At Work in Cambridge

Travel back in time and view some impressive images from historical developments in Cambridge.

Building the Cambridge Subway

In early spring 1909, the Boston Elevated Railway Company began construction of a subway from the Longfellow Bridge to Harvard Square. (Now known as the MBTA Red Line, the route was planned as an elevated line.) Company photographers meticulously documented every aspect of the job. Along this section of Mass. Ave., workers excavated and shored up the tunnel, then immediately covered it with a wooden platform on which the roadbed was relaid, allowing vehicle and pedestrian traffic to flow smoothly.

Boston Elevated Railway Company Collection

This view, taken on June 2, 1910, looks west along Massachusetts Avenue from Douglass Street and shows the work in full swing. A tired worker naps in the foreground. The Mass. Ave. photo from July 12, 1910, shows the wooden framing being built atop the tunnel. The buildings in the background, with the light-colored awnings, are at the corner of Prospect Street; today, Starbucks is beneath the farthest awning. The first trains began operating in January 1912; regular service commenced on March 23, 1912.

Cambridge Fire Department in 1880

Cambridge Fire’s Chemical Company No. 1 pictured in front of their fire house at 5 Western Ave., in Central Square circa 1880. A similar unit ran out the Lexington Avenue fire house. These units were state-of-the-art in the late 19th and early 20th century. At a fire, two chemicals on board the fire apparatus (sulphuric acid and sodium bicarbonate) would be mixed, causing a reaction to rapidly propel water from the on-board water tank through the hose to extinguish the fire.

This apparatus was used for quick, initial fire attack. Chemical Company No. 1 was disbanded in 1928 as the function of the chemical unit was absorbed by traditional engine companies. Three horses were used to pull this heavy rig through the city streets. Also note the fire dog sitting next to the driver. The five firefighters, the dog, and the horses were all part of the company in 1880.

Haiss Snow Loader

Cambridge owned three Haiss Snow Loaders, “designed for 24-hour operations in very cold weather. … Each snow loader does the work of 80 men and loads 15 yards a minute.” This advertisement appeared in the February 1948 issue of The American City and shows the machine at work near 24 Brattle St.

Haiss Snow Loader- Cambridge Ephemera Collection

Electrical Workers

This undated photograph catches men hard at work repairing a generator inside the Cambridge Gas + Electric Company building at 867 Memorial Drive.

Electrical Workers- Atlantic Photo Service for Cambridge Electric Co.

Street Cleaning

In 1904, the City boasted that the extension of “smooth pavements in our thoroughfares makes it necessary that special attention should be given to those particular streets.” What was the innovative solution at the time? A patrol cart force in charge of street sweeping. “Twelve carts were purchased, with six cans to each cart. These cans are distributed at intervals along the street and as fast as they are filled are set upon the curbstone and an empty one put upon the cart in its place.” The full cans were then emptied into the dump cart, “which makes two or three daily trips to each of the sections.”

Making Books at the Riverside Press

The Riverside Press, founded by Henry O. Houghton, occupied a complex of buildings in lower Cambridgeport (now the site of Riverside Press Park). In 1910 the company built new pressrooms filled with natural light from large street-level windows and angled skylights in a sawtooth roof. Here, women feed blank sheets of paper into electric cylinder presses; the rectangular control boxes allow each woman to regulate the operation of her own press.

S.R. Weinberg Riverside Press Collection

Banking in the 1930’s

Inside the Cambridgeport Savings Bank at 689 Massachusetts Avenue a stylish female customer (ca. 1930s) waits while the respectable male teller processes her deposit.

Bank deposit- Cambridge Savings Bank Collection


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Published by

Jamie Martin

Public Information Office co-op.