Hot! by Joanne Wasserman


Let us enjoy our time, tonight! Our day’s work is over and we are here, among friends and neighbors. So much is here to experience! It is nighttime in the city with dark skies overhead, yet our public square shines brightly beneath the moonlight towers. Musicians have come out to jam, yeah, eager to perform again on precious instruments which they brought from the old country. We’ve got surround sound! Glorious rhythms and a marvelous melody—nearly everybody is dancing! There’s more music coming from a phonograph machine that sits atop the soda shop next to the motion picture screen. Some folks are enjoying singing along with pre-recorded songs, while others prefer the jukebox tunes, over there, at the corner of the street. What else is Hot!?

Motion pictures projected on film are being shown in vaudeville houses, penny arcades, picture palace theatres, and here, outside in the open air. One thing more, see, that department store’s rooftop radio, now broadcasting the “live audio” of a slapstick comedy show—transmitted from far away.

Cities reflect their times. Each is an emblematic place where people, inventions and new technologies mingle and merge creatively. How cool is that for the country, USA? Until the 1860s, most people in the United States of America lived within a country landscape on family farms that functioned as rural factories. Native born citizens and immigrants engaged primarily in local activities with each community making, growing and manufacturing most of what they needed. Businesses also drew from the abundant, local natural resources to produce lumber, shipbuilding, furniture, grains, and textiles to sell in the markets. By the time the Civil War began in 1860, farmers had developed agriculture on a massive scale in Midwestern metropolises suchlike Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and Michigan City, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois. As the War was being prosecuted, entrepreneurs in other spheres were churning out military weapons and supplies even as they kept up with escalating civilian customer demands for farm machinery, specialized tools, ready-made clothing, and domestic goods–particularly, processed meats and canned foods.

America was growing! The number of inhabitants increased by 67.5 million, and eleven states entered the Union from 1876 to 1912. Forty-eight contiguous States, then as now, span the Eastern seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. Pioneers in the tens of thousands moved to the West to settle and farm the lands. Adventurers went in search of gold, but stayed to be miners of silver, copper, and tin. But, most men and women moved off their farms to take jobs in the cities. They worked beside colleagues who recently emigrated from Europe, Canada, and Asia. Their labors were mutual and purpose-driven to better their lives by every sort of job in every kind of enterprise.

Across the urban scene, electric power supplanted steam as the dominant energy for industrial activity. Electric incandescent lamps were everywhere, in homes, shops, and factories. Municipalities used arc lamps in locations where it would be too costly or impractical to use sidewalk street lamps. The giant-sized arc lamps stood atop very tall platform rigs and illuminated several city blocks simultaneously—glowing as “moonlight towers.” Tall buildings, too, lit up the horizon with electric-powered elevators, central heating, electric plumbing pumps, and the telephone. The first skyscrapers reached a mere ten to twenty stories high, yet, were different at their core. An internal skeleton was part of their design, a “cage,” built with cast iron in the early days, and later, with steel—strong, light, affordable, plentiful steel. Rather than the outer walls, the skeleton supported the weight of the edifice. That allowed for buildings with higher ceilings and wider space to accommodate, say, people passing through a corporation’s ground floor lobby, or the main commercial floor in a department store. After work, what entertaining things did people do upon a city’s stage? Imagination led the way, then as now.

Copyright © Joanne Wasserman, 2012









1 Comment

  1. Christopher Cook

    Great! I enjoy art that has a lot to look at. (One of the reasons why I love John Martin so much.)

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