Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The triumph and decline of the “squares”: Grumman Aerospace engineers and production workers in the Apollo era, 1957–1973
by Onkst, David Hugh, Ph.D., American University, 2011, 640; 3468180
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a social, cultural, and economic history of the men and women of the Grumman Aerospace Company of Bethpage, New York from 1957 through 1973. These “Grummanites” were the engineers and production workers who designed and built the Apollo Lunar Modules that allowed humans to land on the Moon. This study provides unique insights into the impact that the Apollo Program—a large state-initiated and -supported program—had on those “squares,” people whom many contemporaries saw as a vital part of mainstream 1960s American society.

By the beginning of the Space Age in 1957, Grumman, Long Island’s single largest employer, had firmly established a workplace culture of paternalism that Grummanites largely embraced. Company officials believed strongly in worker retention and had established a policy of providing every sort of benefit their employees seemingly desired, including a highly personal and participatory form of management. Many Grummanites had joined the firm during the early years of the Apollo Program because they believed in the promise of permanent employment on exciting projects that would explore the endless frontier of space. But, as many of these mainly self-reliant, individualistic “squares” would bitterly discover, their dedication to Grumman did little to secure their livelihoods during the aerospace industry’s early 1970s downsizing; their individual successes were too largely tied to federal spending and declined when Americans grew disenchanted with space exploration.

This dissertation demonstrates how the cultural bond of paternalism between aerospace workers and their company unraveled in the 1960s, and then ended in the early 1970s, because of forces within the company, the economy, and the American state. The word "triumph" in this study’s title not only applies to Grummanites’ triumphs with the Lunar Modules, but also their individual socioeconomic victories. The term “decline” refers to the early 1970s downsizing of more than a third of the Apollo workforce that had made that program a reality. By relying on a wide-range of archival research (including corporate records) and extensive surveys and interviews with Grummanites, this dissertation provides an overview of how Apollo era aerospace workers interacted with the Cold War American state.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kuznick, Peter J.
Commitee: Launius, Rodger D., Lichtman, Allan J.
School: American University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 72/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Aerospace engineering, Labor relations
Keywords: African-Americans, Labor unions, Long Island, NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Paternalism, Space race
Publication Number: 3468180
ISBN: 978-1-124-82002-6
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