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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

Historical Comprehension

Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1897. Drawn by T. M. Fowler

Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania T. M. Fowler, Mapmaker, 1897.

Panoramic maps of certain industrial cities in the late nineteenth century, studied in conjunction with films from other American Memory collections, allow one to understand the life of a factory worker in industrialized North America.

Click, for instance, on the map of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania and locate the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. Then, search on the term Wilmerding in the collection, Inside an American Factory: Westinghouse Works, 1904, and select the format "Film, Video." You will find three films from 1904 that take you inside the Westinghouse Air Brake factory to see foundrymen pouring hot liquid into molds and performing other tasks. Together, the map and the films form a particularly powerful narrative regarding the life of a Wilmerding factory worker.

Westinghouse Air Brake Co. Westinghouse Co. works (moulding scene) / American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

Westinghouse Air Brake Company (Moulding Scene) G. W. "Billy" Bitzer, Cameraman, July 23, 1904.

  • What were the activities of a Westinghouse worker?
  • Where, in Wilmerding, might these working men have lived? What percent of their wages went into housing?
  • Was Wilmerding a company town the way that Pullman, Illinois was?
  • What was the relationship of the factory to the rest of the town?
  • Do you think that these men would have understood the importance of transportation to the success of the industrial era economy?
details in caption

Sheep Run, Chicago Stockyards Cameraman, William Heise(?) July 31, 1897.

Another set of resources includes an 1890 Bird's-Eye View of the Chicago Packing Houses & Union Stock Yards and films from America at Work, America at Leisure, 1894-1915 found by searching on chicago illinois stockyards. You will find three films, shot in 1897, which take you inside these same stockyards to see cattle and sheep being driven to slaughter, and the electric trolley that ran inside the Armour plant. Together, the map and films help us to envision daily life in the stockyards and to pose relevant questions.

  • What might an average day of a stockyard worker have been like?
  • Where did the stockyard workers live, relax, and worship?
  • Have you ever heard the expression "back of the yards," also known as "Packing Town?" This was the neighborhood next to the slaughter yards and the meat-packing houses. Although the Chicago stockyards are a thing of the past, the neighborhood retains an identity to this day. Search the Web on the term back of the yards to find out more. Is this area depicted in the panoramic map of the stockyards?
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair provides a literary portrayal of the Chicago stockyards. Did the novelist and the mapmaker depict the stockyards in the same way? What does each media contribute to your understanding of this area?
  • What, specifically, do panoramic maps add to the understanding of factory life and industrialization?