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Detail of Ebling Photograph

September 2002

Photographers of the 20th Century Industrial Landscape
The industrial landscape held a fascination for 20th century photographers. In the first half of the century, photographers often depicted the factory as a thing of beauty. While our post-modern sensibility might see a factory as dirty and grimy, Americans up through the 1930s saw it as a symbol of industrial might and human power. These factory photographs by four different photographers are all characterized by strong visual content and aesthetic quality. No human figures are present in these photographs leaving the solitary towers, smokestacks, and buildings standing like silent majestic mountains.

Photographers of the 20th Century Industrial Landscape-- MORE

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William Henry Jackson
Flour Mills, Duluth, Minnesota, 1902
ID # P.DPC.014794

Jackson is famous for his landscape photographs of the American west, particularly of the Yosemite area of California. Jackson worked for the Detroit Publishing Company from 1897 to 1924. He traveled throughout the Americas, capturing images for the company’s prints and postcards. In this ethereal view of flour mills, belching smokestacks are reflected in calm water. Handwriting, perhaps Jackson’s, on the back of the original black and white photograph gives instructions for the hand coloring work that would result in the production of a color lithograph print.

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Lycurgus S. Glover
American Steel & Wire Company’s Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, 1901
ID # P.DPC.012862

Glover captured a serene beauty in this view of a steamship at rest in front of the factory. The vertical lines made by the logs supporting the unloading dock and the smokestacks reflected in the water add to the allure of this image. Glover worked for the Detroit Publishing Company from 1901 to about 1915. Although we know little about Glover’s life, the work he did for the company documents his ability to capture a wide variety of industrial landscapes, cityscapes and resort scenes.

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Charles Sheeler
Storage Bins at Boat Slip, Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant, Dearborn, Michigan, 1927

An artist who painted industrial landscapes among other subjects, Charles Sheeler worked for many years as a photographer to support his family. Today many of Sheeler’s photographs are prized for their esthetic quality. In 1927 Ford Motor Company’s advertising company, N.W. Ayer and Son asked the photographer, Edward Steichen to photograph the Rouge Plant. Unable to do the work, Steichen recommended his acquaintance, Charles Sheeler. Sheeler’s resulting photographs of this huge industrial complex have become iconic images of American industrial might. In this photograph, Sheeler captured a sense of symmetry, strength and calmness within the industrial landscape. Viewed from the water’s edge, the huge ore bridge casts its shadow across mountains of ore, limestone and coal. The line of railcars in the foreground and the blast furnace buildings along the horizon further emphasize the angle formed by the ore bridge. This photograph appeared on the cover of Ford News on May 1, 1929.

Related Information:
Ford & Ford Family Photographs
Charles Sheeler Photographs in Just in Time Images

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George Ebling
P.833.58994 Rouge Plant Skyline from Dix Avenue Bridge, Dearborn, Michigan, 1934

A staff photographer for Ford Motor Company from 1918 to 1946, George Ebling made photographs of everything from automobiles to manufacturing processes to intimate views of the Ford family. In the mid-1930’s, he took “pictorial views” of the Rouge Plant for a 20’ by 600’ mural covering the round interior walls of the Ford Building at the 1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. The bridge and lone traffic signal in the foreground frame the complex factory buildings in the background, providing a sense of time suspended.

Learn More About These Photographers

William H. Jackson
Peter B. Hales, William Henry Jackson and the Transformation of the American Landscape. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988

Lycurgus S. Glover
Detroit Publishing Company Collection Finding Aid, Appendix A: Photographers--Glover. Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.

Charles Sheeler
Detroit Institute of Arts, The Rouge: The Image of Industry in the Art of Charles Sheeler and Diego Rivera. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1978.

George Ebling
Ford R. Bryan, Henry’s Lieutenants. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993

print version

-- Cynthia Read-Miller, Senior Curator, Photography and Prints

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