Construction Workers - History

Construction Workers - History

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Construction foreman

A construction foreman is the worker or skilled tradesperson who is in charge of a construction crew. This role is generally assumed by a senior worker.

Normally the foreman is a construction worker with many years of experience in a particular trade who is charged with organizing the overall construction of a particular project for a particular contractor. Typically the foreman is a person with specialist knowledge of a given trade who has moved into the position and is now focused on an overall management of his trade on the job site. He or she is responsible for providing proper documentation to his workers so they can proceed with tasks.

Specifically, a foreman may train employees under his or her supervision, ensure appropriate use of equipment by employees, communicate progress on the project to a supervisor and maintain the employee schedule. [1] Foremen may also arrange for materials to be at the construction site and evaluate plans for each construction job. [2]

Not to be confused with a Project Manager, Project Supervisor, Superintendent, General Foreman, or a "Firstman".

  1. ^"Foreman" (PDF) . Job Description. City of Council Bluffs, IA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-06.
  2. ^
  3. Cheung, Zin. "Keys to Success and Safety for the Construction Foreman: An Ergonomic Approach to Cost Reduction" (PDF) . Online pamphlet. California Division of Occupational Safety and Health . Retrieved April 16, 2011 .

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The ‘Hard Hat Riot’ of 1970 Pitted Construction Workers Against Anti-War Protesters

In the days after May 4, 1970, the date the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War, anti-war activists were galvanized. In demonstrations held across the country, the protesters mourned the deaths of their compatriots but also felt emboldened to continue the fight to end a war that had no end in sight. They sought to show the rest of the world (and themselves) that they weren’t alone—that millions of people agreed the war must end, and that the administration of President Richard Nixon be held accountable.

The next day, college students in New York City gathered with nearly 1,000 demonstrators to protest at the United Nations. In the wake of the massacre rapidly becoming a national flashpoint, Mayor John Lindsay, who had spoken against the war at the 1968 Republican National Convention, ordered the flag at City Hall flown at half-mast in the Kent State students’ memory. The backlash began soon after.

On May 6, protesting students at City College met resistance from a small group of construction workers, some of whom self-identified themselves as Vietnam veterans, a preview of what would come later that week. Two days later, hundreds of local students gathered in the morning for a memorial demonstration in Lower Manhattan, eventually moving towards Federal Hall, the historic site where George Washington first took the oath of office as President. At this spot, in front of a statue of Washington, the protesters reiterated their commitment to ending the war. Then, chaos descended on the peaceful scene, as nearly 200 construction workers arrived at the protest bearing patriotic signs and, according to a New York Times report on the incident, chants of “All The Way, U.S.A.” and “Love It or Leave It.”

The workers quickly pushed through a line of mostly indifferent police officers to get to the protesters, charging at, according to the Times, students who closely resembled the stereotypical longhaired hippie that had come to symbolize opposition to the war. About 70 people were injured in the scuffle. The construction workers marched on through the narrow streets of the Financial District towards City Hall, where they sang the Star-Spangled Banner and demanded that Mayor Lindsay raise the flags to full-mast they eventually got their way.

Police officers and crowds during the Hard Hat Riot in Lower Manhattan, New York City, May 8, 1970. ( Leo Vals / Stringer)

Penny Lewis, professor of sociology at the City University of New York, argues that the event that would come to be known as the Hard Hat riot came to symbolize the ‘hippie versus longhair’ debate in popular culture. “Seared into our collective memory,” she writes in Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, “the image of hardhats assaulting antiwar protestors in May 1970 crystallized long-standing popular narratives about class, race, and protest in this country.”

But to leave it there, Lewis writes, is to miss that the Hard Hat Riot was more than just the straightforward narrative of ‘construction worker versus longhair.’ It was a convergence of genuine pro-Nixon sentiment, an administration eager to capitalize on a nation in crisis, and the dawn of a political realignment that would shape the nation's direction for generations.

Born in 1918, Peter J. Brennan lived most of his life in New York City. Raised by a single mother after his ironworker father died of influenza, Brennan went to City College and apprenticed as a painter, and after serving in the Navy during World War II, was elected to a leadership position in his local painter’s union, and he quickly climbed the ladder of organized labor—by the late 1950s, he was president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO.

