Hine, born in Wisconsin in 1874, would go on to become one of the progressive era’s great photographers. As Jacob Riis did a generation earlier, Hine used the camera as a tool to record social inequities and spur reform.
The same year he snapped the Irish steel worker, Hine also created one of his more famous series of photographs, entitled “Child Labor: Girls in Factories.”
In 1908, acclaimed photographer Lewis W. Hine snapped a simple portrait titled “Irish Steel Worker.” The aged laborer has a weathered face and sad eyes. A pipe sprouts from his mouth. He sports suspenders, a thick handkerchief in his front pocket and a woolen cap atop his head.
But it was a decade and a half later that Hine would find his true muse. Hine’s most famous subject was not even a person. It was, instead, the tallest building in the world, a monument to enormity and audacity which just so happened to begin rising as the nation sank into a deep depression.
Construction of the Empire State Building began in March of 1930 on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 350 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. It was completed 14 months later in May, 1931. At 102 stories, it was at that time the tallest building in the world. It is presently the third tallest building in America.
Hine’s photographs of construction of the building capture the wonder, romance and artistry of the skyscraper and its builders. Almost as an afterthought, though no less important, the photos also capture a project on which Irish Americans played a central role, from the power brokers who envisioned this unprecedented project to the laborers who got the Empire State Building erected in just over one year. Hine captured the determination of the men who stirred the concrete and stacked the steel. But it’s important to note that Irish-American power brokers also played a key part in the Empire State Building’s rise