One of the most iconic photos of American workers is not what it seemsBreaking News
tags: photography, labor history, Labor Day, historical photos
Eleven pairs of loafers were dangling over the New York City skyline. It was September of 1932, as the Great Depression was reaching its height. Unemployment and uncertainty could be felt throughout the city and the entire country. But on West 49th Street, a pillar of hope was under construction: the art deco skyscraper that would come to be known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
The ironworkers constructing its 70 floors were taking a break, sharing boxed lunches and cigarettes. They appeared to be completely unfazed by the location of this break: a narrow steel beam jutting out into the sky, hundreds of feet above the pavement.
As one coveralled man helped another light his smoke, someone snapped a picture. The resulting photograph became one of the most iconic images in the world, an embodiment of the spirit of the American worker. It still hangs in pubs, classrooms and union offices across the nation. Construction workers frequently re-create the 87-year-old photo. And every Labor Day, it is shared across social media, in tribute to those whose perspiration and determination built this country.
Photo buffs know the truth behind the classic photo: It was staged. The men in the picture were real ironworkers. They did build the structure that is now the 22nd tallest building in New York City and home to NBC studios. But rather than capture them in the midst of their lunch break, the photographer posed them on the beam for multiple takes — images that were intended as advertising for the new building. Some historians believe there was a sturdy level of the structure, then called the RCA building, just below the frame.
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