Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York

This Smithsonian national traveling exhibition toured from 2004-2007*.

“A lot of people think Mohawks aren’t afraid of heights; that’s not true. We have as much fear as the next guy. The difference is that we deal with it better. We also have the experience of the old timers to follow and the responsibility to lead the younger guys. There’s pride in ‘walking iron.’”
—Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvais (Mohawk, Kahnawake)

A 21st-century Mohawk ironworker might easily be called a real “man of steel.” For more than 100 years, Mohawk people have taken part in the seemingly superhuman task of building skyscrapers and bridges throughout the United States, Canada, and abroad. Working in New York City since the 1920s, these brave and skilled ironworkers built the city’s most prominent landmarks, including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the George Washington Bridge, and the World Trade Center.

The Mohawk tradition of ironworking began in the mid-1880s when they were hired as unskilled laborers to build a bridge over the St. Lawrence River onto Mohawk land. They quickly earned a reputation for being top-notch workers on high steel, and “booming out” from their Native communities in search of the next big job became a fact of life.

During the 1940s and 1950s, many Mohawk ironworking families moved to the New York City area—as many as 700 families into Brooklyn—to aid in the city’s vertical expansion. In the 1960s, when New York City announced plans for the World Trade Center, Mohawk ironworkers eagerly accepted the challenge of erecting the then tallest buildings in the world. In September 2001, after the collapse of the twin towers, Mohawk ironworkers returned to dismantle what their elders had contributed to the Manhattan skyline decades earlier.

>> Read the "Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York" exhibition script for a more in-depth look at this topic.

*Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.





Exhibition specifications

Contents This exhibition included reproductions of 67 black-and-white and color photographs, a floor case with a sculpture created from metal ruins of the World Trade Center, text panels, and labels
Supplemental

Educational resources, PR materials, bibliography

Category History & Culture
SITES Contacts

Minnie Russell, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)
Deborah Macanic, 202.633.3101 (Content)

Toured Through 2004-2007
   

 

Tour itinerary

Dates Host Institution  
09/11/04- 10/31/04 Museum of Science and Technology, Syracuse, NY
11/20/04- 04/03/05 Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History, Delray Beach, FL
04/23/05- 06/19/05 D. H. Hill Library, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
02/11/06- 04/30/06 Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, TX
05/20/06- 07/16/06 The Bennington Museum, Bennington, VT
08/5/06- 10/01/06 Spartanburg County Public Library, Spartanburg, SC
01/13/07- 05/27/07 Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT
06/16/07- 08/12/07 Tamastslikt Cultural Institute Museum, Pendleton, OR
09/1/07- 10/28/07 California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA
       
   

 

Related publications
The exhibition script (wording) for the traveling exhibition "Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York" is available for download and may be used for educational purposes.

Press release

7.7.04
Images of Mohawk Ironworkers Displayed in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition

Standing hundreds of feet above the ground on the frames of New York City skyscrapers is not the easiest way to make a living. Mohawk Indian ironworkers say that "walking iron" gives them great pride. These ironworkers share their stories of strength in a new Smithsonian traveling exhibition.

"Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York" opens at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology in Syracuse, N.Y. on Sept. 11. The exhibition will remain on view through Oct. 31 and then continue on a national tour through 2007.

"Booming Out" was developed by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian's George Heye Center and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The exhibition, its national tour and related programs are made possible by the AMB Foundation.

"The Mohawk Indians have an inspiring and important story that the National Museum of the American Indian is proud to be a part of," says W. Richard West (Southern Cheyenne), director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Mohawk ironworkers have been "booming out" for six generations. "Booming out" is a Mohawk expression used to describe the urban migration of the Mohawk ironworkers as they leave their native communities in New York state, Ontario, Quebec and Montreal in search of work. One of the earliest projects the Mohawks completed was a bridge over the St. Lawrence River, between Canada and Mohawk land in New York state. The Mohawks have constructed portions of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the George Washington Bridge and the World Trade Center in New York City. Mohawks on the West Coast in the 1930s constructed the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

"Booming Out" contains black-and-white and color photographs featuring Mohawk Indians "walking iron." Many of these photographs were taken by the ironworkers themselves. The exhibit also includes a floor case with a sculpture created from the metal from the ruins of the World Trade Center. The metal was recovered by Mohawk ironworkers during the clean-up at Ground Zero. The sculpture was designed by Darryl Pronovost (Mohawk).

Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvais, a Mohawk ironworker, says, "A lot of people think Mohawks aren't afraid of heights; that's not true. We have as much fear as the next guy. The difference is that we deal with it better. We also have the experience of old timers to follow and the responsibility to lead the younger guys. There's pride in walking iron."

The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is an institution of living cultures dedicated to the preservation, study and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native peoples of the Western hemisphere.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C. for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play.



EXPLORE and LEARN

» Exhibition Specs

» Tour Itinerary

»
Exhibition Summary

» Related Publications

» Press Release

» Exhibition Script


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» Smithsonian Mohawk Collections

» Skydancer film

» Smithsonian magazine article

» Original exhibition from the National Museum of the American Indian


 

 

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