On this day in history, 1932: The Bonus Marchers Are Driven Out of Washington, D.C.

•July 28, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The scene: In the summer month preceding a presidential election, demonstrators peacefully protesting in the nation’s capital are dispersed with tear gas and routed and cleared from the area by armed, uniformed men. When the air cleared and the news media questioned the Republican incumbent as to the necessity of the use of force, the president states that he was acting in defense of law and order and denounced the protestors as a violent and dangerous rabble.

You might be surprised to learn that this describes an event from almost 90 years ago today—and not the clash between racial justice activists and police at Lafayette Park on June 1, 2021. An eerily similar incident occurred on July 28, 1932, when President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to disperse the depression-strapped WWI veterans who had gathered from across the nation to ask Congress to pass legislation aimed at compensating their wartime service. The extreme use of force, the president’s characterization of the veterans as “red” radicals bent on the overthrow of the government, and the burning of the veterans’ “Hooverville” (or shanty town) on the Anacostia Flats outskirts of the city did not help Hoover’s bid for re-election.

The men who had either volunteered or been drafted into the American Expeditionary Forces in Woodrow Wilson’s “War to End All Wars” had received considerably less compensation for their heroic service than was earned by men working in the war industries on the home front. In 1924 Congress passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act aimed to provide veterans with a “bonus” based on their service records. There was only one catch. The bonus certificates would only mature and be redeemable in full on each veteran’s birthday in 1945, deriding nicknamed by vets the “Tombstone Bonus.” As tens of thousands of veterans lost their jobs and were evicted from their farms and homes as the Great Depression dragged on, many began to sign petitions pressing for an early payment of the bonuses. After President Hoover vetoed the Patman Veterans Bill in 1931, one unemployed vet, Walter W. Walters, living in Portland, Oregon, rallied local veterans and organized a trek to the nation’s capital to lobby Congress directly and press for immediate disbursement.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Dubbed the “Bonus Army” by the press, Walter’s group inspired many thousands of ex-servicemen from across the nation—some accompanied by their families—to join his Bonus Expeditionary Forces, hop trains, hitchhike, and join the caravans descending on Washington.

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Arriving in Washington, D.C. in July 1932, the veterans camped out on the grounds of the Capitol building.

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As their ranks swelled into the tens of thousands, they established a makeshift camp on the Anacostia Flats.

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While the House of Representatives passed a bonus bill, it looked unlikely that the Senate would approve it. On June 17, 1932, thousands of veterans gathered on the grounds of the Capitol building to maintain a vigil as the Senate was scheduled to vote on the legislation. The chants and an ironical rewording of a WWI tune “The Yanks are Starving” could be heard in the Senate chamber even as that body overwhelmingly voted the bill down, with members beating a hasty retreat through back doors and underground tunnels under Congress to avoid facing the thousands of ex-servicemen loitering outside. Rather than greeting the disappointing news of the defeat of the bonus bill with rioting, Walters led the veterans in singing “America the beautiful” before peacefully disbursing.

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Hoover expected and encouraged the veterans to vacate their squatter’s camp and “go home,” and while many did pack up and go, many thousands of veterans and their family members remained, being jobless and homeless and without better options. Walters and other veteran leaders also encouraged them to stay and continue to press for their bonus until the adjournment of Congress in July. Retired Major-General Smedley Butler visited the Bonus Compensation Army camp and had been impressed by the comradery of the campers and the orderliness of their tent and shack “city” accommodating more than 11,000 persons and democratically arranged in streets and blocks without regard to rank or race. Addressing the veterans, he told them that “It makes me so damned mad that a whole lot of people speak of you as tramps. By God, they didn’t speak of you as tramps in 1917 and 1918. Telling them that they had “just as much a right to lobby here as any steel corporation,” he assured them that they had the “sympathy of the American people” and admonished them to remain positive and refrain from any actions that might lose it.

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But following Congress’ adjournment on July 16, President Hoover ordered the evacuation of the veterans from downtown Washington. As the police tried to forcibly evict veteran squatting in half-demolished buildings on July 28, bricks began to fly; two police officers shot into the crowds leaving one veteran dead and another mortally wounded.

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Hoover ordered General MacArthur and the Army to clear the city, deploying 200 saber-wielding cavalrymen, 400 infantrymen with bayoneted rifles, and backed up by tanks and armored vehicles. After someone threw a stone, the troops donned gas masks and hurled smoke bombs and tear gas grenades, driving the choking veterans and their families from the streets. Numerous marchers were wounded and one malnourished four-year old died in the clash; a 3-month-old child caught in the gas attack succumbed some days later.

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Although Hoover sent orders to General Douglas MacArthur telling him not to advance on the veteran’s camp across the Anacostia River, the general disregarded the order, crossed the bridge, and ordered the troops to burn down the shacks even as vets and their families rushed to salvage their meager belongings. According to one account, a soldier stabbed a boy in the leg as the child was trying to return to his burning shack to save his pet rabbit.

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Newsreels showing the burning of the veteran’s squatter camp on the outskirts of the capital shocked and horrified the American public. Attempting to justify the military action, President Hoover claimed without substantiating evidence that the remaining veterans had been manipulated and misled by Communist provocateurs intent on overthrowing the Republic. But the press and public rallied to the defense of the B.E.F. Upon learning of the firing of the Bonus Army encampment, General Butler officially declared himself a “Hoover-for-Ex-President Republican.” The Washington Daily News also condemned the military action, editorializing that “If the Army must be called out to make war on unarmed citizens, this is no longer America.”

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The plight of the Bonus Army entered the American consciousness in two films released just before and after the 1932 presidential elections. The Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) told the story of a newly elected representative who arrived in the capital city determined to smash the political machine that put him in office and to expose and turn out the corrupt politicos beholden to powerful lobbyists. Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst also jumped on the Hollywood carousel, contributing much of the financial backing and editorial rewrites of another screenplay intended to turn Hoover out of office. In dramatic contrast to President Hoover’s refusal to meet with Bonus Army leaders, the president in Hearst’s film, Gabriel Over the White House, intercepts the veterans on their march on the capital, wades into the crowd against the advice of his Secret Service detail, and offers the vets jobs rather than handouts, promising to transform them from an “Army of the Unemployed” into an “Army of Construction.” Hearst had hoped to produce the film in time to sway the voters in the 1932 presidential elections against Herbert Hoover and towards his own nominee, John Nance Garner, but the film was not released until the early months of 1933. The public did not need Hearst’s prodding, however, as they overwhelmingly went to the polls and voted out Hoover and his party in a landslide election.

First Among Photographers, Margaret Bourke-White

•June 14, 2021 • 1 Comment

The life and career of American photographer, Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904–August 27, 1971) might best be summed up with a list of firsts in a male-dominated field. In 1930, the Bronx-born professional photographer became the first foreigner permitted to shoot Soviet workers and industrial production under Comrade Stalin’s Five-Year Plan.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Bourke-White was the first photographer to receive prominent name credit and she photographed the main article in Fortune’s first issue. Later in the decade she became one of the first four staff photographers and the first women photographer hired by Life and her iconic photograph graced the cover of the magazine’s very first issue.

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During the Second World War, she and her husband were the first Americans on the scene and first to send home photographs and dispatches describing the German surprise offensive on the Russian front.

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Once the United States entered the war, Bourke-White became America’s first female war photojournalist accredited by the military and the first woman to fly on a combat mission with the U.S. Air Force.

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She later accompanied U.S. General George Patton’s Third Army into Germany and was among the first to photograph the “Living dead” at the liberated Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp. A restless soul, over the span of a 35-year career, she achieved international renown as she traveled more than a million miles and worked in 45 countries documenting the industrialization of urban centers and the living conditions of the rural poor; covering floods and dust storms; civil unrest and world war; and, photographing anonymous Southern sharecroppers and Russian proletariat, and infamous heads of state.

