
hundreds of women could be maintained by a single, “slight” wardress. A sketch on the
following page shows a terrified-looking female inmate being pushed bodily into the
“Dark Cell” (Fig. 144). Her disorderly body has failed in the republican self-regulation
the workhouse aimed to inculcate in its occupants.
The threat of punishment also lay over a charitable institution called “The
Wayfarer’s Lodge,” a Philadelphia homeless shelter. Tramps, or traveling homeless men,
represented what James Gilbert calls “an actual and highly visible form of discontent in
modern society,” an often concerted reaction against the changes of industrialization.27
Tramping became a central issue during the economically depressed 1890s, but already in
1884, H.L. Brown’s story and illustration in Harper’s Weekly made a direct connection
between the male homeless population and concerns about work and discipline. In
“Setting the Tramps at Work,” Brown shows a cadre of the willing poor lined up at
sawhorses, diligently sawing logs (Fig. 145). The purpose of the Wayfarer’s Lodge was
to provide transients with food, lodging, washing, and clean clothes, and ultimately to
find them gainful employment in the community. Here, a diverse group of men have been
taken into the Lodge and are earning their keep. Many of the men are bearded, suggesting
a long sojourn on the road, but they wear vastly varying clothing: the first man on the
right wears a suit that once may have evinced respectability, but now shows tears at the
jacket hem and trouser cuffs; his next neighbor wears a plaid workshirt and farmer’s hat,
while the next sports a vest and European billed cap. Two men at the left, one seated
while chopping logs, and the other standing to bundle them together, seem almost welldressed, with bowler hats and trimmed facial hair. The enormous pile of logs suggests the
Gilbert, Work Without Salvation, 23. See also Michael B. Katz, In the Shadows of the Poorhouse: A
Social History of Welfare in America (New York: Basic Books, 1986), 92-93.
collective effort of this cross-section of the poor, which seems to encompass middle-class
men who are down on their luck, working-class laborers, immigrants, and transplants
from rural areas. The men who are not shown in this image are the undeserving; Brown
notes: “this is the test point. … For those who are found deserving, situations are
procured as rapidly as possible, while the others are marched off at double-quick to the
House of Correction.”28 The specter of incarceration for vagrancy hung over their heads;
the men shown working were those willing to work “as an equivalent for the food and
lodging they have received,” and were likely to be assisted in their search for more
permanent employment.29 Though there was certainly a disciplinary aspect to this charity,
Brown focused on the redemptive narrative: the willing were able to be rehabilitated as
productive members of society, while the unwilling were classified as deviant and sent
off for further correction in punitive institutions.
Children were particularly important in Gilded Age debates about work and
deviance. Schooling was one important means of shaping future workers and citizens, as
we shall see, but punitive institutions were also used to teach the impoverished young to
appreciate the emancipatory qualities of labor. During the two years following his article
about Blackwell’s Island, Davenport revisited the themes of poverty and work in two
articles about children’s charities, which he also illustrated. Both articles—“House of
Refuge on Randall’s Island” for Harper’s Weekly and “The Nurseries on Randall’s
Island” for the Monthly— dealt with child welfare, and focused on another East River
island housing corrective institutions. The spatial organization of Randall’s Island
H.L. Brown, “Setting the Tramps at Work,” Harper’s Weekly (hereafter HW), June 21, 1884, 402.
Brown, “Tramps at Work,” 402.
replicated that of Blackwell’s Island, with a separation between the Nursery—a place of
shelter for “deserving” poor children—and the House of Refuge—a penal institution for
“undeserving” children caught at petty crimes.30
Davenport’s illustration of the House of Refuge shows boys, who had been
arrested for “criminal” behavior, at work making wire, hoop skirts, and shoes, industries
also practiced by adult offenders on Blackwell’s Island.31 The layout of the multi-paneled
page is similar to representations of manufacturing, though the central panel depicts the
playground of the institution, with dozens of boys at lively play (Fig. 146). This shows
boys burning off excess energy through play and exercise, set up as a proper outlet for
their vigor in opposition to squandering it at drinking, cards, or other forms of
dissipation. Exercise, like labor, is fixed on as a means of disciplining the body.
Surrounding this central vignette are ten scenes of industrious children, all boys of
widely varying ages. Though the young men in “Nailing the Soles” are probably in their
teens, a boy seated on the floor in “Hoop Skirt Factory” appears to be in diapers, while
only one figure in the background of that image is actually taller than the skirt hoops
being constructed. Though the House of Refuge apparently also accepted girls, who
would have been employed at sewing, no females are shown. Instead, Davenport presents
young boys who both embody and play-act the role of the responsible male laborer. The
image frames the boys as workers in miniature, readying themselves for reentry into the
world and eventual entrance into the workforce as rehabilitated members of society. Here
William Henry Davenport, “The Nurseries on Randall’s Island,” HNMM 36.211 (Dec. 1867): 8-25;
Davenport, “The House of Refuge on Randall’s Island,” HW, May 23, 1868, 333.
The offenses were usually minor, though B.K. Pierce wrote of more serious crimes committed by
inmates, such as drug addiction, prostitution, and violent theft. These usually older “criminal classes” were
housed separately from the “younger and vagrant,” typically orphans and street children “guilty of petty
thieving, with little sense of wrong-doing, through lack of instruction.” Pierce, “New-York House of
Refuge,” Appletons’ Journal 5.103 (March 18, 1871): 303.
they merely act out—as if practicing—the labors they will soon assume.32 Though it was
not as beneficial as attending school, a stay at the House of Refuge might imbue the
young man or woman with an idea of the nobility and necessity of labor. It might also
give him or her skills that would be useful in finding a job in the outside world, ranging
from the specific and technical, such as “Making Sieves,” to the more abstract, such as
self-control, punctuality, and work ethic. B.K. Pierce of Appleton’s Magazine wrote
specifically of the threefold educational focus necessary for the successful House of
Refuge discharge: intellectual, moral, and industrial.33
On a more sinister note, one could also read these young men as prefiguring their
future roles as inmates of Blackwell’s Island. Several industries shown are the same as
those depicted in Davenport’s article about the workhouse, specifically hoop-skirt
making and shoemaking. Though the House of Refuge was aimed at “the reformation of
children who have by circumstances, more than inclination, been led into a career of
crime,” there was no indication of what would happen to the inmates once they were
released.34 If they came from impoverished families, they might be forced to continue
their petty criminal activities, particularly if they were not old enough to work in the
industrial realm. Pierce wrote of the high rate of recidivism among young offenders, who
after their release would “be returned two or three times to the Refuge, and ultimately
revolve between the Penitentiary and State-prison.”35 He advocated training in the trades
as the most effective way to combat this, and even related the probably apocryphal story
These included, for boys, cooking and baking, agriculture, shoemaking, “wire-work,” (including making
sieves and rodent traps), and hoop skirt construction for boys. Girls would practice laundry and sewing.
Pierce, “New-York House of Refuge,” 305-306.
Pierce, “New-York House of Refuge,” 305.
Davenport, “House of Refuge,” 333.
Pierce, “New-York House of Refuge,” 306.
of a young boy who turned himself in for theft, in order to have the chance of learning a
useful trade at the House of Refuge.36 Though Pierce was optimistic about the potential
success rate of the House when children were taught industrial trades, and Davenport
claimed it as “one of the principal and most beneficial” children’s charities, there is no
escaping the probability that the attempt to inculcate the value of labor into these children
would be only partially successful.37 Most observers, however, especially reformers,
believed in the penal system as a last resort. The more effective way for people to
become proper citizens, and thus proper workers, was not through forced labor in a
punitive setting, but instead through a variety of educational experiences.
In his call for restrictions on child labor, Charles Loring Brace, social reformer
and founder of the Children’s Aid Society, decried what he saw as a short-sightedness
among the poorer classes of New York, who often failed to seek educational
opportunities for their children.38 His cover story for the August 1873 issue of Harper’s
Monthly, “The Little Laborers of New York City,” begins with a comparison between
middle-class and working-class family structures:
With the children of the fortunate classes there are certain years of
childhood which every parent feels ought to be freed from the burdens and
responsibilities of life. The “struggle for existence,” the labor of moneymaking, the toil for support, and all the cares and anxieties therewith, will
come soon enough. And the parent is glad that the first years at least
should be buoyant and free from care, with no shadow of after-life upon
By contrast, the parents of the working class or the working poor could “indulge in no
such sentiments.” Their children were forced to enter the workforce at an early age,
Pierce, “New-York House of Refuge,” 307.
Davenport, “House of Refuge,” 333.
Brace’s writings and work were influential on Jacob Riis’s ideas about the victimization of impoverished
children. Hales, Silver Cities, 208-209.
Charles Loring Brace, “The Little Laborers of New York City,” HNMM 47.279 (Aug. 1873): 321.
mainly, according to the author, because parents were “indifferent to the child’s natural
growth and improvement.”40 Unlike middle- or upper-class parents, who understood the
value of education for future success, Brace argued that “the laborer sees the daily
earnings, and does not think much of the future advantages which the child may win by
being educated now.”41 Though this journalistic piece was primarily an exposé of the ills
of child labor, its class bias also formulated the working class as lacking skills of longterm problem solving, more concerned with profiting from their children than cultivating
their future potential as citizens.
The article contains a broad historical survey of child labor laws in the United
Kingdom and the United States, focusing on Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and
Connecticut, three major states in New England manufacturing. In contrast to these
states, which a history of child labor reform, Brace used New York as a negative
example: its lack of child labor regulations and the apparent unwillingness of employers
to allow a journalist inside their factories indicated a repressive and exploitative milieu,
one in which children were not required to have any proof of schooling, and were often
submitted to work schedules as grueling as those of adults. According to the article, some
of the most pernicious industries in this respect were manufacturers of envelopes, gold
leaf, tobacco products, twine, and paper products, each of which employed thousands of
workers under the age of sixteen in New York City alone. “How intense and wearying is
their daily toil,” Brace wrote, “and how much of their health and education is sacrificed
in these early years and premature labor! … These children, stunted in body and mind,
Brace, “Little Laborers,” 321.
Brace, “Little Laborers,” 321.
are growing up to be our voters.”42 To correct what Brace saw as a coming political and
industrial crisis, the Children’s Aid Society offered education as the solution for poverty
and child labor. At the Society’s industrial schools, one of which is pictured, children “of
the working classes are taught habits of industry, order, cleanliness, together with
common-school lessons and [skills of] some industrial branch.”43 The illustration depicts
a motherly schoolmistress and two rather endearingly disheveled poppets, one
barefooted, and both with patched and ragged trousers (Fig. 147). Behind them, ranks of
desks seat a few dozen more children, some bent over their work, while others raise their
hands, perhaps to gain the teacher’s attention. While the major argument of the article
was against the brutality of child labor, in fact one of Brace’s most strident claims was
that these young laborers entered the workforce too soon. The problem for him was not
that their labor was degrading; rather it was “premature.”
The orderly rows of desks overseen by a female authority mirror the orderly rows
of workstations (overseen by shadowy males) in illustrations depicting children in the
piecework industries (Fig. 148). Both educational and industrial systems required
children to behave in a restrained, compliant manner and to take direction from adult
authorities who supervised and regulated their efforts. The difference is that the children
in the workforce have entered that space too early, before learning the values of
“industry, order, cleanliness” that might have been gained by attending school. They are
presumably less effective operatives, never having learned these lessons of responsibility
and self-control; they lack the proper educational grounding to make them efficient and
trustworthy workers. What Brace’s argument does not do is suggest a means to lift these
Brace, “Little Laborers,” 327.
Brace, “Little Laborers,” 327.
children out of poverty; instead, he offers a censorious analysis of the working class as
opportunistic and short-sighted, while reinscribing the importance of education to mold
children into well-prepared workers. As the children at the House of Refuge seem to
rehearse the tasks of the adults at Blackwell’s Island, so the pupils of the Children’s Aid
Society enact their own future as “little laborers.”
As Brace’s article suggests, education was a cornerstone of the movement to
standardize and control labor. The institution of public schools and the increasing
insistence that children attend these schools marked an important turning-point in the
conception of education. There are two general strands of education that will be
important for this analysis: one is public elementary education, and the other is technical
education. While the informal master-apprentice structure was dwindling due to the
decrease in artisanal production, institutionally-based technical education was growing in
influence. No longer did an apprenticeship under a master qualify the student to become a
master of the craft; now formalized structures of degree requirements shaped the
educational experience of skilled laborers. Even for unskilled or semi-skilled jobs,
technical training became an important part of defining citizenship, as the founding of
technical programs at schools for students of color, such as the Hampton Institute and the
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, demonstrates. Thus education was seen in two ways: as
a specific conduit to attaining a job in the technical trades, and as a regulating experience
that, like a stay in the House of Refuge, would instill into young minds the values of
application, diligence, and self-reliance. Once again, national values were tied to labor
through a social institution designed to process and shape citizens of the United States.
