Edges of Empire

KNW 2399: Edges of Empire

Blue Collar Workers of Mexico and India


This picture is of the North Tower Suspension Bridge on the Mapimi Railroad, a part of the Baldwin Locomotive Works collection.

This tower is connected with another tower through a long suspension bridge. Looking at the way the mountains rise and fall in the background, the bridge is probably crossing over a deep valley. Based on the color of their skin, the workers in the photo are most likely all Mexicans. The fact that the workers pictured are all Mexican suggest that they played the largest role in constructing this railroad and suspension bridge, and based on the heights from which the bridge overlooks it was most likely a very dangerous project that caused a number of deaths. At the tower itself, the amount of people working there along with the surrounding buildings suggest that this is more than just an outpost but also a community that these workers may even live in. The photo description notes that this bridge was designed by a man named John A. Roebling, which does not sound like a Mexican name. This leads to questions about why, if a non-Mexican designed the bridge, it was worked on by what seems like only Mexicans. This bridge inspires questions over the conditions and danger of the project, as the fact that it may be staged raises questions over what these workers’ actual jobs on this track were, whether they had more dangerous or difficult duties than simply what is pictured.

This photo is part of a collection on the construction of the Hardinge Bridge in Paksey, Bangladesh (Formerly Sara, India). The description for this photo notes that bridge crosses the Ganges River.

The first observations that come to mind are the profiles of the workers and the conditions that they are working in. The sun is beating down on a group of workers. The background shows a long expanse of what looks like hot, brutal desert. The people doing the actual hard work look to be Indian based on their skin color, and their emaciated appearances suggest that this construction project has been a very difficult ordeal. There are a few lighter skinned people wearing white and hats, indicating they’re most likely British and are overseeing construction. The structure looks very sophisticated, and brings to mind the fact that the British are not very far removed from an Industrial Revolution. One can also assume that since this bridge is being built over a river and the workers seem mostly Indian, there was danger involved. Some questions that arise from the photo are regarding the working conditions that these blue collar Indians had, and questions regarding the scale and effects of what looks to be a very large and sophisticated structure that required a lot of manpower and expertise.

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