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Margaret’s lifelong fascination with industrial machinery and photography likely stemmed from her childhood experiences. At the age of eight, she accompanied her father to work to witness the molten iron being poured to make the printing presses, and she regularly joined him on his photographic outings and helped him develop his pictures in the family bathtub. Although she attended Columbia University in New York City with other academic interests, during her second semester, she registered for a photography class with Clarence H. White (no relation) and became hooked on photography the same year her amateur photographer father passed away. After her mother bought her a second-hand camera, Margaret made a hobby of printing and selling photographic postcards. But she did not embark on a full-fledged career as a professional freelance industrial and architectural photographer until 1927.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Adding photos of the Cleveland Terminal Tower and the Otis Steel mill to her portfolio, she met with and so impressed publisher Henry Luce in May 1929, that he hired her as a staff photographer for his soon-to-be launched, Fortune magazine. To sweeten the deal, Luce even offered Bourke-White the freedom to spend half the year working on her own freelance work for advertising agencies and corporate clients. Even after the Stock Market crashed in October 1929 and ushered in a decade-long depression, Margaret began her new career. She arrived in New York City that winter to photograph the Chrysler building, establishing a studio in the building, and audaciously photographing the city below from one of its gargoyles.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The following year, she participated in the “Men and Machines” exhibition sponsored by the Museums of the Peaceful Arts in New York City, believing that “Any important art coming out of the industrial age will draw inspiration from industry, because industry is alive and vital.” When Fortune sent her to Germany to photograph the Krupp Iron Works in 1930, she traveled on her own to the Soviet Union and secured permission to photograph the burgeoning industrial plants and the workers dragging the backward agrarian state into the 20th century under Stalin’s Five-Year Plan.

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Bourke-White published her photographic and prose impressions of the Soviet Union the following year in Eyes on Russia. The book provided Americans with a glimpse into the gearing up of Stalin’s industrializing Socialist state even as their own capitalist economy appeared to have ground to a stand-still.

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The trip and the book appear to have expanded Bourke-White’s interests from architectural and industrial photography to capturing the people interacting with the machines and working in this “brave new world.” Her experiences in Russia introduced a more human and humane element as her hard focus on factories, gearing, and machine forms gave way to a wider angle lens that included the human heads and hands working those machines.

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She even dabbled with the briefest of experiments with motion pictures, creating two brief films about her travels in Russia. Back in the U.S.A., photojournalist assignments took Margaret to the American South and Midwest as depression-weary sharecroppers and tenant farmers struggled to feed their families and fend off eviction in the wake of boll weevil infestations, severe drought, soil erosion, and deadly dust storms.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca

But her initial attraction to architectural photography and obsession with modern machinery remained, reflected in the photographs she made for Fred C. Kelly’s book about the chemical solvent industry, One Thing Leads to Another: The Growth of an Industry (1936).

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In 1935, Bourke-White met and began a clandestine relationship with a married man, Erskine Caldwell, a native Georgian and author of Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre (1933). Even as Margaret continued to contribute work to Life magazine, the couple collaborated on a few photo-illustrated books. The first one, You Have Seen Their Faces was published in 1937.

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The culmination of eighteen months of travel through the Deep South, the book documented the desperate poverty and deplorable living conditions of the rural underclass.

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The couple also documented the extreme racism that persisted in the South, photographing exploited and debt-bound black sharecroppers as well as those condemned to hard labor on Southern chain gangs.

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Defenders of the Southern status quo attacked the photographic picture book’s unflinching focus on poverty and racism, while even sympathetic critics and competitors found Caldwell’s “first person” caption quotes patronizing, and Bourke-White’s portraits unflattering.

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Nonetheless, You Have Seen Their Faces proved to be a popular venture, the Viking hardcover edition being quickly followed up with an inexpensive Modern Age Books paperback edition that sold well. The book achieved its goal of raising consciousness about the plight of Southern agrarians and inspired (or provoked) other such collaborative works as author James Agee and Farm Security Administration photographer, Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).

Even as You Have Seen Their Faces hit the bookstores in 1937, Bourke-White’s photographs of drought and dustbowl regions, flood victims and refugees, and impoverished Americans standing in soup and breadlines also pricked Americans’ consciences from the pages of Life magazine.

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The previous year, Henry Luce had hired Bourke-White as one of four staff photographers for his new picture magazine publishing venture. Bourke-White’s photographs of the construction of Fort Peck Dam under the Roosevelt Administration earned her the inaugural cover and lead story.

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Like many socially conscious artists of the 1930s, Bourke-White flirted with leftist causes, forging associations with organizations promoting racial and class equality at home and supporting anti-fascist coalitions abroad. She was alleged to have subscribed to the Daily Worker and her name supposedly appeared on membership or sponsor rolls for Popular Front organizations such as the Artist Union, the National Advisory Board of the American Youth Congress, and the American League for Peace and Democracy.

In 1938, her work turned from domestic woes to foreign concerns as the editors of Life dispatched Bourke-White and Caldwell to Hungary and the Czech Republic, targets of Adolf Hitler’s saber-rattling demands for Liebensraum, or German territorial expansion into Central Europe.

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The correspondent and photographer couple documented life in the contested region even as Hitler and the Nazis schemed to annex and occupy important swaths of Czechoslovakia, publishing the timely North of the Danube in 1939.

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After Caldwell’s divorced his first wife, he and Bourke-White married in 1939, publishing two more photographic picture books as a couple. After a brief honeymoon, Life dispatched Bourke-White to England to document their war preparations, and then through Central Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East. When she returned to the States, Margaret and her husband set off on a cross-country excursion together, once more documenting the American scene. Many of Bourke-White’s photographs evidenced her focus and concern with people and culture, and racial and ethnic identities. Her photos did not shy away from making bold social statements regarding the promise of America and her shortcomings. Always, though, her work expressed an empathy for working men and women and neglected ethnic and racial minorities.

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When Life declined to publish some of her photographs, Bourke-White and Caldwell compiled and published them in Say, Is This the U.S.A.? (1941).

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In the summer of 1941, the couple were on assignment in Russia when Hitler betrayed the non-aggression pact he had signed in 1939 and invaded the Soviet Union. From their unique position, Caldwell and Bourke-White were able to send out the first radio broadcasts, newspaper articles, and photographic images to America describing the Russian front. When the Germans bombed Moscow, Margaret captured some of the only photographs of the air raid, including a famous shot of the Kremlin illuminated by exploding bombs. Caldwell and Bourke-White’s final collaboration as a couple, Russia at War would be published in 1942.

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Bourke-White not only made sympathetic prints of the Russian people and soldiers at war, but also documented such controversial and taboo topics as the Soviet state’s anti-religious museums.

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Margaret’s many overseas assignments strained their marriage, however, and in 1942 Caldwell filed for divorce. Liberated from her “personal problems,” Margaret was now free to travel at will. Her photographs documenting the contributions of the myriad of “Rosie the riveter” (women war workers on the home front) were published in Life magazine.

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Bourke-White also traveled with U.S. Armed Forces to the battle fronts as an official war photographer. Surviving the torpedoing of a ship bound for North Africa, it is rumored that her adventures might have loosely inspired a character in movie director Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944). Margaret was renown for always dressing smartly, and early in the film a female journalist took the time to salvage her mink coat and makeup while abandoning the ship. There the comparison ends, as Hitchcock’s journalist excitedly boasts to a fellow survivor of having captured on film the dramatic sinking of the ship and other victims of the U-Boat attack with a cold and callous indifference to the loss of human life that was very unlike the way Margaret approached her subjects.

