View Full Version : Shorpy.com: 100-year-old photo blog

Doc Nickel
11-01-2007, 08:31 AM
I think I've already posted this once before, but it's fascinating to browse so I figured I'd do it again regardless. :D

Today's front page has this photo (http://www.shorpy.com/comment/reply/1879) of a fellow and his son lubing a lathe, on which he makes "essential war materiel".


Occasionally you'll see pics of trains and switchyards, there's been some of trains inside the maintenence bays, there's fairly frequent shots of war production- lots of women working on large turret lathes and jig borers- and occasionally even photos dating back to the Civil War.

It's not "just" hardware though, there's lots of just "family snapshot" type stuff, or "local scenery", but even those are often interesting, when you look for a moment and notice the fountain says "Coloreds Only".

Worth a look.


oil mac
11-01-2007, 10:38 AM
Nice photo Doc, Wonder just how much production went on in home workshops, Possibly more than we think, Britain also, During the first world war period had, especially in the London area The Amateur Ordnance Volunteers,
Your photo looks like the Ubiquitous South Bend, Wonder if the kid is still around & using dads Lathe?

11-01-2007, 11:17 AM
Wonder just how much production went on in home workshops,

That's a good question.....

From what I've read a good deal of this type stuff was propaganda to get the citizenry behind the war effort.

11-01-2007, 11:26 AM
Doc, Great website, great pictures!, over 800 pages so I bookmarked it, will go back later and look at every page. thanks for the headsup.

11-01-2007, 12:40 PM
Yeah, I enjoyed that. A nice tour down memory lane!!

11-01-2007, 01:35 PM
Thanks Doc, I've bookmarked this now too. I'm just beginning to explore the endlessly fascinating photos. Its good to follow the collection of a single photographer, and now I am looking at the 1940s images of Russell Lee. I was amazed to see his photos of Pie Town, New Mexico, which I recently passed though. The place is diminished to almost non-existence now, but the photos show it during busy homesteading days.

Doc Nickel
11-01-2007, 05:35 PM
Just as clarification, it's not "my" site and that one I posted isn't "my" photo. It's just a cool photography resource I stumbled on a few months back, and I've been reading ever since.

I do have a few old shots from the 40s and 50s available though, that I might submit one of these days.


11-01-2007, 07:22 PM

11-01-2007, 09:54 PM

the sad thing is, if there was a REAL war today, i doubt many women in the U.S. would do those jobs.

andy b.

john hobdeclipe
11-02-2007, 09:17 PM
Didn't take long for me to start learning stuff on that site. In the pic of the father & son at the lathe, note the flourescent lights in the background. I had always thought these weren't until the fifties. A little reading, and I learn that the first ones were being sold by 1938.

Thanks for posting the link to this site...It will keep me out of trouble for several weeks.

11-02-2007, 10:17 PM
There's several things about that picture that are interesting. I also noted the lamps and marveled at how little they've changed. One thing that is characteristic is the bell on the end of the string. The lighting is fantastic - so many light sources perfectly blended with no light on unimportant elements.

And there's some darkroom work evident on the boy's hand that's holding the oil can - perhaps they removed a label or a hotspot. The depth of field (focus) suggests a small lens opening and the slight blurring of the gentleman's collar appears to have moved slightly.

I'll bet I spent 2 hours browsing that site - fascinating photography and subject matter.

11-03-2007, 06:51 AM
In the 2 pretty ladys machining shots, the 2nd one's either a set-up or just started her shift. She's too clean.:)

It'd be great to know exactly what parts they're machining and where they go on what airplane.

And, reckon how many megapixels it'd take to equal the resolution in a FOUR x FIVE Kodachrome slide?

11-03-2007, 08:06 AM
In the second picture, the lady is just getting set up or checking the setup. You can just see what appears to be a Starrett Last Word peeking out from behind the part.


