Builders of 20th Century America Public Works

20 th Century America witnessed the greatest construction of public works projects ever. They were built on technology breakthroughs and project precedents of prior century and facilitated by inspired leaders as well as widespread public support. This course covers the realization of infrastructure and building imperatives that accompanied the rise of vast urban areas as America continued to expand and change in the 20 th century, after having swept west to push our frontier to the Pacific Ocean in the 19 th century.

Tumults of wars and changing values shaped what we built. Vast waves of immigration and population explosion made building both imperative and possible. The story of how this was accomplished is the tale of individual leaders and their intricate ties to both construction as well as evolving public opinion

Approach to Builders Course

 As with all epics, the tale of 20 th Century America, public works and great construction projects is best viewed through individuals. On developing this course, it was tempting to contemplate a subtitle of: Building from Moses to Moses. Robert Moses of New York is the leading figure to illustrate issues of 20 th century U.S. public works projects. However, even though the biblical Moses may have been Pharaoh Seti’s master builder, his lasting legacy lies in building a faith.

To expand from Robert Moses and New York, the course approach will compare and contrast the New York experience with Chicago, California and the West. New York’s coverage will be broadened to include bridge builder Amman as well as New York mayors and governors. Chicago’s public works will be traced from Burnham and Sullivan to the Mayors Daley, who maintain Chicago’s reputation as the city that works. Public works in California will include Mulholland, O’Shaughnessy, Henry J. Kaiser and Bechtels, who built water systems that made the West viable and transit that linked California internally and with the country. Along the way, those who touch multiple regions such as Olmstead, rail barons, Burnham and Ike will help weave and intertwine the rich fabric of America’s great public works.

Short video extracts are shown on an optional basis after class. Slides are projected to provide the visual images of the people and projects discussed. The links to course outline and syllabus for this eight session course is at right and includes links to all slides to support each session. Other links provide to course resource and bibliography materials, including city plans, builder and project anthologies and timelines. Course reading is from from Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro as Chapters (Ch). Reference links to related Internet sites for course syllabus are indicated at right. Links to Course Outline summarize web resources by individual soure session and topic.



Outline and Syllabus

Links to Course Outline

Bibliography by Region

Burnham 1906 San Francisco Plan

Burnham 1909 Chicago Plan

SF & LA Water Project Timelines

Robert Moses and NY City Timeline

Moses Articles from Time Archive, 2007 Exhibitions

Caltrans History

Title I Urban Renewal

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