Mohawk Ironworkers on the job for Bethlehem Steel at Park Avenue and 53rd Street, ca. 1970, via the Smithsonian
The Empire State Building. The George Washington Bridge. The United Nations. The Woolworth Building. 30 Rock. The Seagram Building. Lincoln Center. The Waldorf Astoria. Virtually all of New York’s most iconic structures were raised in part by Mohawk Native American ironworkers. Since 1916, when Mohawk men made their way to New York to work on the Hell Gate Bridge, ironworkers from two Native communities, Akwesasne (which straddles Ontario, Quebec, and New York State) and Kahnawake (near Montreal), have been “walking iron” across the city.
In 2012, Kaniehtakeron “Geggs” Martin, a fourth generation Mohawk Ironworker, stood 27 stories above 55th street, striding across a two-inch-wide steel beam and swaying a support column into place. What was open sky, soon became a steel-and-glass skyscraper. “I’m a connector,” Martin told WNYC. “In the raising gang, it’s my job to climb the steel, and erect the iron. It’s my job to put the building up.”
The tradition of “Mohawks in High Steel” began in 1886, when Mohawk people were hired to build the Victoria Bridge for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, across the Saint Lawrence River, onto Mohawk land. The Dominion Bridge Company, the construction firm responsible for the bridge, intended to hire Mohawks as day-laborers unloading materials, but Mohawk bridgemen were more interested in riveting work, which was the most dangerous, and the highest paid. Of riveting, a DBC official once explained, “men who want to do it are rare, and men who can do it are even rarer.”
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