Poetry Opens 1937 Hit Movie on Linemen

Deck: 

“An army of men whose skill and daring have made this great power a reality.”

Today in Fortnightly

The 1937 hit movie Slim starred Henry Fonda and Pat O’Brian. It stirred millions of Americans with rivalries among men, and romance with the likes of Margaret Lindsay and Jane Wyman (who later became Ronald Reagan’s first wife).

The men were linemen risking their lives to build and maintain the fast-developing grid. 

The trailer says they’re “gambling against split-second disaster.” That they’re “daredevils carrying a million volts across a continent.”

“Living each moment to the fullest. Because the next job or the next kiss may be their last.”

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The movie opens with inspiring footage of the newly-completed Hoover Dam and linemen working, and with this poetry: 

“Every generation has witnessed the increase of mankind’s control over the natural forces of the earth. The waters that flow, the very air we breathe, is harnessed and made subservient to the will of man. 

But in the conquest of electricity, he obtained the power that dwarfs all others. The power that girdles the globe and annihilates distance and gives him control of time and space. 

The whole structure of our civilization depends upon the unfailing supply of that power. And upon the trembling lines that carry the electrical current over vast distances. 

We who live in this great age are perhaps cognizant only of the inventive genius of a few men who enabled us to harness this great giant. But without the courage and fidelity of the men who labor at all hours, and in all weather, to build and keep aloft the lines that bring us our electrical supply, this era of miracles would not have come to pass. 

The power that lifts our elevators, runs our factories and trains. The current that lights our great cities, our homes, and our hospitals, stands obedient ready to answer the pull of a switch. 

But behind all this is an army of men whose skill and daring have made this great power a reality. 

And it is to them we dedicate this picture. The linemen.”

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The Hoover Dam (then called the Boulder Dam) was completed in 1936, when the magazine for commentary, opinion and debate on utility regulation and policy, Public Utilities Fortnightly, was in its seventh year.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly

E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com