An excerpt from Chapter 3: The American Century in Prints: The WPA

Big Inch

Fig. 4. Rockwell Kent, The Big Inch, 1941. Lithograph, 8.9 x 12.4 in.

The WPA print exhibition idea went nowhere. The O’Connor–Berman research was suspended just as it was getting started. This stillborn project remains a great opportunity for a collector, a museum, and/or an art historian willing to explore the still-unresolved history of WPA prints.
Like our intended project on WPA prints, the WPA fizzled out. The run-up to World War II saved the American economy, providing a genuine stimulus to productivity, employment, and wealth creation. Rockwell Kent captured these events in a series of advertisements he illustrated with lithographs for the United States Pipe and Foundry Company. The Big Inch (Fig. 4), published in 1941 just before the U.S. entry into the war, is a prime example. U.S. Pipe supplied the steel pipe for the Big Inch, a so-named pipeline connecting the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana with the refineries on the East Coast. The Big Inch and similar pipelines were a lifesaver, as tanker ships proved very vulnerable to Nazi submarines, and both it and its siblings are still in use today, moving natural gas from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast.
Rockwell’s Big Inch is a bit more than just laying pipe across a river or lake. Like his personality—and more about him in a later chapter—something is a little strange about the image. The diver resembles an alien creature emerging from the depths, almost threatening the two workers swinging an enormous section of pipe hanging above them. Leave it to Rockwell Kent to add a weird element to a conventional scene.


Small Victories: One Couple’s Surprising Adventures Building an Unrivaled Collection of American Prints by Dave H. Williams

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