Three workers outdoors

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Photo measuring 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

What I know about it:

Photo developer’s stamp on the back reads Wilkinson & C. / Kodak Department / Druggists / Keokuk, IA.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


I’m assuming these are manual laborers taking a break from their toils, but beyond that I’m not sure what the story is.  I thought the structure to the right might offer a clue, but I don’t know what it is.  I was guessing maybe the base of a bridge or tower of some sort.  So I looked up Keokuk, Iowa, and sure enough, not only is it located right on the Mississippi River, but it’s the location of a major lock and dam system, plus bridges for everything from cars to railroads.  Apparently Keokuk is located at the base of the Des Moines Rapids, once the most impassable part of the Mississippi River, until the ambitious citizens of Keokuk decided to build a lock and dam system to make it navigable and draw business further upriver.  (It didn’t turn Keokuk into the boomtown they hoped, but the system is still in operation, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)  I was suddenly excited that these might be men building the dam or some related element of that project, but I’m not so sure.  The dam was completed in 1913, and while the clothing here resembles that worn in photos of dam builders, and while the Wilkinson & Co Druggists was around back as far as the 1800s, this photo has more of a feel of the 1920s or 1930s to me.  Still, as always, I could be wrong.  Maybe they are later dam workers, not dam builders.  Who knows?  For all I know they could be farmers working in a field next to a radio tower.  In any case, here they are for you to enjoy.

6 comments on “Three workers outdoors”

  1. Yes, to everything you said. Great musings! Add one change…the man on the left is wearing a suit and is not dirty like the other two. I’ll bet he is either the engineer or a wealthy land owner talking to his hands. 🙂

    • Thanks! (I just found two [two!] typos and corrected them. Sheesh, I try to be so careful before I post.) The outfit on the left looked more like coveralls to me (as opposed to the overalls on the right), but it’s hard to say since the image is a little washed out. But you’re right, it’s different, and it appears cleaner, so he might be there in a different capacity. It’s always so interesting, the details that emerge the longer you look at an image.

  2. What a good eye! I had to take my giant magnifying glass out and look at it on my very large computer screen to see it is indeed a coverall. I think I was thrown off by the collared shirt until I saw them all wearing collared shirts. Funny how we sometimes make instant associations like that. As far as you typos, they must have been small because I was not drawn to them at all while reading the story. 😉

    • Oh, don’t feel bad, I can’t believe how many times I’ve made assertions about things in my posts only to find out I was looking at things wrong, and that it is so obvious once it’s pointed out to me. It’s like things are optical illusions to me when everyone else sees them clearly. But that’s actually why I’m grateful to the blog’s visitors who can help point things out. 🙂

  3. To my eye, they’re all in overalls and are, as you say, probably taking a break from work. I think the hats are our clue to era, and I just don’t know if those are 1920s hats. Anyone else out there specialize in accessories studies?

    • I’m obviously not. There are definitely some clothing experts out there, I just don’t know if they’ll see this. Part of what made me think it was later was the format of the photo, the size of it, the slightly glossy surface and the stamp on the back. These things resembled photos I have from the 20s and 30s, but I could be wrong.

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