Monday, November 11, 2013

Engineering Feats, Above and Below NYC Streets

New York City is famous for many landmarks and events, and this time of year brings one particular event to mind: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, Virginia, there was a time when no one even talked about Santa Claus until after the fourth Thursday in November, when he made his triumphant ride down the streets of Manhattan to usher in the official start of the holiday season at the close of the parade. 

Melissa Sweet's 2011 award-winning book Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade provides an insightful history about the larger-than-life helium balloons for which the parade is so famous. Artist-turned-engineer Tony Sarg worked for Macy's department store as a window designer, and helped created puppets for the first Macy's parade in 1924. Realizing that only people up close could see the puppets, he went through various designs until finally imagining a way to let everyone see the displays - by using large balloons filled with helium. The process by which Tony invented these festive balloons is cleverly depicted with cartoon art, cut-paper fonts, and actual photos. Sweet includes an author's note and information about her art at the end, along with a bibliography and sources.  Check out her educator page associated with this book here

Below the streets of Manhattan, around that same time, another engineering marvel was taking place: the building of the New York City subway system. Martin Sandler chronicles the building of this transportation landmark in his 2009 book entitled Secret Subway: The Fascinating Tale of an Amazing Feat of Engineering. Written at an upper elementary/middle school level, this 96-page book encompasses the history, science, and politics associated with the development of an ambitious underground construction project of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The visions of engineers Alfred Beach and William Parsons ultimately resulted in the reduction of congestion and pollution on the streets of Manhattan. Black and white illustrations, photos, and artwork supplement the text. I'll admit that the graphics were a little less than I'd expect from a National Geographic publication, but that aspect aside, the story of such a famous and integral part of New York City is well documented and interesting to read. 

So whether you are watching the parade on TV or traveling there by subway, you can thank engineers for making this annual Thanksgiving event so spectacular!