Author Page for Erik Loomis
House Republicans once again show their priorities, seek to repeal Obama’s humane moves on immigration, recriminalize all undocumented people in this country.
A Really Greater New York. That was the title of the 1911 proposal by an engineer and planner who imagined paving over massive amounts of New York Harbor to make room to build the New York of the future. Oh, you like the East River and would miss it? Too damn bad!
Yesterday Jen Carlson brought the proposal to our attention, explaining how it was drawn up—and enthusiastically promoted—by one T. Kennard Thomson in 1911. Just how much would Thomson’s plan have transformed New York? Well, as it stands today, NYC encompasses 469 square miles. Thomson wanted to add a full 50 square miles to that by infilling huge sections of naturally water-bound New York.
In the context of early modern New York, it wasn’t all that crazy. After all, the boundaries of Manhattan had been aggressively expanded since the arrival of Dutch colonists. Ellis Island is built on landfill, as is Battery Park City. During World War II, American naval ships brought back thousands of tons of rubble from English cities that ended up in the East River, serving as infill for FDR Drive.
But all of that pales in comparison to what Thomson, a clearly ambitious city planner and engineer, had in mind.
In a 1916 Popular Science article posted on Reddit, he described the massively expensive and expansive infrastructure project. Starting at the mouth of the East River, artificial infill would great a huge swatch of new land, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan (a new channel would be dug near Flushing to reroute water through Brooklyn). “As a result, it would not be much harder to get to Brooklyn than to cross Broadway,” he writes. “Indeed New York and Brooklyn would be as much one big city as are the East Side and West Side.”
That was far from the most dramatic part of the plan, even if it would have indelibly changed the culture of the city. Down at the southern tip of Manhattan, a long chunk of infill would create an entirely new peninsula extending off of the city—bolstered by Governor’s Island, which would simply be a piece of Manhattan now.
Across the Hudson, more new land would fill in the area around Bayonne, and a new river would connect Newark Bay to the Upper Bay. That’s where Thomson wanted to put Brooklyn’s Navy Yard—the East River, he said, was unsuitable for the task. Oh and Staten Island? It would get two massive new peninsulas, while Sandy Hook would get a new island, too.
Is that all?
Given the California electorate, whoever replaces Barbara Boxer should be someone around the Elizabeth Warren/Sherrod Brown wing of the Democratic Party. Of course. many of her likely replacements would likely be be far worse than Boxer. At the very least, can you people not elect some Silicon Valley capitalist or Gavin Newsom?
Being in East Coast exile, nothing bothers me more than the mediocre and overpriced beers I am forced to drink. In Oregon, a $4 beer is normal, a $5 beer expensive. In New England, a $6 beer is normal, an $8 beer expensive. Not to mention that I can get amazing beer during $3 happy hours in Oregon whereas happy hour is illegal in Massachusetts and mostly in Rhode Island. The difference in beer scenes between the coasts is night and day and the only states that can even begin to approach the four great beer states of the West are Michigan and Vermont, and they are decidedly inferior.
Given this situation, I have spent more time in the last few years drinking and thinking about the big microbrew powers than I ever would have done in Oregon. By this, I mean Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and Brooklyn. I have really come to appreciate Sierra Nevada. They rarely produce a mediocre beer and nearly everything is excellent, including the seasonal Celebration IPA I wish I had enjoyed more of. Sierra just makes great beer and because of their size, can offer it at a reasonable price. I enjoy Brooklyn’s higher end beers but the stock releases are largely not very good. But Sam Adams? I just don’t think most of their beers are very good. Some of the releases offered only in bombers are pretty tasty but that’s really about it. Its attempt at a west coast IPA, the Rebel IPA, was poor. So it’s hardly surprising that Sam Adams is starting to struggle in a more discerning and demanding beer market. The solution is to make better beer, but that seems unlikely since it is so stodgy and behind the times now. I doubt Sam Adams is going to become the next Pete’s Wicked Ale, a beer very popular when I was in college that is now defunct, since it has such a large market share, but it is clearly a brewery on the decline.
I don’t root for that decline, as I always desire more good beer to drink. But I am skeptical that it will become a leader in the beer world again.
I was welcomed to Cartagena by a picture of Sherrod Brown and his cute dog reading the advance copy of my book. He is writing a blurb, as is Bill McKibben, Aviva Chomsky, James Loewen, Kalpona Akter and even more awesome activists and scholars. You should preorder it.
