U. S. Pipe & Foundry, 1937-39

James E. Allen had two commissions to provide illustrations for advertisements for the United States Pipe and Foundry Company. Founded in 1899 as the United States Cast Iron Pipe and Foundry Company, it is known variously as the U. S. Pipe & Foundry, or simply U. S. Pipe, and is still going strong (see uspipe.com). The commissions were ...

  • 12 lithographs of Cast Iron Pipe Workers (1937/38)

  • 4 Lithographs of the four seasons, with scenes of the pipe laying industry (1939)

The ads were placed in trade journals intended to sell US Pipe technology and goods to planners and builders. Accordingly the pipework in Allen’s lithographs demonstrate common scenarios that would be recognized by those in the industry. The typical layout featured the art prominently with ad copy extolling the history and reputation of the company and the virtues of their product (complete ad copy below).

Note: Special thanks to Steve Hembre, Manager – Product & Fittings Design Sourcing, US Pipe, for his insights into the types of pipework shown and their purpose. The technical diagrams below are from the “Handbook of Cast Iron Pipe for Water, Gas, Steam, Air, Chemicals and Abrasives”, Chicago: The Cast Iron Pipe Research Association, 1927. Available online from The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (dipra).

Series 1 -- Twelve lithographs of Cast Iron Pipe Workers

Apart from his etchings, these are the most recognizable and collected of Allen’s works. They contribute to his reputation as an artist of working men as everyday heroes. Teams of anonymous men, with backs to the viewer or faces in shadowed profile, are focused together on the tasks of laying or joining pipework in a variety of locations. The settings, while possibly based on real projects and real places, are not identified. This is perhaps deliberate. This product, this infrastructure, is pervasive; a generic place could be your town, your river, etc.

Illustration art of this kind, especially for such a specialized commercial topic, would have been considered separate from (and likely inferior to) “fine art”. But in a probable first for advertising art, the New York dealers Kennedy & Co. offered the lithograph “The Pipe Layers” for sale as a piece of fine art. (Lawrence M. Hughes, “Advertising News”, The New York Sun, April 28, 1937). This was the beginning of many years of representation by the Kennedy Galleries of Allen's art.

Though commissioned for advertisements, interest in the prints themselves was high. U. S. Pipe made a 1938 calendar of the 12 lithographs as a client promotion (no copy found).

The twelve lithographs, in the order their corresponding ads appeared in The Journal of American Waterworks:

  1. Socketing (Dec 1937)

  2. Four Pipe Line (Jan 1938)

  3. The Trench (Feb 1938)

  4. Standing Pipe (Mar 1938)

  5. Bell Pipe (Apr 1938)

  6. Aqueduct (May 1938)

  7. Reservoir (Jun 1938)

  8. Pipe and Brawn (Jul 1938)

  9. S-Curve, aka Pipe Layers II (Aug 1938)

  10. Pipe Layers I (Sep 1938)

  11. The Flats (Nov 1938)

  12. Big Bend (Dec 1938)

1. Socketing (Dec 1937)

Here we see an underground pipe for either an intake, exhaust, or a river crossing. This print shows bell-and-spigot joints (aka spigot-and-socket), suited to underground installations meant to last decades.

Ad copy: This month marks the end of another year's service for many millions of lengths of cast iron pipe installed throughout America, some of which have rounded out or passed the century mark in useful life. In six large cities are more than six million lengths of cast iron pipe comprising 95 per cent of an aggregate of 13,000 miles of water distribution mains. Experience with cast iron pipe--in water, gas and sewerage service--is ample and conclusive as to the strengths to meet stress and the corrosion-resistance that add up to a long, economical life. Cast iron pipe is not only a proved but a constantly improved product. U. S. Super-de-Lavaud Pipe, centrifugally cast in a metal mold without chill, is a notable example.

In a bell-and-spigot joint, each pipe segment has a flared bell on one end, the socket, to take the other end of the next pipe. The joints are packed with treated fibre to form a leak-proof gasket, then the joint is locked in place with poured lead.

2. Four Line Pipe

This shows multiple lines to a treatment plant or for fresh water distribution. Typically the large line is water to or from afar whereas the smaller lines are local. The bend in the smaller pipes is done with 45 degree elbow fittings.

Like the other prints, this shows an installation in progress. Bends like these will have thrust blocks added, concrete blocks to prevent the pipes moving outward under pressure at the bends.

Ad copy: Ancient of days is cast iron pipe in service underground from one to nearly three centuries. It would seem trivial, therefore, to mention that 1938 is the seventh anniversary of Super-de Lavaud Pipe, except for one fact: for seven years we have been accomplishing what metallurgists had heretofore considered commercially impossible. At our Bessemer, Birmingham and Burlington plants our centrifugal-casting units are producing gray iron pipe "cast without chill in a metal mold." Millions of feet of Super-de Lavaud pipe in service have borne out original tests demonstrating that this pipe is exceptionally tough and ductile, with extraordinary impact resistance.

