Robert Moses

Form 51

In October, 1950, acting Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri addressed the Citizens Budget Commission at Carnegie Hall. He wanted to tell that group of concerned citizens (and voters in the next month’s special election) about the major issues facing the City: education, traffic, transit, smoke control. But he was pressed for time, he said. So instead, he decided to talk big picture: the City’s record-setting, billion dollar budget, and the topic of modern management. He did not attribute the seemingly astronomical budget to the large-scale social programs then underway, like building 70,000 low-cost housing units, an extensive hospital reconstruction program, new schools or subways, but rather, to “changing economic conditions which have affected every city, county and state,” in the country, noting percentage increases to the state and federal budgets even greater than the City’s.

Citizens Budget Address, Office of the Mayor, Vincent R. Impellitteri, NYC Municipal Archives.

Before expounding on those changing economic conditions though, he made a justification for a line item in that budget (to the eventual tune of $2,196,250) that he believed would ultimately save the city a great deal of money, and enable it to meet those ever-rising costs. “We now have a Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey at work,” he said. “Its members are studying the reclassification of our civil service employees, the operation of our subway system, our education department, our water supply problem, and City finances generally… I believe that economies will be the result of these studies. I have hopes that these economies will enable us to continue to meet the increasing cost of hospitals, welfare, schools, and other vital services.”

Begun under Mayor William O’Dwyer, the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey was a sprawling three-year labor that culminated in a hefty, two-volume final report with a slew of recommendations for sweeping changes to various agencies and offices of the government. The Committee ultimately presented eleven major findings, and twelve management recommendations, and many four-, five-, and six-point plans with their own numbered lists of justifying principles and inescapable underlying forces. Whether its primary purpose, “the securing of good management, which will bring in its wake those economies arising from the best use of men, materials, and time in getting the work of the City government done,” was in fact accomplished, is a topic for further research. What’s clear is that City government needed some kind of diagnostic.

The City had become populous and complex, and it was only natural to wonder whether staff and resources were being put to the most efficient use, and plainly how. To properly fulfill its’ mandate, the Committee needed to know just how city worker’s hours were spent, what those hours cost, and the output they provided. They needed an ant’s-eye view of the thing. They needed to know what exactly, did a Watchman or a Hospital Helper, or a Custodian-Engineer do all day? What sort of tools and equipment did they use? Who did they interact with?

A good form is the hallmark of bureaucracy. The Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey’s response to this data-vacuum was a banner entry to the genre: Form 51. By June, 1951 they’d collected over 83,000 of them from city government’s labor force. This rate of return was 99.4% of the total the Committee’s Classification Project staff sought in order to reclassify civil service titles to more accurately reflect the work being performed.

Now they knew that for $3,100 a year, John Doran supervised the No. 1 oven on Rikers Island, the largest in the bakery, putting out 2,160 pounds of bread every 55 minutes. William K. Frese reported to the Fermentation Room at 6:50 AM. He made sure the dough was the right temperature before being hoisted in 1,000 lb. increments to a slide passing it through the ‘Divider’, sizing it appropriately for individual loaves of bread. They knew this occupied 50% of his time. The rest was divided equally between managing the cake room (the source of rolls, pies, and pastry), and supervising the inmates in their duties assisting the bakers.

Form 51: John Doran, Baker, Rikers Island. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

Form 51: William K. Frese, Baker, Rikers Island. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

Along with an incidental education in the manufacture of a perfect loaf of bread, Form 51 gave the Committee many of those fundamental details of City operations from which they strove to extract greater efficiency and savings. From the vantage point of the present day Form 51 shows a fairly vivid snapshot of a dozen or more 1950-era working-class civil-service vocations, detailing the tasks filling the day, to the tools of the trade, requisite experience and qualifications, and rate of pay. The descriptions vary with the individual providing them, some being rather terse and technical and others imbued with more narrative and personality. Richard T. Cairney, for instance, could have satisfactorily completed the form without elaborating on the care he took to instruct the inmates assisting him in the, “art of bread baking in order that they might be useful when they are released,” or that emergencies such as fog or ferry boat mishaps required him to take full charge of the bakery.