11-03-2007, 08:49 AM
Wonder just how much production went on in home workshops,

My Grandfather was a tool and die maker in Stewart Warner's instrument department and my father was a tool designer in their screw machine department.
In the basement was a 16 inch Rockford shaper, two 14 inch lathes, a 10 inch logan, a Ried 8X18 surface grinder, and two drill presses.
In the garage were 12 Brown and Sharpe screw machines.
They'd get home from work and work on war production , mostly for the navy, until eight or nine o'clock.
When my father was drafted in 1943 my grandfather finished all the outstanding jobs and shut everything down until the end of the war.

Doc Nickel
11-03-2007, 03:06 PM
And, reckon how many megapixels it'd take to equal the resolution in a FOUR x FIVE Kodachrome slide?

-Not as much as you might think. The film had a large grain which limited it's ultimate resolution.

If you mean "contains as much information", then I'd guess a 10 or 12MP camera will match or even slightly exceed the resolution.

If you mean "has the same working area"- as in a 4" x 5" sensor- Hasselblad has a medium-format digital camera with a whopping 39MP. Costs about twenty-five grand, though, but it's the camera to use when you need the absolute most information ber shot as possible.


11-03-2007, 05:00 PM
Costs about twenty-five grand, though, but it's the camera to use when you need the absolute most information ber shot as possible.


Naah - this is the guy you call when you want the really big shots: http://www.gigapxl.org/

11-03-2007, 11:10 PM

There's something wrong in the 1809 picture. There's no tooling in the turret, nothing mounted on the faceplate and dust all over that lathe. She's a cute girl, but the picture is a phony pose from the git-go.


Doc Nickel
11-03-2007, 11:50 PM
What? There's three tools in the turret- all three are facing away from the camera. That big lathe-cross-slide looking thing? That's on the turret, not the cross slide. The second one over from that looks to me like a Geometric-style threading head, but that's just a guess based off the handle with the knob.

As for what's in the chuck, you're right, it looks empty, but I very much suspect it's an offset part bolted to the portion we can't see, with a stub being turned and threaded (something like a bellcranck, I'm guessing, and that's again a guess based off the guess that it's a threading die head.)


11-04-2007, 12:05 AM
There's something wrong in the 1809 picture. There's no tooling in the turret, nothing mounted on the faceplate and dust all over that lathe. She's a cute girl, but the picture is a phony pose from the git-go.


There's absolutely no doubt it was a staged image. The clues are all over the picture in the lighting, angles, and image quality and clarity. That was no snap from the family Brownie. That's not a bad thing - the image may have been used in some important way such as recruiting women to become machinists. It was vital to the war effort that those machines continue to churn out product.

Doc Nickel
11-04-2007, 12:10 AM
Why do you say it was a staged image? I'm not saying it "can't be", but there's tools in the turret, that can easily be a part on the chuck, and if you're going to complain she doesn't have gloves or safety glasses, you'll recall that's a photo from 1943- nobody wore much by way of safety gear at the time, and few companies required it.

As for the dust on the machine, there's clear marks that the dust has been disturbed- what's to say that machine went the past month unused, and was only just restarted for a short run of whatever she's making? It's not like the place is only going to have the one lathe- large plants at the time had dozens, if not hundreds, especially since several of these photos show aircraft manufacture, whose plants could easily have thousands.


11-04-2007, 12:22 AM
From the caption: 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Howard Hollem, Office of War Information.

It was a professional job. 3 point critically set lighting (including one right into her face - danger, danger!), background blacked out, the image subject (the girl) is perfectly framed in the light, and to a lesser degree the focus of her gaze is as well, no flash. All else is subdued so as not to distract from the subject of the image. Right out of the game book of the great painters.

Doc Nickel
11-04-2007, 12:43 AM
Except the other photo linked in that same post, is nearly identical- background is dark, lighting is even and focused on the subject, etc.- and yet she's clearly doing an actual job. Or they spent more time bothering to gin up a staged shot by giving her an actual object to turn, a Last Word to check it, and a small inspection mirror so she can see the LW's dial as the spindle rotates.