The power of general elementary education as tool for establishing uniform
morals and values was central to debates about education during the Gilded Age. School
attendance had tripled between 1800 and 1860, when measured by average number of
days per annum spent in school.44 According to Michael B. Katz, promoters of general
elementary education argued that structured learning environments were ideal sites for
“the inculcation of modern habits of punctuality, regularity, docility, and the
postponement of gratification,” lessons that would make students into able and compliant
workers later in life.45 Educational historian John L. Rury concurs, writing that
nineteenth-century reformers saw universal elementary education as good training for an
economic system that privileged the “rule of the clock and efficiency.”46 Scholars of
American education generally argue that “popular education” and “democratic
capitalism” were ideologically intertwined during the late nineteenth century.47
A striking lesson in the importance of general education may be had from a pair
of illustrations sketched by Charles Stanley Reinhart from designs by painter Percival De
Luce, published in Harper’s Weekly in December of 1874 (Fig. 149). The illustrations
accompanied an article by Eugene Lawrence, a frequent Harper’s contributor, decrying a
proposed cut in teacher salaries in the public schools of New York City.48 Together,
illustrations and article convince the viewer of the urgent need to regard teachers as
public servants no less important than policemen and magistrates for upholding social
Richard D. Brown, Modernization: The Transformation of American Life, 1600-1865 (New York: Hill
and Wang, 1976), 138.
Katz, “Origins of Public Education,” 105.
John L. Rury, Education and Social Change: Contours in the History of American Schooling, 3rd ed.
(New York: Routledge, 2009), 62.
Katz, “Origins of Public Education.” 111. Katz continues: “Schools reflected, legitimated, and sustained
the social order.” See also Rury, Education and Social Change, 61-90; Joel Spring, The American School,
1642-2004, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 206-224.
Eugene Lawrence, “Shall Teachers’ Salaries Be Lowered?” HW, Dec. 19, 1874, 1046.
order. The right-hand illustration, titled “Children Who Do Not Go To Our Public
Schools,” takes the viewer through a litany of horror-show images of social disorder,
laziness, violence, and vice. Without a proper education, it implies, children will grow up
to participate in socially-destructive activities such as theft, gambling (and cheating at
gambling), drunken debauchery, rioting, prostitution, and murder. The likely endpoints
for these activities are the gallows or the Tombs prison, whose grim Egyptian-revival
façade forms the base of the composition. The other, smaller vignettes surrounding the
central oval depict acts of violence and desperation to which the uneducated may turn.
The only slightly obscure panel is at the lower left, showing two well-dressed women
walking through the street, with two men looking back at them. The inclusion of a gas
lamp, lit and radiating its beams, exposes the women as “loose” women walking
unescorted at night, and the appreciative men as potential customers. Most of these
surrounding images are representations of future repercussions, but the central scene
demonstrates the immediate effects of neglecting education. Six children are playing in
the courtyard of a large tenement block. The boys quarrel and smoke cigars; the central
boy may be preparing to throw the brick he holds in his left hand. A young girl pokes
disconsolately at a toy ship floating in a puddle of gutter muck. A dead cat lying nearby
may be evidence either of the boys’ cruelty or of the disease and filth of the tenements. A
slightly older girl cares for a baby, elaborating on Brace’s opinion that the poorer classes
were unable to tend to their children. Surmounting the entire scene is a smashed ballot
box, the culmination of these children’s failures: not only will they not grow up to be
useful workers, this image implies, but they will also be susceptible to election fraud,
bribery, or uninformed decision-making.
The pendant image, titled “Children Who Go To Our Public Schools,” gives an
impassioned plea in favor of education. Though the central image depicts a country
schoolmistress and five well-dressed, genteel children, the margins are filled with
representations of manual labor and industry. Beginning at the top left and moving
clockwise, the professions depicted include printing, carpentry, reaping, working for the
railroad, middle-class motherhood, shipbuilding, blacksmithy, and literary endeavors.
Seventy-five percent of the occupations depicted would typically be held by members of
the working class. The other two represent “brain work” and childrearing, occupations
concerned with replicating or reproducing education in coming generations. To the right
and left of the central oval, as well as directly above it, “tools of the trade” for three
major sectors of society—agriculture, industry, and the arts—dominate, like heraldic
blazons. At the base of the composition, where the Tombs could be seen on the
contrasting image, the ballot box, here whole and undisturbed, is accompanied by the
book of “law and order.” The message to viewers is clear: not only is having education
preferable to having none (fairly self-evident), and not only is education a prerequisite for
an orderly and productive society, but industrial and agricultural work form the backbone
that allows middle-class leisure. In this formulation, members of the working class must
be educated in order to maintain the standards of society held dear by members of the
middle and intellectual classes. Labor is visually imagined as the means by which the
working class may used to uphold the status quo. At the same time, the images suggest
the positive power of education as a tool enabling the attainment of, if not gentility, at
least self-sufficiency and proud employment by members of the working class.
Reformers expected those who were already gainfully employed to continue their
education. In 1872, a Harper’s Monthly article by Edward Howland brought up the
question of industrial education. The article profiled the Cheney Brothers silk weaving
factory in Manchester, Connecticut, in the context of “modern times,” which had effected
a major change in “the social and industrial relations of New England.”49 The negative
effects of modernization Howland described were evident in the homes of many New
England factory workers, which were “crowded, unventilated, undrained, infectious, with
no proper sanitary regulation.”50 In the case of the Cheney factory, Howland argues, “the
proprietors have known that the golden rule is more than a mere dictum,” providing an
attractive industrial campus with garden walks, small “artistic” cottages rather than
barracks or tenements, a company school, and running water in all homes.51 This
industrial paternalism separated the “homes of the different nationalities at points remote
from each other, thus avoiding any possible turmoil,” forbade the sale of liquor to
operatives, and sought to surround the workman with “the material conditions of selfrespect.”52 Key among these efforts were educational programs, including schools and
the Library Association, where workers could have access to books and European and
American periodicals.
A similar setup existed in other factories and industrial complexes throughout the
country, including one in Richmond Virginia, one of many Southern cities profiled by
Kirk Munroe for the Harper’s Weekly series “The New South.” A series of three images
by John Durkin of the Allen and Ginter cigarette factory demonstrate that even as late as
Edward Howland, “An Industrial Experiment at South Manchester,” HNMM 45.270 (Nov. 1872): 837.
Howland, “Industrial Experiment,” 837.
Howland, “Industrial Experiment,” 840.
Howland, “Industrial Experiment,” 840, 841.
1887, industrialists and perhaps workers as well believed in the benevolence of
educational programs (Fig. 150). The largest image, “Richmond—A Cigarette Factory,”
shows seemingly endless rows of women and girls engaged in hand-rolling cigarettes.
The few males in the scene, all standing, suggest a gendered hierarchy evident in many
other industries, where managers tended to be both male and either native-born or AngloAmerican. Most of the women are dressed simply in shirtwaists and long skirts, though
the one closest to the center foreground seems to have a fashionable bustle attached to her
dress. None wears any protective gloves to shield her skin from the poisoning effects of
direct contact with the nicotine in the tobacco leaves. Each woman bends over her
workstation like a student at a school desk, which the work surfaces resemble. Little
interaction occurs among the operatives, in contrast to their more animated behavior in
“Quitting Time,” the small horizontal image above the factory scene. Here, the
employees move off in small clusters, some accompanied by husbands or sweethearts.
However, it is the upper left illustration, “The Library,” that gives the most telling
representation of the factory and its workers. In it, eight female figures and a man who
appears to be the librarian take advantage of one of the “beneficent schemes for their
mental improvement.” The library is “filled with the best standard literature, from which
every employée [sic] is entitled to take, and keep for two weeks at a time, such books as
she chooses.”53 Such educational programs could serve to displace other kinds of
knowledge that might pose a threat to managerial hegemony. Access to the novels of
Dickens and Trollope served as a replacement for technical knowledge that, as Bryan J.
Wolf has it, “allowed the skilled worker … to maintain control over the work process by
Kirk Munroe, “Richmond, Virginia,” HW, Jan 15, 1887, 42.
retaining control over his own labor and the decisions that governed it.”54 Thus the kinds
of knowledge distributed in such lending libraries served to underscore the power
relations of corporate capitalism.
The juxtaposition of the two settings also reinforces the difference between the
airless space of the factory, with its gray gloom, hatched by the engraver with diagonal
lines across almost the entire surface, and the light, airy room of the library, whose
execution has the freeness of a line drawing, its only dark spaces beneath and behind the
central table. The workers appear more stylishly dressed here, two with fashionable
bonnets, and one, second from the right, in a two-toned gown with a modish aprondrapery across the skirt. The clothes and setting suggest genteel, middle-class aspirations,
but when contrasted with the scene below, the unlikeliness of these ambitions is
underscored. Nevertheless, it is clear that the factory owners wish them to continue their
education, to shape them into well-read, civic-minded workers. In the Allen and Ginter
factory, literacy was connected with labor, education, and responsible and informed
citizenship. The notion of work and the system of education were intertwined social
manifestations of the need for organization demonstrated within the factory itself.
Not all laborers came ready-made for this purpose, however. Some members of
society were seen as in need of greater shaping than others. This held true particularly for
Native and African Americans, as well as new immigrant groups. Press commentators
believed that immigrants needed more forceful and paternalistic education than the
native-born. For immigrants, few formalized structures for assimilation were in place
until the twentieth century, when Progressivism focused on settlement houses and teacher
training colleges as sites of Americanization. Before that period, immigrants were largely
Wolf, “Labor of Seeing,” 298.
left to themselves to obtain education and find work.
Immigration involved the processing of massive numbers of people, recording
their arrival dates, standardizing their names, testing them for diseases, and assessing
their likelihood to become productive members of society. Like schools, factories,
prisons, and regulatory institutions, the bureaucratic structure of immigration reinforced
the notion that people, like raw materials in a factory, could be processed through an
assembly line and come out on the other end as citizens. In the Land of Promise by
Charles Frederick Ulrich, an American painter of German descent trained in Munich,
depicts the interior of Castle Garden, the immigrant processing center located in Lower
Manhattan (Fig. 151).55 Commissioned by railroad financier William T. Evans, the
painting was the first artwork to win the Thomas B. Clarke Prize when it was displayed at
the National Academy of Design in 1884.56 Five years after the painting’s completion, it
was engraved by Frederick Juengling for Harper’s Weekly and appeared as a double-page
spread.57 The midsized painting in a social realist style is packed with European
immigrants, many in recognizable ethnic and regional costumes. The central focus of the
composition is a young blonde mother sitting on a steamer trunk with her infant nursing
in her lap; a label on the trunk identifies her point of origin as Stockholm. The many
figures in the rest of the composition settle around this central pair, creating a halo of
Biographical information on Ulrich in Patricia Hills, The Painters’ America: Rural and Urban Life,
1810-1910 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, in association with Praeger Publishers, 1974),
152. For an illustrated history of Castle Garden, see Ann Novotny, Strangers at the Door Ellis Island,
Castle Garden, and the Great Migration to America (Riverside, CT: Chatham Press, 1971), 44-54.
Evans, an Irish immigrant and former art student, was interested in supporting young American artists.
“William T. Evans, Art Collector, Dies,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 1918. Clarke, a prominent industrialist
and art collector, funded the prize to be given annually to an outstanding American figure painting. Lois
Dinnerstein, “The Iron Worker and King Solomon: Some Images of Labor in American Art,” Arts
Magazine 54.1 (Sept. 1979): 116.
Charles Frederick Ulrich (artist) and Frederick Juengling (engraver), “‘In the Land of Promise’—A
Scene in Castle Garden,” HW, Feb. 2, 1889, 88-89.
space that suggests religious imagery. The painting bears a striking resemblance to the
German-born British painter Hubert von Herkomer’s Pressing to the West: A Scene in
Castle Garden (1884), a work Herkomer conceived while on a tour of the United States
in 1882-83.58 Herkomer’s busy composition also features a nursing mother as a central
character. Both paintings prefigure Lewis W. Hine’s Ellis Island Madonna (1905), a
Progressive-era photograph whose title forcibly recalls Christian mother-child imagery
while protesting the brutal and xenophobic conditions of immigrant depots.
Despite its unusual subject, In the Land of Promise was successful when it was
first shown, and continued to travel to U.S. and foreign art exhibitions throughout the
1890s. The appeal of the painting was evidently not in its execution, which some critics
found “hard” and “photographic,” but in its unique subject matter, which the New York
Times praised as “locally and historically true.”59 Though one of the most prominent
shared experiences among nineteenth-century Americans, it seems that entering the
country was almost never a pleasant one. One writer for Harper’s described Castle
Garden itself in visceral terms:
The interior is gloom, dirt, decay, and hideousness. From the bulkhead
where the immigrant first touches the soil of the promised land to the
doorway where he leaves the institution for a temporary home, there is not
a single object of beauty, grace, or color. The rotunda, corridors, and
rooms are cold, poorly lighted, badly ventilated, foul-smelling, and
The language of filth and confinement casts some of its pallor over Ulrich’s image, which
is filled with a restless sense of unease. Patricia Hills has also pointed out the notice,
prominently posted behind the right shoulder of the young mother, which reads: “Rules
Julian Treuherz, Hard Times: Social Realism in Victorian Art (London: Lund Humphries, 1987), 95.
“Spring Exhibitions. The Display of the New York Academy of Design,” Boston Daily Advertiser, April
11, 1884; “Art Notes,” New York Times, May 18, 1884.
