Ludlum Steel Company

Margaret Bourke-White American

Not on view

Born in the Bronx, Margaret Bourke White attended Columbia University in 1922 and took her first course in photography with Clarence White. Although she intended to study herpetology, she dropped out of school after just one semester (primarily due to her father's death) and almost immediately committed herself to the study of the photography. In 1927, after graduating from Cornell University, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio and opened her first commercial photography studio, concentrating on architectural and industrial subjects. Her work impressed Henry R. Luce, who hired her in 1929 as associate editor and principal photographer at Fortune magazine, which published her pictures in the lead article of its first issue in February 1930.

This photograph was made at Ludlum Steel Corporation (now ATI), located in Watervliet, New York. It was in the late 1920s one of the nation's largest steel manufacturers. Bourke White spent days recording the production of steel in the noisy, excessively hot factory, an extension of her work at the Otis Steel plant in Cleveland that generated her first publication, The Story of Steel (1928). Here, Bourke White records a long pour of molten metal from an enormous, two hundred ton ladle. It is enticing to consider that the liquid in the photograph could have been formed into solid steel used o create the superstructure for one or both of the two most famous buildings in New York City: the Chrysler Building (1928 30) and the Empire State Building (1930 31). Interestingly, Bourke White moved her studio/residence to the Chrysler Building (the 61st floor) in 1930. She lived there four years. Ludlum provided steel for both buildings, and many others in New York City and across the U.S.

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