Search Baywood’s Publications
Advanced Search 
The Language of Work: Technical Communication at Lukens Steel, 1810 to 1925
Carol Siri Johnson
Baywood's Technical Communications Series, Series Editor: Charles H. Sides

The AWARD WINNING Series has over 50 titles—and growing! Use QuickSearch to instantly discover what we have for you.

You can read the Introduction now, just click here.

"We technical writers seem to think that our field started with the software industry or, if we have very long memories, with Grace Hopper's efforts for the U.S. Navy in the 1970s. However, as Carol Johnson points out in The Language of Work, technical writing has a much longer and richer history than that. By the 1800s, as apprenticeship systems with oral traditions gave way to mechanized systems run by professionals, information had to be written down. However, writing books that readers could understand and navigate easily didn't come automatically. The Language of Work shows how our predecessors eventually turned logs and notes into standardized texts and industry bibles, creating many of the types of information design that we use today."
—Susan Fowler, FAST Consulting, Member of the Society for Technical Communication

"This meticulously researched and well-documented scholarly analysis of technical communication in a major American steel company is written in a language accessible to the layperson. Johnson provides a wealth of visual documentation and opens up the equally impressive data resource hidden in historic business and technical communication. In Lukens Steel she has found the perfect institution to demonstrate how much more we can learn when we include the artifacts of technical communications in our studies of industries. This book will appeal to industrial archaeologists, historic preservationists, avocationals and professionals interested in the iron industry, and readers fascinated by the uses of language. A superb and readable study!"
—Edward J. Lenik, Registered Professional Archaeologist

"Carol Johnson opens a new field of scholarship with her study of how workers, managers, and customers exchanged information at the Lukens Company between 1810 and 1925. Communication within the works was verbal and personal when Lukens began making iron. Then, as a large twentieth-century steelmaker, Lukens ran on written, impersonal documents. Johnson has skillfully traced this transformation. She shows us how new writing technologies, from the letter press, which made copies before there was carbon paper, to typewriters, opened opportunities that eventually allowed managers working in their own office building to control the work going on in the shops of the Lukens mills. Eventually these new techniques allowed women to enter the all-male world of the steel industry, first as stenographers and later as secretaries with administrative responsibilities. Relations with customers changed from reliance on a firm's reputation established by experience and word-of-mouth to written product specifications that could be enforced by contracts. In this pioneering study, Johnson shows us how the complex, evolving relationships between staff, management, and customers were both driven and facilitated by the ever increasing presence of the written word in the workplace."
—Robert Gordon, D. Eng., Senior Research Scientist, Geophysics and Mechanical Engineering, Yale University

"The Language of Work should inspire faculty and graduate students interested in pursuing research into the history of technical writing. Carol Siri Johnson shows how archives, available in local and state libraries across the United States, can provide rich sources of technical communication history and examples of technical and business writing. The history of technical communication will come from archival research such as Johnson's."
—Professor Elizabeth Tebeaux, Texas A & M University

"Johnson achieved two outcomes in her research that make The Language of Work a stand-out contribution to the study of past industry: (1) an assessment of the continuing dialogue that took place between company owners, managers, and agents outside of the company and how their interactions shaped corporate decisions; and (2) through her research and accompanying commentary, she provides a thoughtful analysis of how the nature of surviving technical records can drive historical scholarship, especially in instances where few other resources exist for consultation.

Johnson's research in The Language of Work provides distinct value to researchers of industrial enterprise. In this respect, Johnson's work is a guide to researchers investigating industries with similar histories, where archival materials may be all that remains of a past undertaking. This is students of industrial history and heritage will find The Language of Work an excellent example of archival research and its rewards. Even veteran researchers of industry may find themselves thinking differently about sources that they have long taken for granted, especially when the "bricks-and-mortar" of a site have gone missing."
—T. Arron Kotlensky, IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology, Volume. 35

Lukens Steel was an extraordinary business that spanned two centuries of American history. The firm rolled the first boiler plate in 1818 and operated the largest rolling mills in America in 1890, 1903, and 1918. Later it worked on the Manhattan Project and built the steel beams for the base of the World Trade Center. The company stayed in the family for 188 years, and they kept the majority of their business papers.

The Language of Work traces the evolution of written forms of communication at Lukens Steel from 1810 to 1925. As standards for iron and steel emerged and industrial processes became more complex, foremen, mechanics, and managers began to use drawing and writing to solve problems, transfer ideas, and develop new technology. This shift in communication methods—from "prediscursive" (oral) communication to "chirographic" (written) communication—occurred as technology became more complex and knowledge had to span space and time.

This richly illustrated volume begins with a theoretical overview linking technical communication to literature and describing the historical context. The analysis is separated into four time periods: 1810 to 1870, when little writing was used; 1870-1900, when Lukens Steel began to use record keeping to track product from furnace, through production, to the shipping dock; 1900-1915, when written and drawn communication spread throughout the plant and literacy became more common on the factory floor; and 1915-1925, when stenographer typists took over the majority of the written work. Over time, writing—and literacy—became an essential part of the industrial process.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Professional, business, and technical communication professionals, professors, and students; historians of technology; business historians; industrial archaeologists; historians.

Carol Siri Johnson is an assistant professor in the Humanities Department at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her interdisciplinary research draws from her interests in art, science, technology, and writing. She has published articles on the history of technical communication and the relationship of art and science. As director of the required technical communication course at NJIT, she developed, in conjunction with Norbert Elliot, an online portfolio assessment that meets ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology) standards. Her undergraduate degree, from Mount Holyoke College, is in Studio Art, and her Ph.D., from the City University of New York Graduate Center, is in English. Her dissertation was a biography of Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Johnson lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and children.

Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.
Phone: 631 691-1270 Fax: 631 691-1770 Toll free order line: 800-638-7819 Email:

The Language of Work: Technical Communication at Lukens Steel, 1810 to 1925

Author: Carol Siri Johnson
Cloth ISBN:
ePub ISBN:
Page Count: 212
Copyright: 2009

Buying Options
Postage and handling rates and options displayed at checkout

View table of contents
Related books
Other books in series
Other books by this author
Course Adoption