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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s People on the Move Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Container System At Work on the Waterfront Negotiating Change Transforming the Landscape
17: Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960–1970

At Work on the Waterfront

Loading a conventional (non-container) freighter usually took several days or longer. Each ship presented a different set of problems since different cargoes required different techniques.

Longshoremen, working in gangs, took pride in figuring out how best to pack tons of goods into a ship’s hold, resulting in a “tight stow.” While the work was often hard, dangerous, and dirty, it also required ingenuity, experience, brawn, and teamwork.

Ship's hold with a tight stow
Otto Hagel photograph, Center for Creative Photography,
The University of Arizona Foundation
Ship's hold with a tight stow
Don't let the hook hang
Don't let the hook hang

When unloading a conventional freighter, longshoremen put other skills to work. Some members of the gang loaded cargo into slings. Many operated winches to hoist the cargo. It was a matter of pride not to “let the hook hang”—to work so effectively as a team that there was always a slingload of cargo in motion. Still, unloading often took more than a week.

Otto Hagel photograph, Center for Creative Photography,
The University of Arizona Foundation

Time is money

“Turnaround time” in the shipping industry is the time between a ship’s arrival in port and its departure. The time it takes to load and unload a ship is often the largest factor in turnaround time. For shipowners, the less time in port the better. A ship in port is not making money; it is generating expenses. In the 1950s, shipowners were desperate for ways to reduce turnaround time.

Otto Hagel photograph, Center for Creative Photography,
The University of Arizona Foundation

Time is money
Freighter, 1919
Freighter, 1919
A conventional freighter carries a variety of cargoes packed in boxes, bags, sacks, and other bulk units. This cutaway model of the freighter Lewis F. Luckenbach shows how different kinds of cargo-sacks of coffee, bales of cotton, cartons of merchandise, lumber-fit into the hold. The Lewis F. Luckenbach could carry as much cargo as 700 railroad cars, but it took gangs of longshoremen days to load and unload.

Cargo hooks

Cargo hooks were the indispensable tools of traditional longshoremen. The hook extended their reach and allowed them to snag a sack, bale, bundle, or box and lift it to a pallet or sling. Longshoremen used different styles of hooks for different kinds of cargo and even customized the handles to fit their hands.

Cargo hook
Cargo hook
A longshoreman used this style of hook for handling burlap sacks of cargo. The dull tips could grab a sack without tearing it.
Small cargo hook
Small cargo hook
Used for moving sacks of coffee, this small hook’s handle has been whittled to fit the left hand. With the hook extending between the third and fourth fingers, the thumb rests comfortably over the sloping part of the handle.
'Japanese' cargo hook
"Japanese" cargo hook
Called a "Japanese" hook by West Coast longshoremen, this style of cargo hook was especially good for reaching boxes packed in the far corners of a ship's hold.
Cargo hook for lumber
Cargo hook for lumber
This hook was used for handling general cargo in boxes, cartons, bales, and sacks.
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