You could say that Oakland’s searching for its next identity. Are we aspiring to become the Brooklyn or Amsterdam of the West? We have some momentum in these directions. While the jury’s still out, one thing we know is that our old, heavy manufacturing glory days are behind us.
Nearly a hundred years ago, Oaklanders were actively promoting their industrial charms and grasping for that manufacturing brass ring. We recently unearthed a 1920 publication that’s meant to lure more business to Greater Oakland – and is called Oakland, The Manufacturing City of the West.
Oakland Boosters In Full Swing
Current Oakland boosters might recognize this kind of hard-sell pitch, complete with bragging rights about our perfect weather. Though we don’t believe you need scientists to “state that 59 degrees marks perfection.”
The grandiose language reflects a different time, though. Come join “the industrial center of a State larger than the Kingdom of Italy.” Come join a “city of world possibilities, a city of leadership and service – a city of destiny.” These declarations are a bit much!
Big-Time Manufacturing Here
By 1920, there were so many different goods manufactured here. We knew about the food and shipbuilding businesses, but were surprised to learn that artificial limbs, violins, washing machines and adding machines also came from local factories. It’s hard to imagine that 18,000 products were manufactured in 2,000 industrial plants.
War-time shipbuilding became a major source of employment and the Moore Company loomed large. Others like Bethlehem Steel showed up for a short time as well. But Moore had staying power by extending its tendrils everywhere and, between wars, firing up ancillary businesses to support building construction.
The Manufacturing Legacy
Moore always commemorated their projects with photographs of employees and other VIPs. My favorite image is their huge steel girder (above), ready for the Paramount Theatre balcony. When the girder was manufactured in 1931, Moore claimed it was the heaviest and largest piece ever built on the West Coast: 105 tons and 120 x 9.5 feet. Some eighty years later, that balcony continues to support theater-goers.
Oakland’s manufacturing heyday is long gone, and those 2,000 plants have vanished without much trace. Production and transportation don’t have to be in the same place anymore. Our 2009 aspirations aren’t exactly clear, but it’s probably a good thing to diversify – get known for some things, get other things fixed.
More info: Thanks to the National Park Service’s Maritime Library. After I searched their old-fashioned card catalog, the librarians delivered materials and also gave permission to xerox and share images online.