On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced his famous $5 a day wage to his workers. Ford is often lauded for his efforts here and he was surely forward-thinking in creating this salary. But this post will also challenge his reputation as a good employer, for Ford expected plenty in return from those employees, far more than any employee should have to accept.
Turnover was a massive problem for employers through the early 20th century. The horrors of industrialization combined with callousness of employers to lead to workers constantly seeking a job that was just a little bit less terrible than the last. The growth of assembly line work made this worse because it was so boring. Treating a worker like a machine, as Henry Ford did, deskilled and depressed workers who had once partially defined themselves through their physical labor. This labor was just as physical and exhausting, but required no thinking and provided no satisfaction. Thus the Ford Motor Company had the same turnover problems as other industries. In 1913, the turnover rate for the company was 370 percent. Ford decided he needed to do something about this turnover. So he began to think about what would become known as welfare capitalism. He thought that if he paid his workers a bit more and helped them take care of their basic needs, they would live with the fact that the work was so mindless.
So on January 5, 1914, he announced a reorganization of his company. Workers could be part of a profit-sharing system that would raise their salary to $5 a day. While this has been remembered as Ford wanting to pay his workers enough that they could buy the cars they made, that really wasn’t what this was about. Reducing labor turnover was the reason, which is fair enough. Ford also took power away from the foreman and centralized hiring decisions. Like many industrial worksites, foremen had almost complete authority over workers, including the power to hire and fire, as well as the setting of pay rates to some extent. Ford did not want these little dictators making these decisions and instead created a personnel department that the foreman had to check with before firing. If the personnel department disagreed, the worker would merely be transferred. The introduction of standardized wages (the number of wage rates were reduced from 69 to 8) also took power away from foremen.
Ford had a requirement for acquiring those wages. Workers had to live up to his moral standards. Ford romanticized rural life and what he saw as traditional values. He wanted to inculcate this in his workers and seeing himself as a father figure, he believed he had the right to interfere in their personal lives. Thus if they wanted to work, they had to subject themselves to inspections from his Sociological Department. The department inspected workers’ habits and lives, discharging those seen as unfit. It gave advice, expected to be followed, on money management and family relations. Ford’s foreign employees had to undergo Americanization programs if they wanted their wages. Fore required English on the shop floor in a society and industrial workforce that was very heavily dominated by immigrants. Ford, a staunch prohibitionist, banned his workers from drinking alcohol. The SD would visit the homes of employees to inspect their lives. They would do so without warning so they could see what the inside of your home really like and whether you had liquor in the house. To say the least, no Jews were hired. Some workers were upset about this intrusion, but it seems that most accepted it, even if they complained about the violation of their personal liberties, because they needed the money.
House purchased by Ford worker after Sociological Department assistance
Not all workers could earn those wages. Only men over the age of 22 shown to be taking care of their families, single men who were seen as thrifty, and men younger than 22 who were the sole breadwinner for their family. Female workers could also qualify after 1916 after women’s movement leaders protested their exclusion. The Sociological Department would make the judgment as to which workers qualified. Ford hated quitters, thinking them slackers and undeserving. So he also worked to reduce turnover by making the process to get hired onerous, with full inspections from the SD each time a worker quit. What this really led to was a certain amount of bribery of Sociological Department inspectors. Eventually over 200 SD inspectors pried into every corner of workers’ lives to see if they fit Henry Ford’s personal standards of how they should live. If workers didn’t follow the line, their pay was reduced back to $2.34 and if they didn’t improve in six months, they were fired.
And Ford would work these employees to the bone. Agreeing to work at Ford not only meant agreeing to the moral standards. It meant a lifetime of hard drudgery that gave you little real pride in the work you did. Said one of Ford’s production managers, “Ford was one of the worse shops in town for driving the men. I have been an S.O.B. with everybody in town.” But with wages so bad in 1914, the impact of Ford’s announcement was overwhelming. A crowd of 15,000 people descended on Ford to ask for jobs. They were dispatched with fire hoses.
Workers themselves certainly took the $5 day as a good deal at the time. But Ford became increasingly ossified in his ideas of labor relations and refused to raise the pay. What was a good wage in 1914 became less so year by year. In the 1920s, the Sociological Department’s influence declined and conditions worsened in the factories. By 1927, Ford was driving his men with a bunch of ex-boxers and thugs led by Harry Bennett, who violently put down any protest. By the 1930s, workers were furious with Ford’s labor relations and the plants became centers of labor resistance to employer domination of their lives and home to some of the great battles of the 1930s struggle for unionization.
