Air, Light and Efficiency

CRAMP_WAX

[CRAMP SHIPBUILDING COMPANY, TURRET SHOP, 6.20.09]

PennDot plans for the improved Girard Avenue Interchange show the turret shop of the venerable Cramps Ship and Engine Building Company sitting amid a viper pit of sinuous new ramps, feeders and new arterial city streets.  Roads like the super-wide Richmond Ave. uncozily sidle up next to the rectangular redbrick structure and the new northern on and offramps strike clean through it.  Of course, the turret shop will witness none of this, its demolition amply preceding any of construction.

byebyecramps

[PENNDOT PLANS FOR THE GIRARD AVE. INTERCHANGE]

Thus it was a rare treat to tour the great navelike turret shop last Saturday with the Oliver Evans chapter of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (OESIA) and to move through a space that was at once massively stolid and airy, possessing the “almost nothingness” that intrigued Ludvig Mies van der Rohe about the supremely utilitarian wartime structures of Albert Kahn.  Mies, who admired the employ of steel, concrete and glass to create utterly dematerialized and functionally free spaces would have appreciated the turret shop  with its window walls and butterfly trusses allowing in copious light.

CRAMPS_CRANE

As OESIA member and Fishtown built environment expert Torben Jenk pointed out on the tour, light was a tool to the  industrial machinist.  Paradoxically, while new mechanical sashes and butterfly trusses controlling airflow created a more regulated shopfloor environment in the early 20th century, the provision of air was and light was seen as a humane effort at bettering performance.  And more light allowed machinists to perform their idiosyncratic craft.  While we associate factory work with the rote mechanic performance of a single task, at most shops in Philadelphia in the 19th and 20th centuries skilled metal workers still enjoyed a craft-like, artisanal existence free to exercise their tactile knowledge.  At the Disston Saw Works in Tacony, home to Carolyn Healy and John Phillips’ “Running True” installation as a part of the Hidden City project, Master Smith Mark Ward and the don of Northeast history Harry Silcox demonstrated how machinists used light to identify minor deflections, divots, and curves in steel saws—and to perfect them.

HARRY_SILCOX

[HARRY SILCOX DEMONSTRATING AT A WORKER'S BENCH]

pond_truss

[THE POND/BUTTERFLY/M TRUSS, DAVID LUPTON'S AND SONS COMPANY]

One Philadelphia firm that excelled in the design and installation of windows, sashes and trusses for the modern factory was the David Lupton’s Sons Company, based at Allegheny and Tulip Sts.  A Lupton engineer, Clarke P. Pond, developed patents for mechanically operated top-hung continuous sashes which became an industry standard.  In the first decade of the 20th century, Pond also developed the “butterfly” or M truss which also bore his name and improved circulation of air even in poor weather.  One of the most prominent features of the Cramp turret shop is its Pond butterfly truss which, though difficult to drain, still provides ample light.  Lupton’s and Sons tied its suite of sashes, windows, trusses and monitors to shop productivity in publications like Air, Light and Efficiency.

cramp_vertical

[CRAMP TURRET SHOP WITH POND TRUSS]

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