The workman is applying a dresser type coupling, joining plain end pipe in the absence of flanges, likely as a repair.

3. The Trench

The workers are installing buried lead joint pipe. Trenches were used either to carry services below ground, especially in urban settings, or to help maintain a level run through uneven ground. The timbers on the sides are temporary to keep the sides of the trench from caving in on the workers.

Cast iron had a reputation for durability, and underground pipes were meant to last for many decades. Water pipes from 1664 at Versailles, France were still in use in the 1950s. (1952 Handbook of Cast Iron Pipe)

Ad copy: For certain areas where active waters must be transported we recommend and furnish cast iron pipe with linings appropriate to the conditions. Yet instances are continually reported where cast iron pipe with standard coal tar dip is delivering satisfactory carrying capacity after generations of service. Cast iron pipe manufactured by us with linings as required, either pit cast or Super-de Lavaud chill-free centrifugally cast pipe, will meet any special condition encountered in water, gas, sewerage or industrial service. The counsel of our technological staff is at your service.

4. Standing Pipe

Pipes might change from horizontal to vertical to connect to something like a bridge crossing, suggested by the girder cutting across the upper left corner, with a perspective from high above the water.

Ad copy: Many reasons are adduced by metallurgists for the long life of cast iron pipe. None of them equals in importance the simple historical fact that the first cast iron water mains laid in Europe and America are still in service. The fundamental reason, of course, is that cast iron pipe combines in one material all the qualities requisite for long-lived underground service. In the case of Super-de Lavaud centrifugally-cast pipe, because it is "cast without chill in a metal mold', certain of these qualities are greatly enhanced, as for example, resistance to impact.

5. Bell Pipe

This shows bell & spigot joints leading up to the workers where there is a transition to a rigid flange pipe assembly, perhaps to accommodate the insertion of a valve or meter box. The wooden scaffolding may be temporary support for pipe that will eventually run underwater.

The large ring appears to be a flange coupling and may be part of the transition, though it seems out of scale. Its purpose here is unknown lacking further context.

(no original ad found)

6. Aqueduct

This is lead joint pipe running alongside a river or preparing to cross. Empty pipe floats so they are keeping it above flood levels.

The bundle of cut pieces of fibre on the pipe behind the workers will be used to create gaskets for the joints.

Ad copy: The job calls for a corrosion-defying material with great strength to cope with a variety of stresses. Cast iron pipe is specified as a mater of course. But even the simplest routine installation may encounter unforeseen stresses in years to come and be saved by untimely failure by these safety factors of cast iron pipe. Century-old cast iron mains have survived vastly changed conditions and stresses. Advances in foundry technology and metallurgical control--represented by Super-de Lavaud Pipe, centrifugally cast in a metal mold without chill--have considerably enhanced the strengths of cast iron pipe. The impact strength, for example, of Super-de Lavaud Pipe is extraordinary.

7. Reservoir

This is water outflow from a reservoir. The two levels would deliver different pressures as needed.

Ad copy: Advantages enjoyed by purchasers of U. S. Pipe are the plus-services made possible by strategically-located plants and storage yards; by complete and modern laboratory facilities; and by an expert technical staff. Co-operation in pipe design for unusual requirements, and strict adherence to exacting delivery schedules, can be counted on. We are organized and equipped to render a complete service in long-lived Cast Iron Pipe, either pit or centrifugally cast, for delivery anywhere.

8. Pipe and Brawn

This is an underground installation for water drainage or sewage. The section being positioned might be for a manhole, or if rotated could be for distribution side lines.

Ad copy: The words 'and Foundry' in our corporate name mean that we have exceptional facilities, recently augmented by an addition to our Chattanooga plant, for the design and production of large special castings and special fittings. Primarily devoted to the requirements of water purification, sewage treatment and gas plants, these facilities also serve the needs of sugar, chemical, paper-making, fertilizer and other industries. Your inquiries are solicited.

9. S-Curve (aka Pipe Layers II)

This print is a bell & spigot lead joint distribution line for fresh water or a gravity sewer. It illustrates the flexibility of such pipework in complex terrain. The gentle curve in the back could be done with deflection at each joint, a feature of bell & spigot joints. The forward sections would be segments of curved pipe for the tighter turn.

The large concrete structure in the back is too large for just stabilization; it could be a holding tank of some sort to provide a gravity feed.

Ad copy: This pipe line was planned for permanence and therefore it is built with cast iron pipe, a material known for long life in underground service. What if the first cost is higher in some cases! Figured against the complete cost of an installation, the extra investment for cast iron pipe is small indeed. Figured against years of service it is soon liquidated, but the dividends in extra service continue for generations.

10. Pipe Layers I

Twin lines are used sometimes for water supplies to avoid total shutdown of water if there is a failure along the way. The concrete structure at the top is likely a thrust block to keep the two pipes stable.

