Catching a Glimpse of America's Industrial Past- page 4 | History | Smithsonian
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Catching a Glimpse of America's Industrial Past

Catching a Glimpse of America's Industrial Past

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In a cabinet, I saw someone's collection of toy steam engines and miniature waterwheels. In another room, an assistant was smoothing out rolled-up drawings that had come in recently. They were being stored in giant folders and catalogued.

"We spend a huge amount of time organizing this stuff," Worthington said. "We cross-reference everything that we can, to make it easier to find."

Once an engineering firm wanted to see some early design work on the Erie Railroad yards in New Jersey. No one knew where the original pilings were. They could be seen in a venerable set of drawings provided by the collection.

I don't know, maybe some folks will find all this boring. But to me, it's kind of haunting, this glimpse of the real physical appearance of an America that vanished with the passing of the Industrial Age.

When I see these photographs of forgotten bridges and tunnels, when I see the grimy-faced breaker boys sorting coal, and that dentist with his patient, and the lighted golfer, I feel I am looking right into the past. And I realize the past is still here with us, just beneath the surface.

By Michael Kernan


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