In other words, we can certainly say that Ford was forward-looking in the sense that he advanced the corporate control over the workforce by giving them a small amount in return for the control over their lives. And the money was real enough, at least for awhile. But to point to the $5 wage as a good thing without placing it in context is problematic and should be avoided by people on the left.
I used Sanford Jacoby’s Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900-1945, Joan Shaw Peterson’s American Automobile Workers, 1900-1933, and Greg Grandin’s Fordlandia, in the writing of this post.
This is the 129th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.
LGM’s least popular blogger is off to Colombia for a couple of weeks. I have a couple of posts scheduled, but blogging will be sporadic and dependent upon unknown internet connections. Hopefully I can watch Oregon in the title game since ESPN does not stream outside the U.S. This is worrisome. Anyway, those of you who long for the LGM days before you were bombarded with discusses of economic inequality, ketchup, and dead horses can celebrate for awhile.
Victoria Vanoch’s history of flight attendants and beauty is a highly readable and enjoyable history of one of the most unique sets of workers in the twentieth century United States. The Jet Sex follows how airline stewardesses became symbols of beauty, modernity, and Americanness in the mid-twentieth century, how those images became part of the Cold War ideological battlefield, and how women challenged the limitations of these standards, eventually transforming the industry.
In a nation where women had few well-paid or prestigious career options, the creation of the stewardess with the first commercial airlines in the 1930s provided opportunities. Soon this became a desirable profession that offered glamor and an opportunity to travel that was all too rare for Americans during these years. Women, including Vanoch’s own mother, greatly enjoyed the job. But the airlines quickly placed restrictions upon these employees that they hoped would ensure both a pliant labor force and the standard of beauty it was developing. Not surprisingly, this work became defined by women’s work as part of the airlines’ attempt to keep their planes union-free. Women were seen as more pliant and craft unions did not accept women, so giving these jobs to women would forestall unionization, or so the airlines hoped. Airlines also ensured frequent turnover by banning married stewardesses from the job. Defining the job as a step between school and marriage, this rule prevented long-term workers and created frequent turnover, both reinforcing the control over this labor force.
Early stewardesses had to be trained nurses but with the rise of international jet travel (which went far to reduce the air sickness and turbulence of the low-flying, non-pressurized cabin), beauty and glamor replaced first aid as the defining characteristic of the job. Part of this was airlines advertising itself to men as a space where men were men and women were women. Men could be served and women would quietly serve while looking great. So the airlines placed severe height and weight restrictions upon attendants, constantly evaluated them for their flaws, and trained them on serving men. In 1960, Pan Am gave stewardesses 27 hours of training on personal grooming and 20 on first aid. Vantoch points out that airlines streamlined the commodity of the woman’s body as much as they did the airplanes themselves. The vast majority of Pan Am hies were between 5’4″ and 5’7″. Weight was constantly monitored. Bosses made sure women were wearing girdles. The supervisor handbook for American Airlines stated, “The first fundamental is appearance. A stewardess must be attractive. We can sometimes pretend a person is attractive, if we admire them for some other reason. This should be avoided.” (112).
The airlines’ standard of beauty was meant to reinforce mainstream notions of beauty. As slim women became fashionable after World War II, the airlines began to desire this as well. Before World War II, 34 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had a BMI over 21. By 1958, that number was 3.4 percent. Slim, naturally colored hair (until Marilyn Monroe and others made this acceptable within mainstream America), and wholesome was the desired image. By the 1960s, this began to change as the increasingly open sexuality of the period forced the airlines to abandon the wholesome girl image and turn to the portraying stewardesses as sex kittens. It was during these years that the idea of the stewardess as a sexually promiscuous woman began to develop and Vantoch points to several pornographic films of the period that reinforced this. TWA even forced its stewardesses to wear paper uniforms that were easily torn.
As the Cold War developed, these standards of beauty took on additional importance. The Soviets defined the ideal woman as an economically productive member of society. This became a joke in a 50s America that defined the ideal woman as an attractive homemaker. Even growing up in the 80s, I remember commercials of Soviet women being portrayed as masculine. Stewardesses became a sign of the superiority of American gender roles, American beauty, and American consumerism. Vantoch got a bit of access to Russian archives, finding Soviet training manuals for its flight attendants. In the USSR, professional dress, efficient service and political appropriateness ruled (especially given the USSR’s travel restrictions), but as Aeroflot began flying internationally more often, American standards of beauty eventually began to transform those workers as well. Like for American airlines, Aeroflot stewardesses began to sell the experience of flying, as opposed to providing expert service.
