A tribute to the “Cowboys of the Sky”
In one of my older posts I talked about the Barnstorming, a form of entertainment in which stunt pilots used to make the craziest things in the air to attract an audience: dangerous spins, loops and the barrel roll, stall turns and wing overs while reckless aerialists performed crazy stunts like switching from a plane to another, wing walking, parachuting and even playing tennis…
Either individually or in groups, they were called flying circuses and used to entertain crowded fields of people paying the tickets for a show or a plane ride. They soon gained fame and became very popular. The unbelievable and amazing story of these brave, daredevil and risk lovers made everybody dream between 1919 and the end of 1920s, they enchanted people that stared at them in slack-Jawed amazement during their flight performances.
These people were stuntmen, they made those craziness in the air for fun. They were reckless and daredevil performers who challenged the peril with incomparable and unprecedented bravery. They pushed themselves to their limits: the more their performance was dangerous, the more they enjoyed doing that. The more they challenged death with their flying circus the more crowds of people payed to watch those crazy men. Their job was pretty unsafe, but at least we know for sure that it was their choice of life.
Look at these reckless stunts on a bi-plane (picture above) … breathtaking, isn’t it?
However, there is another category of so-called brave workers that I think it is worth to spare a thought for: that is the “Cowboys of the Sky”. They were not sporty men like Barnstormers, neither they made stunts for fun and glory. These men were just construction workers who, between 1910s and 1930s, worked at breakneck heights to build the massive awesome skyscrapers we can admire today, especially in New York City.
The Art Deco style lines buildings, I talked about in my older post “New York City and the allure of its Art Deco buildings”, were characterised by the new futuristic shapes for that time, like spheres, polygons, rectangles etc…, symmetrical patterns and sunburst motifs. New eye-catching and mesmerizing shapes were combined with materials like stainless steel and aluminium that better expressed the wish of modernity and economic prosperity typical of the Art Deco period.
Woolworth Building, 1913
American Standard (Radiator) Building, 1924
General Electric Building, 1931
The Empire state Building, 1931
The Rockfeller Center, 1931
The beginning of 1900s was a time of full economic growth and urban expansion. It was the Belle Epoque, an amazing period where positivity towards the future was spread among the masses. New inventions were made and publicized by the mean of world fairs and start of new projects was quite usual. The Industrial sector was making progress in leaps and bound, thanks to the development of the hydraulic elevator and the invent of electrical lighting. Both the progress and the population growth led to the construction of new kind of high-rise buildings: the skyscrapers.
The “Cowboys of the Sky” built those futuristic towers with their bare hands with no kind of protection and very little guarantee of safety and security. As you will see in the pictures below, they did not make use of any harnesses or hard hats.
Forget the nowadays extreme sports. These brave men were the forefathers of lightminded Instagrammers of our time that we see taking their pictures from the top of high-rise buildings just to gain more like and popularity by the use of the hashtags like #Extremeselfie and #Daredevil. Not only the “Cowboys of the Sky” were unaware pioneer of these death-defying pictures but thanks to their daring, fearless and reckless spirit, we can admire such towering wonders in all their glory. These brave souls risked their lives to do that! And they didn’t do it for the fun or the thrill, they did it because they had to.
The “Cowboys of the sky” fooled around at dizzying height laughing in the face of death. They built some of the most American iconic buildings during the early era of skyscraper construction, without the luxury of regulations and protections we have today. These daredevil men of their times were pictured by reckless photographers to which we owe the incredible breathtaking scrapbooks we are able to browse today.