General Tools Award 2012 – Jane Mork Gibson


Photograph by Ann Cullen

This year’s recipient of the General Tools Award for Distinguished Service to Industrial Archeology has made significant contributions to the documentation, preservation, and interpretation of the industrial resources of a major American city. She also illustrates the circuitous paths from which many of our members emerge to make their mark in the field of industrial archeology.
Jane Mork Gibson’s long career as a historian of Philadelphia industry and technology did not begin with the standard progression through post-secondary education. Her father, an architect who worked for John Eberson, a noted designer of atmospheric movie theaters, moved the family around until settling in Boston. After high school, Jane earned a two-year business degree from Boston University and worked as a secretary at the Harvard Business School before marrying and having five children. Only later did she pursue her interest in history and the humanities.

Settled in Philadelphia and with her children mostly grown, Jane resumed her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. It was the early 1970s, and she was in the right place at the right time to study the material culture of technology under Thomas Hughes and David Orr. She completed her B.A. in 1976, joined the SIA in 1977, and the following year undertook a history of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Water Works for the Historic American Engineering Record. After earning an M.A. in American civilization from Penn, Jane authored a catalog for an exhibit on the Fairmount Water Works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her research, together with the attention the exhibit received, materially contributed to the stabilization and restoration of those great water works, which might otherwise have succumbed to neglect.

A 20-year career as a consulting historian led Jane Mork Gibson to research the history of Delaware River shipbuilding for an exhibit at the Franklin Institute; conduct wideranging studies on Philadelphia industries; contribute to several interactive museum exhibits, including one at the Independence Maritime Museum; and assess the feasibility of creating an industrial museum at the John Grass Wood Turning Company, a remarkable survival of mechanized industry founded in 1863. Some of you may recall her contributions to the publication Workshop of the World, a major survey of Philadelphia’s industrial resources produced in conjunction with the 1990 SIA Annual Conference.

Outside Philadelphia, Jane worked with the architect John Bowie on the Hackensack Water Company in New Milford, New Jersey, and the Demuth Snuff Mill in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her research on the Kinne Water Wheel Collection at the Jefferson County Historical Society in Watertown, New York, materially contributed to its designation, in 1999, as a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Throughout her career, however, the Fairmount Water Works remained closest to her heart, inspiring her sustained efforts to publicize, preserve, and interpret this National Historic Landmark. As a consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department beginning in 1985, she was involved in the creation of an interpretative center at the water works, which served as the site of a memorable evening reception during the 2007 SIA Annual Conference. Now 89 and living in Williamstown, Mass., Jane is working on a book about the Fairmount Water Works.

Jane’s service to the SIA has been exemplary. She was a founding member and served for five years as president (1985-1990) of the Oliver Evans Chapter. She served as general chairm of the 1990 SIA Annual Conference and s a director of the national SIA from 1990 to 1993. She served on the steering committee for the 2007 SIA Annual Conference, organized and conducted a tour at that conference, and updated two chapters in the revised survey Workshop of the World. For her sustained and diligent efforts to preserve Philadelphia’s industrial heritage, as well as for her longtime service to the Society, the 2012 General Tools Award Committee is pleased to present this year’s General Tools Award to Jane Mork Gibson.