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The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: Progress: The Meaning of the Machine
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: Progress
Text 1. Memory and Machines
Text 2. Brooklyn Bridge
Text 3. Human Machines
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Text 4. Christine Frederick
Text 5. Thomas Eakins
Text 6. Thomas Edison
Text 7. Wealth and Weightlessness
Text 8. Southern Statis
Text 9. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago

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Reading Guide
3.
The Ironworkers' Noontime
The Ironworkers' Noontime
Human Machines
- Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, 1910, Ch. 2, excerpts
- Thomas Anshutz, The Ironworkers' Noontime, oil on canvas, 1880 Discussing Art
- American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., Steam hammer, Westinghouse Works, East Pittsburgh, film, 1904


During this period Americans were so enamored of the machine that they sought to bring mechanical efficiency to the work of the human body itself. Consulting engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor (1865-1915) led that effort. Taylor's ideas helped to transform the United States from a country of small workshops plying local trades to a country of huge factories supporting national industries. He promoted the development of large, efficient manufacturing organizations by structuring work according strict rules of reason, determined through the systematic study of interactions among job requirements, tools, methods, and human skill. His most important client was Bethlehem Iron Company, later Bethlehem Steel. In the excerpt presented here, his goal is to bring a pig iron handler to his highest efficiency, which means increasing the amount of iron he hauls from 12 1/2 tons per day to 47 per day.

Thomas Anshutz's The Ironworkers' Noontime reminds us that the body is a good deal more than a machine. Anshutz was born in Kentucky in 1851 and spent much of his childhood in the iron town of Wheeling, West Virginia. He studied art in New York and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he worked under the great American realist painter Thomas Eakins. When, in 1886, Eakins resigned his position at the Academy, Anshutz was named as his successor. The Ironworkers' Noontime is his most well-known painting, although it was a rarity in its day. Even though America was rapidly industrializing during this period, painters generally did not paint industrial scenes, nor did middle-class Americans want them hanging on their walls. Iron mills were not picturesque, and ironworkers were usually the shunned, either African Americans or immigrants, like Frederick Taylor's "high-priced" Mr. Schmidt. Noontime portrays puddlers stretching, eating, and relaxing in the yard of a mill while among them young boys, presumably apprentices, tussle with each other. Puddlers assembled the ingredients of iron in cauldrons and oversaw the critical steps of melting and molding. The success of the entire iron-making process depended on their work. The most important and most skilled workers in an iron mill, they were also the most highly paid. 8 pages total.


Discussion questions
  1. What values do Taylor's methods embody?
  2. How does he view Schmidt?
  3. What implications do Taylor's goals and methods hold for the men of The Ironworkers' Noontime?
  4. How—through his use of poses, clothing, light, dark, and facial expressions—does Anshutz portray the men in the painting? What is his attitude toward them?
  5. What does the presence of the boys add to the meaning of this painting?
  6. Where in the painting do you see examples of technological progress? What is Anshutz's attitude toward progress?

» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did Americans of this period define progress?
  •  What did progress mean to them?


Thomas Anshutz (American, 1851-1912), The Ironworkers' Noontime, 1880. Oil on canvas, 17 x 24 in. (43.2 x 60.6 cm). The De Young Museum [Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco]. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd : 1979.7.4. Permission pending.

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