After arriving in North Africa, Bourke-White became the first woman to accompany U.S. Army Air Forces on a combat mission. Her experiences as a war correspondent and photographer were also documented in two more books: They Called It “Purple Heart Valley” (1944) and Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly (1945).

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Bourke-White remained very active as a Life photographer in the postwar period. In the late 1940s, she interviewed and photographed Mahatma Gandhi on several occasions before his assassination. She also traveled to South Africa and documented the injustices of the apartheid government. But Bourke-White’s commitment to social equality and racial justice causes had also left her open to targeting by anti-Communist crusaders who deemed any criticism of the status quo as subversive. In 1944, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) cited Bourke-White 13 times on account of her alleged associations with Communist front organizations in the 1930s. At the height of McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare “witch hunt” hysteria in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted her as a person worth watching. Aside from a few fragmentary and hearsay accusations and guilt by association “evidence” compiled in her 209-page dossier, F.B.I. investigators ultimately exonerated her from charges of being a member of or active in the Communist Party. Around the same time that Bourke-White covered the conflict in Korea, she began to experience the first symptoms of Parkinson’s, a debilitating disease that hindered her work and ultimately ended her life eighteen years later. If slanderous attacks by McCarthyites and hysterical Communist witch hunters tarnished her reputation in the McCarthy era and the onset of her debilitating illness pushed her from the limelight in her later years, her photographic prints of the machine age, the social strife of the thirties, and military conflicts of the forties remain behind to ensure her lasting legacy.

CCC Reboot

•May 20, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

This morning as I followed my usual routine of listening to NPR while shaving and getting ready for work, I heard a story about President Biden’s plans to revivify President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s CCC program.

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The original CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) had been designed to deal with the growing delinquency problem as hundreds of thousands of youths dropped out of school and hit the highways and rode the rails in a desperate (and usually fruitless) search for work at the nadir of the Great Depression. A long-time advocate of the Boy Scouts, President Roosevelt believed that rounding up these street urchins and employing them in conservation work in the nation’s state and national parks and forests would not only provide them with pride in being able to support themselves and their struggling families (the majority of their pay went directly home) but would also address serious environmental threats including deforestation, soil erosion, flooding, forest fires, and insect infestations.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

Biden’s CCC (renamed the Civilian Climate Corps) also aims to enlist and employ thousands of young Americans to address the threats posed by climate change. Towards that end, Biden not only appointed someone who advocated revivifying the CCC as his Secretary of the Interior, but one of his first executive orders explicitly called for the creation of a modern and more inclusive CCC to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs.”

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The Wolfsonian Library possesses a fine collection of historical artifacts documenting the work of the original Civilian Conservation Corps created by FDR in 1933. Roosevelt’s CCC program, affectionately nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” immediately enrolled 250,000 young men. Over the course of its nine-year existence, the CCC put three million young men to work planting billions of trees and building roads, bridges, trails, and improving recreational facilities and campgrounds to make the country’s state and national parks and forests more accessible to nature-loving tourists.

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The CCC enrollees also shouldered the difficult and dangerous work of logging trees, clearing underbrush, and fighting forest fires; building dikes and dams and participating in flood control, rescue, and recovery efforts; and suppressing underground coal fires before the program ended in 1942 when all available manpower was diverted to the war effort.

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While Mrs. Roosevelt reminded her husband not to forget the ladies, comparatively few camps were established for a few thousand unemployed women. Derisively described as She-She-She Camps, the work and training in those wilderness camps centered on home economic skills like sewing and cooking.

The original CCC camps were organized and established under the discipline and leadership of U.S. Army officers. Though clothed in military-style uniforms, housed in barracks, fed in communal mess halls, and roused by Reveille, the enrollees did not participate in military drill or training.

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Most CCC enrollees were undernourished urban youths between the ages of 18 and 25, whose parents had lost their jobs during the economic crisis. Enrollees typically enlisted for a six-month stint (although they could, and many did, reenlist). Although camps were established in every state of the union, joining the CCC often afforded these disadvantaged youths the opportunity to travel and see other parts of the country and to immerse themselves in the wilderness experience as there was often much work to be done in the Western parks and forests.

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To commemorate their conservation work, many of the camps published annuals and other materials akin to high school yearbooks, leaving space for diaries, journal entries, and autographs.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture

While it was assumed that laboring in conservation and natural resource development projects in the “great outdoors” would help restore the bodies and spirits of the enrollees, they were encouraged in their off hours to pursue educational and vocational opportunities that might make them more employable and better citizens after they left the camps. Because literacy was a serious issue for many high school dropouts, teachers were hired and sent to the camps and the CCC’ers were encouraged to publish camp newsletters churned out on simple mimeograph machines.

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Not only did the original Civilian Conservation Corpsmen help support themselves and their families during the Great Depression, but many gained important skills that would help them find careers and an appreciation for nature that undoubtedly spawned the post-war environmental movement in the United States. Let’s hope that the latest incarnation of the CCC has an equally profound impact on shaping our environmental response and resilience to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

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Unhappy Anniversary: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Demise of the Zeppelin

•May 6, 2021 • Leave a Comment

When most of us travel long distances, we almost invariably take flight as passengers in winged airplanes. But despite the ancient legend of Icarus and Leonardo da Vinci’s inventive dreams of winged flying machines, the earliest aircraft that enabled human beings to ascend into the skies were balloons and their successors, Zeppelins. Before the fiery crash of the L.Z. Hindenburg was captured by a radio announcer and film crews at Lakehurst, New Jersey, lighter-than-air zeppelins (rather than airplanes with their limited flight range) were expected to be the primary mode of speedy, comfortable, safe, and luxurious long-distance air travel in the future.

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A hot-air balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers and manned by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes went aloft from Paris on November 21, 1783 in the first untethered free flight. While balloons pioneered the conquest of the air and were used for military reconnaissance in military battle as early as 1794, aside from the popularity of tethered balloons at expositions and world’s fairs, their commercial use was limited by the small gondolas and the fact that they were subject to the whims of the winds.

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Born in Konstanz, Baden in Germany in 1838, Ferdinand, Graf von Zeppelin became fascinated by aerial flight. Having received a military commission in 1858, the count took a leave of absence in 1863 to travel to America and act as a military observer for the Union Army during the Civil War. He visited the balloon observation camp during the Peninsular Campaign and afterwards traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota. There he met with the German-born balloonist John Steiner, made his first balloon tethered ascensions, and became a life-long advocate of lighter-than-air travel. Even as he rose in the ranks of the German military command, Zeppelin remained obsessed with the possibilities of flight, expressing in his diary his ideas for large-scale airships as early as March 25, 1874. After Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs successfully created and tested their own non-rigid airship, La France, for the French Army a decade later, Zeppelin sent a letter to the King of Württemberg insisting on the military necessity of dirigibles and warning of the dangers of falling behind.

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Resigning from the army in 1891, the 52-year-old count decided to devote the rest of his life and much of his family fortune to developing airships along the lines of his original idea. He conceived of an exterior rigid duralumin envelope covered in fabric; a modular internal frame containing several cells filled with hydrogen gas; and external engines, a command control, and a gondola protruding from the underbelly.

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Because of the spatial and airlift requirements for his airship, Count Zeppelin built a huge floating hanger built on Lake Constance, tethering it by a single anchor to ensure the entrance was always lined up with the wind.

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Zeppelin’s first airship, the LZ 1, ascended into the air and hovered over Lake Constance for 20 minutes on July 2, 1900—nearly 3 1/2 years before the Wright brothers made their ground-breaking flights in a powered winged airplane. Larger and more refined models of the first zeppelin soon followed. In October and November 1908, successful test flights of the LZ 3 included the Kaiser’s brother and crown prince as passengers. The German government awarded Zeppelin the Order of the Black Eagle and placed orders for a refined L II design for military service. The zeppelin, however, was not without competitors, as August von Parseval had designed a non-rigid alternative aircraft, and produced 22 of these hydrogen gas-filled aircraft between 1909 and 1919.  