Form 51: Richard T. Cairney, Baker, Rikers Island. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

At McCarren Park in Brooklyn, Arkade Rudomen’s description of his duties charts the passing of seasons In the summer, he supervised the maintenance and operation of the swimming pool, then converted the swimming facilities into a recreation area in the fall, and with the arrival of spring reversed the process, painting and sealing expansion joints in the pool and erecting diving boards (Paul Friesel describes the same seasonal transformation at Sunset Park Pool…). The main pool was 330 ft. by 165 ft., the diving pool 100 ft. square. They had locker facilities to accommodate 5,000. Rudomen supervised a team of almost forty, from lifeguards and attendants to play directors, chlorinators, and ticketing agents. He’d previously been a lifeguard himself, in the employ of the Queens Borough President’s Office.

Form 51: Arkade Rudomen, Swimming Pool Operator, McCarren Park. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

Pieces of the 1950 public school experience are reflected in the Committee’s data-gathering mechanism as well. At the Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, the girls swam on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The boys swam on the complementary schedule. They were provided with towels and the right-sized suit, sterilized and mended if need be, by a Cleaner Attendant, like Helen F. Hagen. She also sterilized the football uniforms and, “all other paraphernalia,” from the basketball and track teams, the shop aprons, stockings and gym suits. For this work Hagen and her colleagues had at their disposal the Raymond Sterilizer-Washer, a cast-iron barrel capable of killing ordinary pathogenic organisms and spore-forming bacteria in 5 minutes, when operated at 15 pounds pressure.

Form 51: Helen F. Hagen, Laundry Bath Attendant, Manual Training High School, Brooklyn. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

After a morning swim, lunch for students and teachers alike may have consisted of soup and sandwiches, or roast beef with gravy and vegetables, with cakes, custards or pudding for dessert, all prepared by Cooks like Katherine Rumker, Bertha Telford and Rachel Hently. The cakes were made from scratch, not any mixes, at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High. They took Rachel Hently two and a half hours to finish. Then she got started on lunch, and continued cooking while she served from 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. She and the rest of the staff (the ‘help’, she writes) ate the lunch she prepared for them from 1:30 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. At Jr. H.S. 49 Bertha Telford consulted with the dietitian on the following day’s menu and the best possible use of the leftovers. Katherine Rumker’s accounting of her typical day makes it sound like the teacher’s cafeteria had the privilege of a daily custom order. And jello was standard fare.

Form 51: Katherine Rumker, Cook, PS 232, Brooklyn. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

A Barber employed at Bellevue Hospital had 13 wards to care for concerning shaves and haircuts. In the Nursing Department at Queens General Hospital, another shaved the heads of patients preparing to undergo surgery. At the City Home on Welfare Island, Victor Tripaldi managed 45 shaves and 10 haircuts a day.

Form 51: John Smith, Barber, Queens General Hospital. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

Form 51: Victor Tripoli, Barber, City Home, Welfare Island. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

The Butchers employed in the City’s prisons and hospitals provide an accounting of their cutting and cleaning. According to Anton Keltner, Goldwater Memorial Hospital went through a combined average of 3,600 pounds of meat, poultry, and fish per week. Every other day, Hospital Helper Angelo Donisi cleaned and mopped the morgue in Sydenham Hospital. He was also responsible for cleaning the test tubes in the second floor lab.

Form 51: Anton Keltner, Butcher, Goldwater Memorial Hospital. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

Form 51: Angelo Donisi, Hospital Helper, Sydenham Hospital. Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, circa 1950. NYC Municipal Archives.