Brennan, as one of New York City’s most prominent labor leaders, often clashed with Mayor Lindsay’s administration. A liberal Republican, Lindsay ran on a platform of progressive change for New York, and pushed for New York’s trade unions to adopt affirmative action and non-discrimination policies. Many union officials, including Brennan, saw this as an overreach on Lindsay’s part, and rank-and-file union members, who were overwhelmingly white, resisted integration. Brennan cannily used this paradigm to his own political advantage he positioned the labor movement as anti-anti-war as a way to cleave its members away from other racially progressive platforms.

Days after the riot, Brennan asserted that the construction workers acted on their own volition, and not motivated only by a love for country and president.

“The unions had nothing to do with it, he said in an interview. “The men acted on their own. They did it because they were fed up with violence by antiwar demonstrators, by those who spat at the American flag and desecrated it.”

The Nixon administration likewise framed the counter-protest as a genuine, and organic, expression of support for the war. But in reality, the administration, in concert with New York labor leaders, had helped coordinate the counterprotest and several more that would take place throughout May. Both the president’s advisors and many labor leaders saw promise in putting forth the traditionally Democrat-aligned labor unions as a counteracting force to the rapidly growing number of anti-war protesters.

Several days before the eruption of violence in New York, Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman suggested to the president that construction workers, or ‘hard hats,’ be used to create conflict. Local shop stewards, according to sources who spoke out years later, specifically encouraged workers to counter-protest the May 8 demonstration, in some cases even offering them cash bonuses to do so.

By the time of Brennan’s death in 1996, obituary writers presented it as a given fact that he had personally helped orchestrate the melee.

Further demonstrations in the days after May 8 proved that many in the city did genuinely support the war. In The Ungovernable City, an account of Lindsay’s time as mayor, historian Vincent Cannato points out that some veterans and relatives of veterans found Lindsay’s personal opposition to the war offensive, while others felt anger about what they saw as disrespect on the part of anti-war protesters.

The riot got Brennan and other Nixon-friendly labor leaders invited to the White House—in Nixonland, writes Rick Perelstein, the president himself was overjoyed by the riot, even exclaiming “Thank God for the hard hats!”

Brennan, who clearly recognized the importance of the moment, presented Nixon himself with a white hard hat, which he called “a symbol, along with our great flag, of freedom and patriotism to our beloved country.” In the same moment, writes University of Massachusetts, Amherst historian Christian G. Appy, Brennan also pinned a small American flag made of enamel onto Nixon’s lapel, making him the first president to adopt the flag as part of his uniform. “The flag pin,” writes Appy, “was not an emblem of national unity, but a political badge as intentionally confrontational as the peace symbol.

Construction workers among a crowd at a counter demonstration against a student rally, being held in the wake of the Kent State shootings. ( Leo Vals / Stringer)

After the “hard hat riot,” the pro-war demonstrations in New York continued. On Saturday, May 11, more than 150,000 supporters of Nixon’s policies marched in the streets, though many of the signs and chants indicated that the event was less a show of support for the war in Vietnam and more a direct rebuke of Lindsay’s mayoral administration—“Lindsay for Mayor of Hanoi” and “Lindsay for President of North Vietnam,” some signs read.

The riot ended up serving as a launching pad for Peter Brennan’s national career—he worked to deliver labor support to Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign, and was rewarded with an appointment to the post of Secretary of Labor. Brennan took a not-small amount of credit for building political bloc of blue-collar social conservatives that would come to be known collectively as Reagan Democrats. In Nixonland, Perlstein writes about the significance of conscripting blue-collar workers into the anti-anti-war movement:

“But to extend to blue-collar workers the hand of cultural recognition—that was a different ball game altogether… the hard-hat ascendency set into motion a qualitative shift: the first concerted effort to turn the white working class, via its aesthetic disgusts, against a Democratic Party now joining itself objectively, with their Cooper-Church and McGovern-Hatfield amendments, to the agenda of the smelly longhairs who burned down buildings.”

Today, the hard hat Brennan presented to Nixon is enshrined in the the Richard Nixon Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, California. Upon handing it to the president, Brennan predicted what it would come to mean: “The hard hat will stand as a symbol,” he declared, “along with our great flag, for freedom and patriotism to our beloved country."