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Although Zeppelin’s military contract kept his airship company afloat, before the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the business manager of the Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin firm capitalized on the popularity of the airships by establishing a civil and commercial passenger service. As many as 37,250 passengers embarked on more than 1,600 flights aboard airships before 1914, without a single incident or accident, dominating the skies and delivering the promise of fast and comfortable travel through the air.

At the start of the First World War, the German Army deployed its zeppelins on reconnaissance missions. But as the Western Front’s trench warfare created a stalemate, the German military command used the aerial juggernauts to strike fear in their enemy, accomplishing what the limited range biplanes could not. Able to travel at speeds of 85 miles per hour, easily cross the Channel, and carry and drop tons of bombs on English towns and cities, the zeppelins brought the war to their English enemy’s homeland. Beginning in January 1915, zeppelin raids over southeast England encountered virtually no resistance. By the war’s end, the airships had bombed and burned numerous buildings and structures, killed a total of 500 civilians, and injured over a thousand more before the British met the Zeppelin threat by exploiting the airships’ vulnerability, firing explosive bullets into the behemoths filled with flammable hydrogen gas. The Germans discontinued the zeppelin raids in 1917—the same year that Graf von Zeppelin died, after 77 of the 115 military airships had been downed, destroyed, or disabled. The Royal Air Force was formed the following year to engage in dogfights and duels to the death with the German heavy bomber airplanes that were supplanting the airships. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles forced a provisional cessation of the zeppelin program.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At the war’s end, Dr. Hugo Eckener assumed control of the zeppelin’s airship company.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Although limited by the Versailles Treaty from building large airships, Eckener persuaded the American government to permit him to build the LZ 126 for delivery to the U.S. Navy as part of German reparations. Eckener captained and delivered the airship (rechristened the USS Los Angeles) to Lakehurst, New Jersey. It remained the Navy’s longest operating rigid airship and was memorialized in such decorative arts objects as a hanging lamp.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As postwar Germany’s Weimar government lacked the funds to revive the zeppelin, Eckener promoted the construction of the LZ 127 with a national lecture tour. Eckener’s dream of creating a luxury airliner came to fruition and the great airship was christened, appropriately enough, the Graf Zeppelin.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Eckener captained the airship on its first flight to the United States, during almost all its record-setting flights, its 1928 intercontinental passenger flight, an around the world flight in 1929, and a flight to the Arctic in 1931. Eckener’s insistence on “safety-first” resulted in a record in which not a single passenger sustained a serious injury over the course of more than a million miles flown.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The zeppelin became a source of German pride and the giant airship was reproduced on everything from cigar box labels, porcelain dinnerware, to children’s books, and as toys.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Eckener became a national hero and seriously considered running for president in 1932. Because he was an outspoken critic of the National Socialists, after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933 the Nazis nationalized the zeppelin industry and diminished Eckener’s influence by appointing party loyalists as managing directors and air pilots. In 1936, the Nazis completed construction and testing of the LZ-129 Hindenburg, the largest hydrogen-filled airship ever entered into service.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

After 62 trial and publicity flights, the 13-story tall, ocean liner-sized zeppelin made 20 successful crossings of the Atlantic in a single year.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Designed for commercial service, the Hindenburg offered its passengers all the comforts one might expect aboard a luxury liner. In addition to private staterooms, the zeppelin included a dining area, reading room, and a bar and lounge equipped with lightweight but comfortable tubular aluminum furniture and furnishings.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While the costs of travel by airship excluded all but the very wealthy, this was also true of air travel generally at the time. The zeppelin afforded its passengers the ability to walk freely about the gondola and enjoy spectacular views; by contrast, even the most luxurious airplanes of the period confined passengers to cramped seating arrangements and a bumpy ride as small craft were buffeted by the winds.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Although airship pilots doubled as expert meteorologists to ensure fast, safe, and comfortable passage, the fact that the zeppelins were filled with highly flammable hydrogen gas made them extremely vulnerable to sparks or lightning storms. On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg was still 60 meters above the ground and attempting to land at its mooring mast at Lakehurst when a presumed leak in one of the airship’s gas bags ignited. Within 34 seconds each of the hydrogen-filled gas bags inside burst into flames, consuming the giant canvas-covered structure in a fiery crash.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Of the 97 persons aboard, 29 died at the crash site and another 6 succumbed to their injuries at the hospital. A young and emotional radio announcer, Herbert Morrison, had been on hand along with a film crew there to capture the landing.

The fiery Hindenburg tragedy was neither the first nor deadliest of airship disasters, with 62 survivors, but the verbal and visual record of the event ensured worldwide exposure and negative publicity that doomed travel by zeppelin.

In the wake of the Hindenburg disaster, Eckener oversaw the building and commission of the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II in 1938/39.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While he hoped to substitute noncombustible helium gas for hydrogen, the United States remained the sole source of substantial helium reserves and refused to allow shipment to the Nazi regime. Consequently, Eckener refused to put the Graf Zeppelin II into service as a commercial passenger ship. After the start of the Second World War, Air Marshall Hermann Goering decided to scrap the ship and its hangars to provide material for building military planes.

Only in the last few years has the idea of reviving airships been floated as a more ecologically sustainable means of transporting goods and people to otherwise inaccessible places on the planet.

Michel (“Mike”) Bouvier Mathews (September 15, 1955–March 26, 2021)

•March 31, 2021 • 1 Comment

A little more than a month ago, I tagged along with museum founder Mitchell (“Micky”) Wolfson, Jr. and research curator Lea Nickless on a visit to Michel (“Mike”) Bouvier Mathews. Lea had been interested in arranging a meeting with Mike as the son of James F. Mathews, III, the man who in 1985 had sold Micky the Washington Storage Company building, since renovated and transformed into a state-of-the-art museum facility.

Lea had been mining through the Washington Storage Company Archive housed in our rare book and special collections library and hoped that Mike might be willing to share his recollections of the company and his family history. For an entire afternoon, Mike generously and enthusiastically recounted his memories of his father “Jim” Mathews and the company, but also offered us numerous old photographs, ledgers, letterhead, and other ephemeral items in his possession to be added to the archive.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mike Mathews Washington Storage Archive

Lea was especially excited by a small pastel illustration that Mike believed had been exhibited in the Washington Storage galleries she had been researching.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mike Mathews Washington Storage Archive

Among the items Mike donated to The Wolfsonian was a photograph album/scrapbook from July 31, 1989 of the party for Mr. Mathews and the Washington Storage Company employees. I must confess that I have been with the Wolfsonian long enough to have been able to easily identify many of the employees—including Mary Hawk, Dennis Curley, Velta GrosJean, Betty Gutierrez, Coman Leonard, Danny King, Sarah King, Steve Forero-Paz, and others.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mike Mathews Washington Storage Archive

Many stayed on during the transformation of the company into the Wolfsonian Foundation tasked with turning Micky’s private collection and the storage building into a public institution.

Mike shared with us lots of tales from the Washington Storage era in the days before Micky’s own rapidly growing private collection had crowded out most other customers. At one point in our conversations, Micky recalled the day in which Mr. Mathews (Mike’s father) had called him in and told him to either “buy it (the building and the company) or get out!” Both Mike and Micky laughed heartily over the business ultimatum that resulted in the historic building’s new beginnings.

Soon after the visit, Lea received an enthusiastic email from Mike Mathews. “Very happy and grateful concerning the visit and interest in the family’s history. The simple fact of Micky’s personal interest, enthusiasm and participation cannot be understated as an extreme motivator for me.” He went on to express his interest in being involved with our efforts at The Wolfsonian. 