The actual utility of all this information in the context of the city’s mid-century budgetary examination is hard to evaluate. The reclassification plan for civil service titles that resulted from this survey, put forth by the firm of Griffenhagen and Associates at the behest of the Committee, was met with widespread disapproval by civil service unions and organizations throughout the city and state. As for the promised economic benefits of the Management Survey, City Construction Co-Ordinator Robert Moses had his doubts. In a 1951 letter to Comptroller Lazarus Joseph, Chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, Moses urged the taking of stock and correcting of misapprehensions. The municipal budget was steadily mounting, unavoidably and for good reason, he argued. “Economy is, of course, indispensable, but the notion which has been assiduously cultivated by various civic agencies and the press that enforced efficiency and economy will actually result in tremendous net cuts in the City’s expense budget and make it possible to meet inescapable demands for increases in pay and services within the present total and without new taxes, is just so much moonshine.” He went on, “I am for genuine economy, for cutting out waste, for the smallest practical number of competent, decently paid and well treated employees and for savings which do not cut services, but I ask that the experts on whom we are spending $2,000,000 concentrate on the big problems of financing and refrain from making mountains out of molehills.”

Robert Moses letter, 1951.

If the over-analysis of the daily tasks of a cross-section of city workers are the mountains and molehills Moses mentions, perhaps these accounts are of more value now than at the time of their creation. By and large, the records we deem historic and therefore preserve are those of policy-makers. For reasons of practicality and privacy we’re typically unable to maintain and make accessible the records of the individuals who actually execute the government’s policies, who actually provide the services to the citizens, who meet people face-to-face. Most of the time their contributions are reflected only indirectly. These job descriptions from the people performing the work are unique in that sense. Form 51 highlights the contrasts in culture and technology between that era and the present, and paints a partial portrait of earlier times that other records, or our imaginations, can fill in.


New York City Municipal Archives, Accn. 1954-023 Office of the Mayor, Vincent R. Impellitteri subject files, 1950-1953, Boxes 54-55.

New York City Municipal Archives, Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey position description forms, circa 1950.

Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, Modern Management for the City of New York: report, 1953.

From the Dank Recesses—the Department of Parks General Files

“Swim” original art for subway, 1937. Tempura water color on tissue paper; artist unknown. Department of Parks General Files, NYC Municipal Archives.

A life-long swimmer, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses vastly expanded access to aquatic facilities for New Yorkers. In 1936, he opened ten new swimming pools and during his long tenure he built and improved public beaches throughout the city.

Recently, the Municipal Archives received an inquiry from a potential patron asking if it was true “…that their [Department of Parks] internal records from 1934-45 are offsite and inaccessible, perhaps rotting away in a barn somewhere in New Jersey, piled up in banker’s boxes...” The answer is . . . not true! Although the Parks records did make a brief trip to New Jersey, they are very much accessible in the Municipal Archives and constitute one of the most important collections documenting the built environment of New York City and the decades-long era of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

It is possible that this patron’s remarks concerning the Parks records originated from Robert Caro’s epic Moses biography, The Power Broker [Knopf, 1974]. In notes about his sources Caro described gaining access to the “internal memoranda” of the Parks Department, then located “… in the dank recesses below the Seventy-ninth Street boat basin near the West Side Highway.”

In 1984, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded the Archives a grant to identify and appraise historical records still held in municipal offices. During the course of the project, City archivists visited the Parks storage facility at the Boat Basin and discovered nearly 800 cubic feet of administrative records. Despite their location only a few hundred yards from the Hudson River, directly below a busy traffic interchange, the archivists found the records to be in remarkably good order.

Aerial view of the 79th Street Boat Basin and Henry Hudson Parkway interchange, ca. 1936. NYC Municipal Archives Collection. Moses leveraged federal highway funding to complete an earlier “West Side Improvement” plan and added a marina, known as the 79th Boat Basin in Riverside Park.

Recognizing the importance of this material, City archivists transferred the records to the Municipal Archives, after a detour to a laboratory in New Jersey for mold remediation.

The significance and value of this collection cannot be overestimated. It provides a complete chronicle of the achievements of Robert Moses, New York’s legendary “Master Builder.” Moses planned and constructed public works on a scale that was the envy of the world in its day and all but inconceivable now. The list of his accomplishments in the New York City metropolitan area—well documented in the collection—includes fifteen parkways and twelve expressways; eight bridges and two tunnels; over one thousand housing projects; more than six hundred playgrounds; and thirty new parks and beaches. He was responsible for the Lincoln Center complex, the United Nations’ building, the New York Coliseum, Shea Stadium and both the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs. In the words of Columbia University Professor of History, Kenneth T. Jackson, “More than any other person or institution, Robert Moses was the single-minded genius who molded New York City into a twentieth century metropolis.”