Ground Zero: Environmental and Health Concerns

In fact, the site was awash in harmful fumes and toxic dust. Especially in the days immediately after the towers fell, when investigators estimated that only 20 percent of the workers at the site had masks that would protect their lungs, the air was filled with diesel exhaust, pulverized cement, glass fibers, asbestos, silica, benzene from the jet fuel and lead. On September 11 alone more than 300 workers sought treatment for eye and respiratory problems caused by the pollutants in the air. Soon the official workers at Ground Zero received masks and other protective gear, but volunteers and other workers–like the day laborers and undocumented workers who were hired to clean the dust from nearby office buildings–simply covered their faces with bandannas and hoped for the best.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Environmental Health sponsored a comprehensive study of the health of the rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zeroਊnd 9/11-related illnesses. They found that many of the first responders had developed severe respiratory problems and had persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Other studies agreed: Enormous numbers of workers had sore throats, trouble breathing and “WTC cough.” Science Daily reported that “New York City firemen and emergency personnel exposed to dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings experienced a decrease in lung function capability equal to 12 years of age-related decline during the year following the 9/11 disaster.” Many were gravely ill with kidney problems, silicosis, lung cancer, leukemia and heart disease. Doctors and public health officials traced these illnesses to the polluted air at Ground Zero.

In 2006, then-governor of New York George Pataki signed legislation aimed at expanding benefits for those whose deaths were linked to their cleanup work at the World Trade Center site. Initial efforts to pass a measure that would provide health monitoring and financial aid to Ground Zero workers on the federal level stalled. Finally, in January 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after an NYPD officer whose death has been attributed to his work at Ground Zero, was signed into law.

The cleanup and recovery efforts at Ground Zero lasted for more than a year, with crews working around the clock. Construction workers found human remains in several places near the site of the Twin Towers in 2006, while the Environmental Protection Agency spent several years working to clean toxic dust out of downtown apartments. Still, dust and debris from the September 11th attacks will likely continue to affect downtown Manhattan for years still, the impressive scale and speed of the cleanup work was a testament to the dedication of the workers and volunteers at the site.

Rebuilding efforts at the World Trade Center site continue. The centerpiece, a 1,776-foot tall skyscraper, opened in 2013, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened in phases between 2011 and 2013.

Archaeologists and construction workers are teaming up to unearth historic relics

One massive rail project, 10 millennia of history, 60-plus excavation sites, 143 miles of track, and thousands of skeletons.

Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Matthew Flinders is barely 40, but he looks 70. His once dark hair gleams white, his already slight frame skeletal. As a captain in the British Royal Navy, he’s survived shipwreck, imprisonment, and scurvy, but this kidney infection will do him in. Facing death, he finishes writing a book that will change the world as Europeans know it. Flinders completed the first circumnavigation of the “Terra Australis Incognita,” or “Unknown South Land,” in 1803. A decade later, he compiles his writings, maps, charts, and drawings of the rugged coasts, extensive reefs, fertile slopes, unusual wildlife, and other features of the faraway continent that he suggests naming “Australia.”

His wife places a copy of the freshly printed book, A ­Voyage to Terra Australis, in his hands as he lies unconscious in their central London home the day before his death in July 1814. Later, he’s interred at St. James’s burial ground, but within a few decades, the tombstone is missing. When the railways at nearby Euston Station expand in the mid-1800s, workers re­locate, pave over, or strip graves. Lost in a subterranean terra incognita, the explorer might lie somewhere under track 12. Or 15. Or the garden that’s replaced the cemetery. No one knows.

Today, a bronze Flinders at the station entrance crouches over a map alongside his beloved cat Trim, who also made the trip around Australia. If the statue could lift its head, it would see commuters rushing across the plaza past construction barriers. The hub is expanding again, now as a new terminus of the huge HS2 high-speed rail project, which will connect the capital with points north.

This time, though, a team is carefully exhuming and ­documenting remains before the tunnel-boring, track-­laying, and platform-building begins. They know that Flinders and an estimated 61,000 others were buried here between 1789 and 1853. But, with only 128 out-of-place headstones ­remaining, they don’t know who they’ll find.

Caroline Raynor, an archaeologist with the construction company Costain, leads the excavation. On a typically overcast day in January 2019, she oversees work beneath what she calls her “cathedral to archaeology,” a white bespoke tent so massive that it could house a Boeing 747. It shields a hard-hat-clad crew of more than 100—and the dead, sometimes stacked in ­columns of up to 10 as much as 27 feet deep.