On March 18, Lea and Micky co-hosted a virtual presentation for a special museum Members Only event on March 18: “Micky’s Musings: Storage Company to Treasure Trove.” We were delighted to learn that other members of the Mathews clan had also viewed and listened in on the Webcast and virtual tour.

We subsequently learned from the Mathews family that one month to the day of our visit with Mike, he had passed away. It was a shock to all of us here at The Wolfsonian–FIU. We had been looking forward to further conversations with him, tapping his memory to identify persons in the photographs, and sharing his unique perspective on the Washington Storage days.

Our condolences go out to his entire family. Mike will be missed.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mike Mathews Washington Storage Archive

A Brief Sketch of Portrait Artist, Neysa McMein

•March 24, 2021 • Leave a Comment

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, I thought that it appropriate to celebrate the life and artwork of the American illustrator and portrait painter, Neysa Moran McMein (1888–1949). This tribute seems especially timely as just this month our library received a few of her Saturday Evening Post and McClure’s magazine cover designs as a donation from long-time supporter, Vicki Gold Levi.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Neysa McMein was born Marjorie Frances McMein in Quincy, Illinois to a family whose business interests were wrapped up in the McMein Publishing Company. Endowed with gifts in music, acting, and art, she attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, before moving to New York City and studying at the Art Students League of New York shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. An ardent suffragist dedicated to full social, economic, and sexual emancipation, she starred in several theatrical productions before deciding to pursue a career in graphic and commercial art. On the advice of a numerologist, she dropped her birth name and adopted Neysa as her new professional name.

In 1914, Neysa sold her first drawing to the Boston Star, and the following year her illustrations graced the coveted covers of the popular magazines, The Saturday Evening Post and Puck, with depictions of “All American Girls.” By 1917, her portraits were appearing with some regularity on the covers of McClure’s magazines.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

When the United States entered the war in 1917, Neysa traveled to France to entertain the American Expeditionary Forces along with Anita Wilcox and Jane Bulley. She also designed posters in support of war work for the French and American governments and the American Red Cross. In recognition of her contributions, she was made an honorary non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Henry S. Hacker

In the postwar period, Neysa McMein and Jessie Willcox Smith became the nation’s two foremost women magazine illustrators; and while Smith more often depicted children in her artwork, Neysa’s illustrations typically depicted the “modern woman” with portraits exuding grace and confidence. Neysa’s portraits regularly decorated the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s, McCall’s, Collier’s, Woman’s Home Companion, Ladies World, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, Photoplay, and Liberty magazines.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Between 1923 and 1937, McMein designed all the covers of McCall’s and was estimated to be earning as much as $2,500 ($32,777 in today’s currency) for each cover illustration. Neysa’s artwork could also be found between the covers, as she was producing advertising artwork for companies like Colgate, Palmolive soap, Lucky Strike cigarettes, Coke, and Cadillac. In December 1929, Neysa did consultant work with Helen Dryden and other women artists and decorators contributing to Studebaker’s design department.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Neysa was also responsible for creating “Betty Crocker,” the 32-year-old fictional housewife for her client, General Mills. Her never-aging Betty Crocker portraits continued to be used by the company into the mid-1950s. By 1938, McMein lost her contract for illustrating McCall’s covers as new technology enabled publishers to substitute color illustrations with color photographs. McMein continued to use pastels and paint portraits of politicians and celebrities until her death in New York City on May 12, 1949.

The Streets and Faces of Chas Laborde (1886–1941)

•February 28, 2021 • Leave a Comment

A few evening’s past, I received a frantic nocturnal call from museum founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. concerning a unique item by Chas Laborde being sold by the proprietors of Librairie Walden, Hervé and Eva Valentin, via a virtual book fair. The item in question is the artist’s earliest known travel notebook, entirely handwritten, and including sixty pencil sketches and a dozen pen drawings made during his first visit to England in 1905. As The Wolfsonian Library has a significant body of books, portfolios and ephemera illustrated by this important French artist, Mr. Wolfson was eager that we acquire the sketchbook and add it to our holdings.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds provided by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At his boarding school at Pau, young Charles Laborde spent much of his extracurricular time drawing his schoolmates and making landscape painting excursions. In 1903, Laborde took up residence in Paris and pursued his love of art, enrolling in some courses at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian. Over the summer break of 1905, Laborde made his first trip to London with another artist friend, where he made many studies, sketches, and drawings of the persons, structures, and landscapes he encountered. The sketchbook contains portraits and illustrations of dwellings and pastoral scenes made during his visit to the capital city, the fishing village of Selsey, Bosham, and Sussex, and then to the Basque region on his return to France.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds provided by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Laborde was so impressed by his visit to England that he adopted the English abbreviated nickname, “Chas,” and made annual pilgrimages there until the outbreak of the First World War.

Before the war intervened, Laborde had begun associating with other artists, including the novelists Francis Carco (1886–1958) and Pierre Mac Orlan (1882–1970), and fellow illustrators Pierre Falké (1884–1947), and Gus Bofa (1883–1968). Laborde also began submitting illustrations to such important French social satire publications as Le Rire [The Laugh] and L’Assiette au Beurre [The Butter Plate]. His work was also frequently exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Humoristes as well as the Societe des Dessinateurs Humoristes. When the war began in 1914, Laborde volunteered and served as a machine-gunner, while continuing to make pen and ink drawings of life from the front lines and submitting satirical illustrations to Le Rire Rouge [The Red Laugh] and La Baïonnette [The Bayonet].

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Sickened in a poison gas attack in 1917, he was medically discharged from the army. Chas’ nephew, Guy Laborde, posthumously published École de Patience [School of patience], using his uncle’s pen and ink wartime sketchbook as illustrations of life during wartime, at and behind the front lines.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Returning to civilian life, Chas Laborde resumed his work as an illustrator, producing satirical views of café life, the promenade of the famous Folies Bergeres review, and the streets and faces of Paris at the war’s close.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In the post-war period, Laborde studied and mastered the art of engraving and etching and earned a decent living in the 1920s as an illustrator of deluxe edition books published by his friends Carco and Mac Orlan, as well as by Colette, Paul Morand, Valery Larbaud, and Jean Giraudoux. Often these limited editions included an extra suite of progressive proofs of the illustrations suitable for mounting or framing.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Much of Laborde’s witty artwork in this period satirized bourgeois life, values, sexual mores, and class relations, and exposed the denizens who lived on the fringes of respectable society.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But Laborde’s illustrations also captured the hectic tempo of modern city life with its bustling subways and airports, crowded streets and commercial boulevards, opera and theatre, restaurants and café culture, and the proliferation of leisure, entertainment, and nightlife venues.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Chas Laborde continued to frequent outdoor cafés with his coterie of Parisian artist friends, hiding his notebook on his knee under the table to furtively capture a scene or an oblivious subject’s face and gestures. Returning to his studio after an evening spent in this manner, he would transfer his fresh impressions and sketches to a larger piece of paper or canvas.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Laborde’s portfolio of twenty etchings, titled Rues et Visages de Paris was published in 1926 to such considerable acclaim, that he decided to follow up that venture by similarly highlighting the streets and faces of other famous metropolises. After two trips to London in the spring and summer of 1927, Laborde published an album depicting the public parks and cityscapes of the British capital the following year.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A portfolio of etchings focusing on the restaurants, cafés, and crowds strolling the boulevards of Berlin followed in 1930.

Invited by Condé Nast publishers to visit New York City, he published 15 plates in Vanity Fair before returning home laden with a dozen sketch books which supplied the inspiration for his final streets and faces series. In it he captured the class divisions and ethnic diversity of the city and documented the nightlife of the theatre district’s “Great White Way” on Broadway.

