Monday, July 26, 2010

Fat Man

Hanford, Washington

Hanford Engineer Works (1944)
Soon after a woman sold me an old Christmas menu online, she wrote to let me know something about it. Her father had been a machinist who rode the rails looking for work in the 1930s. He eventually landed a job at the Hanford Engineer Works in Washington State, where he worked for the Manhattan Project during World War II. In 1944, he enclosed this holiday bill of fare in a letter to his family in Chicago as a way of reassuring them that he was okay. There was a hand-written notation on the back of the menu that summarized its story. It read “atom bomb job.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


North American Phalanx
Red Bank, 1855

During the 1840s, there were hundreds of Utopian communities in the United States based on ideas developed in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Although there were major differences in the purpose and organization, these religious and secular groups all shared a vision of communal living in a society that ensured prosperity for everyone. Although none of them was able to create an ideal world, one of the most successful communities was the North American Phalanx, a non-sectarian association established near Red Bank, New Jersey in 1844. Based on the theories of French philosopher Charles Fourier, the Phalanx (as it was simply called) was opposed individualism, believing that the efficiency of labor could be improved through harmonious cooperation.1 Given its custom of sharing food in common, it was surprising to discover that this socialist community suddenly began printing daily menus, as evidenced by a rare survivor from 1855.