Wednesday, Oct. 28th – 7 pm
Building the Golden Gate Bridge:
A Workers’ Oral History

Labor historian Harvey Schwartz

workers building the golden gate bridgeMoving beyond the familiar accounts of politics and the achievements of celebrity engineers and designers, Building the Golden Gate Bridge is the first book to primarily feature the voices of the workers themselves. This is the story of survivors who vividly recall the hardships, hazards, and victories of constructing the landmark span during the Great Depression.

Labor historian Harvey Schwartz has compiled oral histories of nine workers who helped build the celebrated bridge. Their powerful recollections chronicle the technical details of construction, the grueling physical conditions they endured, the small pleasures they enjoyed, and the gruesome accidents some workers suffered. The result is an evocation of working-class life and culture in a bygone era.

Most of the bridge builders were men of European descent, many of them the sons of immigrants. Schwartz also interviewed women: two nurses who cared for the injured and tolerated their antics, the wife of one 1930s builder, and an African American ironworker who toiled on the bridge in later years. These powerful stories are accompanied by stunning photographs of the bridge under construction.

An homage to both the American worker and the quintessential San Francisco landmark, Building the Golden Gate Bridge expands our understanding of Depression-era labor and California history and makes a unique contribution to the literature of this iconic span.

HARVEY SCHWARTZ is curator of the Oral History Collection, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Library, San Francisco. He is the author of Solidarity Stories: An Oral History of the ILWU.

“This fascinating book captures the story of a big construction project through the eyes of the people who actually did the work and describes the immigrant experience in the early 20th century and the difficulty of finding work during the Great Depression.”
-Andrew Dunar, professor of history, University of Alabama, Huntsville

“Harvey Schwartz follows the example of Studs Terkel by allowing workers to speak for themselves. Building the Golden Gate Bridgecomes at a time when we Americans are asking ourselves, are we finished as a working nation-if and when work is defined as highly skilled, demanding, dangerous, intricate performance by ordinary workers operating at the top of their game? This book, the voices of these workers, and the Golden Gate Bridge itself gives us the confidence to assert that labor in America is far from finished. It has got a long way to go-and the Golden Gate Bridge has set the standards for that journey.”
-Kevin Starr, University of Southern California

“In this superbly edited oral history collection, Harvey Schwartz brings to life the heretofore uncelebrated stories of workers who constructed and maintained the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Here the voices of cable spinners, ironworkers, engineers, and nurses who tended the injured describe accidents, company safety innovations, worker ingenuity, racism, and the cold, wet, and dangerous conditions of the San Francisco Bay. These stories evoke the daily heroic feats of workers in an era when the nation supported infrastructure and jobs projects.”
-Laurie Mercier, author of Speaking History: Oral Histories of the American Past

“Harvey Schwartz masterfully guides the reader through the exclusive, real life stories of the overlooked ‘greatest generation’ workers who built the Golden Gate Bridge in perilous hardscrabble working conditions that would challenge them every day. After reading these riveting stories from a time when as ironworker ‘Ace’ Al Zampa says, ‘You could go all over San Francisco for a nickel’ your next trip over the Golden Gate Bridge will never be the same.”
-Art Agnos, former mayor of San Francisco