Although Laborde produced some of his best work in the 1930s, the onset of the Great Depression at the start of the decade dried up the market for the limited edition illustrated books that had been his bread and butter in the “roaring twenties.” Although he could still count on the income of his weekly drawing for the satirical Paris-Midi, he struggled to support himself. In the middle of the decade, Laborde traveled to Moscow to do some drawings for a modest periodical, La Chronique filme du mois, and then visited Madrid to record his impressions of very different street scenes playing out at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

When the Germans invaded France at the start of the Second World War, Laborde joined the editor of the Paris-Midi at the Maginot Line, publishing drawings of the short-lived French resistance in the spring of 1940. Plagued by poor finances, material want, and failing health under the German occupation, Chas Laborde died on December 30, 1941, though his keen wit and quick eye and hand remain with us in the wonderful sketches, etchings, and illustrations that endure.

Lynd Ward’s Graphic Novels of the Depression Decade

•January 23, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this week I was invited by Professor Gretchen Scharnagl to share some material from The Wolfsonian Library relating to sequential art storytelling and the origins of the graphic novel in the United States. My presentation focused on the work of the American artist, Lynd Ward (1905–1985), his mentors and influences in Europe in the interwar era, and the “wordless novels” he published during the Depression decade. Today’s post will share some of Ward’s woodcut and wood-engravings with my readers.

Lynd Ward self portrait (1930)

Lynd Ward was born in Chicago in 1905, the same year that two hundred socialist, anarchist, and labor organizers converged on the city at a convention that led to the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). His father, Harry F. Ward, was a Methodist minister of the Social Gospel tradition, and at the time of Lynd’s birth was serving as a social worker at a settlement house in a working-class barrio. Reverend Ward ministered to the immigrant laborers living in squalid tenements and working for poor wages in the filthy and dangerous stockyards and meat-packing industries and was likely radicalized by that experience. Young Lynd Ward imbibed and adopted his father’s socialist political views and penchant for social justice activism. As an adult he would integrate social criticism into the graphic novels he published throughout the 1930s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

From an early age, Lynd Ward gravitated to the arts and book illustration, learning linoleum-block printing in high school. After graduating from the Columbia Teacher’s College in New York with a degree in fine arts in 1926, Ward married and spent his honeymoon in Europe. The young couple set up house in Leipzig, Germany where Lynd spent a year studying printmaking and book design at the prestigious Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst. Ward learned the intricacies of woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography from the German masters: Hans Alexander Mueller, Alois Kolb, and Georg A. Mathéy.

From Woodcuts of New York / by Hans Alexander Mueller (1938)
[Beethoven’s Head and Pair of Lovers] print by Alois Kolb

From Georg A. Mathéy, Junge Kunst, (1929)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Though he learned the techniques of book illustration inside the classroom, Ward’s artistic sensibilities and interest in the “wordless novel” were inspired by his extra-curricular activities. Ward appears to have been greatly influenced by German expressionism and the moving images he saw in such popular silent films as Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

While browsing the book stalls, he also encountered a series of graphic novels by a Belgian engraver. Frans Masereel was a socialist who had opposed the war and fled to neutral Switzerland rather than participate in the mass slaughter. The dark graphic novels Masereel published during and after the First World War reflected the general disillusionment and cynicism of the era; they also encouraged Ward to produce his own wordless novels upon his return to the United States in September 1927.

From My Book of Hours / Frans Masereel

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with Founder’s Fund

After providing illustrations for several other authors, Ward published his first wordless novel, God’s Man the same week that the Stock Market crashed in October 1929. Considered to be the first American graphic novel, the book includes nearly 150 woodcut images to tell the story of a young man who unwittingly strikes a Faustian bargain with Death to achieve success as an artist.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The protagonist of God’s Man learns that money, urban life, and bourgeois values are anathema to art, truth, and beauty. Fleeing to the countryside, he finds true love and artistic freedom before his deathly patron collects on his debt.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The black and white images and dark theme of the corrupting influence of money struck a chord with many ordinary Americans still reeling from the repercussions of the economic crisis. Over the next four years, God’s Man sold more than 20,000 copies.

During the decade-long Depression, Ward published five more graphic novels. All of these wordless novels provided biting pictorial commentary about such burning social issues as capitalist greed, starvation wages, chronic unemployment, homelessness, lynching and racial injustice, the repression of labor, and the violent suppression of protesters by police and national guardsmen.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Lynd Ward’s next novel, Madman’s Drum (1930) told the story of a man who amassed a fortune by participating in the trafficking of African slaves. Returning with a stolen drum, the slave-trader finds his personal relationships poisoned and his heirs cursed by his valuing of profit over human life. In focusing on slavery and the enduring legacy of racism, Ward was also providing an implicit critique of segregation and prejudice in “Jim Crow” America.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Ward’s next wordless novel, Wild Pilgrimage (1932) was set in depression-era America and included illustrations that used many of his typical tropes, (human-beings dwarfed by skyscrapers and industrial smokestacks), and touched on a wide variety of social problems.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The ironic title and images referenced the wanderings of millions made homeless by the economic crisis. More than half a million youth dropped out of school, hitchhiking across the highways or hopping freight cars and riding the rails in a desperate search for work. Word’s protagonist, a rootless wanderer searching for love and meaning in his life, instead encounters only violence, indifference, and injustice on his own “pilgrimage.” In this gritty graphic novel, Ward alternated between orange and black inks to contrast the heroic dreams and fantasies of the protagonist with the bleak and harsh reality he experiences.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In one instance, the would-be hero of the story witnesses, but only dares to dream of stopping the lynching of a Black man in the woods.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At the climax of the novel, the young man enters a company town populated by unemployed or striking workers who resemble the walking dead.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Finally impelled to action by an attack of baton-wielding police on a group of picketers, the wanderer imagines himself David slaying Goliath, but is killed in the melee.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Published at the nadir of the Great Depression, Ward’s Prelude to a Million Years (1933) is a dystopian tale of the fate of art and civilization.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The protagonist of this illustrated tale is an artist obsessed with beauty, who, against his will and inclination, is forced to recognize the ugliness and brutality of modern urban life. The disillusioned sculptor is robbed at gunpoint, witnesses the violent repression of striking workers by the police, is forced to kiss the flag by chauvinistic American legionnaires, and sees his idealized vision of female beauty reduced to drunken prostitution in this profoundly pessimistic tale.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Composed of twenty-one wood engravings, Song Without Words (1936) was the fifth and briefest of the six wordless novels Ward published during his lifetime. The novel centers on the anxieties of an expectant mother terrified by the prospect of bringing a child into the nightmarish world dominated by starvation, rising fascism, and the looming threat of war.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The most intimate and personal of his graphic novels, Ward’s engravings were made while his wife, May, was pregnant with their second child, Robin.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Vertigo (1937) was Ward’s longest and most ambitious wordless novel, deploying 230 wood-engravings to relate the intertwined stories of three central characters: a young woman, a young man, and a dying captain of industry.

The story follows the fate of a young couple whose musical talents, career ambitions, and matrimonial aspirations are thwarted by the Crash and subsequent Depression. Even as the novel focuses on the personal plight of the protagonists, it includes images of: demoralized people standing in relief lines; vigilante thugs beating union organizers; and National Guardsmen in gas masks bayoneting striking workers.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Lamenting the squandering of youthful talent and potential, Vertigo symbolically ends with the dying capitalist being kept alive by a vampire-like infusion of the young man’s blood, followed by the terrified couple clinging tightly to one another while riding the rollercoaster that was the Great Depression.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Despite his contributions to the development of the graphic novel in the United States during the Great Depression, Lynd Ward has not become a household name. But given the social unrest and police and vigilante violence against contemporary Black Lives Matter protesters and demonstrations, Ward’s social conscience-driven graphic illustrations may yet again be rediscovered for their enduring emotive power and relevance.

