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Press Release
March 6, 2007

National Archives and Smithsonian Present Traveling Exhibition Exploring America’s Labor History

Morrow, GA…Work and the workplace have gone through enormous changes between the mid-19th century, when 60 percent of Americans made their living as farmers, and the late 20th century. A new traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked,” features 86 photographs from the National Archives focusing on the history of work in America and documenting work clothing, locales, conditions, and conflicts. The exhibition will open on March 10, 2007, at the National Archives Southeast Region, as part of a 14-city national tour continuing through 2010. It will be on display through May 20, 2007.

“The Way We Worked” was created by the National Archives with the support of the Foundation for the National Archives, and is organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition was originally on view from December 2005 through May 2006 at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

As the depository for historically valuable Federal records, the National Archives is home to thousands of photographs of work and workplaces taken by government agencies for many reasons: to investigate factory safety, track construction progress, office training or to emphasize the continuing importance of humans in a technologically modern environment. The images featured in “The Way We Worked,” though possibly taken merely for purposes of record keeping, often reveal much more about how social forces such as immigration, gender, ethnicity, class, and technology have transformed the workforce.

The exhibition is divided into five sections:

  • WHERE We Worked” explores the places Americans worked, from farms to factories, mines to restaurants, as well as how race and gender often determined roles and status.

  • HOW We Worked” examines the effects of technology and automation on the workplace with images of people on assembly lines or using their tools of trade.

  • What We WORE to Work” looks at the way uniforms serve as badges of authority and status, and help make occupations immediately identifiable.

  • CONFLICT at Work” looks back at not just the inevitable clashes between workers and managers over working conditions, wages, and hours, but also how social conflicts, such as segregation, have influenced the workplace.

  • DANGEROUS or UNHEALTHY Work” features many of the photographs taken by social reformers hoping to ban child labor, reduce the length of the work day and expose unsanitary workplaces.

Spanning the years 1857-1987, the images in the exhibition cover the entire range of photographs on the topic in the National Archives holdings.

The National Archives and Records Administration serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that the people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. Among the billions of records at the National Archives are more than 11 million still pictures in the Washington, DC, area alone. In addition, there are millions of photographs in the National Archives Presidential libraries and millions more among the records held by regional archives.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, DC, for more than fifty years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work, and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at www.sites.si.edu.

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For further information, contact Mary Evelyn Tomlin, Public Programs Specialist, at 770-968-2555 or by e-mail at mary.tomlin@nara.gov.

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