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Collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940

Industrial Lore

The Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s recorded more than 10,000 life stories of men and women from a variety of occupations and ethnic groups. The following is a sampling of these interviews, which include audio excerpts read by modern actors.

Chris Thornsten, Iron Worker

A dock stevedore at the Fulton fish market
Surrogate image: New York, New York. May 1943. A dock stevedore at the Fulton fish market. Gordon Parks. Photograph, 1943. (LC-USW3-28738-D).

Name: Chris Thorsten

Birth: 51 years ago, on board a fishing boat moored to a dock in New Orleans

Ethnicity: Scandinavian

Education: No formal education

Occupation: Iron Worker

Location: Union Hall, 84th Street, New York City

Date: January 31, 1938, 1 PM to 3 PM

Interviewer: Arnold Manoff

Interview Excerpt: "Is your job dangerous?"

Listen to Chris's response

"You ain't an Iron worker unless you get killed...Men hurt on all jobs. Take the Washington Bridge, the Triboro Bridge. Plenty of men hurt on those jobs. Two men killed on the Hotel New Yorker. I drove rivets all the way on that job. When I got hurt I was squeezed between a crane and a collar bone broke and all the ribs in my body and three vertebrae. I was laid up for four years."

Transcript #22032106

Mr. Garavelli, Stonecutter

Sam Alexander, a stone mason
Surrogate image: Eden Mills, Vermont. September 1937. Sam Alexander, a stone mason. Arthur Rothstein. Photograph, 1936. (LC-USW3-25754-C).

Name: Mr. Garavelli

Age: In his fifties

Ethnicity: Italian

Occupation: Stonecutter

Location: Barre, Vermont

Interviewer: John Lynch

Interview Excerpt: "Is the dust bad in the stonesheds?"

Listen to Mr. Garavelli's response

"It was tough for everybody in the early days. Lots of stonecutters die from the silica. Now they've got new and better equipment; they've all got to use the suctions. It helps a lot; but it ain't perfect. Men still die. You bet your life my kid don't go to work in no stoneshed. Silica, that's what kills them. Everybody who stays in granite, it gets...I don't get so much of it myself. Maybe I'm smart. I don't make so much money, but I don't get so much silica. In my end of the shed there ain't so much dust. I can laugh at the damn granite because it can't touch me. That's me. I ain't got no money, but I ain't got no silica either. My end of the shed don't get so much dust. It's like a knife, you know, that silica. Like a knife in your chest."

Transcript #38021309

Alice Caudle, Mill Worker

Textile mill, Union Point, Georgia, 1941
Surrogate image: Textile mill, Union Point, Georgia, 1941. Jack Delano. Photograph, 1941.

Name: Alice Caudle

Occupation: Mill Worker

Location: Concord, North Carolina

Date: September 2, 1938

Interviewer: Muriel L. Wolff

Interview Excerpt: "Do you like working in a mill?"

Listen to Alice's response

"Law, I reckon I was born to work in a mill. I started when I was ten year old and I aim to keep right on jest as long as I'm able. I'd a-heap rather do it than housework...Yessir, when I started down here to plant No. 1, I was so little I had to stand on a box to reach my work. I was a spinner at first, then I learned to spool. When they put in them new winding machines, I asked them to learn me how to work em and they did. If I'd a-been a man no telling how far I'd-a gone."

Transcript #28120207