Wednesday, January 23, 2013

American Workers and Their Work, 1920's: Two Poems

A poem by Berton Braley
Poem by Angela Morgan

A not-so-subtle way to expose teenagers in the 1920's to the industrial work ethic.  From William H. Elson, Christine M. Keck & Mary H. Burris.   Junior High School Literature, Book Two.  Revised Edition.  (Chicago:  Scott, Foresman & Co., 1920, 1928).

The book introduced me to the writings of Herschel S. Hall (1874-1921) in a piece called "Pete of the Steel Mills" that was originally published in Scribner's Magazine in 1919.  It's a very evocative short story of someone who gets a job working in an open-earth steel mill of the time, apparently based on Hall's first-hand knowledge of this kind of work:
"This tapping a 'heat' is a magnificent and startling sight to the newcomer.  I stood fascinated when I beheld it the first time.  A lake of seventy-five or eighty tons of sun-white steel, bursting out of furnace bounds and rushing through the runner, a raging river, is a terrifying spectacle.  The eye aches as it watches it; the body shrinks away from the burning heat it throws far out on all sides; the imagination runs riot as the seething flood roils and boils in the ladle." 

Herschel wrote a novel titled Steel Preferred, a Horatio Alger type story set in a steel mill.  It was adapted for the silver screen as a 1925 silent movie starting Vera Reynolds and William Boyd.  I expect it would be worth watching just for the period industrial operations in the background.

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