Where the London clay is waterlogged and ­oxygenless, delicate materials survive. ­Clearing earth by hand and trowel over the course of a yearslong job, Raynor’s diggers uncover ­bodies wearing wooden prosthetics, as well as the Dickensian bonnets that used to hold the deads’ mouths closed. One man still sports blue slippers from Bombay. Even plants and flowers remain. “Some of them were still green,” Raynor says.

Suddenly, a crewmember runs over with news about a grave fairly near the surface. Very little of the coffin is intact—wood doesn’t fare well in the granular, free-draining topsoil—so there’s nothing to open. A lead breastplate rests atop a bare skeleton: “Capt. Matthew Flinders R.N. Died July 1814 Aged 40 Years.”

The discovery is one small chapter in the saga the HS2 project promises to tell. If the first stage of the $115 billion initiative is fully realized, the train will cut through ancient woodlands, suburbs, and cities along the 143 miles between Birmingham in the north and London in the south—though not before teams like Raynor’s uncover any underground treasures. “It looks like we’re finding archaeology from every phase of post-glacial history,” says Mike Court, the archaeologist overseeing the more than 60 planned digs for HS2 Ltd., the entity carrying out the rail initiative. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to have a complete story of the British landscape.”

With more than 1,000 scientists and conservators involved, the scale of HS2’s excavations is unprecedented in the UK, and perhaps all of Europe. However, it’s hardly an outlier. As ­development continues to tear through hidden civilizations across the continent, investigations like this are becoming common in fact, they’re often required by legislation. While researchers once bored trenches exclusively on behalf of museums and universities, many now work on job sites. These commercial archaeologists dig up and analyze finds for private companies like the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), a primary contractor on HS2. Because their work is tied to the pace and scale of building projects, their targets are quite random, and discoveries can be boom or bust. Sometimes they’ll unearth just a few graves during housing construction other times they’ll turn up dizzying amounts of data on battlefields and cemeteries in the path of huge public works.

When efforts at Euston wrapped in December 2019, Raynor’s crew had uncovered some 25,000 of the boneyard’s residents, including ghosts like ­auction-­house founder James Christie and sculptor Charles Rossi, whose caryatids watch over the nearby Crypt of St. Pancras Church. Gazing at the site from her makeshift office, Raynor marvels at the scope of the work still ahead: “It’s very difficult to dig a hole anywhere in the UK without finding something that directly relates to human history in these islands.”

More than 60 excavation sites dot the first phase of the HS2 rail project. Violet Reed

Construction and archaeology weren’t always so close-knit. Through much of the 20th century, builders in the UK often haphazardly regarded artifacts and ruins. Sites were rescued only by the goodwill of developers or ad hoc government intervention.

The chance discovery of the Rose in the late 1980s spurred England to adopt new rules. Among the brothels, gaming dens, and bear-baiting arenas on the south bank of the River Thames, the Rose was one of the first theaters to stage the works of William Shakespeare, including the debut of Titus Andronicus. The construction team had the right to pave over it after only a partial excavation, and the government wasn’t eager to step in to fund a preservation.

Actors like Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Laurence Olivier joined calls to save the 16th-century ­playhouse. At 81, Dame Peggy Ashcroft was on the front line blocking bulldozers. The builders wound up saving the theater, spending $17 million more than planned.

To avoid future conflicts, in 1990 the country adapted a “polluter pays” model for mitigating harm to cultural heritage. Now developers must research potential discoveries as part of their environmental-impact assessment, avoid damaging historic resources, and fund the excavation and conservation of significant sites and artifacts.

That tweak led to “vast changes” in the UK, says Timothy Darvill, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England. “Just the sheer number of projects that were undertaken increased manifoldly.” According to his research, thousands of digs occurred per year in Britain from 1990 to 2010, increasing tenfold from decades prior.

Other governments followed suit. Most European countries have signed the 1992 Valletta Convention, a treaty that codified the practice of preservation in the face of construction. Findings published by the ­European Archaeological Council in 2018 show that developers now lead as much as 90 percent of investigations on the continent.

