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Accepted Paper:

"A most attractive laboratory": the New Jersey meadowlands, warfare, and the making of the “petroleum world” (1880-1972)  
Charlotte Leib (Yale University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines understudied connections between petroleum-fueled political economies, global warfare, and processes of urbanization and renewal by attending to the ways the material substance of New Jersey's meadows was adapted to serve the U.S. military-petroleum-industrial complex.

Paper long abstract:

In 1881, Standard Oil built its first pipeline system across the United States. One of the lines leading to Bayonne, NJ, crossed through an area that, over the next century, came to be known as the New Jersey Meadowlands. Known to Lenape people as Musgichteu-cunk, this vast peaty landscape was by 1928 declared by planners to be “a most attractive laboratory” for the invention of a new planned city designed to serve automobile traffic and the expanding industries of the New York Region. By the late 1930’s, the same planners envisioned this landscape as an engine of war. This paper examines how planners, pipeline-builders, road engineers, petrochemical companies, and plant scientists called upon New Jersey’s meadows to serve the purposes of warfare and national planning from the 1880's through the Vietnam War. Combining methods from the plant humanities, urban environmental history, and discard studies, it shows how the meadows helped to build “The Petroleum World”—a world full of gassy marshes and tar-laden estuaries, illustrated by oilman Harold Smith in an eponymous poster (ca. 1948-1966). It highlights how—from the rubber tires the meadows’ Goldenrod plants helped to create, to the asphalt roadways its coastal grasses helped to cure—the material substance of meadows was adapted to serve the U.S. military-petroleum-industrial complex. It then shows how environments and economies of war and oil caused American planners to begin to see cities as “disposable” and the “waste” of war as crucial to the reinvention of meadows and cities in the 1960’s urban renewal era.

Panel Ene07
The Petroleum Century and the Transformation of Global Landscapes
  Session 1 Thursday 22 August, 2024, -