Ad copy: All along the line, from the blast furnace through the cupola to the fore-hearth for a battery of Super-de-Lavaud centrifugal casting machines, improvements in metallurgy have gone hand-in-hand with advanced techniques in pipe production. Without benefit of these improvements, cast iron pipe laid generations ago has set amazing records of economy and long life. Yet, today's cast iron is unquestionably better, giving added insurance of long, uninterrupted service under costly modern pavements and congested traffic.

11. The Flats

This is a lead joint above-ground installation. The speeding train in the background adds a nice dimension to this print, reinforcing what the name suggests -- pipes traversing long stretches of flat land connecting sources of water with population centers.

Ad copy: Price per foot installed is an uncertain index of the eventual cost of an underground main which is intended as a permanent installation. The real yardstick is the cost per service year. With a useful life of more than 100 years--with maintenance cost nil or negligible--cast iron pipe is by far the lowest-cost material on a service year basis. This is a matter of record.

12. Big Bend

This pipe shows bolted flanged connections for the right angle. A rubber gasket is placed between the flanges and squeezed during bolting to effect a seal. It may be part of a river crossing but you can’t tell whether it’s going down for an underwater crossing up or up a bridge.

Ad copy: In a world of change and uncertainty, cast iron remains steadfast--a material you can bank on--basically the same today as for two centuries--yet more than ever the accepted standard for undergound mains. Cast iron pipe is the product of a progressive industry which has attained high standards and uniformity in metallurgy and manufacture--well exemplified by U. S. Super-de Lavaud Pipe, centrifugally cast in a metal mold without chill.

Series 2 -- Four lithographs of the four seasons

The year after the pipe workers series, Allen did a series of 4 lithographs for a campaign that presented the growth of the pipework infrastructure as a natural backdrop to scenes of everyday life. The ties to the ad copy were a little tenuous -- “A Spring reminder that you can buy…”, “Summer is the peak … of pipeline construction”, “the fruits of research …” (autumn). The prints themselves have their own domestic charm, as long as you ignore the cranes and barges busy in the distance.

US Pipe printed the lithographs, images reversed, as cards given to clients as promotion.

The four prints, in the order they appeared in these journals

  1. Winter (Journal of American Water Works, January 1939)

  2. Spring (Water Works Engineering, April 5, 1939)

  3. Summer (Water Works Engineering, June 7, 1939

  4. Autumn (American City, October, 1939

1. Winter

A father and son pass a worker driving a pipe through the woods in the snow, each with their prize. The use of a four horse team for a single pipe may seem excessive, but it limits the scale of the composition to individuals, keeping the pair of tree hunters prominent in a tranquil winter scene.

Allen must have liked this image because he replaced the pipe with a large log to create as a holiday scene called “Getting the Christmas Tree” which he editioned as a separate print.

Ad copy: Beginning the eighth year of cumulative evidence that Super-de Lavaud Cast Iron Pipe, produced by a revolutionary method whereby gray iron is centrifugally cast in a metal mold without chill, has extraordinary toughness, ductilibility and resistance to impact.

2. Spring

Father and son are in the foreground returning from a successful day of fishing. The blossoms on the trees and a trench full of new pipe herald new growth and good things to come.

Ad copy: A Spring reminder that you can buy chill-free centrifugally cast Super-de Lavaud Pipe for practically any kind of construction. It is available in 12 or 18-foot lengths, 3 to 24-inch diameter, lined or unlined, bell-and-spigot or with mechanical joints, plain or threaded ends, and in culvert types and sizes.

3. Summer

Boys beating the summer heat at a favorite spot under the bridge, undisturbed by the nearby barge assembling what will eventually be a submerged pipeline. Assembling a pipeline above water and then sinking it into a prepared trench is one method for relatively short underwater installations, particularly when waves or weather are not a mitigating factor.

Ad copy: Summer is the tonnage peak of pipeline construction -- underground, submarine and outfall. You can quickly obtain U. S. Cast Iron Pipe from any one of our fourteen plant and storage yards throughout the country, stocked with pipe and standard fittings--U. S. Super-de Lavaud, centrifugally cast in a metal mold without chill, or U. S. Pit Cast.

4. Autumn

This is arguably the least successful juxtaposition of industry with the idyllic when viewed outside the context of advertisement. The boys and their dog by a single craggy tree, with grass and flowers at their feet, are isolated by a low stone wall from what seems a noisy and disruptive background featuring a large crane.

Ad copy: One of the fruits of Research is Super-de Lavaud Pipe which we cast centrifugally in a metal mold by a patented chill-free process. Developed in our laboratory eight years ago, Super-de Lavaud Cast Iron Pipe has long demonstrated its great toughness, ductility and impact strength.

-- Lynn McRae (lmcrae@stanford.edu)