Conrado Massaguer Exhibition on Google Arts and Culture

•December 22, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Just in time for the holidays, The Wolfsonian–Florida International University has added another virtual exhibition to the Google Arts and Culture website, this one celebrating the artwork and caricatures of Conrado Walter Massaguer, Cuba’s most celebrated publisher and art director in the era of the Republic.

Conrado with his eight-year-old daughter, Conchita, Havana, 1935

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gifts

The original exhibition titled, Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer, had been organized to celebrate the gift of a large number of works by Massaguer by long-time library supporter, Vicki Gold Levi. The installation was on view in our fifth floor galleries from June 7, 2019 through March 10, 2020, and included far more materials than the new virtual exhibition could accommodate. Consequently, I thought that I would use this post to present some photographs, illustrations, and caricatures that were culled due to limitations of space.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gifts

Conrado Walter Massaguer was born in Cárdenas, Cuba in 1889, although his family fled to Mexico during the tumultuous period of the War of Independence and remained there during the subsequent U.S. military occupation until the creation of the Cuban Republic in 1902. Believing that Conrado would benefit from an American education, his parents sent him to upstate New York where he attended the Military Academy of New York, from where he wrote home letters illustrated with original doodles.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gift

Conrado returned a few years later, moving freely between Cuba and Merida, where he became enchanted with the publishing industry that would become his life-long obsession and all-consuming career as an internationally recognized caricaturist, illustrator, art director, editor, and publisher. Together with his brother, Oscar, Conrado co-founded the short-lived Grafico (1913–1918) and two of Cuba’s most influential magazines. Social, published from 1916 to 1933 and from 1935 to 1937, was his vehicle for introducing modern and avant-garde art to and shaping the cultural tastes of the island nation’s elites; the longer-lived Carteles published from 1919 through 1960 was directed towards a more popular audience.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

On and between the illustrated covers of his flagship publication, Social, Massaguer promoted a modernist aesthetic with his own artwork and with that of the other artists he mentored and promoted as art director and publisher. During his early stays in the United States, he had come to appreciate the work of Charles Dana Gibson, who won notoriety and name recognition with his illustrations of late Victorian socialites and debutantes.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Conrado sought to emulate his success by introducing the new modern woman. The bobbed-haired, liberated flappers of the 1920s featured prominently on the covers of Carteles and Social, but also in a section of the later magazine, wryly titled, “Massa-Girls.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gift

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Massaguer also assumed a leading role in the Cuban Tourist Commission’s promotion of the island as the premier tourist destination for American vacationers from the 1920s through the late 1950s.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi

As Cuba’s semi-official cultural ambassador, he was regularly on hand to greet and mingle with a host of visiting Hollywood movie stars and celebrities.

Actors Erol Flynn and Lili Damita (seated) with Massaguer (standing, to the right)

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gift

Massaguer become especially renowned for his caricatures of movie stars, international celebrities, and world leaders. Unsurprisingly, he adopted a modernist approach to caricature, believing that a simple, fine line and a spontaneous, secretive hand better captured the essence of a subject than a studied and highly edited portrait made of a posed or posturing subject. Many of his more fleshed out caricatures were printed in the “cine” and “ellos” sections of Social, but tens of thousands were also published in syndicated newspapers and magazines distributed across the globe.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Conrado’s caricatures of local politicians, however, ruffled the feathers of many thin-skinned Cuban politicos. Like so many of his contemporary political caricaturists and cartoonists on the island, he endured arrest, harassment, and exile after he incurred the wrath of President Machado with cartoons like this one.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gift

During his exile in the early 1930s, the Cuban publishing magnate struggled to maintain his social standing as the Great Depression and political repression at home caused the suspension of his beloved Social. Not one to be easily discouraged, Massaguer contributed artwork to American magazines and advertising campaigns, including this cover illustration for Collier’s and this ad celebrating the end of U.S. Prohibition.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gifts

It was during this exile period that Massaguer had his first and only exhibition of work in the United States in his lifetime, held at the Delphic Studios in New York City.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

When Massaguer returned to his homeland in the late 1930s, he continued to promote the tourist industry, even providing the cover art for the brochure distributed at the Cuban pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Once the outbreak of the Second World War cut off the flow of all but American military personnel to the island, Massaguer did his part for the war effort by producing biting anti-Axis caricatures of the enemy and lighthearted images of the Allies.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gifts

Soon after the end of the global conflict, Cuba reprized its role as a vacation destination, with Massaguer once again contributing his artwork for the cause.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Vicki Gold Levi

When the Castro-led guerrillas seized control of Cuba in 1959, Massaguer tried to curry favor with the new regime by publishing a lighthearted book of caricatures of the triumphant bearded revolutionaries. Advertisements promoting Coca Cola and other American products, however, guaranteed the publication a short shelf life as relations between the Castro regime and the United States strained to the breaking point.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi promised gift

By 1960, the last of Massaguer’s popular magazines, Carteles, had ceased distribution, and the publisher finished out his days quietly working in the Archivo Nacional de Cuba.

Giving Thanks and Debunking Myths

•November 24, 2020 • 3 Comments

As we prepare as a nation to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting on how much this holiday draws upon the historical myths associated with the meal shared between fifty-three Pilgrim colonists and ninety Wampanoag Indian allies. According to two relations and memorials penned by Pilgrim leaders who traveled to “the new world” aboard the Mayflower, the original feasting and festivities associated with their harvest celebration in 1621 lasted three days.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca

The menu included turkey and wildfowl; cod, bass, and other fish; maize and possibly barley; walnuts, chestnuts, plums, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and other nuts and berries. Wampanoag hunters provided several deer for the feast and participants likely also dined on eels and lobsters, mussels and oysters, and other local delicacies. Illustrated children’s books in The Wolfsonian Library published in the 1930s perpetuated the idealized myth of the Pilgrims and Indians harmoniously breaking bread.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca

One illustrated children’s book even correctly credits the Indian, Squanto, (patronizingly referred to as a “friendly redskin” in the accompanying text), with helping the newcomers stave off starvation by showing them how to plant maize and find sustenance in a foreign environment. The text ignores the fact that Squanto also served as their interpreter, having learned English after having been kidnapped by an English sea captain some years earlier.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca

Although often rosily depicted as an example of native and newcomer reciprocity, the decision of the governor of the Plymouth Bay Colony and the Massasoit of the Wampanoag to establish a treaty of peace and mutual protection had been borne of necessity more than altruism on the part of either people. The original band of Pilgrims had barely survived starvation during their first winter, while the Wampanoag had recently been devastated by an outbreak of the plague and feared subjugation by their Narragansett neighbors to the south.

Alas, this first interracial harvest celebration was not a ritual repeated with any regularity in the colonial era, especially as relations between the natives and newcomers worsened as more English settlers began to crowd, covet, and encroach upon their Indian neighbors’ lands. While the Pequots of the Connecticut River valley were the first to be humbled militarily, the Massasoit’s sons and heirs did not fare much better. After the conflict known as Metacom’s or King Philip’s War in 1676, the Wampanoag and allied tribes were killed, enslaved, or forced to abandon their homelands.

The remainder of this post will focus on the representation of Native Americans at various world’s fairs and international exhibitions held in the United States from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. These expositions, much like the Thanksgiving holiday, reinforced myths about Indians, promoted stereotypes, and perpetuated a false dichotomy between supposed “savage” and “civilized” peoples. Although Native peoples occasionally protested and/or participated in these expositions, their voices were too often ignored and their presence relegated to the Midways or entertainment sections of the fairs.

The Centennial International Exposition celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Opening on May 10th, 1876, the fair was attended by 10 million spectators and witnessed the participation of 37 nations before closing six months later. Native Americans appeared in the imagery used to promote the fair as kneeling Indian and Africans demonstrate their subservient position vis-à-vis Miss Columbia, a white female figure representing the nation.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Ideal Gladstone, in memory of her husband, John.