Astoria Pool, Queens, August 20, 1936. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives. Opened July 2, 1936, Astoria Pool is the largest of the eleven pools Moses built with funding from the federal Works Progress Administration program.

And fortunately for generations of historians, Commissioner Moses and his staff were prolific correspondents and meticulous record-keepers. The records extracted from the Boat Basin consisted of two series—740 cubic feet of the Department of Parks General Files, 1934-1966, and 44 cubic feet of the Office of the Parks Commissioner/City Planning Commissioner files, 1940-1956. The material includes carbons or originals of incoming and outgoing correspondence, memoranda, transcripts, reports, contracts, news clippings, maps, blueprints, plans, printed materials, press releases, invitations, and photographs. The records document virtually every component of the Department’s administrative actions from 1934 through 1966. The General Files series is further divided into three subseries: Administrative Files, Borough Files and Index Cards.

Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, March 6, 1934. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives. Several blocks of tenements in Manhattan’s lower East Side, from Houston to Rivington Streets, were razed for construction of the Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.

The Parks/City Planning Commissioner series comprises the files created by Moses in his capacity as Commissioner of the Department of Parks, Commissioner of the City Planning Department, and after 1946, City Construction Coordinator. (Moses simultaneously held up to twelve official positions.) The material in this series is 100% Robert Moses. With the exception of a few folders labeled “Hazel Tappan,” his personal secretary, it does not contain the correspondence of any of his deputies or assistants.

Both series provide abundant examples of Moses’ direct and vivid writing style. “I say its spinach!” he wrote to Mayor LaGuardia, in a letter dated August 25, 1943, reporting on a meeting about the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The letter also contains a typical Moses comment on social workers: “These people never get anywhere, and it is a waste of time to get excited about their plans.” Moses believed parks and playgrounds would solve all social ills and so concluded to the Mayor: “If I had the sense God gave geese, I would have insisted that the only thing worth accomplishing was to get rid of Raymond Street and substitute a playground.”

Pelham Bay Park: Concessions Building and comfort station, October 22, 1941. Department of Parks Collection, NYC Municipal Archives. No detail was too small or building too insignificant for Moses and his talented team of architects as illustrated by the handsome design of this comfort station.

Moses was a fearless correspondent. He even took on the United States military at the height of World War II. On May 24, 1943, he replied to Brigadier General P. B. Gage, Commanding Officer of the U.S Army, stating: “I cannot possibly give you permission to overrun Jacob Riis Park. This is one of the most important summer recreation areas in the Metropolitan district, and there is no reason on God’s green earth why it should be turned over for maneuvering of troops.”

Invitation to the Menagerie in Central Park, 1934. Color half-tone on paper; artist unknown. Mayor LaGuardia Parks Department correspondence, NYC Municipal Archives.

Good design was a hallmark of Commissioner Moses’ public works as evidenced by this 1934 invitation and during the Great Depression he could draw on a large pool of readily available talented architects and designers.

As he did with parks and arterial highways, Moses played a major role in the development of public housing projects throughout his career. In a letter dated July 7, 1958, Moses took the opportunity to express his views on the European model: “As to Sweden, I have just come back from that highly socialized country. I did inspect some of the housing, and while I found it good, it was no means as marvelous as it is described by Mr. Straus [owner of the WMCA radio station and life-long advocate for improved housing], and I found few things which could be successfully imitated in this country. I am no chauvinist, but I get rather weary of Americans who can only find achievements abroad.”

In 1998 the NEH awarded $64,000 to the Municipal Archives to microfilm the entire Commissioner series, and selected documents from the General Files series.

Robert Moses’ career and the physical changes he wrought on New York City, for better or worse, have long been the subject of analysis and debate. Beginning even before his death in 1981, there has been a steady stream of works pertaining to Moses ranging from the Caro biography to innumerable articles, dissertations, papers, conferences, documentary films and at least one opera. Access to the voluminous Parks collection—and its rich content of Moses-related material—will continue to facilitate the ongoing debate about one of the most influential figures of 20th century New York City history.