The background is dark because the film is "slow"- not very light sensitive, or low ASA. The near lighting was a flash, and "flash" at the time meant a large aluminized reflector and a flashbulb style flash, which was very limited in range and power.

Note the "Long Beach" photo; see the big industrial lights across the ceiling? Not very bright, are they? That's an artifact of the camera and film, with probably some darkroom manipulation as well. One assumes the lights weren't just giving off a faint blue glow and everyone was working by braille. :D

They were both taken with a single, diffuse light source, almost certainly a flashbulb mounted on a stand with a reflector.

But there's nothing there that suggests either one was staged.


11-04-2007, 01:02 AM
My comments have been in regards the #1809 image. I'll just offer that the hotspots visible in the image are all the same intensity which in my experience precludes flash - sure, could have been burned out in the darkroom, but I'd wager not - very much more expensive with color images to fiddle in the darkroom. The shadows on the subjects clearly show light from the right, from the left behind the camera and rather low, and overhead and forward of the camera.

The girl in the bandana is quite another situation and flash was used there. The overall quality of that image is inferior to the #1809 image but evidence shows photo lights were used overhead and behind the camera as a minimum, and off to the right at subject level. The overhead lamps are artificially muted - they're all the same intensity even as they fade to the background and grow angularly smaller. Wouldn't pass the Mr. Science test.

No matter - beautiful images.

Doc Nickel
11-04-2007, 02:37 AM
I disagree. Having used several versions of old "flashbulb" type flashes, they actually tend to produce a relatively diffuse light, which stands to reason since both the bulb and the reflector are typically quite large (six to eight inches in diameter.)

Modern flashes, such as you'll see on digital point-and-shoots, are smaller, much higher in intensity, and tend to produce sharper shadows since the bulb and reflector are tiny.

Second, modern flashes are integrated with the camera, and for a point-and-shoot, are often only an inch or two at best, off of the lens centerline. The bulb flash on a Speed Graphic, for example, with the factory bracket, is some ten inches offset from the lens, and sometimes hand-held as a seperate unit on a coiled cord.

Now you're right, these are almost certainly professionally done shots, but again, that stands to reason since in the 1940s, cameras were rather expensive, and nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. They were shot professionally, but I have no doubts at all they were not "staged".

If you look at the top of the turret in 1809, you can see one of the faceplate slots reflected in the oil- there's also wet oil on the tool facing the chuck, and the one on the extreme right edge of the photo.

I agree it's interesting we can't easily see what's being turned, but I can easily imagine it's a bellcrank sort of thing, bolted to what's shown as the bottom edge of the faceplate, and only having a small stud on one end turned. Just because it's a large and heavy machine, doesn't mean the part being worked on has to be a fifty-pound casting- look at the other photo; the part looks like a one-pound aluminum forging.


11-04-2007, 03:15 AM
No expert, but the words 4 by 5 format camera pretty much have always meant Pro photos were being taken.. That large format film was expensive.... and surely rationed during war years...

There was a war to be won, and photos played a large portion of it...... (some in aircraft...)

Doc Nickel
11-04-2007, 03:25 AM
Oh undoubtedly. As I said above, it's almost a certainty the photos were taken professionally. Even by the fifties with the advent of the "Brownie", cameras were still fairly expensive luxury items.

But being professionally taken doesn't mean "staged".

It's assumed the 1809 photo is "staged" because the turret is half-empty of tools, there's dust- albeit disturbed- on the machine, and no visible workpiece on what's certainly a very large faceplate that you can see nearly to the center of.

But none of that is truly indicative. The part could be small, and happened to be at the bottom of the swing. There's no reason to have unused tools on the unused parts of the turret (and were probably needed on one of several dozen other similar machines anyway), and the dust could easily gather on the parts visible even on a regularly-used machine.

I mean, it's really of no consequence either way, but it's an interesting bit of thought exercise.