“A Scene in Castle Garden,” HW, Feb. 2, 1889, 86.
and Regulations—Emigrant Landing Depot—Castle Garden.”61 This notice represents
the normative forces of American law and the English language, which apply to these
immigrants as soon as they set foot on land. The rules and regulations are set forth in
three columns of small type, punctuated by many smaller black headings, but are illegible
to the viewer of the painting. Though none of the immigrants in the composition looks at
the notice, it hovers above their heads like an admonishment, the first of many
regulations that will continue to structure their lives in the New World.
Media commentators noted this implicit attitude of structured organization.
Harper’s Weekly subtly reinforces the impression that Castle Garden was a site of
systematic regulation:
A dungeon door admits the foreigner from the pier to the building. Within
he finds cheerless and uncomfortable wooden settees, clumsy board fences
that divide the interior into pens very like those in the great abattoirs, and
a government office far uglier than that of the warden of the Tombs.62
It is no accident that the building was likened to both a prison and an abattoir. While the
prison, like the immigration center, was a site of social control, the slaughterhouse or
butchering plant pioneered some of the earliest assembly-line style labor organization in
the modern world (see Chapter Three). Both prisons and slaughterhouses were designed
to process large numbers of animals using the emergent techniques of rational
management. “The management of Castle Garden is admirable,” Harper’s commented,
continuing, “The discipline is so good that the receiving and disposing of five thousand
immigrants in one day is done as smoothly and pleasantly as of five hundred.”63
Immigrants, like the raw materials entering factories, were processed or “disposed of” by
Patricia Hills, The Working American (Washington: District 1199 National Union of Hospital and Health
Care Employees and Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1979), 56.
“Scene in Castle Garden,” 86.
“Scene in Castle Garden,” 87.
managers with the use of proper “discipline.” A pair of images from Frank Leslie’s
demonstrates how the “management” of Castle Garden served to standardize and
homogenize incoming Europeans (Fig. 152). At the left, a group of two women and a
man, in vibrant and differentiated folk costumes, wait in line at the money exchange. The
image at the right, however, labeled “Registering Immigrants,” forcefully demonstrates
the power of American bureaucratic structures. The image is grounded by a series of
repeating forms that underscore the gridded, regularized nature of immigrant registration.
Moving from left to right, the viewer encounters a job board, on which prospective
employers would list open jobs and required qualifications, an oversized ledger-book,
into which an official enters names, dates, and points of origin, and a large desk
containing at least fifteen pigeonholed compartments, each systems of structuring
knowledge. As the official records data about a veiled woman, he interpellates her with
his left hand, as if granting her permission to join the queue of newly-minted American
residents at the right. These figures, all shown from the rear, present an orderly,
regularized appearance; they have already shed the national and personal specificity of
the left-hand illustration. Immigrant landing stations like Castle Garden were also sites
where newly-arrived workers could be paired with potential employers. The Castle
Garden labor exchange introduced new Americans to productive work. Almost
immediately upon arrival, immigrants were processed, trained, and transformed into
laborers by the regulations of the landing depot.
After leaving Castle Garden, immigrants had a difficult path to assimilation; they
were expected immediately to adopt “American” ideals of a proper work ethic, to take up
a trade, to send their children to school, and to learn English. When work situations were
unavailable, immigrants themselves got the blame. This can be seen in a pair of images
by French-born Paul Frenzeny, representing Italian immigrants in a stereotyped fashion
(Fig. 153). On the left, by showing a family of Italians “Plying the Old Trade in the New
Country”—begging—Frenzeny implies that Italians possess no native work ethic. While
the well-dressed middle class American wife with her fur muff drops a penny into the
Italian father’s hat, their children duplicate the scene, and the power relation, in
miniature. The contrast between their clothes—hers a miniature model of her mother’s,
his regional and peasantish—and their demeanors—she with upright posture and
confidence, he with shuffling curiosity—suggests an inability to move beyond their
upbringings; they will grow into the social roles demarcated by their parents.
On the other side of the page, perhaps “under the influence of free schools and
enlightened civil and religious liberty,” Italian workmen take to “the American Style of
Earning their Daily Bread.”64 Overseen by a bearded man, they toil with pickaxes and
shovels to clear snow from the streets while pedestrians and cab drivers look on
approvingly. The contrast between the “Old Trade” and the “American Style”
demonstrates the presumed need to train these immigrants to labor, as part of their
process of assimilation. Many native-born Americans at this time might have expected
“Italian convicts, brigands, and beggars” to be incapable of earning “a little money by
honest labor,” but, as the author of the accompanying article explains, “the people of
sunny Italy have developed traits of which they were once believed to be utterly
destitute—a capacity for self-government, a thirst for knowledge, a growing
independence in civil and religious matters.”65 This condescending assessment of the
“Italian Immigrants,” HW, Feb. 1, 1873, 98.
“Italian Immigrants,” 98.
Italian workers as surprisingly self-sufficient and intelligent is accompanied by the
insulting description of how the snow removers “shoveled and scraped and swept with
the zest of children at play.”66 A brief stay in the United States was perhaps not enough to
counteract these childish tendencies, but the images, in the young boy, hold out hope for
the complete assimilation of the coming generation, particularly when given the
education so necessary for success.
The focus on educating immigrants is reinforced in an image of Chinese
shoemakers in North Adams, Massachusetts (Fig. 154). The image shows the large dining
hall of the factory, in which about seventy-five Chinese workmen eat their meal at long
wooden tables. The back wall holds several posters or charts; one is just legible, showing
the letters ABCDEF written in capital letters across the top. This suggests a miniature
school site where they might learn to read and write English. Their leader or foreman Ah
Sing is described as “one of the most intelligent Chinamen in America” who “attended an
evening school, and learned to speak and read and write English with considerable
fluency and correctness.”67 Ah’s skill in the “management” of his workmen is attributable
to his education and assimilation; it can only be hoped, the article implies, that his men
will learn from his example and become better workmen as well.
Nonwhite groups in particular were thought to require extra training to become
productive members of society. The foundation of colleges for the education of African
Americans began directly after the Civil War, intending to prepare emancipated slaves
for the workforce. The foundation and implementation of these colleges was primarily a
“civilizing” mission, meant to educate young people not only in technical skills but also
“Italian Immigrants,” 98.
“The Chinese in New England,” HW, July 30, 1870, 493.
in middle class normative behavior. Laura Wexler has written on photographs of
Hampton University (then Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute) by Frances
Benjamin Johnston, and has also discussed the history and purpose of Hampton and
similar schools. Not only were they meant to bring young, motivated blacks “up from
slavery,” but they also served as training colleges for the creation of an African American
intellectual elite who would become civic and educational leaders for the next generation.
These students had to overcome perceptions of inability—and sometimes savagery—in
order to achieve any potential for success.
Harper’s Monthly was particularly interested in these educational facilities. “The
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute,” by Helen W. Ludlow offers an overview of
the types of training given to both African and Native Americans. The article focuses
primarily on black students, and foregrounds the changes in Southern black life since
Emancipation. According to Ludlow, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, first
principal of Hampton, was concerned that after Emancipation “the freedmen would slip
back into the inert contentment with ignorance that belongs to slavery.”68 As this
quotation makes clear, Hampton was founded upon the racialist assumption that ex-slaves
needed to be taught self-reliance and industry. Armstrong based many of his racial
philosophies on observations he made during his youth in Hawai‘i, which led him to
categorize American blacks with “weak tropical races” and thus to prescribe a “routine of
industrious habit” for Hampton students.69 Commensurate with its focus on self-reliance,
Hampton implemented a form of work-study, in which students could pay their tuition
Helen W. Ludlow, “The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute,” HNMM 47.281 (Oct. 1873): 674.
Samuel Chapman Armstrong, Lessons from the Hawaiian Islands, 1884. Quoted in Robert Francis Engs,
Educating the Disfranchised and Disinherited: Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Hampton Institute, 18391893 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 74.
through work on behalf of the school:
its primary object should be a thorough training for future usefulness and
the creation of a respect for labor … [and thus] Hampton provides for that
large class of them who are destitute of money the means of paying their
own way, in whole or in part, by their own work in the printing-office, the
workshop, the industrial room, or the farm.70
The union of physical and mental work was considered ideal for the shaping of these
young African Americans.
At Hampton, African American students were to be trained in the virtues of
middle class domesticity, which was explicitly contrasted with rural forms of black
living. Three images from Ludlow’s article demonstrate the mission undertaken by the
school governors to promote middle-class ideas about African Americans’ work and
about gender. Wexler argues that the kinds of tasks most students learned at Hampton
were not preparing them for the cutting-edge technological world, but instead for “a
second-class career at best and more likely for domestic service or low-level, nonunion
labor.”71 The images for Ludlow’s article reinforce this; they show black students
working at gender-appropriate hand work, rather than training for employment in the
heavy industries (Fig. 155).72 Like the representation of Italian immigrants shoveling
snow rather than working in mechanized factories, these illustrations suggest a “place”
for black students and Italian immigrants in the social system of the United States that is
different, less modern, than the place afforded many whites.
“Girls’ Industrial Room” shows four black female students seated at sewing
machines, and instructed by a white schoolmistress. The text informs the viewer that
Ludlow, “Hampton,” 673.
Laura Wexler, Tender Violence: Domestic Visions in an Age of U.S. Imperialism (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 2000), 149.
Engs concurs with Wexler’s arguments, noting that Armstrong envisioned the South as an agricultural
region and thought African American students should be educated accordingly. Engs, Educating the
Disfranchised, 78-79.
these women are at work making articles both to be sold on the open market and for
purchase by Hampton students. They are not permitted to keep the fruits of their labors,
but must buy them back from the school, though “at low prices.”73 The image thus shows
these four students being instructed in two roles at once: first they are taught to work as
producers, in order to prepare them for the workforce, where many of them will doubtless
be employed as seamstresses or laundresses (the other main task they performed at
Hampton), and then they are taught to be consumers, as they buy back the garments they
have been taught to craft. At the same time, the students are shown dressed demurely but
fashionably, and engaging in domestic activities seen as appropriate to the sphere of
nineteenth-century womanhood.
By contrast, male students are shown in “The Printing-Office,” engaged in
typesetting, printing, and binding copies of the Southern Workman, a monthly periodical
dedicated to Southern industry and “the interests of the undeveloped races.”74 According
to Ludlow, who was on the magazine’s editorial board, 75% of the periodical’s
readership was comprised of former slaves. The Southern Workman focused on articles
“concerning their own race and the outside world, interesting correspondence from
teachers, and practical articles upon science, agriculture, housekeeping and education.”75
Six well-dressed male students participate in the production of an instructive journal
meant to continue the teachings of Hampton outside its walls. Believing that freedmen
needed extra help in avoiding “inert contentment,” Hampton administrators provided
their students with a form of self-reliance but also gave the black community a rule-book
Ludlow, “Hampton,” 680.
From the mission statement printed after the table of contents in each bound volume of the magazine.
See, for instance, Southern Workman 28 (1899): 453.
Ludlow, “Hampton,” 680.
on how to live their lives as productive workers and efficient household managers. Less
than a decade after the end of the Civil War, the mission of Hampton was still in its early
stages, and among its students it numbered many who had been born slaves. Ludlow
publishes a wrenching letter from a Hampton student who had “found the sting of
slavery.”76 The student chronicles his constant struggle to learn to read, from his life as a
slave through Emancipation and eventual matriculation at Hampton. While this letter is
put forth as evidence of the many obstacles its writer had already surmounted, it rings out
with the struggles yet to come, while, faced with the inherently racialized program of
education at Hampton, the student “trust[s] to make myself a good and useful man.”77
Work and education were bound together even more inextricably in the case of
technical education, which began to be standardized after the Civil War and gradually
replaced the system of apprenticeship that had characterized the United States during
earlier periods of its industrial development. The acceptance of technical education—
which prestigious schools such as Harvard University originally frowned on as counterintellectual—was greatly helped by the Morrill Act, passed by Congress in 1862. The act
allowed for federal financial support to allow the foundation of state universities to teach
engineering and the “mechanic arts.” The Morrill Act directly contributed to a huge
postwar outgrowth of trained engineers and technicians.78 Major colleges, including
Cornell University and Columbia College, first began to incorporate technical education
Ludlow, “Hampton,” 677.
Ludlow, “Hampton,” 678.
David F. Noble, America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New
York: Knopf, 1977), 22-24.
into their curricula, and eventually added graduate programs in engineering.79 One of the
most striking examples is that of the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, opened in 1887 and
specifically dedicated to training in the industrial arts. The industrialist Charles Pratt
founded the school on the principle that “the value of intelligent handicraft and skilled
labor entitles them to like dignity with the liberal pursuits,” and intended it as a school for
the “industrial classes.”80 Like the Public Industrial Art School of Philadelphia (PIASP),
founded by Charles Godfrey Leland, Pratt’s original goal was to “secure the symmetrical
development, moral, mental, and physical, of its pupils,” and thus it conformed to “the
radical idea of the ‘new education’ in attempting to develop all the powers symmetrically,
instead of endeavoring to train a single set of faculties merely.”81 The courses of
instruction at Pratt included, for boys, woodworking, chemistry, mechanical drawing,
metallurgy, and machine work, and, for girls, sewing, hygiene, nursing, and cooking.
This clearly gendered division can be seen in William Allen Rogers’s series of
illustrations, which give an excellent cross-section of the skills offered at Pratt (Fig. 156).