Archaeologists have opportunities to uncover enormous swaths of history on sites that logistically and financially might have been inaccessible before—especially in the course of major civil-engineering initiatives. ­Infrastructure authorities have funded multimillion-dollar projects to turn up mass graves on Napoleonic battlefields in the path of an Austrian ­highway, and 2,000-year-old ruins under Rome during a subway expansion.

Before HS2 became Britain’s banner big dig, Crossrail was the nation’s largest such program. Beginning in 2009, efforts ahead of the 73-mile train line across London revealed thousands of gems at 40 sites: fragments of a medieval fishing vessel, Roman skulls, a Tudor-era bowling ball, and 3,000 skeletons at the graveyard of the notorious Bedlam mental asylum.

To carry out all this work, many nations have competitive commercial markets for research and excavation. MOLA, an offspring of the Museum of London, is one of the largest British firms, and HS2 is one of its major clients. Its field crew surfaces thousands of objects destined for ­cataloging by a team of staffers on the other side of town.

MOLA headquarters sits in an old wharf building on the edge of a canal in East London’s Islington borough. The ground-floor loading bay leads to a labyrinth of rooms of dusty 20-foot-high shelves packed with dirt-caked finds trucked in from the field. Pallets and containers full of architectural stones, pottery fragments, and tubes of sediment flank narrow aisles. Thanks to the glut of construction-backed excavations, spaces like these see a constant flow of goods demanding attention.

In a small office near the maze, a researcher holds a human skull. Alba Moyano Alcántara is a “processor,” using a paintbrush to dab away soil on the centuries-old ­cranium. Like a triage nurse, she’ll decide the next steps for these remains and other artifacts. Damp bones will dry slowly on racks in a warm room down the hall pieces of metal get X-rayed to reveal their original forms.

Eventually, they’ll head upstairs, where MOLA’s specialists catalog the ­minute ­details of the finds. In an open-plan ­office, ­senior osteologists Niamh Carty and ­Elizabeth Knox inspect a pair of ­incomplete skeletons. Carty studies the top half of a young woman Knox, the bottom half of a man. Truncated ­bodies are common in old boneyards, where new graves often cut into old ones. Confidentiality agreements with clients keep the researchers mum on the exact origin of the remains, but they offer that these are from a “post-medieval ­cemetery.” If it wasn’t St. James’s, it was a place like it.

The thousands of skeletons that pass through MOLA contribute to a database of London’s population-wide rates of pathology, injuries, and other bioarchaeological information from prehistory to the Victorian era. “Every skeleton we look at is adding to the bigger picture,” Carty says.

She lingers over a rotted-out tooth, which likely caused a painful abscess before this young woman died. Knox’s skeleton’s lower legs have an irregular curvature, perhaps a sign that he suffered from rickets in his youth his spine has Schmorl’s nodes, ­little indentations on the vertebrae created by age or manual labor. “Archaeologists probably all have them,” Knox quips.

Sometimes a small sample can shed light on nationwide phenomena. The Crossrail dig uncovered a burial pit from the 17th-­century Great Plague of London, which killed nearly one-quarter of the population. In teeth from that site, researchers discovered the DNA of the bacteria that caused the outbreak. Analysis of all the HS2 remains might one day reveal migration and disease patterns from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution.

MOLA employees also gain insight from individual artifacts. Across the office, Owen Humphreys and Michael Marshall—­so-called finds specialists—study ­uncommon relics weeded out from the pottery pieces, nails, animal bones, and other abundant objects destined for bulk inventorying. “I once likened our job to being the seagull in The Little Mermaid,” Humphreys says. “People bring us things, and we take a wild stab in the dark as to what they are—”

“—a very well-informed stab,” Marshall adds. He holds the wooden leg of a Roman couch found on the Thames waterfront, its paint still red nearly 2,000 years later. “You very rarely get things like this in Britain,” he says. “It’s lucky that we got an opportunity to find out a bit more about what people’s homes looked like.”

These inspections can help determine the objects’ fates. The Museum of London houses the world’s largest archaeological archive of more than 7 million items from more than 8,000 excavations awaiting further study, placement in a collection, or, in the case of the St. James’s bones, reburial. A precious few finds will earn spots on public display.

An archaeologist carefully cleans one of the thousands of bodies uncovered in St. James’s burial ground in London. Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Leather shoes, wooden combs, an amber carving of a gladiator’s helmet, and some 600 other Roman artifacts adorn the ground floor of Bloomberg LP’s new ­European headquarters in central London. The nine-story structure sits on the site of a 3rd-century Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras. First discovered during construction of an office building in the 1950s, the Mithraeum suffered an infamously botched reconstruction deemed “virtually meaningless” by the site’s lead archaeologist.

