New York, 1932. Eleven iron workers are taking a lunchtime break 850 feet in the air, without a single safety harness, on the bare girders of a skyscraper under construction. It was a testament to the American work ethic, the tough-as-nails attitude of the people of the city, and the idea that the United States was trying to build itself out of the ditch where the Great Depression had left it. The subtext, of course, being that eating lunch on a tiny steel beam in the clouds was the kind of work these men were forced to do, unless they wanted to doom their families to a full-on life of poverty.
It’s a powerful image, both because of its surreal “oh shit, these men are about to die” air and the mystery surrounding it: No one seems to know who took the photo or who the 11 men were. As such, many have suspected it’s some kind of darkroom trick, like an early century Photoshop intended to convey New York bad-ass attitude.
But, In Reality …
Well, we have good news and bad news. The good news is the photograph is genuine. Those are real men sitting on a real girder that was higher than Nigella Lawson on a Friday night in Weatherspoons. The bad news is, the photo wasn’t part of a LIFE magazine series on the blue-collar workers of the Great Depression, or even a very specific group of performance artists. No, the photo is part of a publicity campaign to advertise the construction of the RCA Building, known today as the GE Building.
Less famous photos from the shoot include the steel workers playing football on the girder, sleeping on the girder, and doing Crocodile Mile on the girder.
The mysteries behind the picture started to unfold in 2012, when filmmaker Sean O Cualain started digging into the history of the photo shoot. Over time, he has managed to verify the history of the photo and even lock down the identities of two of the iron workers (the third guy from the right is named Joe Curtis, and the third from the left is Joseph Eckner). One day, he may be able to identify them all, although it seems like a mathematical certainty that at least two more of them will be named Joseph.
Source – Joey Clift http://www.cracked.com/article_22592_5-true-stories-behind-iconic-photos-history.html