Women are shown learning to cook and type, and are given instruction in “Treatment for
apparent drowning” not by performing resuscitation themselves, but rather by watching a
demonstration by an older male teacher. The cluster of women sit upright on their chairs,
taking careful notes. In the background, a framed picture of a mother and child and a
folding bed hint at possible applications for their knowledge of “Hygiene and Homenursing.” By contrast, men are shown conducting scientific experiments, turning wood on
Glen Scott Allen, Master Mechanics and Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist as Hero and
Villain from Colonial Times to the Present (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), 20. For
contemporary news items, see “Cornell University,” HW, June 21, 1873, 530 (illustrations by Theodore R.
Davis, 528-529); Charles Sprague Smith, “Columbia College,” HW, April 16, 1887, 279 (illustrations by
Francis Schell and Thomas Hogan, 286-287).
S. Giffard Nelson, “The Pratt Institute,” HW, March 21, 1891, 214.
Nelson, “Pratt,” 214.
mechanical lathes, and learning blacksmithy in the “Forge-shop,” the most dramatic of
the images. Here boys as young as fifteen are positioned working at their individual
anvils, apparently full of self-confidence.82 Pratt and PIASP provided technical training
in the broadest sense: they taught a wide range of useful skills with the aim of instilling in
students “habits of thrift … self-reliance, and … personal character,” while giving them a
broad grounding in different types of work.83
While schools such as Pratt and PIASP were developing programs of technical
education, a larger debate raged about the place of unskilled laborers in the American
workforce. In 1885, the editors of Harper’s Weekly argued that a dearth of skilled native
mechanics posed a threat to the economic future of the country.84 The difficulty of
obtaining apprenticeships, combined with the fact that in many industries jobs “calling
for the highest skill [had] ceased altogether,” was causing a crisis.85 Young boys, whose
possibilities for employment were negatively affected by deskilling technological
advancements, faced a threatening future. Part of the blame for this was placed on young
people themselves. The older generation—with a disappointment in the young typical of
all generation gaps—saw young people as lazier and less efficient than the men who
came before them. Unions were also to blame, according to many commentators, as they
strictly controlled who could enter the workshop to be trained; it was in union members’
own interests, the Weekly argued, to close off the workforce and prevent young men from
learning their trades and superseding them. Finally, the decrease in the need for skilled
Nelson writes that applicants must be at least fourteen to enroll at Pratt, and that metalworking begins in
the second year of study, so presumably the average age of students shown here is approximately fifteen to
eighteen. Nelson, “Pratt,” 214.
Nelson, “Pratt,” 214.
“Technical Art Education,” HW, Jan. 24, 1885, 59.
“Technical Art Education,” 59.
artisanal labor was responsible for some of this decline, and the master-apprentice
relationship was visually depicted as sentimental, nostalgic, and European.
As early as 1871, “Our Rising Generation” was blamed for their own lack of
work. The young generation of Americans, the article argued, were “largely infected with
the fallacy that money must be made by short-cuts to fortune, instead of by the surer but
longer road of patient industry.”86 Work, coupled with education, was the salvation, not
only from poverty but also from vice, crime, and dependence:
Nearly every lad and young man confined in any of our city prisons will
confess that the want of a trade was the cause of his downfall. … A lad
who is apprenticed to a mechanical occupation, or who understands a
trade, feels himself a member of a respectable craft, and his own selfrespect is increased. … No man in this city could have a feeling of more
perfect independence than a first-rate young carpenter, or plumber, or
While the author holds up this scenario as the dream, Thomas Nast’s accompanying
cartoon depicts the nightmare: hundreds rush to the false “gentility” of “Vanity Fair,”
while a single pilgrim treads the path of “duty and labor” (Fig. 157). Fittingly, the vast
glass building of Vanity Fair looks like Joseph Paxton’s bastion of consumerism, the
Crystal Palace, while the road of duty leads to the neoclassical simplicity of a dome
resembling the seat of democracy and justice, the U.S. Capitol. On the right, a mob lines
up outside a business advertising for a clerk and a bookkeeper, while a single figure—
identifiable from Nast’s pantheon of types as a “Yankee mechanic”—is the only
applicant for a post in which a “good American workman” is wanted. Nast, himself a
comfortable member of the brain-worker class, satirizes young men’s desire to avoid
“Our Rising Generation,” HW, Oct. 14, 1871, 970.
“Rising Generation,” 970.
manual labor and instead opt for mental work.88 “Too many” young men seem to prefer
“the comparative ease and gentility of the counting-room to the more manly occupation
of a trade or the farm,” sneers the editorial.89 Above the label “Our Rising Generation,”
several young men work for the fictitious “Young America Brand,” whose goods are
obscure. Two youths in the center smoke idly in fashionable, tight, flared trousers,
flanked by two men lounging and reading newspapers on the job. The only figure
working is shown hunched over his desk, his balding head identifying him as a member
of the older generation. A well-documented crisis in masculinity connected with
modernity, the Civil War, and office work led to the need to reappropriate traits of
manliness, thus the focus on the “manly” occupations of industry or agriculture as
opposed to the debilitating and effeminate labor of the brain-worker.90 But it is not only
manliness that has failed: with the deskilling of industrial jobs and the increasing need for
white-collar workers and managers, the once-central class of educated, skilled mechanics,
such as the older man shown at the lower right of Nast’s composition, was shrinking, and
with it, the chances for certain groups of young men to escape “vice” for a life of
“honesty, morality, and industry.”
Trade unions were also blamed for this failure of the apprenticeship system. Antiunion voices blamed unions’ exclusivity for the spread of unskilled, lower-paid workers,
Nast was very comfortable. In 1883, he earned $15,400 a year as Harper’s Weekly’s star caricaturist
($296.15 per week). By comparison, a highly skilled manager in the press department of Harper Brothers
earned $100 per week, or one-third of Nast’s salary, while semiskilled or unskilled press operators could
reasonably expect to earn closer to $10 per week. Harper and Brothers Records, 1817-1929. Butler Library,
Columbia University. Reel 25, salary ledger, frames 68, 6-8.
“Rising Generation,” 970.
For information on the question of “manliness,” see Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A
Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1995). The main primary source on neurasthenia is George M. Beard, American Nervousness: Its
Causes and Consequences: A Supplement to Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia) (1881; facsim. ed., New
York: Arno Press, 1972).
rather than recognizing the massive growth of the workforce as a major factor in the
restructuring of labor and union rules.91 After the violent strikes of 1877, antipathy to
trade unions became stronger, though it typically only flared up during periods of
confrontation. In 1871, joining a union was a means of entering a community of workers
who would support a fellow through hard times and help inculcate the values of hard
work and brotherhood in him. A decade later, the press held up unions as one of the main
parties responsible for the failure of the apprenticeship system in the United States. In
“One Reason Why There Are So Many Idle Young Men,” two images of “Cause” and
“Effect” are juxtaposed to provide a damning judgment against unions (Fig. 158). On the
left, three young men apply to the burly smith to become apprentices, only to receive the
rebuff: “Want to learn the trade, eh? No, no; we can’t encourage apprentices. The
‘Union’ won’t allow it. They would cheapen the price of labor.” Though the man behind
him looks sourly at the three boys, the central character seems more sympathetic; he
passes off responsibility for these decisions onto the union, whose “Resolutions” and
“Order to Strike” are prominent on the wall behind him. Here, the workman has been
given his orders to refuse potential apprentices, as their labor, once they completed their
training, would be in competition with his. The consequence of this refusal is similar to
the failure to attend public school: the young men are shown, a few years older, reading
frivolous gossip newspapers, smoking, and, by inference, drinking and gambling.
According to the logic of this pairing, when workshops refuse to hire apprentices, it leads
to “inferior work through the enforced employment of incompetent workmen.”92 In this
formulation, trade unions were responsible for shutting down the informal education
David Montgomery, Workers’ Control in America: Studies in the History of Work, Technology, and
Labor Struggles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 15-16.
Eugene Lawrence, “Young Men and Labor,” HW, March 26, 1881, 198.
system that had been in place in preindustrial societies for hundreds of years. In reality,
while unions did restrict their membership to cut down on competition, the changing
nature of the workforce also led to the gradual erosion of the apprenticeship system, to be
just as gradually replaced by general technical education such as that offered at Pratt or
By the 1870s and after, artists frequently depicted skilled craftsmanship as a
disappearing aspect of preindustrial life.94 Blacksmiths’ shops were a popular topic for
paintings because of their nostalgic connection to old New England. One of the most
admired poems of the century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Village Blacksmith”
(1839-40), may have been partially responsible for the resonance of sentimental smithy
imagery. While both rural and urban areas continued to rely on local blacksmiths into the
twentieth century, the blacksmith became a powerful figure of nostalgia for viewers,
particularly after the Civil War, when “nostalgia … became a hedge against the unknown
future, against the upset of the old social structures.”95 Thomas Hovenden, best known
for his large canvas Breaking Home Ties, which contrasted simple country life with the
unknown city in a sentimental manner, painted The Village Blacksmith (c. 1880) about a
decade earlier. In this image, saturated with green-brown, the elderly smith grips a
smoking piece of metal with his tongs. His patched apron and burly forearms speak of a
life of toil, but the message is most eloquently driven home by the whiteness of his hair
and luxuriant, curling beard, which signal to the viewer that he is part of an era that is
Gilbert discusses the replacement of craft training with general technical education in Work Without
Salvation, 97-98.
Though, as Emily Dana Shapiro argues, this was not always the case. Shapiro makes an argument for the
ways some images of handcraft negotiated between the artisanal and the industrial in “J.D. Chalfant’s
Clock Maker: The Image of the Artisan in a Mechanized Age,” American Art 19.3 (Fall 2005): 40-59.
Hills, Painters’ America, 34.
passing, perhaps already gone.
In many images of craft, often of blacksmithing, the sense of passing is reinforced
by removing the scene from the American context and placing the action, by inference, in
Europe.96 William Morris Hunt’s The Forge shows two blacksmiths in a forge interior
(Fig. 159). One, with his back to the viewer, is shirtless, dressed only in his leather apron
and trousers; the other stokes the forge. Emerging from his apron is one foot, clearly
wearing a sabot or wooden shoe typical of Western and Northern Europe. Though it is
conceivable that some U.S. workers wore such clogs, as they provided protection for the
feet and traction on slippery floors, the inclusion of it here is clearly meant to denote a
European context for the painting. Again, the blacksmith is used to denote a nostalgic
mode of production, particularly as the metal industries were some of the first to convert
to full industrialization. Lois Dinnerstein reaches a similar conclusion when she argues
that images of blacksmiths expressed “a longing for simpler times past” as “the actual
conditions of most iron workers dramatically changed.”97
The connection with Europe is also evident in the representation of apprentices or
young boys at work. Henry Ossawa Tanner, Theodore Robinson, and Charles F. Ulrich
painted major compositions depicting the relationship between a young boy and a (seen
or unseen) master craftsman. In Robinson’s large canvas The Forge (1886), a young boy
stands before the hearth, apparently absorbed in thought rather than action. The giant
bellows in the upper right dwarfs his frail body, which seems almost incapable of
laboring. Ulrich’s Village Print Shop, Haarlem, Holland also emphasizes leisure over
Elizabeth Kennedy briefly discusses American interest in depictions of European peasant life as a means
for avoiding anxieties about industrialization. Kennedy, “American Images of Labor: The Iconic and the
Invisible,” in The People Work: American Perspectives, 1840-1940 (Giverny, France: Musée d’Art
Americain, Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2006), 18.
Dinnnerstein, “The Iron Worker and King Solomon,” 114.
explicit work (Fig. 160). The two adults working the press turn away from the artist, their
faces obscured; even the central boy, taking a cup of tea rather than laboring, does not
address the viewer, instead giving a partial profile. This oblique composition suggests,
like Robinson’s, an unwillingness to address spectators. Turning away from viewers,
these figures seem mournful, suggesting the passing of an era. Both artists spent lengthy
periods in Europe during the 1880s, and Robinson’s young boy, like Hunt’s forge-men,
wears wooden shoes, emphasizing the European context.
While Ulrich and Robinson created evasive images that downplayed the work
being done, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s later The Young Sabot Maker emphasized the labor
of its young subject, dramatizing his effort to bore out the center of a wooden clog (Fig.
161). A kindly-looking elderly man, clearly the master of the workshop, oversees the
young boy. The focus has been directed to the products of his labor: finished clogs hang
from the ceiling, while rough cuts that still need hollowing and sanding lie scattered
around him. Wood shavings underfoot are a testament to his industriousness and the
almost violent creative process of drilling and shaping. The master holds a planing tool in
his right hand, but his labor seems arrested, suspended, as he watches his young protégé
at work: the torch of labor is being passed from one generation to the next. But, as with
other representations of craft, this scene is coded as European: a current event that is
already in the past, part of the Old World. Just as Hovenden’s aged blacksmith is a living
relic of past life in United States, Europe’s retention of the apprenticeship system marks
it as a place of stagnation and nostalgia. By contrast, in the United States the focus is
more on contemporary and coming forms of industry.
