Press/Journalists

The Way We Worked: Photographs from the National Archives

Photo Gallery

The exhibit includes 86 exceptional black and white and color photographs from the National Archives’ holdings spanning the years 1857 – 1987. Large photomurals, a video showing a variety of workplaces, and audio segments in which workers talk about their experiences on the job make "The Way We Worked" an environmental experience.

Below are selected images listed under the following five themes explored in the exhibit:

How We Worked - Photographs show workers posing heroically with their tools and as the symbolic "heart of the turbine." These pictures also reveal the effect of technology and automation as operatives sit along assembly lines, labor in typing pools, or work amid the sounds of machinery around them.

What We Wore to Work- Work clothes have many functions. They serve as badges of authority and status, make occupations immediately identifiable, and sometimes distinguish male and female roles.

Where We Worked- Americans have worked just about everywhere: on farms, boats, and skyscrapers; in mines, offices, and factories; and at home, restaurants, and hospitals.

Dangerous and Unhealthy Work - Photography has traditionally documented "the dangerous trades" in the United States. Social reformers have used photographs as evidence to ban child labor, reduce the hours that women could work, expose unsanitary workplaces. Engineers have photographed the details of machinery and processes to improve operations and practices.

Conflict at Work- Workers and managers have clashed over wages, hours of work, working conditions, work rules, and union recognition. Strikes, lockouts, protests, and boycotts as well as bargaining and settlements have played a large part in shaping American history.


How We Worked

Photographs show workers posing heroically with their tools and as the symbolic "heart of the turbine." These pictures also reveal the effect of technology and automation as operatives sit along assembly lines, labor in typing pools, or work amid the sounds of machinery around them.

"Jean Schnelle pulls weeds out of a planter while balancing her six-month-old son, Dwight, on her hip"
By Michelle Bogre, Lockwood Missouri, ca. 1978
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency

"Banana Inspection"
By an unknown photographer, location unknown, ca 1910
National Archives, Records of the Food and Drug Administration

"Mechanic in his Shrine. The heart of the Turbine Power House, Penn. R.R."
By Lewis Hine, New York City, New York, 1924
National Archives, Records of the Works Progress Administration

"Food--Hawaii-Canning. Native girls packing pineapple into cans"
By Edgeworth, taken for the Katakura & Company, November 20, 1928
National Archives, Records of the Women's Bureau

"Weeding sugar beets for $2.00 an hour"
By Bill Gillette, near Fort Collins, Colorado, June 1972
National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency


What We Wore to Work

Work clothes have many functions. They serve as badges of authority and status, make occupations immediately identifiable, and sometimes distinguish male and female roles.

"Pilot Wm. C. Hopson, U.S. Mail Service Winter Flying Clothing."
By an unknown photographer, Omaha, Nebraska, ca. 1926
National Archives, Records of the Post Office Department

"Instructing nurses on the use of respirator for a polio patient"
By an unknown photographer, location unknown, May 23, 1958
National Archives, General Records of the Department of Labor

"A Navajo construction worker at the Navajo Generating Plant. When completed, this will be the largest such plant in Arizona"
By Lyntha Scott Eiler, Page, Arizona, May 1972
National Archives, Records of the Environmental Protection Agency


Where We Worked

Americans have worked just about everywhere: on farms, boats, and skyscrapers; in mines, offices, and factories; and at home, restaurants, and hospitals.

"Cotton Field"
By an unknown photographer, location unknwown, ca. 1919
National Archives, Records of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics

"Tulip Town Market, Grove Center"
By James Edward Westcott, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, July 4, 1945
National Archives, General Records of the Department of Energy

"Man working on hull of U.S. Submarine at Electric Boat Co., Groton, Conn."
By Fenno Jacobs, August 1943
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Navy, 1789-1947


Dangerous and Unhealthy Work

Photography has traditionally documented "the dangerous trades" in the United States. Social reformers have used photographs as evidence to ban child labor, reduce the hours that women could work, expose unsanitary workplaces. Engineers have photographed the details of machinery and processes to improve operations and practices.

"Small newsie down-town. Saturday afternoon. St. Louis, Missouri."
By Lewis Hine, May 7, 1910
National Archives, Records of the Children's Bureau

"Vietnam… A Marine walking point for his unit during Operation Macon, a marine moves slowly, cautious of enemy pitfalls…"
By an unknown photographer, 1966
National Archives, Records of the United States Marine Corps


Conflict at Work

Workers and managers have clashed over wages, hours of work, working conditions, work rules, and union recognition. Strikes, lockouts, protests, and boycotts as well as bargaining and settlements have played a large part in shaping American history.

"Demonstration of protest and mourning for Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911"
By an unknown photographer, New York City, New York, April 5, 1911
National Archives, General Records of the Department of Labor

"Confrontation between a policeman wielding a night stick and a striker during the San Francisco General Strike"
By an unknown photographer, 1934
National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

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