Happy Mess–Dramaturgy Packet–Water Tower

Happy Mess by Ian Paul Messersmith
directed by Sarah Campbell
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns
packet prepared Summer 2020

(Moscow Idaho’s Rotary Park water tower photo by Elaina Pierson)


Water storage in one form or another has been around since antiquity. The type of water tower seen in Happy Mess is a product of the industrial era.
After World War II through 1980, vagabond crews and families traveled the Midwest constructing water towers for communities to store their water. The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company & The Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Company did the bulk of the work in this region. They built around 8,000-11,000 towers during that time period and employed about 1000 workers.

“In small-town America, pent-up wartime demand was joined by rising expectations for a standard of living that included indoor plumbing, guaranteed water quality, and water-consumptive appliances. All these factors accelerated the shift from individual wells to municipal water systems (Spreng).”

The need for the specialty worker also enabled the creation of a new class of union laborer. This class was one whose work overlapped that of boilermakers and pipefitters and most importantly was willing to lead a roving life.

“In addition to coping with changing conditions and the dangerous nature of the work, crews and their families found themselves moving to new communities, setting up housekeeping, and perhaps registering children in schools more than once a month (Spreng).”

Spreng, Ronald E., “They Didn’t Just Grow There: Building Water Towers in the Postwar Era.” Minnesota History, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 130-141. Minnesota Historical Society Press. Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20187787. Accessed: 19-06-2020.


UI Water Resources video
The University of Idaho has assembled an informative video describing how water is processed and used on campus including our three water towers .

University of Idaho water towers

UI Special Collections UISPEC-PG1_88-06-1948.jpg

These last images are undated. The cylinder towers are recent additions to the university campus.

The Wonderous Water Towers of NYC, Print by Pop Chart Lab  https://untappedcities.com/2014/10/02/the-wonderous-water-towers-of-nyc-print-by-pop-chart-lab/

Continued in Water Tower Part 2

Author: Ariana B

writer, anthropologist, artist, dramaturg

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