Thus far, education has been discussed chiefly as a means of preventing crime, of
inculcating positive values in young people, and of preparing workers for the deskilled
labor market through decreased specialization and the dismantling of the apprenticeship
system. Some industries did continue to uphold the system of informal education; one of
the most notable of these was the iron industry. Until the widespread adoption of the
Bessemer steel process in the 1880s, iron puddling was one of the most dangerous, but
also the most lucrative, jobs available in the metalworking industries. Iron puddlers were
an elite class of laborers who maintained apprenticeship structures. As they required
assistants who were small and nimble, young boys often became apprentice puddlers.
Most of the puddlers were under 30 and would “retire” to other, less demanding jobs
within an ironworks, ceding their spots to their apprentices. As such, it was a position
with a short lifespan, but which also required intense training and experience.98 One of
the most famous images of industry in the nineteenth-century United States is Thomas
Pollock Anshutz’s Ironworkers’ Noontime of 1880 (Fig. 162). Anshutz completed only
one major work on the theme of industry, but it has come to figure as an icon of Gilded
Age masculinity, a rare precursor to the social realism of the Ashcan artists, many of
whom were Anshutz’s students.
There is something valuable to be learned by considering Anshutz’s painting in
the context of social systems, especially of the relationship between creation, work, and
education. Completed in 1880, Ironworkers’ Noontime comes after the violence of 1877
and just before the Bessemer process was adopted, replacing the jobs of many of the
workers it depicts. The scene is packed with figures, many shirtless or wearing sleeveless
For information on the iron industry see David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The
Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1987), especially 14-29. In relation to Anshutz’s painting, see Randall C. Griffin, Homer, Eakins, &
Anshutz: The Search for American Identity in the Gilded Age (University Park: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 2004). Griffin also gives helpful information about iron production.
undershirts, who hold a variety of poses. At the right, the cavernous black entry to the
foundry may be seen, while its smokestacks loom in the background. Though the factory
wall is punctuated by many small windows, the shadow over it gives the sense of a
monochrome, solid backdrop against which the puddlers are arrayed and stand, almost
friezelike, overlapping but each distinctly legible. At least four young boys are shown—
and two or three young men of fourteen to eighteen—two roughhousing in the center and
others washing themselves at the pump worked. Though they are meant to be at rest from
their labors, they do not approach the sense of comradely relaxation seen in contemporary
images of break time, such as John George Brown’s Longshoremen’s Noon (1879) and
the British painter Eyre Crowe’s The Dinner Hour, Wigan (1874). While Brown’s
interracial, motley crew all relax convincingly and Crowe’s diners seem rapt in sisterly
conversations, Anshutz’s bodies are full of tension, unable to detach their bodies from the
discipline of the work they have just finished.
The work of iron puddlers had ties to the worlds of both craft and mechanized
labor. Art historian Melissa Dabakis argues that puddlers were “decidedly not victims of
industrialization,” describing them as forcefully modern, valiant, and secure in their
position within labor’s hierarchy.99 However, closer attention to the status of ironworking
around 1880 challenges Dabakis’s reading, suggesting that what appears to be a heroic
and contemporary image of American industry in fact depicts an occupation in peril.100
One of the tensions underlying this image is the threat to traditional ironworking from the
Bessemer process, which would wipe out the jobs of many of these men within the next
Melissa Dabakis, Visualizing Labor in American Sculpture: Monuments, Manliness, and the Work Ethic,
1880-1935 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 27.
Griffin, Homer, Eakins, & Anshutz, 62-63; Griffin, “Thomas Anshutz’s ‘The Ironworkers’ Noontime’:
Remythologizing the Industrial Worker,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 4.3/4 (Summer 1990): 128143; Montgomery, Fall of the House, 27-29.
decade. Though some puddlers remained on the job well into the twentieth century, the
Bessemer steel process’s capacity (almost ten times that of the average iron mill,
estimates David Montgomery) and stronger product eliminated many ironworkers’
jobs.101 Thomas Pauly also notes that the painting probably depicts a factory for making
cut iron nails; Wheeling, West Virginia, where Anshutz made the sketches and
observations for Ironworkers’ Noontime was the national center of nail production from
the 1840s onward.102 However, iron nails were made obsolete by the invention of a
simpler and cheaper process for making steel wire nails, which increasingly forced out
highly-paid skilled puddlers and their apprentices.103 Thus in some ways, despite its
apparent modernity, this image represents a transitional moment in the status of masterapprentice relations, and may contain nostalgic message a similar to paintings depicting
European craft. Reinforcing this impression is an engraving by Frederick Juengling
appearing in Harper’s Weekly four years after the painting’s debut, a time when its
subject would no longer be relevant to a discussion of contemporary industry. In
Juengling’s engraving, though the composition is faithful, the loss of color flattens out
the image, giving the marked impression of viewing figures in a tableau vivant, rather
than actual working men, and highlighting the failure of their craft as something too static
and archaic to survive.104
However, Anshutz’s work also offers a commentary on one kind of master-pupil
“The average Bessemer mill had a capacity of 114,000 tons per year, as compared with 12,000 tons for
the average iron-rolling mill” (Montgomery, Fall of the House, 28).
Thomas H. Pauly, “American Art and Labor: The Case of Anshutz’s The Ironworkers’ Noontime,”
American Quarterly 40.3 (Sept. 1988): 347.
Amos J. Loveday, Jr., The Rise and Decline of the American Cut Nail Industry: A Study of the
Interrelationships of Technology, Business Organization, and Management Techniques (Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1983), 113-125.
Thomas Pollock Anshutz (artist) and Frederick Juengling (engraver), “The Iron-Worker’s Noon-Time—
Engraved by F. Juengling from the Painting by Thomas Anshutz in the Thomas B. Clarke Collection,” HW,
Aug. 30, 1884, 570.
relationship that did continue to thrive: that in the art world. As a student at the
Pennsylvania Academy, Anshutz studied under the controversial tutelage of Thomas
Eakins. Earlier in the century, the process of education at the Academy was scattershot.
However, in the late 1860s, “system was introduced,” including broader instruction and
set curricula.105 Two of the primary components of the new systematic curriculum
included figure drawing and anatomy (while still a student, Anshutz illustrated the
anatomy class for Scribner’s Monthly). The frieze-like arrangement of Ironworker’s
Noontime constantly reminds the reader that, under Eakins, Anshutz would have trained
in both life drawing and sketching sculptures of Classical antiquity; the variety and tense
grace of the figures serve as a visual mark of his schooling. Upon first seeing the canvas
displayed in Pennsylvania, the art critic Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer wrote of
Anshutz as one of the best of “the pupils who are being trained under Mr. Eakins at the
Academy schools [and] already show an inclination to follow his example.”106
Ironworkers’ Noontime, with its contorted and heroic poses, marks Anshutz as a student
of Eakins and the product of a process of artistic education. His artwork, like the iron
nails that will come out of the Wheeling mill, has been submitted to a tempering process,
shaped by the hand of a master but passed on to an apprentice. Anshutz himself would
later pass on his attention to daily life and industrial technology to his students Robert
Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn, and Charles Sheeler.
The complicated relationship between art and industry that this painting enacts
was also present in debates about general public education. The need for artistic training
was pressing among young people of all classes; even those destined to become
William C. Brownell, “The Art Schools of Philadelphia,” Scribner’s Monthly 18.5 (Sept. 1879): 739.
Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer, “Picture Exhibitions in Philadelphia. II,” American Architect and
Building News 10.314 (Dec. 31, 1881): 311.
“shoemakers, tailors, coppersmiths, iron-founders, tin-makers, weavers, potters,
gardeners, will all find their account in knowing how to wield the pencil.”107 The
importance of artistic education could help shape better workers, wrote a San Francisco
newspaper in 1871, continuing: “Our system of public education will be defective until it
regards some knowledge and skill in art as a necessity for all, instead of a luxury for a
few—as a public need, instead of merely a private enjoyment.”108 As the Boston school
committee’s Annual Report argued when it called drawing “a most desirable discipline
both for the eye and the hand,” basic artistic skills could contribute to future success in
the parlor, locus of the leisurely “eye,” or the workplace, where the “hand” held sway.109
Artistic training was both a specialized result of one of the last remaining masterapprentice relationships and an important element in general elementary education.
Thus the school—whether public elementary, factory library, private college,
technical school, or art school—was an important crucible that forged citizens who
defined themselves through their work, whether industrial work, intellectual work, or art
work. Though it was cast as a benevolent institution during this period, the school was in
fact a disciplinary site, one in which pupils were inculcated with pre-selected values and
bestowed with those skills deemed most likely to be useful given their class, race, and
gender. Schools were important sites of social management in which the ideals of the
well-managed factory and well-organized society were impressed upon their students.
“Art in the Public Schools,” FLIN, July 30, 1881, 358.
“Technical and Art Education,” Daily Evening Bulletin, Jan. 27, 1871.
Annual Report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1866, 1867. Quoted in Mancini, PreModernism, 55.
The discourse of education and social organization that pervaded the nineteenth
century was embodied in two polarized figures that recurred in the political and aesthetic
rhetoric of citizenship from the 1860s through early 1890s. The first was the educated,
responsible voter, who was also imagined as an educated, responsible worker. The darker
side of the equation, which has already been hinted at in the discussion of the workhouse,
was the convict, a figure whose franchise was limited, whose education was represented
as nonexistent, and whose relationship to labor was hotly disputed.
Indeed, the two are intimately connected politically, since, by definition, a citizen
was one who possessed the right to vote, while in most states felons were stripped of this
right. Though informal felon disenfranchisement in the United States dates back to the
Colonial period, explicit codification of the relationship of citizenship, voting rights, and
criminality occurred in 1868 with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment.110 The
Amendment granted voting rights to all adult white male citizens, except in cases of
“participation in rebellion, or other crime.”111 Legal scholars argue that while this
phrasing was actually intended to punish Confederate sympathizers, it prompted a wave
of laws curtailing felons’ right to vote. Twenty states had preexisting felon
disenfranchisement statutes in 1868, and eleven more passed laws between 1868 and
1876.112 In the precise years in which citizenship and voting rights were fixed by the
federal government, therefore, individual states moved explicitly to exclude criminals
from the definition of citizenship stated in the Fourteenth Amendment. The voter and the
Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 23, 21; Katherine Irene Pettus, Felony Disenfranchisement in
America: Historical Origins, Institutional Racism, and Modern Consequences (New York: LFB Scholarly
Publishing, 2005), 47.
Amendment XIV, Section 2, Constitution of the United States, National Archives and Records
Administration, (accessed April 12, 2010).
Manza and Uggen, Locked Out, 238-239.
convict were two sides of the same coin; one represents the successful absorption of
knowledge through social systems, and the other demonstrates the failure to do so.
One indicator of how well the lessons of schooling were learned was behavior at
the ballot box and the cautious exercise of one’s franchise.113 The political definition of a
citizen encompassed not only those who were willing and able to work, but also those
who conscientiously and responsibly cast their votes. It is worth repeating Brace’s
exhortation in “The Little Laborers of New York City” that poor urban children, “stunted
in body and mind, are growing up to be our voters,” a statement that underscores the
contemporary fear of uninformed decision-makers at the polls.114 Voting was a highly
visual process that took place in public spaces such as saloons, stores, or churches, rather
than governmental or municipal buildings. Political scientist Richard Bensel writes that
voting often occurred in front of a large crowd, frequently on an elevated and highly
visible platform that exposed the voter to a variety of friendly and unfriendly gazes.
Eligibility to vote was often confirmed by sight, with election judges and volunteer
“challengers” determining age or residency based on familiarity, while “unfamiliar faces
were sometimes greeted with suspicion.”115 Voting also reinforced both exclusionary and
inclusionary definitions of citizenship. Bensel notes that “any citizen could challenge the
qualifications of any prospective voter,” that is, he could use his own status as a citizen to
call others’ citizenship into question, reinscribing his own sense of belonging in the
Voters took the exercise of their franchise seriously: “The years between the dramatic voter turnout of
1840 and the Bryan-McKinley campaign of 1896 stand out as the period of the consistently highest level of
voting in the history of the country. Between 70 and 82 percent of all eligible males cast their ballots in
every presidential election during the last six decades of the century” (David Montgomery, Citizen Worker:
The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market During the
Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 21).
Brace, “Little Laborers,” 327.
Richard Bensel, “The American Ballot Box: Law, Identity, and the Polling Place in the Mid-Nineteenth
Century,” Studies in American Political Development 17.1 (April 2003): 11.
process.116 In addition, polling practices directly equated citizenship with bodily fitness
through informal customs. Bensel writes:
election etiquette required only that a “man of ordinary courage” be able
to make his way to the voting window. This was the general standard by
which normal jostling was distinguished from excessive violence. Those
men too timid to meet this condition could not rightfully claim, under the
social practices and understandings of the time, that their right to vote had
been denied.117
These kinds of spectacular voting practices ensured that the polling place was a highly
visual site where manliness and citizenship were tested and contested on a regular basis.
