Monday, March 16, 2009

Forbidden Welding

The June 8, 1929 New Yorker tells us that when engineer Gilbert D. Fish gave a lecture on welding for architects and builders, only eight people showed up.

This wasn't because welding was boring and commonplace...far from it! Amazingly enough, welding was considered a radical idea at the time, and it wasn't until the mid-'30s that it became a respectable way to hold a building together. What did they use beforehand?

Yes, that's right, rivets. Stories about New York in the '20s often mention the horrendous noise of construction, and a lot of that was due to the process of riveting.

Once they got the welding process refined it became the preferred method for keeping most pieces of metal together, but The New Yorker mentions some potential drawbacks.
One, which impressed us more than it does Mr. Fish, is the disappearance of the romantic game of throwing and catching rivets--more fun to watch even than excavating. It would be replaced, however, by a sort of fireworks display.
Even more surprising:
Another handicap is that the present building code in New York City doesn't allow welded buildings.
I like to learn new things. Here I thought that welding was the 20th century's preferred method of building everything except boats and bridges...but New York City didn't even ALLOW you to weld a skyscraper in the '20s. Neat!


Anonymous said...

Interested in steel & ironwork - and the people who live (and die) for that work? Two good books:

1) "Men Of Steel," by Karl Koch III. Written by a member of the family that did the steelwork for the original World Trade Center.

2 "High Steel," by Jim Rasenberger. A reporter looks into how New York's skyline was built, and also follows life (and death) among the Canadian Kahnawake Indian tribe, among other groups. It has a good description of the riveting process that you mentioned in your blog.

Both books are interesting (IMHO, anyway!).

Since work at heights is obviously dangerous, death is always waiting around the corner for these workers. And, depending on how one lands, death may be preferable.

Now - on a lighter note, look up all of those vintage photos of steel gangs taking their lunch break, sitting astride a beam several hundred feet in the air!

Adam Thornton said...

Interesting! I'll have to check these out!

I didn't realize you were interested in steel and ironwork, Gary.