Everything You Think You Know About American Manufacturing Is Wrong. Here’s Why

Oct 3, 2014

Photo: Ian Wagreich.

You may not realize it, but manufacturing is an incredibly important component in the U.S. economy, contributing more than $2 trillion to GDP in 2013. U.S. manufacturers also employ more than 12 million American workers and indirectly support 17.4 million jobs, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

While many think manufacturing is dwindling in the U.S., the practice of reshoring is actually bringing an economic revitalization to our nation. And, this isn’t your daddy’s manufacturing, either. Advances in IT and technology have boosted innovation in productivity, growth and job creation. Don’t believe us? Well, take a look at these four cutting-edge technologies with the potential to transform the U.S. economy.

American manufacturers come in all shapes and sizes, and in honor of Manufacturing Day, we want to celebrate the millions of companies that create their products in the United States. Here are some of our favorite stories from across the country, as well as a slideshow put together by Ian Wagreich that shows American manufacturing at its best:

•The small town of La Junta, small town of La Junta, Colorado hides Debourgh, a big-time, American locker manufacturer, who builds and supplies lockers that are used by schools, hospitals, and other organizations across the U.S.

•When people think L.A., they think Hollywood. But did you know, that L.A. is also home to a manufacturing center with dozens of factories who cut and sew work for the entire fashion industry? 

•Across the country, New Jersey-based Annin Flagmakers also does their fair bit of sewing. They are the oldest and largest U.S. manufacturer of American flags. 

•Just up the way in Brooklyn, NY, MakerBot is reimagining U.S. manufacturing with the 3D printing technology it pioneered.

•Nestled in a small town in central Pennsylvania, Zippo manufacturing, has been keeping the spark of innovation alive since 1932. Check out these nine intriguing facts about Zippo

Ever see how shampoo is made? It’s a highly detailed and fascinating procedure that seems to connect chemistry and cooking. It might surprise people to learn how many ordinary products are made right here in the U.S.

I am constantly drawn to workers who perform jobs that are indirectly related to output, for example in-machine maintenance. Here a worker services the machine that wraps rolls of finished toilet paper with paper wrapping.

In a remote part of Louisiana, the sugar industry fuels the local economy. In this image, a worker welds a track to a tractor used for farming sugar cane.

In this photo, sugar is blown into a mound to ready it for shipping at a refinery. There were so many anecdotal stories to tell about the sugar industry, from the lack of local skilled labor to illustrating how smartphones are used to monitor the diagnostics of a century-old mill.

Shipbuilding is one of many operations that I wanted to capture to illustrate a legacy industry that thrives in the 21st Century. Today, metalworkers, electricians, engineers, and other tradesmen join together to build high-tech tugboats in Tacoma, WA. 

I have visited several printing plants during the last decade and have witnessed a significant reduction in output. We just aren’t printing as much anymore. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the smell of ink in the air and the symphonic clack-and-whap of paper meeting rollers.

Here a worker stands at the insertion point of a massive drill bit penetrating several thousand feet underground to mine for fossil fuels in rural Pennsylvania. Using traditional black and white film helped me to slow down the action and connect images like this with the work of industrial photographers at the turn of the 20th Century. 

More than anything else this project consistently fills me with a great sense of gratitude for the sacrifices workers make on our behalf, albeit to support their own livelihood, but sacrifices nonetheless. There aren’t many people who can endure an eight-hour shift in sweaty, heat protective gear, breathing from a respirator while welding off excess castings like this worker does at a metal foundry in Michigan.

See more photos at www.blueamericaatwork.com

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