The viewer is asked to make this visual assessment of claims to citizenship and
worker status in William Allen Rogers’s 1889 illustration “Tammany ‘Workers’ at the
Polls in Pell Street, New York—The Beginning of a Free Fight” (Fig. 163). Rogers
shows an election-day street altercation, in which members of rival gangs get ready to
assault each other with paving stones. The association with Tammany Hall, and the
features of their caricatured faces, unusual in Rogers’s work, mark them as Irish or Irish
American. In the background two policemen watch warily, while the crowd seems almost
ready for the fight. The image’s caption, “Tammany ‘Workers’ at the Polls,” contains a
double-entendre, suggesting both that Tammany thugs “work on” or threaten voters to
endorse a candidate and that their status as actual laborers is in question. Rogers’s
representation of the Irish in “Tammany ‘Workers’” asks the viewer to use his judgment
as a citizen to determine the relative fitness of others. Together, image and caption use
the language of work to create a negative contrast: workers vote peaceably, “workers”
Bensel, “American Ballot Box,” 11.
Bensel, “American Ballot Box,” 13.
impede the course of democracy through fights, ballot-box stuffing, and election fraud.118
An 1872 image by Paul Frenzeny also embodies the interconnected nature of
labor and the franchise, though this time in a positive, rather than negative, light (Fig.
164). In “The October Elections—Pennsylvania Miners at the Polls,” Frenzeny depicts a
group of miners dressed for work line up to cast their votes. Though excitement is visible,
the process is peaceable and serious. Only one discordant note is struck: at the right side
of the composition, two gentlemen in top hats approach a miner who seems to be
considering their bribes. The figure on the left, with his ragged beard and stooping
shoulders, is probably meant to represent a socialist agitator, while the obese man at the
right, with his long frock coat and ample chins, clearly stands as a representative of
capitalism. The miner looks contemplative but nervous, as if this approach constitutes an
affront to his right of choice. Outright bribery was an insult to the ideals of free manhood
suffrage, and a denial of the rights and abilities of the working man to choose his own
candidate. The viewer must hope he will cast his ballot according to his conscience: as
the long caption above the engraving notes, the miners “are men of sturdy character and
conviction, who believe in doing their whole duty as freemen and patriots.”119 Despite
this potential upset to the ideal of the working man as a voter, the scene is primarily
concerned with honest miners voting in an orderly fashion, even though they “can ill
afford to spare the time necessary to cast their votes before going to work.”120 This image
reinforces the importance of voting and the fact that these men must take time out of their
From the upper window, the face of a Chinese man and his family may be seen peering down, as if in
censure of the activities below. Even the Chinese, a group whose identity as men, workers, and citizens
often came into question, are shown as more humane than the Tammany “workers.” On these questions, see
Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
1999), 51-82.
“The October Elections,” HW, Oct. 26, 1872, 826.
“October Elections,” 826.
workday—even perhaps at the expense of docked pay—to perform their national and
civic duty. This group of hardy miners are a stand-in for working men across the country
who, through their role as productive workers, have also earned the right to exercise
control over their votes and, indirectly, over national politics. Voting thus represented the
ultimate achievement as a citizen and a member of society, what made a laborer a
respected worker, rather than reviled “worker.”
Finally, a key institution, perhaps the ultimate institution, for the creation of social
order was the prison. Keeping children and adults out of prison was an important goal,
which, as we have seen, was achieved through a combination of education, social
services, and brief incarceration in workhouses, where, reformers hoped, they would
learn skills of self-discipline and hard work that would presumably assure their
productive roles in society upon release. The inmates of a workhouse were seen as
redeemable, able to be inculcated with the republican values so important to fostering a
strong and lasting work ethic. Prisons, however, seem to have been almost a last resort
for those who could not be trusted to live their lives according to principles of honesty,
self-reliance, and hard work. Commentators blamed both the prisoners themselves, and
the structural failures of education and industrial training that had ill-prepared inmates for
life in the modern world. In an 1883 Harper’s Weekly article, F.B. Sanborn suggested:
the convict, even more than the free man, needs constant labor, which will
occupy both his hands and his thoughts, and keep him from those forms of
self-destruction and moral death which idleness in prison invites. He needs
also, for he has seldom had it, a training in some useful pursuit, and in
those habits of industry which will enable him to avoid crime when he
goes out into the world again.121
F.B. Sanborn, “The Labor of Sentenced Prisoners,” HW, Nov. 17, 1883, 727.
Prison reformer George Washington Cable made a similar argument in an 1884 article for
The Century magazine, composing an imaginary conversation between a benevolent
prison visitor and a warden, in which the warden stated that “trying to live without
competing in the fields of productive labor is just the essence of the crimes for which
they were sent here.”122 In these estimations, criminal behavior represented a breakdown
of the social systems that were intended to produce responsible citizens. Prisons were
sites for dealing with those members of society who failed to learn the lessons of the
schoolhouse, workhouse, or workshop, and who sought means of profit-making outside
the accepted structures of American society.
Prisoners’ work (or failure to work) outside the prison was a central issue, but
debates also raged about the role of labor within the penal institution. Traditionally,
prisoners had been expected to pay for the costs of their incarceration through forced
labor, a system that dated back to the Colonial period. As corporate capitalism became
more entrenched in American society, companies used prison contracts as sources of
inexpensive labor. Contrary to the stereotypical images of prisoners engaged in
stonebreaking, seen in Nast’s “Confusedism,” in fact prisoners were often contracted to
make such everyday commodities as stoves, hats, hosiery, shoes, and other leather goods
(Fig. 165).123 Coming to a head in the 1880s, a debate about the morality of this practice
argued for the abolition of the contract labor system. Arguments ranged from the humane
(noting the brutal conditions of prison work) to the economic (stating that contracted
George Washington Cable, “The Convict Lease System in the Southern States,” Century 27.4 (Feb.
1884): 582.
Rebecca McLennan, The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics and the Making of the American
Penal State, 1776-1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 100-106.
convicts competed directly with “honest” working men).124 Those who argued in favor of
retaining the contract system suggested that if convicts were not forced to work for their
keep, they would become a burden on taxpayers. Harper’s Weekly, which supported the
retention of the system, argued: “this is a question in which the tax-payers, who are the
substantial part of the community, have a very direct interest. The point of it for them is
whether they shall pay heavily to maintain criminals in idleness.”125 Supporters of the
system also considered forced labor a necessary means of crime deterrence; reformers
argued that second offenses would decline if convicts learned skills they could use after
their release.126 As Cable wrote, “send a man out from here with knowledge of a trade,
and may be he will come back, but the chances are he will not.”127 Despite protests in
favor of the system, residents of New York State voted overwhelmingly in favor of
abolishing the system in 1883.128 The ongoing arguments about prison contract labor
suggest that the relationship between institutional incarceration and productive work was
hotly contested, especially during the 1880s.
In the visual realm, arguments about convict labor enacted the lingering tensions
between the allegorical and the systematic, between the magical and the managerial. In
some images of convicts at work, their labor is framed as something essentially
unseeable; the viewer breaks in upon the scene of their labor like an unwelcome visitor.
A British example, Eyre Crowe’s Convicts at Work, Portsmouth (1887), is explicit in its
act of simultaneously revealing and hiding convicts at work, as it directly represents a
McLennan, Crisis of Imprisonment, 137-192. Articles and editorials on convict labor began appearing in
Harper’s Weekly in 1878, with “Working-Men and Convict Labor,” HW, April 13, 1878, 287. Twentyseven stories about prisons, most of which focus on work, appeared in the Weekly between 1878 and 1890.
“Convict Labor,” HW, May 4, 1878, 346.
“Working-Men and Convict Labor,” 287.
Cable, “Convict Lease System,” 582.
McLennan, Crisis of Imprisonment, 172.
spectator peering through a crack in some boards in order to gain access to the scene that
is revealed to the painting’s viewer. A slightly earlier illustration from Frank Leslie’s also
engages in a visual play between the concurrent hiddenness and visibility of convict
labor, a system many debated but few actually observed firsthand (Fig. 166). C. Upham
depicts a racially mixed group of convicts at work building a levee in Louisiana. Though
the viewer is led into the image by a strong diagonal ramp from the lower right, on the
whole the image oscillates between legibility and obscurity. At the lower left, an
arrangement of six vertical planks give an impression that the observer peers down into
the levee site, or peeks over a wall illicitly. In addition, the bodies of eight convicts
silhouetted against a landscape backdrop of the Mississippi River lack any differentiation
of physiognomy or personality; they are reduced to eight interchangeable bodies in the
brutal contract labor system of the South. In the 1880s, this system increasingly came
under fire both from reformers concerned about the punishing conditions of Louisiana
prisons and from African American laborers who were in competition with the cheap,
unpaid labor of prisoners.129 Images of hidden, or partially-hidden, prison labor
commented on the contrast between clarity and obscurity in the popular press at large.
However, the press also treated convict labor with direct, almost managerial,
detail. Five years earlier, in 1878, Frank Leslie’s had shown the ironing department of
New York’s Sing Sing prison as a regimented workplace (Fig. 167). Albert Berghaus
depicted the convicts at work as ordinary men, almost automatically going about their
tasks. The shedlike structure and ordered rows of workers recalled earlier images of
partially-modernized workplaces, such as Davis’s “The Chinese in New England.” This
McLennan, Crisis of Imprisonment, 158; Cable called contract labor in Arkansas, Mississippi, and
Louisiana “the system at its worst” (Cable, “Convict Lease System,” 596).
representation of prisoners suggests them as fully implicated in a system of contracted
commodity production. The accompanying article was explicit about the systematic,
industrialized nature of prison life: “As the machinery, so the prisoner.”130 In a similar
vein, Cable referred to prison administration as “the management of the State’s convicts”
(emphasis added).131 Prison and factory overlapped in the explicit language of
management and control that structured both systems.
In closing, consider two images from Harper’s Weekly that seem to visually
conflate prisoners and laborers, suggesting both groups as parts of the new, highly
structured social realm, in which people were increasingly organized, kept track of, and
processed by social institutions. In the March 11, 1876 issue, two illustrations by Félix
Regamey showed aspects of life inside the prison at Blackwell’s Island (Fig. 168). Lines
of prisoners are shown before and after a meal, in the first place queuing for bread and in
the second returning their spoons after the meal is finished. Behind them is clearly visible
the long, tall hall of the prison itself, with cell doors standing open and small, narrow
windows providing light. The prisoners are dressed in their striped uniforms and are
overseen by two men wearing white straw hats and dark suits. In the far background of
the lefthand image stands another figure, presumably a warden who will ensure that the
meal occurs in an orderly, controlled fashion. On the right, the prisoners line up to return
their spoons, still overseen by the two hatted men, and the third man, who watches the
process from a balcony. The empty rows of tables and stools speak of the meal that has
just finished. In this engraving, the prison interior looks even higher and more cavernous,
“Sing Sing State Prison,” FLIN, March 2, 1878, 452.
Cable, “Convict Lease System,” 583.
the tiny windows, barred, barely let light into the gloom. Little, or immaterial, light is
given from the globe-shaped oil lamp at the upper right corner of the composition, a
peculiar fixture whose form echoes that of a ballot box, but here set high and out of reach
of the inmates below. Their uniform clothing and the cell doors, slightly ajar in the
background, mark these men as prisoners, but their demeanor and bearing seems
unashamed and orderly. The high ceiling and interior structure of the prison look familiar
from the dozens of engravings of factory workspaces that had already appeared in
Harper’s Weekly by the mid-1870s. The orderliness of the men, who stand calmly in their
ranks remind the viewer of a familiar scene: the industrial realm.
Paul Frenzeny’s “A Nevada Silver Mine—Changing the Shift” (Fig. 169) shows a
similar moment in the life of miners, who, like the prisoners in New York City, line up in
orderly ranks to record their arrival at the proper shift. Though the four figures lined up in
the foreground wear very different costumes—perhaps meant to illustrate ethnic
difference, as “nearly every nationality on the globe is represented among the miners”—
the remainder of the men wear a strikingly similar uniform of hat, shirt, and trousers
rolled up or tucked into boots.132 Like the prisoners, they line up for their trip down into
the mine, standing in organized ranks, ready to be processed by the system. The four men
at the right are on their way home from an eight-hour shift, and their clothes, whether by
coincidence or darkened by their toil underground, are gray. At the window, whose sign
reads “Roll Call,” they give their names to the suited, goateed brain-worker at the
controller’s office who keeps track of the daily attendance and uses it to calculate wages.
The vast ceiling of the “hoisting house” and the elevators which take cars of men and ore
to different parts of the mine are familiar in sense if not in detail to the massive cranes of
“A Nevada Silver Mine,” HW, Aug. 25, 1877, 670.
The Gun Foundry and Piranesi’s Carceri (see Chapter Two). Factories that resemble
prisons, prisons that echo mines and factories: both are large and complex institutions
designed to keep track of their inmates, to regulate their behavior, while profiting from
their labor. Whether a man becomes a citizen through his own volition—through hard
work in a Nevada silver mine, for example—or is forced to learn the virtues of industry
through punitive labor in one of the country’s many prisons, the desired result is similar.
Both institutions are factories for processing people, for forging “citizens.” Whether a
citizen is forged at the crucible of a foundry or excavated from the depths of a mine,
whether he is conditioned to it through a lengthy process of education or led to it through
disciplinary programs of rehabilitation, his fitness to be engaged with the body politic is
judged primarily by his willingness, ability, and efficiency as a laborer. No less than in
the days of the Early Republic, useful citizenship is defined in relation to the subject’s
ability to sustain himself, and thus the nation, through the sweat of his brow.