After MOLA reexcavated in 2014 on behalf of Bloomberg, the developers had another shot to tell the temple’s story. Now visitors descend several flights of stairs into a darkened room. Light and mist create the illusion of complete walls extending from the stubby foundations of the subterranean temple. Footsteps and ominous Latin chanting piped in from the speakers crescendo, transforming this ruin into the site of secret cult rituals.

To be sure, many builders see ­archaeology as a compulsory, time-consuming, and expensive hurdle. There’s little publicly available information on the costs for these investigations, even for HS2, but according to the research of Bournemouth archaeologist Darvill, digging might add an extra several million dollars, depending on the scope of the plans. Still, the flashy new Mithraeum is evidence that some have found a symbiosis in using the past to try to make their projects more palatable to locals. Across the city in Shoreditch, a once-gritty East London neighborhood now synonymous with gentrification, the remains of a 16th-century Shakespearean playhouse called the ­Curtain Theatre will be incorporated into a new ­multipurpose development. According to the ad copy, the Stage will be an “iconic new showcase for luxury living,” and the “first World Heritage Site in East London.”

The archaeology story of HS2 will be too sprawling to fit neatly in a basement or lobby. It will take years to process and analyze all its finds. As of fall 2019, only the two biggest digs had finished: St. James’s and the excavation of another 6,500 graves from an Industrial Revolution-era cemetery at the Birmingham station.

HS2 archaeologists are now running test trenches to decide precisely which spots they’ll uncover in between. “Some of them are once-in-a-generation archaeological sites, and some are smaller, still interesting, but not large scale,” says project field lead Court. We already know that HS2 will cut through a mysterious prehistoric earthwork called Grim’s Ditch in the hills outside London, and farther north, a Roman town and a millennia-old demolished church. Researchers also hope to find traces from the Battle of Edgecote Moor, which broke out in Northamptonshire in 1469 during the Wars of the Roses.

The fate of HS2’s archaeological ­ambitions, however, is entangled with what has become an increasingly unpopular infrastructure project. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a review to determine whether the rail should be scrapped because of ballooning costs and delays. Critics argue that the benefits won’t outweigh the environmental disruption, the land seizures, and the financial burden to taxpayers. The community around Euston Station protested the construction, which gouged a green space, and leveled homes, offices, and hotels, displacing longtime residents who complained about shoddy compensation. The vicar of a nearby church even chained herself to a tree.

In such a controversial effort, any incidental cultural benefits are bound to conjure a degree of suspicion. “I’m fascinated by the stories that the dig at St. James’s Gardens is helping to bring to light,” says Brian Logan, the artistic director of the Camden People’s Theater, located at the doorstep of the site. “But I think you can be enthusiastic about archaeology while being a little skeptical of the purposes to which it’s being put.” In the first act of a 2019 performance that dealt with those issues, Logan knocked the project’s PR department for casting the rail as a bonanza for discovery: “Is archaeology really a profession we want to run on a bonanza basis?”

In the era of developer-led digging, that’s a question practitioners are reckoning with too. Costain archaeologist Raynor, whose focus now turns from St. James’s to the 15 miles of track leading out of Euston Station, would at least agree that her profession lacks sustainability. According to Darvill, half of archaeologists work in jobs tied to construction.

Bonanza-like conditions also create a gold rush of information—a blessing and a curse. With overstuffed basements, museums around the world face a storage crisis, and more digging might only compound the problem, especially now that archaeologists consider sites as recent as World War II worthy of study. Raynor sees the management of all that information as the bigger ­challenge—not just for scientific analysis, but also for public consumption. The excavation at St. James’s alone generated 3.5 terabytes of data. “It loses meaning if you don’t communicate it,” she says.

Luckily, communication is the easier piece of the puzzle. In Raynor’s experience, people viscerally react to pots, bowls, tools, and other bric-a-brac from the past. “As ­human beings, our wants, needs, and ­desires ­haven’t changed that much,” she says.