Ironically, in the midst of the fair celebrations, word came in late June of the humiliating defeat of General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry regiment by a combined band of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians unhappy at their forced confinement on reservations. The “rebellious” northern Plains Indians were subsequently subjugated or driven from their lands into Canadian exile.

Celebrating the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America, the city of Chicago organized the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. British artist and bookmaker, Walter Crane (18451915) designed and published Columbia’s Courtship, a history in verse and pictures of the United States in time for the fair. Crane represented the young republic in a series of twelve plates in which “Miss America” was symbolically transformed from “la belle sauvage”—a “wild,” “brown and fearless Indian maid”—into a fair-skinned, civilized Miss Columbia.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Some of the admittance tickets printed for the fair used the likeness of Plains Indians, only recently subjugated and herded onto reservations.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, anonymous gift

Sculpture displayed on the actual fair grounds also included romanticized images of Native peoples, including a set of monumental equestrian plasters by Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860/21950), in which “The Indian” faced off against “The Cowboy” outside the Transportation Building.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Such stereotypes of Native Americans did not go unchallenged. Simon Pokagon, a chief of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of the Great Lakes region, chastised the fair organizers for ignoring his people’s contributions “as if nothing that we had done—or given or given up—had contributed to America.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Pokagon even published a scathing pamphlet titled Red Man’s Rebuke, which reminded fair-goers that his own people had “no spirit to celebrate…our own funeral, the discovery of America” with the “pale-faced race that has usurped our lands and homes.” Pokagon’s fiery rebuke was afterwards reprinted on the bark of a white birch tree and distributed as Red Man’s Greeting. It included the author’s poetic lament to his people and their traditions, which, he noted, were “vanishing from our forests” like this tree.

To deflect possible negative publicity, Chief Pokagon was invited to speak at the fair on October 9, 1893. Although dressed in a modern suit, he wore a feather headdress in tribute to his native heritage as he addressed a crowd of 75,000. After handing the mayor of Chicago a copy of the deed to the city wrapped in birch bark, Pokagon spoke of the devastating effect of alcohol on his brethren and encouraged them to pursue U.S. citizenship even at the expense of clinging to tribal identities. After serving as the umpire for a game of lacrosse played by Iroquois and Potawatomi athletes, he was carried off on a History of Chicago float alongside a replica of a statue of another Potawatomi chief, Black Partridge. This chief had shielded settlers from harm after the fall of Fort Dearborn in the War of 1812. The original outdoor sculpture by Carl Rohl-Smith (18481900) had been cast in bronze in 1893 and portrayed the rescue of the wife of an army officer by Black Partridge.

Alas for us our day is o’erdearbornstat1

Ironically, when Chief Black Partridge returned to his own village, he found it had been burned and his own daughter and grandchild massacred by a company of Illinois Rangers.

An “ethnological congress” of aboriginal peoples was organized for the Midway Plaisance (or entertainment venue) of the World’s Columbian Exposition.  

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

So many Indian tribes were ultimately brought to the fair that some of their recreated villages spilled over into other sections of the fair grounds.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Just outside of the fair grounds, four million spectators also flocked to Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show to see “authentic” entertainment featuring “real” (unassimilated) Indians.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska, continued the tradition of displaying Native American peoples much in the way that European fair organizers included human “specimens” from their overseas empires and colonies. Alongside images of the buildings, pavilions, and Midway entertainment, a souvenir viewbook included photographs of Santa Clara, Apache, Ute, and Sioux tribesmen brought to the fair as “exotics” to be gawked at and photographed by curious spectators.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

Mounted Plains Indians also made an appearance at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 both as statuary making a mute protest, and as live action entertainers, whooping war cries to delight the crowds.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

The Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was organized to memorialize the three-hundredth anniversary of the first permanent English settlement established in North America. Far from authentic, much of the memorabilia produced for the fair made use of images of Indians wearing the feather headdresses worn by the native peoples of the Great Plains.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other souvenirs and keepsakes eulogized and perpetuated the myth of Pocahontas’ rescue of John Smith, with her idealized image appearing in statues on the fair grounds and even on the seal designed to promote the fair.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gifts of Francis Xavier Luca

While the daughter of the leader of the Powhatan Confederacy did, in fact, entreat her father to spare the English captive’s life, it is doubtful Smith was ever in any real danger. What Smith, most early historians, and Disney animators perpetuating the myth all failed to recognize was that the nine- or ten-year-old Indian maiden was not motivated by romantic love for the twenty-seven-year old mercenary. Rather, she was likely playing her part in a native “death and rebirth” ceremony—a ritual intended to foster his adoption and assimilation, and to transform the English colonists from foreign adversaries into tributary tribesmen.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca

Ironically, Pocahontas would later be kidnapped by the English colonists, baptized into the Anglican faith, and married off to another colonist, John Rolfe, to force her father to sue for peace. She was afterwards carried to England for a royal audience as a publicity stunt by the Virginia Company to counter the bad reports about conditions in the colony and to raise the profile of (and funds for) the fledgling colony.

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle, Washington in 1909 also integrated Indian peoples into the fair, exhibiting romanticized paintings of Custer’s last stand and depictions of native life by Western artist, Charles Marion Russell (18641926).

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

But the organizers of the A-Y-P Expo also imported living Indians from local reservations to the fair. Treated like specimens in a “human zoo,” they were expected to show off their traditional costumes even as the Anglo-Americans congratulated themselves on their assimilation programs aimed at eliminating their cultural heritage.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A less-than-tactful photo board allowed guests at the fair in Seattle to add their faces to a cartoonish depiction of an “Indian outbreak.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, native peoples again made an appearance in the statuary erected for the fair. Although the last of the “wild” Indians had long since been “tamed” and herded onto reservations, a statue by Edward Henry Berge (1876–1924) depicted a Native American giving a triumphant shout after taking an enemy’s scalp.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

A popular attraction at the fair was a large statue depicting an Indian on horseback. The sculptor, James Earle Fraser (1876–1900), had grown up in the Dakota Territory where he had absorbed the popular “Manifest Destiny” view that the Indian, pressed ever Westward by the inevitable forces of “civilization,” was doomed to extinction and would “someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.” Fraser’s “End of the Trail” statue depicts a despondent Indian warrior slumped over a weary horse standing “at the edge of the Pacific.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Such pessimistic predictions seemed borne out by U.S. census bureau reports which recorded the decline to a mere 250,000 Indians remaining on reservations between 1910 and 1920.

Chicago’s “A Century of Progress” Exposition, which opened to the public in 1933, marked the one hundredth year anniversary of the forced removal of native peoples from the region. President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act was a form of “ethnic cleansing” that required the native inhabitants to move west of the Mississippi River. The exposition included a replica of Fort Dearborn, established by the Americans in 1803 and implied that progress from Indian village to thriving city would not have been possible without the removal of the native peoples.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Little had changed in attitudes towards the Indian from the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 to the Century of Progress fair of 1933. Promotional literature from the later fair also used stereotypical images of Native Americans, with their visages pushed into the background by a triumphal Miss Columbia.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Charles L. Marshall, Jr.

Ironically, few if any of the attendees of the fair ever learned that Native Americans played a major role in the construction of some of the most iconic skyscrapers ever erected in America’s greatest cities. Iroquois recruited from reservations in New York and Canada made up a large percentage of the iron-worker and riveter construction crews that helped erect the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, and the Time Warner Building.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Edward E. Post

This post is dedicated to those very real Indians who, in spite of being reduced and relegated to reserves and subjected to assimilation programs, nevertheless actively and significantly contributed to the development of American society.