As the century drew closer to its end, the ideology of Progressivism took an evermore tenacious hold. Both in the realm of labor, with the advent of scientific
management, and in the social arena, with the increasing professionalization of social
work and education, and a growing set of institutions to deal with immigrants, the poor,
criminals, and other non-normative social types, the 1890s was a decade of aggressive
“incorporation,” structure, and system. The increased restrictiveness of society, along
with a growing desire to organize, catalog, and gather data on all elements of life in the
United States, gradually phased out visual modes of representation that did not fit with
this imaginary of a totally mechanized and rationalized nation. When artists next
approached technology using a vocabulary of irrationality and mystification, in the avantgarde movements of the early twentieth century, they came from the position of ironic
outsiders, rather than from the hegemonic middle-class world of magazine illustration.
What does it mean to “represent” work? Art is always a presentation of work; the
labor of the artist himself factors into our understanding of what it means to represent
anything. However, taking “work” as one’s subject creates a commentary on the very
nature of image-making itself. The depictions of work in this dissertation are thus already
multi-layered. Wood engraved images in particular are the result of several different
kinds of labor: industrial, editorial, artistic, engraving.
What about “representing” technology? Many of the images discussed in this
dissertation have, themselves, parts of technological systems; they contain within them,
or embody, the startling expansion of the technological in the United States during the
nineteenth century. Through mass reproducibility, modern techniques and sites of
viewing, and as examples of the dominance of print capitalism during the nineteenth
century, a large portion of the illustrations discussed herein simply are technology.
These questions interacted with larger concerns about the changing nature of
labor and industry during the nineteenth century in the United States. Though the most
spectacular event of the century—the Civil War—shaped conceptions of national identity
and shared values, more mundane, everyday changes worked powerfully to mold
people’s lives. The advents of managerial capitalism and structured systems of education,
charity, and punishment were gradual and uneven; there was no single moment or
originating event that determined the shape of modern life. Instead, though massive,
many of the changes discussed in this dissertation were cumulative: small at first, they
eventually effected a complete transformation in the national economy, identity, and
position on the international political stage. While images might seem like a peripheral
category when compared with the massiveness of the structural, political, and industrial
changes that occurred in the years between 1855 and 1893, they were in fact powerful
actors in shaping how viewers envisioned and thought about the role of labor and
technology in their lives. Images offered an escape from the harsh realities of
technology—an escape into an idealized world of magic, allegory, and mythology.
Simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically, paintings and illustrations could also allow
viewers to delve in ever greater depth into the realities, structures, statistics, and
interconnected networks of technological systems. Though towards the end of the
century, the rational, informational mode eventually came to dominate, at least in the
popular press, it is important to note that the two modes of representation coexisted
throughout some of the most turbulent, complex years of the century.
The dominance of the ideology of order and control beginning in the 1880s was a
clear precursor to the Progressive Era, which lasted from approximately 1893 through
America’s entry into World War I in 1917. The fairly informal, nonprofessional
structures of pictorial journalism, which had dictated the content of the nineteenthcentury magazines discussed here, were superseded by increased interest in facts, charts,
and statistics, the necessity of professional training, and emphasis on organizational
structures. Pictures—increasingly photographs reproduced and disseminated using
process halftone engraving—were more often used, not as primarily positive depictions
of American exceptionalism, but as critical documents that sought to uncover the social
ills of modernity. The roots of this ideology may be found in the images studied here,
particularly as managerial wage capitalism became ever more firmly entrenched. The
practices developed in the years following the Civil War had a powerful effect on early
twentieth-century life; the managerial eye looked dramatically forward to the focus on
efficiency, economy, and process that reemerged in art and industry during the 1930s. In
the end, the images discussed here both managed vision and envisioned management;
they radically used vision to shape, or manage, what their audience imagined they knew
about the role of work and technology in modern life. At the same time, many of the
images explicitly envisioned management (and self-management), whether in the factory
itself, on the national political stage, or in the social realm.
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Image References
Chapter One: Railroads, Telegraphs, Sugar: The Visualization of Technological
Systems in Paintings and Print Culture
Fig. 1. Thomas Nast, “What the Telegraph Companies Will Do Next,” HW, Jan. 9,
1886, 32.
Fig. 2. Asher Brown Durand, Progress, 1853. (National Gallery of Art)
Fig. 3. George Inness, In the Valley of the Lackawanna, 1855. (National Gallery of Art)
Fig. 4. Jasper Francis Cropsey, Starrucca Viaduct, 1865. (Toledo Museum of Art)
Fig. 5. “Completion of the Pacific Railroad,” HW, May 29, 1869, 344-345.
Fig. 6. Andrew J. Russell, “Driving of the Golden Spike, Promontory, Utah,” 1869.
Fig. 7. Thomas Hill, The Last Spike, 1881. (California State Department of Parks and
Fig. 8. Frank Henry Temple Bellew, “Does not SUCH a Meeting Make Amends?” FLIN,
May 29, 1869, 176.
Fig. 9. “The Chinese Puzzle,” HW, Sept. 4, 1869, 576.
Fig. 10. Frank Henry Temple Bellew, “A Good Square American Smile,” FLIN, June 5,
1869, 192.
Fig. 11. Thomas Nast, “Our Standard (Gauge) Adopted All Over the Union,” HW, June 5,
1886, 364.
Fig. 12. “Effect of the Atlantic Telegraph on the European Despots,” HW, Sept. 11, 1858,
592. (reprinted from Punch, unknown date)
Fig. 13. Alfred Fredericks, “The Electric Union,” HW, Aug. 19, 1865, 516.
Fig. 14. Constantino Brumidi, The Transatlantic Cable or Telegraph, c. 1862-1867. (U.S.
Fig. 15. Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865. (U.S. Capitol)
Fig. 16. “The Atlantic Telegraph,” HW, Aug. 14, 1858, cover.
Fig. 17. “How the Cable Was Broken,” HW, Sept. 2, 1865, 560.
Fig. 18. “Ocean Telegraph Cables,” HW, April 19, 1873, 325.
Fig. 19. “Map of the World, Showing the Telegraphic Systems for Encircling the Entire
Globe,” HW, Aug. 12, 1865, 508.
Fig. 20. Edwin Forbes, “The Atlantic Telegraph Cable,” HW, Aug. 12, 1865, 504-505.
Fig. 21. Peter Newell, “The Telegraph Spider,” HW, Nov. 12, 1881, 768.
Fig. 22. William T. Smedley, cartoon, HW, March 10, 1888, 176.
Fig. 23. W.T. Russell Smith, Pittsburgh Fifty Years Ago from the Salt Works on Saw Mill
Run, c. 1834-1884. (Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh)
Fig. 249. Robert Walter Weir, View of Hudson River, 1864. (Putnam County Historical
Society, Cold Spring, New York)
Fig. 25. Robert Walter Weir, The Hudson River from Hoboken, 1878. (Detroit Institute)
Fig. 26. Alexis Jean Fournier, Mill Pond at Minneapolis, 1888. (Minneapolis Institute)
Fig. 27. View of Columbus O. from Capitol University, c. 1867. Chromolithograph.
Fig. 28. “Bird’s-Eye View of Boston and Its Environs,” HW, June 22, 1872, 497.
Fig. 29. “Bird’s-Eye View of the Pacific Railroad, from Chicago to San Francisco,”
HNMM (May 1872): 867.
Fig. 30. “Unsavory Hunter’s Point,” HW, Aug. 6, 1881, 537.
Fig. 31. William Allen Rogers, “The Death Caldron [sic] at Hunter’s Point,” HW, Aug.
13, 1881, 552-553.
Fig. 32. Thomas Moran, Lower Manhattan from Communipaw, New Jersey, 1879.
(Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, MD)
Fig. 33. Thomas Moran, Communipaw, 1884.
Fig. 34. Thomas Moran, Trojes Mines, 1884. (private collection)
Fig. 35. Thomas Moran, Communipaw, February, 1879. (Junaita College)
Fig. 36. Thomas Moran, Smelting Works at Denver, 1892. (Cleveland Museum of Art)
Fig. 37. Joseph Mallord William Turner, Leeds, 1816. (Tate Britain) Watercolor.
Fig. 38. Alfred Rudolph Waud, “Along the Docks, New York City,” HW, Sept. 4, 1869,
Fig. 39. “Commercial and Geographical Relation of New York to Europe and Asia,” HW,
May 30, 1868, 544-5.
Fig. 40. Augustus Hoppin, “The Purchase of Cuba Pictorially Considered,” HW, March
26, 1859, 200.
Fig. 41. Frank Henry Temple Bellew, cartoon, HW, Dec. 20, 1873, 1144.
Fig. 42. Alfred Rudolph Waud, “The Sugar Harvest in Louisiana,” HW, Oct. 30, 1875,
Fig. 43. Thomas Moran, Castle Geyser, Fire Hole Basin, 1872. (Gilcrease Museum)
Fig. 44. Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum, “The Old Bone Man of the Plains,” HW, Jan. 15,
1887, 36.
Chapter Two: “Attendant Vulcans”: John Ferguson Weir, Metallurgy, and the
Alchemical Sublime
Fig. 45. John Ferguson Weir, The Gun Foundry, 1866. (Putnam County Historical
Society, Cold Spring, New York)
Fig. 46. John Ferguson Weir, Forging the Shaft, 1877. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Fig. 47. John Ferguson Weir, An Artist’s Studio, 1864. (Los Angeles County Museum)
Fig. 48. John Ferguson Weir, sketch of Robert Walter Weir working, n.d. (J.F. Weir
Papers, Reel 530.624)
Fig. 49. Robert Walter Weir, The Microscope, 1849. (Yale University Art Gallery)
Fig. 50. Joseph Wright of Derby, An Experiment with a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768.
(English National Gallery)
Fig. 51. Joseph Wright of Derby, The Iron Forge or Interior of a Forge by Night, 1772.
(Tate Britain)
Fig. 52. Joseph Wright of Derby, The Alchymist, or Alchemist in Search of Philosopher’s
Stone Discovers Phosphorous, c. 1771. (Derby Museum)
Fig. 53. Fanny F. Palmer, Foundry at West Point, 1862. Currier and Ives lithograph.
Fig. 54. John Ferguson Weir, preparatory sketches for The Gun Foundry, c. 1864-5.
(Yale University Art Gallery)
Fig. 55. Léonard Defrance, Interior of a Foundry with Visitors, 1789. (Walker Art
Gallery, Liverpool)
Fig. 56. Adolph von Menzel, Iron Rolling Mill, 1875. (Nationalgalerie Berlin)
Fig. 57. Eyre Crowe, The Foundry, 1869. (Milwaukee School of Engineering)
Fig. 58. “West Point Foundry-Cold Spring,” HW, Sept. 14, 1861, 588.
Fig. 59. Theodore R. Davis, “Making Guns For the New Monitors at Pittsburg [sic],
Pennsylvania,” HW, Aug. 23, 1862, 537.
Fig. 60. Photograph of workers at West Point, c. 1864-5. (Yale University Art Gallery)
Fig. 61. John Ferguson Weir, studio sketch, 1862. (J.F. Weir Papers. Reel 530.665)
Fig. 62. Adolph von Menzel, Studio Wall, 1872. (Hamburger Kunsthalle) Oil on canvas.
Fig. 63. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (artist) and Philips Galle (engraver), Alchemist, c.
Fig. 64. David Teniers the Younger, The Alchemist, 1649. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Fig. 65. “Dutch Alchemist and His Starving Wife,” HNMM (Feb. 1873): 393.
Fig. 66. Domenico Beccafumi, woodcut series of ten plates, The Practice of Alchemy,
16th century. (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Fig. 67. W.B. Murray, “The New Steam-Hammer at Woolwich Arsenal, England,” HW,
Aug. 1, 1874, 646-7. (Reprinted from The Graphic, July 11, 1874.)
Fig. 68. John Neagle, Pat Lyon at the Forge, second version, 1829. (Pennsylvania
Academy of the Fine Arts)
Fig. 69. Elihu Vedder, The Dead Alchemist, 1868. (Brooklyn Museum)
Fig. 70. Henry Alexander, In the Laboratory, c. 1885-87. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Fig. 71. Henry Muhrman (artist) and Frederick Juengling (engraver), “Edison in His
Workshop,” HW, Aug. 2, 1879, cover.
Fig. 72. Thure de Thulstrup, “Thomas A. Edison in His Laboratory,” HW, June 13, 1891,
Fig. 73. Walter Shirlaw, illustrations for “The City of Pittsburgh,” HNMM (Dec. 1880):
Chapter Three: Managing Visions of Industry: The Managerial Eye
Fig. 74. “Section of Manufactory,” HNMM (Dec. 1865): 30.
Fig. 75. “Composition,” HNMM (Dec. 1865): 7.
Fig. 76. Compositor’s diagram, HNMM (Dec. 1865): 9.
Fig. 77. “Copper-Plate Press,” HNMM (Dec. 1865): 10.
Fig. 78. “The Adams Press,” HNMM (Dec. 1865): 16.
Fig. 79. Mutus Liber, plate VI, 1677.
Fig. 80. “The Death Chamber,” and “Cutting and Packing,” HW, Feb. 24, 1860, 72, 73.
Fig. 81. Henry F. Farny, “Hog-Slaughtering and Pork-Packing in Cincinnati,” HW, Sept.