While the saga of HS2 is still being ­written, those small finds might resonate as much with the public as the ­discoveries of icons, like Matthew Flinders, whose life stories are embedded in the UK’s ­ever-changing stratigraphy. Flinders ­himself wouldn’t recognize Euston Station today, nor would he have thought he’d be an interesting ­scientific specimen. For better or worse, he helped chart a course through history, only to find himself in its path.

This story appears in the Spring 2020, Origins issue of Popular Science.


In our digital maps you will find nearly 100 locations of interest to the history of Toronto’s postwar construction, including places of labour solidarity and struggle, sites of fatal construction accidents, day labour pick-up spots, locations of organized criminal activity, and other important places in the mental maps of Toronto’s immigrant construction workers. Click the links below to access the maps.


Construction Worker experience requirements

Experience for a Construction Worker is usually acquired directly through working with more experienced professionals in the field as an assistant. There are no particular years of experience needed for his position, although any apprenticeships and previous construction work is a definite plus to have for a potential candidate.

The more experience gained through certification and work, the more effectively a Construction Worker can specialize in a craft like welding, electricity or concrete. There are also certifications in rigging and scaffolding in which a Construction Worker can prove their skills.

A path of destruction

But this was just the beginning. The world’s largest dam had to be built to control the temperamental Chagres river and furnish power for the Canal’s lock system. It would also create massive Gatún Lake, which would provide transit for more a third of the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The destruction was devastating. Whole villages and forests were flooded, and a railway constructed in the 1850s had to be relocated.

The greatest challenge of all was the Culebra Cut, now known as the Gaillard Cut, an artificial valley excavated through some eight miles of mountainous terrain.

More than 3.5 billion cubic feet of dirt had to be moved the work consumed more than 17 million pounds of dynamite in three years alone.*

Imagine digging a trench more than 295 feet wide, and 10 storeys deep, over the length of something like 130 football fields. In temperatures that were often well over 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with sometimes torrential rains. And with equipment from 1910: Dynamite, picks and coal-fired steam shovels.

Loading shot holes with dynamite to blast a slide of rock in the west bank of the Culebra Cut, February 1912 (National Archives at St. Louis/local Identifier 185-G-154)

This day in history, April 27: 51 construction workers die after scaffold inside a cooling tower in West Virginia fell 168 feet to the ground

Today is Tuesday, April 27, the 117th day of 2021. There are 248 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On April 27, 1978, 51 construction workers plunged to their deaths when a scaffold inside a cooling tower at the Pleasants Power Station site in West Virginia fell 168 feet to the ground.

In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed by natives in the Philippines.

In 1791, the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

In 1810, Ludwig van Beethoven wrote one of his most famous piano compositions, the Bagatelle in A-minor.

In 1822, the 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was born in Point Pleasant, Ohio.

In 1865, the steamer Sultana, carrying freed Union prisoners of war, exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee death toll estimates vary from 1,500 to 2,000.

In 1941, German forces occupied Athens during World War II.

In 1973, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray resigned after it was revealed that he’d destroyed files removed from the safe of Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt.

In 1982, the trial of John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot four people, including President Ronald Reagan, began in Washington. (The trial ended with Hinckley’s acquittal by reason of insanity.)

In 1994, former President Richard M. Nixon was remembered at an outdoor funeral service attended by all five of his successors at the Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, California.

In 2009, a 23-month-old Mexico City toddler died at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, becoming the first swine-flu death on U.S. soil.

In 2010, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was extradited from the United States to France, where he was later convicted of laundering drug money and received a seven-year sentence.

In 2015, rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers hours after thousands attended a funeral for Freddie Gray, a Black man who died from a severe spinal injury he’d suffered in police custody the Baltimore Orioles’ home game against the Chicago White Sox was postponed because of safety concerns.

Ten years ago: Powerful tornadoes raked the South and Midwest according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 120 twisters resulted in 316 deaths. An Afghan officer, Col. Ahmed Gul, killed eight U.S. airmen and one U.S. civilian during a routine meeting at an Afghan air force headquarters compound in Kabul Gul died in an exchange of fire that followed his attack. Responding to critics’ relentless claims, President Barack Obama produced a detailed Hawaii birth certificate in an extraordinary attempt to bury the issue of where he’d been born and confirm his legitimacy to hold office.

Five years ago: Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced in Chicago to more than a year in prison in a hush-money case that revealed accusations he’d sexually abused teenagers while coaching high school wrestling. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill allowing mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs.