Women soon challenged these standards of beauty, marriage, and race. African-American women were among the first, as the airlines’ kept the skies segregated. By the mid-1950s, black women were demanding equal access to the airlines. Like everything else in the civil rights movement, this would be a long, slow struggle. The airlines didn’t explicitly segregate. They just said that kinky hair (or hooked noses) meant women couldn’t work for them. Thus, no blacks or Jews. Lawsuits eventually forced the doors open in the 1960s, but even then, stewardesses had to stay in segregated hotels in southern cities, faced hostility from fellow workers, and still faced very long odds to being hired.
Even before feminism became a political force, white women were already challenging the standards of 50s gender norms because they were career oriented as well as being glamorous and feminine, which is one of Vantoch’s central points. When second-wave feminism rose in the 60s, stewardesses had a complex relationship with it. Because flight attendant organizations embraced rather than challenged the beauty of their members, there was a lot of discomfort with the more radical aspects of the feminist movement. On the other hand, Gloria Steinem, who received no small amount of criticism herself from some for her own conventional beauty, was someone many of these women could relate to. Despite the industry’s desire to keep the skies union-free, the rise of the first flight attendant unions after World War II eventually successfully challenged the beauty standards, as well conducted a long fight to end the marriage restriction. This was a good job and the evidence suggests less sexual harassment from pilots and airline management than you’d might think, with passengers being evicted from planes for bad behavior toward stewardesses. But without worker power on the job, they still faced all sorts of discrimination. The unions couldn’t really do much about that however until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, opened up gender discrimination to federal lawsuits, finally forcing the airlines to cave on any number of issues and creating the more gender, age, weight, and height diverse flight attendant labor force of today.
If I have to criticize anything, I guess I’d like to see the last 30 years receive a chapter of its own. Certainly the opening of the job to men, to older women, to women with a greater variety of heights and weights, etc., would have interesting insights on gender and beauty as well. It would also be interesting to know more about the Jewish side of the story. The hooked nose restriction is mentioned, but then dropped. When did Jews start becoming stewardesses? These are minor critiques however.
The Jet Sex is not only a fun and well-researched history, but is also excellent for the classroom. I would have no reservation in assigning it to courses in gender or labor history.
I don’t know why Jim Harbaugh decided to take the Michigan job when he could have returned to his fine acting career.
I recently rewatched The Grapes of Wrath and then reread the book. They are both great pieces of art. Back in my social realist days of art in the late 90s and early 00s, I found the slightly more optmistic end of the movie irritating, but really the scene with Rose-a-Sharon suckling the old man was over the top and there really wasn’t much reason for the book to go on after Tom Joad leaves. And the mild sense of hope at the end of the film really is a more palatable ending. The flood offers nothing but more despair. The adaptation really is perfect as well. I know Steinbeck loved it. The superfluous characters are eliminated, even though it’s obvious in the film that there’s no way Ma Joad would have gone that long between children.
Anyway, what do you think happens to Tom Joad? Let’s assume he doesn’t killed like Casey. And let’s assume he survives the war. If Tom Joad is alive after 1945, what is his future? Am I the only who sees him becoming a conservative like most of his fellow ex-sharecropper migrants and voting for Goldwater in 64? Steinbeck makes a compelling case for Joad the populist man of the left. But of course Steinbeck’s landscape of the California fields is incredibly whitened, eliminating the Filipinos and Mexicans who had long history of work in the fields. That wasn’t entirely inaccurate given the deportations of Mexicans from California in the depression once white people needed low-paid work. But can Joad’s populism bypass the racist attitudes he grew up in and the racist attitudes of California? I guess I am skeptical given what we know about post-war California and the rise of conservatism. Maybe Joad returns from the war, gets a job in the defense factories like so many of his family members and comrades from Oklahoma, and those racial attitudes take over. Now Tom Joad didn’t buy into the religion at the heart of this, but then he’s a young man in the late 30s when the story takes place. Steady work and prosperity will do a lot to make someone forget the hard bad times that make them do crazy things.
I mean, sure, it’d be nice to think about Tom Joad as the vanguard of a left-populist movement. But that didn’t happen, nor did it come close to happening. So if we are playing the odds, I think we have to say that Joad votes Goldwater.