6, 1873, 776-777.
Fig. 82. Granville Perkins, “American Sardine Fishery,” HW, April 18, 1874, 332.
Fig. 83. Theodore R. Davis, “Scenes in a Glass Foundry,” HW, Jan. 12, 1884, 24-25.
Fig. 84. Theodore R. Davis, “Pleasant Valley Vineyards,” HW, May 11, 1872, 372.
Fig. 85. W.P. Snyder and Theodore R. Davis, “Grain Elevator of the New York Central
and Hudson River Railroad,” HW, Dec. 22, 1877, 1008.
Fig. 86. “Babbitt’s Extensive Soap Manufacturing Works,” SA 41:22 (Nov. 29. 1879):
Fig. 87. George G. Rockwood, images of the Hoosac Tunnel, HW, Dec. 5, 1868, 623.
Fig. 88. Charles Graham, “The Hudson River Tunnel,” HW. May 1, 1880, 276.
Fig. 89. W.P. Snyder, “Removing Pilgrim Rock,” HW, Aug. 22, 1885, 548.
Fig. 90. George G. Rockwood (photographer), “Submarine Mining Operations at Hallet’s
Point (Hell Gate),” HW, Sept. 23, 1871, 888.
Fig. 91. Paul Frenzeny, “Down Among the Coal Mines,” HW, Feb. 22, 1873, 148.
Fig. 92. John Durkin, “Interior of a Coal Mine,” HW, July 30, 1887, 549.
Fig. 93. Theodore R. Davis, “The Coal-Mines of Pennsylvania—Preparing the Coal for
the Market,” HW, Sept. 11, 1869, 581.
Fig. 94. “Reed and Barton’s Silver Plate Works,” SA 41:19 (Nov. 8, 1879): 287.
Fig. 95. “Clark’s Spool Thread Factory,” SA 40:19 (May 10, 1879): 287.
Fig. 96. “Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machine Manufactory,” SA 40:18 (May 3, 1879):
Fig. 97. Theodore R. Davis, “The Ice Crop on the Hudson,” HW, March 7, 1874, 220.
Fig. 98. Julian Oliver Davidson, “Cotton Culture in the South,” HW, July 14, 1883, 440.
Fig. 99. Charles Graham, “The Great Industry of Birmingham, Alabama,” HW, March
26, 1887, 214-215.
Fig. 100. “A View of a Great Smithy,” HW, Jan. 14, 1893, 35.
Fig. 101. “Coining Silver Dollars at the Philadelphia Mint,” HW, June 19, 1880, 388.
Fig. 102. William Bell, “In the Treasury Vaults at Washington,” HW, July 15, 1893, 669.
Fig. 103. “View of General Butler’s Dutch Gap Canal,” HW, Jan. 21, 1865, cover.
Chapter Four: Swords into Ploughshares: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and
Fig. 104. “After the War,” HNMM (Aug. 1865): cover.
Fig. 105. Winslow Homer, The Veteran in a New Field, 1865. (Metropolitan Museum of
Fig. 106. “Exasperation of John Bull at the News from the U.S.,” HW, Nov. 8, 1862, 720.
Fig. 107. Frank Henry Temple Bellew, “The Sinews of War,” HW, Sept. 28, 1861, 624.
Fig. 108. Eastman Johnson, Blacksmith Shop, 1863. (New York State Historical
Fig. 109. “A Word to the Wise (?),” HW, May 2, 1863, 288.
Fig. 110. “A Job for the New Cabinet Maker,” FLIN, Feb. 2, 1861, 176.
Fig. 111. “Coöperation,” Vanity Fair 5:120 (April 12, 1862): cover.
Fig. 112. “Mending the Family Kettle,” FLIN, June 16, 1866, 208.
Fig. 113. Thomas Nast, “The Time Has Come,” HW, July 25, 1885, 484.
Fig. 114. Luther Terry, An Allegory of the North and South, 1858. (Greenville County
Museum of Art)
Fig. 115. Constantino Brumidi, Columbia Welcoming the South Back into the Union,
1876. (Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA. Oil sketch for fresco in U.S.
Fig. 116. Thomas Hogan, “The Good Time Coming,” HW, Oct. 31, 1868, 697.
Fig. 117. “Reconstruction: A Story of the Time,” FLIN, Feb. 3, 1866, 312-313.
Fig 118. “A Chart Map of Georgia, Showing the Percentage of Slaves in Each County,”
HW, Dec. 14, 1861, cover.
Fig. 119. “Map of the Southern States, Showing the Relative Proportion of Slaves in the
Different Localities,” HW, Feb. 28, 1863, 141.
Fig. 120. “Map of Georgia,” HW, May 12, 1866, 301.
Fig. 121. Studio of Alexander Gardner (photograph), “The Tredegar Iron-Works, at
Richmond, Virginia,” HW, Aug. 5, 1865, 493.
Fig. 122. Charles Graham, “Richmond—The Tredegar Iron-Works,” HW, Jan. 15, 1887,
supplement cover.
Fig. 123. J.R. Hamilton, “Rocketts Landing, Richmond, Virginia,” HW, Sept. 23, 1865,
Fig. 124. Edwin Austin Abbey, “Cotton Culture—Covering the Seed,” HW, April 24,
1875, 344.
Fig. 125. Edwin Austin Abbey, “A North Carolina Turpentine Distillery,” HW, April 1,
1876, 265.
Fig. 126. Julian Oliver Davidson, “The Sugar Industry of Louisiana, No. 2,” HW, July 28,
1883, 476.
Fig. 127. Horace Bradley, “The Atlanta International Cotton Exposition—Spinning, Old
and New Styles,” HW, Nov. 12, 1881, 756.
Fig. 128. Charles Graham, “New Orleans—The Crescent City,” HW, Dec. 13, 1884,
supplemental foldout.
Fig. 129. Thomas Nast, “On Earth Peace, Good-Will Toward Men,” HW, Dec. 27, 1884,
Fig. 130. Thomas Nast, “The Real Connecting Link—This Looks Like Business,” HW,
March 26, 1881, cover.
Fig. 131. Thomas Nast, “The Queen of Industry, or, The New South,” HW, Jan. 14, 1882,
Fig. 132. Alfred Fredericks, “The New Orleans Exposition—The Genius of the Industrial
Arts Awakened in the South,” HW, Dec. 20, 1884, cover.
Fig. 133. Thomas Nast, “Calling on Miss Columbia—New-Year’s Day, 1876,” HW (8
January 1876): cover.
Fig. 134. Charles Joseph Mettais (artist) and Gustav Kruell (engraver), “Columbia
Welcoming the Nations,” HW, May 20, 1876, 417.
Fig. 137. Theodore R. Davis, “Our Centennial—President Grant and Dom Pedro Starting
the Corliss Engine,” HW, May 27, 1876, 421.
Fig. 138. “The Corliss Engines at the Centennial Exposition” SA, June 3, 1876, 351.
Fig. 139. “View of the Capitol, Showing the Present State of the Dome—Taken During
the Inauguration of Lincoln, Monday, March 4, 1861,” FLIN, March 16, 1861,
Fig. 140. Porter-Allen engine and Corliss engine, Engineering Reminiscences, 249-250.
Chapter Five: Laziness and Civilization: Workers, Citizens, and the Representation
of Social Control
Fig. 141. William Henry Davenport, “Work-House Shoemakers,” HNMM (Nov. 1866):
Fig. 142. William Henry Davenport, “Skulking from Work,” HNMM (Nov. 1866): 686.
Fig. 143. Theodore R. Davis, “The Chinese in New England—The Work-Shop,” HW,
July 23, 1870, 468.
Fig. 144. William Henry Davenport, “The Dark Cell,” HNMM (Nov. 1866): 696.
Fig. 145. H.L. Brown, “Wayfarers’ Lodge in Philadelphia,” HW, June 21, 1884, 401.
Fig. 146. William Henry Davenport, “New York House of Refuge on Randall’s Island,”
HW, May 23, 1868, 332.
Fig. 147. “The Night School,” HNMM (Aug. 1873): 327.
Fig. 148. “Making Paper Collars,” and “Making Paper Boxes,” HMNN (Aug. 1873): 325.
Fig. 149. Percival De Luce and Charles Stanley Reinhart, “Children Who Go To Our
Public Schools” and “Children Who Do Not Go To Our Public Schools,” HW,
Dec. 19, 1874, 1044-1045.
Fig. 150. John Durkin, “Richmond—A Cigarette Factory,” HW, Jan. 15, 1887, 50-51.
Fig. 151. Charles Frederick Ulrich, In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden, 1884.
(Corcoran Gallery)
Fig. 152. “New York City—The Government Investigation of the Management of Castle
Garden,” FLIN, Sept. 3, 1887, 37.
Fig. 153. Paul Frenzeny, “Italian Immigrants in New York,” HW, Feb. 1, 1873, 97.
Fig. 154. Theodore R. Davis, “The Mess-Room,” HW, July 30, 1870, 493.
Fig. 155. “Girls’ Industrial Room” and “The Printing-Office,” HNMM (Oct. 1873): 680,
Fig. 156. William Allen Rogers, “The Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York,” HW, March
21, 1891, 213.
Fig. 157. Thomas Nast, “Our Rising Generation,” HW, Oct. 14, 1871, 969.
Fig. 158. “One Reason Why There Are So Many Idle Young Men,” HW, March 26,
1881, 196.
Fig. 159. William Morris Hunt, The Forge, n.d. (Butler Institute of American Art)
Fig. 160. Charles Frederick Ulrich, The Village Print Shop, Haarlem, Holland, 1885.
(Terra Foundation for American Art)
Fig. 161. Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Young Sabot Maker, 1895. (Nelson-Atkins
Fig. 162. Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Ironwokers’ Noontime, 1880. (De Young Museum)
Fig. 163. William Allen Rogers, “Tammany ‘Workers’ at the Polls in Pell Street, New
York,” HW, Nov. 16, 1889, 920.
Fig. 164. Paul Frenzeny, “The October Elections—Pennsylvania Miners at the Polls,”
HW, Oct. 26, 1872, 836.
Fig. 165. Thomas Nast, “Confusedism,” HW, April 27, 1878, cover.
Fig 166. C. Upham, “The Utilization of Convict Labor on the Levee Works at Baton
Rouge,” FLIN, April 7, 1883, 108.
Fig. 167. Albert Berghaus, “ Convicts Working Under Contractors in the Ironing
Department of the Prison Laundry,” FLIN, March 2, 1878, 452.
Fig. 168. Félix Regamey, “Blackwell’s Island,” HW, March 11, 1876, 217.
Fig. 169. Paul Frenzeny, “A Nevada Silver Mine,” HW, Aug. 25, 1877, cover.
List of Important Artists and Authors, with dates of birth and death
Anshutz, Thomas Pollock. Painter. 1851-1912.
Bellew, Frank Henry Temple. HW and FLIN illustrator. 1828-1888.
Bigelow, Dr. Jacob. Author and technological booster. 1787-1879.
Brace, Charles Loring. Social reformer and author. 1826-1890.
Brumidi, Constantino. Painter. 1805-1880.
Davidson, Julian Oliver. HW illustrator. 1853-1894.
Davis, Theodore R. HW illustrator. 1840-1894.
Durand, John. Editor, The Crayon. c. 1823-1908.
Durkin, John. HW illustrator. 1868-1903.
Farny, Henry F. Painter and HW illustrator. 1847-1916.
Forbes, Edwin. HW illustrator. 1839-1895.
Fournier, Alexis Jean. Painter. 1865-1948.
Fredericks, Alfred. Painter and HW illustrator. unknown-1926.
Frenzeny, Paul. HW illustrator. 1840-1902.
Graham, Charles. HW illustrator. 1852-1911.
Guernsey, Alfred H. Author and editor, HNMM. 1824-1902.
Hogan, Thomas. HW illustrator. 1839-1900.
Homer, Winslow. Painter and HW illustrator. 1836-1910.
Howells, William Dean. Novelist and editor, Atlantic Monthly. 1837-1920.
Juengling, Frederick. Wood engraver. 1846-1889.
McEntee, Jervis. Painter. 1828-1891.
Menzel, Adolph von. Painter. 1815-1905.
Moran, Thomas. Painter. 1837-1926.
Munroe, Kirk. HW writer. 1850-1930.
Nast, Thomas. HW illustrator. 1840-1902
Neagle, John. Painter. 1796-1865.
Piranesi, Giovanni Batista. Artist and etcher. 1720-1778.
Rockwood, George G. Photographer and HW illustrator. 1832-1911.
Rogers, William Allen. HW illustrator. 1854-1931.
Russell, Andrew J. Photographer. 1830-1902.
Shinn, Earl. Art critic. 1838-1886.
Shirlaw, Walter. Painter and HNMM illustrator. 1838-1909.
Smith, W.T. Russell. Painter. 1812-1896.
Stillman, William James. Editor, The Crayon. 1828-1901.
Ulrich, Charles Frederick. Painter. 1858-1908.
Warner, Charles Dudley. Novelist and HW writer. 1829-1900.
Waud. Alfred Rudolph. HW illustrator. 1828-1891.
Weir, John Ferguson. Painter. 1841-1926.
Weir, Robert Walter. Painter. 1803-1889.
Wright, Joseph, of Derby. Painter. 1734-1797.
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