One year ago: In a call with governors, President Donald Trump said states should “seriously consider” reopening public schools before the end of the academic year. Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors to “be on the lookout” for state and local coronavirus-related restrictions that could be unconstitutional. New York canceled its June Democratic presidential primary because of the pandemic. The family of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot to death in her home by officers serving a narcotics warrant, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Louisville, Kentucky and its police department. (The suit would be settled in September.) Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, sentenced to 10 years in prison in a corruption case in 2014, was released early because of the coronavirus.

Today’s birthdays: Actor Anouk Aimee is 89. Rock musician Jim Keltner is 79. Rock singer Kate Pierson (The B-52′s) is 73. R&B singer Herb Murrell (The Stylistics) is 72. Actor Douglas Sheehan is 72. Rock musician Ace Frehley is 70. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is 70. Pop singer Sheena Easton is 62. Actor James Le Gros (groh) is 59. Rock musician Rob Squires (Big Head Todd and the Monsters) is 56. Singer Mica (MEE’-shah) Paris is 52. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is 52. Actor David Lascher is 49. Actor Maura West is 49. Actor Sally Hawkins is 45. Rock singer Jim James (My Morning Jacket) is 43. Rock musician Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket) is 43. Rock singer-musician Travis Meeks (Days of the New) is 42. Country musician John Osborne (Brothers Osborne) is 39. Actor Francis Capra is 38. Actor Ari Graynor is 38. Rock singer-musician Patrick Stump (Fall Out Boy) is 37. Actor Sheila Vand is 36. Actor Jenna Coleman is 35. Actor William Moseley is 34. Singer Lizzo is 33. Actor Emily Rios is 32. Singer Allison Iraheta is 29.

Journalism, it’s often said, is the first-draft of history. Check back each day for what’s new … and old.

20 Incredible Photos of the Construction of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, the 102-story skyscraper on Fifth Ave. between West 33rd and 34th Streets in Midtown Manhattan stands 1,454 feet tall. It was the world&rsquos tallest building for 39 years from its completion in 1931 until the World Trade Center&rsquos North Tower was completed in 1970. It has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930 and construction of the building began on March 17. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly European immigrants, as well as hundreds of Mohawk iron workers. Despite an astonishing lack of safety regulations, only five workers died during construction.

The construction of the Empire State Building was part of a competition in New York City for the &ldquoworld&rsquos tallest building&rdquo with 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building surpassed both buildings in height upon its completion in April 11, 1931, 12 days ahead of schedule.

1929-1931 Empire State Building under Construction. mashable New York 1950s. Worker on Empire State Building. servatius Sept. 29, 1930 Flirting with danger is just routine work for the steel workers arranging the steel frame for the Empire State Building, which became the world&rsquos tallest structure when completed. Pinterest Steel worker Carl Russell sits at 1,222 feet (400 meters) on top of a steel beam casually waving to the cameraman. Imgur Oct. 29, 1930 A construction worker hangs from an industrial crane during the construction of the Empire State Building. BETTMANN: CORBIS Feb. 28, 1956 &ldquoWorkmen place one of the new beacon lights in position on the 90th floor of an impressive electronic crown in the form of four far-reaching night beacons. Combined, the four Empire State Night lights will generate almost two billion candle power of light and will be the brightest continuous source of man-made light in the world. Engineers say the beacons can be seen from as far as 300 miles. Cost of the installation is $250,000.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS 1) July 30, 1945 &ldquoWorkmen erect scaffolding on the 33rd Street Side of the Empire State Building as reconstruction work on the skyscraper begins. In spite of the damage the structure suffered when a B-25 crashed between the 78th and 79th stories, the world&rsquos tallest building was open today (July 30th), two days after the tragic accident.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS 1) Sept. 19, 1930 &ldquoWorkmen at the new Empire State building that is being erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel at 34th Street and 5th Avenue. in New York, by a corporation headed by the former Governor Al Smith, raised a flag on the 88th story of the great building, 1,048 feet above the street. The flag thus is at the highest point in the city higher than the Crystler Building. Photo shows the workmen at the ceremonies.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS Sept. 29, 1930 Erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria, this building will rise 1,284 feet into the air. A zeppelin mooring mast will cap this engineering feat. Mashable

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