Ornamental Sheet Metal, A Brief History

Interested in sheet metal history in the United States? This journal is for you! Read an excerpt below and view the full version online at JSTORE.

Pamela H. Simpson

Journal of Architectural and Planning Research Vol. 11, No. 4, Theme Issue: Writings on the History of Construction Technology (Winter, 1994), pp. 294-310 Published by: Locke Science Publishing Company, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43029135 Page Count: 17


This is a brief history of the ornamental sheet metal industry in the United States in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Sheet metal was used for such practical purposes as roofing, guttering and drain pipes, and had some fine arts applications such as sheet metal statuary. The focus here, however, is on the use of ornamental metal for cornices, building fronts, and exterior and interior cladding. Today, while examples of the architectural use of ornamental sheet metal are widespread, there is little modern scholarship on the subject. This study is based on a review of building periodicals of the period, on the examination of trade catalogues promoting the industry, on interviews with men who remember the trade, and on documentation of buildings where the material was used. While giving a historical overview of the rise, development and decline of the use of ornamental sheet metal, the author also analyzes reasons for the popularity of the material despite a negative reputation among the mainstream architectural elite. An analysis of rhetoric in the so-called "servile imitation" debate over the appropriateness of the imitative nature of sheet metal reveals turn-of-the-century attitudes about new industrial materials that transformed building practices in the period... {Read the full version}