Ten Great US Infrastructure Projects Built By Irish American Immigrants

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The Extraordinary Legacy Of Hardworking Irish Americans

Globally, The United States boasts of state of the art infrastructure and cloud reaching buildings that are hard to find elsewhere.  Despite the architectural industry having undergone massive changes, it has come a long way with some of the current structures tracing their establishment hundred years ago.

Other than the real estate sector, the transport system has seen numerous improvements geared to make it efficient every day. Most of the construction occurred in a period that America experienced a massive influx of Irish immigrants. The Irish immigrants provided architectural designs and participated in the construction work.

While the state of US infrastructure is not what it once was, let us have a look at some of the infrastructure projects built by the Irish American immigrants.

1. The Empire State Building

empire state building _1_
Image Source: Take Tours

The 102-story building in New York stands tall in appearance and hence features in the top 30 world’s tallest skyscrapers. After its completion, it stood as the world’s tallest building for about 4o years when others surpassing its height were erected. The original structure boasts of tons of steel and pre-world war architectural design.

Having lost the presidential race, AL Smith, the first Irish-catholic presidential candidate steered the planning of the Empire State building. Other than the planning process, the Irish-Americans played a central role in providing labor for the 14 months construction period.

2. The Home Insurance Building

Image Source: Chicago Public Library

It ‘s hard to talk about the early skyscrapers without a glimpse of the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. Constructed in 1884 to 1885, the structure featured in the Guinness book of world records as the world’s first skyscraper.

With only ten floors at completion, the building featured fireproof interiors and exteriors due to the presence of iron and steel. With a majority of the Irish immigrants settling before 1850, they formed a formidable force in providing the required skills and workforce for the project.

3. The Croton Dam

Image Source: Sharp Shooters

When the Irish arrived in New York, the city was nascent in terms of sanitation. The foul odors coming from the city discouraged visitors from a distance. With inadequate water supply and efficient sewerage system, it was time for the city authorities to turn around the situation.

The construction work of the dam took 14 years to completion with the bulk of the masonry work performed by the Irish immigrant workers. Other than providing water for the residents, the dam offers a picnic site for visitors owing to the blend of natural and artificial spillway designs that created a waterfall.

4. Erie Canal


Image Source: Boating tales

The canal was proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825. Initially, the canal ran about 363 miles connecting Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. With major facelifts and other connections established, it forms part of the modern New York State Canal System.

The establishment of the canals provided the businessmen with a cost effective way to transport bulk goods before the invention of the railway system. The canal earned the Congressional recognition as being one of the important man-made waterways that transformed the lives of Americans. More than half of the manual laborers in the project traced Irish ancestry.

5. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Image Source: Fine Art America

Having undergone minimal changes since the establishment period, the Canal remains intact and stunning. Located in Washington, D.C, the canal stretched to Maryland in a length of about 185 miles.

The primary drive behind the destruction was to provide a reliable transport for coal transporters from Allegheny Mountains to the ports. Despite the early work being done by the enslaved blacks, the running team comprised of the majority Irish immigrants and a few native and German immigrant workers.

6. Brooklyn Bridge

Image Source: Deviant Art

The iconic steel wire suspended bridge was the first of its kind in the United States built over the East River. It runs for approximately 1595 feet (486 meters) connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Despite being designed by a German immigrant, the project coincides with the period when the Irish Americans were desperately in need of employment and hence enrolled in vast numbers. During the construction period, many workers experienced strange illnesses that affected the time taken to complete the project.

7. Boston’s Harbor


Image Source: Fine Art America

In the American History, Boston Harbor formed the most important avenue for the imports coming to the New England. In the period before 1800, it continued to see increased pollution through raw sewerage from the City’s population lowering the quality of the water.

However, the formation of the Metropolitan District Commission saw an end to the pollution paving a way for the expansion work that transformed it into a modern facility. With most of the construction work done by the Irish Immigrants, Boston boasts the highest density of the people with Irish ancestry in America today.

 8. Transcontinental Railroad

Image Source: DPLA

Before the building of the pioneer railroads, travelers had to bear with the lengthy walks across the mountains, rivers, and deserts to the western states. Alternatively, they had to take the risk and board the dhows and ships that took weeks to arrive at the destinations.

The invention of the locomotive paved the way for the construction of the railroads that connected the continent. Initially, the railroad contractor struggled to keep the Indian and Chinese worker, but this changed with the inclusion of the Irish workers into the project.

9. Central Pacific Railroad

Image Source: Calisphere

The construction work began in 1863 with Sacramento and Omaha being the major starting points. In the beginning, the company relied on thousands of Chinese workers to lay the lines with some coming from the private farms.

On the other hand, the Irish immigrants formed the majority of the Union friendly crew that had to cope with rocky terrains and frequent attacks from the Indian native communities.

10. The Castle Garden


Image Source: Courtesy of Alex Mclean

When it comes to discussions about the Irish involvement in the early construction, it is hard to assume the tremendous effort that went into the building of the Castle.

The main purpose of the building was to protect the residents of Manhattan from British invasion. However, it continues to attract millions of visitors that attend live concerts and sightseeing activities. Other than the Irish immigrants’ participation in the construction work, the heritage center contains imported stones from different Irish counties.

Most faced terrible discrimination upon arrival, but Irish Americans have been fighting for the US, since before it was a country.

Posted by XpatNation on Wednesday, December 2, 2015

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XpatNation is a Social News and Lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences on ex-patriots living in The United States.

XpatNation brings together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, Geo politics and the day to day on-goings of this proud and powerful nation.

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