San Diego: All in a Day’s Work

When it comes to working in San Diego, geography is sometimes destiny. Much of the work that has been performed in the San Diego County area in the past was determined by the area’s terrain, climate and proximity to the sea. Yet, the variety of work that has taken place in San Diego has also been determined by the brawn and brains, talent and sacrifice of the people who have labored before us.

For the last 150 years San Diegans have profited from the sea. They have manicured the rugged terrain. They have created a mecca for recreation and a bastion for national defense. They have worked ceaselessly at keeping the County infrastructure viable and they have made San Diego a major center for agriculture, fishing and the shipping industry. Along with the major employers in the region came the related retail stores, governmental services, entertainment, manufacturing, construction, health care and transportation related industries.

Taken from the over 2 million images in the San Diego Historical Society’s Photograph Archives, the photographs in this exhibition show San Diegans at work. The quotations from workers are taken from some of the 1000 oral histories in the Society’s Research Archives.

In San Diego the climate certainly played an important role determining the types of crops that thrived in the area. The mixture of heat, sea air and soil helped make the area’s orchards, vegetable crops, and flower industry thrive. The tuna industry was important in San Diego earlier in this Century because of the fishermen who settled here and because of the enormous canneries operating at the Harbor. Geography has also had an effect on the construction and transportation industries. The terrain of San Diego has kept successive generations of bulldozer operators busy flattening and rounding off the land to construct buildings and houses. The climate that prevented large forests from growing here led to the importation of lumber from the Northwest, and indirectly contributed to the house-moving business in which large houses were transported from one location to another—even across the Bay. The need for water led to major dam construction and the need to move around the mountains, the desert, and the lowlands kept endless road grading projects in operation. The temperate climate and the deepwater port were inducements to the military and the aviation industry to settle in the area. Ruben Fleet moved his Consolidated Aircraft Corporation to San Diego to escape Buffalo, New York’s weather. In turn the military and aviation industry brought soldiers and workers who needed to be entertained, housed, and care for. With the military came defense contractors and with San Diego’s research universities came high technology companies that have equipped San Diego with the tools to compete in today’s global marketplace.