Silent Symphony Of Soaring Steel: The Photography Of Margaret Bourke-White

“… industrial forms were all the more beautiful because they were never designed to be beautiful. They had a simplicity of line that came from their direct application of purpose.” —Margaret Bourke-White, 1963

Few photographers, to my knowledge, captured the imposing majesty of 20th century industrialism with as much deftness and clarity as American journalist, Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971).

White was a war-correspondant during WWII and came to be known to the staff of Life magazine as ‘Maggie the Indestructible’ for surviving a number of extraordinary circumstances, including abandonment in the artic, strafing by the Luftwaffe, a chopper crash in Chesapeake Bay, and the German bombardment of Moscow.

Presented below is a small selection of White’s prints of industrial scenes, ordered by date (20s to 30s), with historical commentary.

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Tower and Smokestacks of Otis Steel Co., Cleveland, 1928. The company is notable for being the first to build a open-hearth steel furnace, in 1875, and which massively contributed to Ohio’s transformation into the second-largest producer of steel in the United States by the end of the 19th Century. Otis merged with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., 1942, which itself merged with  Youngstown Sheet & Tube, 1977.
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Untitled (Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
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Blast Furnace Operator with “Mud Gun,” Otis Steel Co., Cleveland
1928. Film of the era was sensitive to blue, but insensitive to orange and red (colors typical of steel mills like Otis Steel Co.) and so, to achieve shots such as the one above, White utilized a magnesium flare, that the image would be picked up with clarity, prevented from coming out all black.
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Untitled (Train with Oil Cars, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
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Hot Pigs, Otis Steel Company, Cleveland
1928.
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes (1930) MB White.png
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes
1930.
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Ludlum Steel Company of Watervliet, New York, 1928 – 1931, a specialty steel manufacturer. The company merged with Allegheny Steel Company of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, 1938.
Steel support struts inside several newl
Steel support struts inside newly constructed pipes to be installed in the diversion tunnel to carry the Missouri River around Fort Peck Dam construction, 1936.
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Margaret Bourke-White takes a photo from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building, New York City, 1934.

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