Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling

Scrap Yard, Milwaukee, 1936

Scrap Yard, Milwaukee, 1936

The Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) is now developing Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, an exhibition that allows visitors to experience the transformation of the American scrap industry over the last 250 years through history, technology and art. Funding from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has enabled JMM to undertake a year long process of planning for a national traveling exhibition, a book-length catalog, a free interpretive brochure, website, archival collection, public programs, and educational curricula. The 2,000 square foot exhibition will feature historical and art objects, oral histories, texts, images, multimedia, digital interactives and laboratory activities. Resources will be drawn from JMM’s collections, the archives of ISRI as well as private archives and collections of families long-connected to the industry. Scrap Yard will open at JMM in the fall of 2019, and begin a national tour in 2020.

Scrap Yard will tell the story of the immigrants (mainly Jewish and Italian) who achieved economic and social mobility through the collection, storage, brokering, and sale of discarded materials including metals, rags, and paper. They faced economic and social discrimination, and criticism of waste recycling as a source of social and environmental ills. Yet, through hard work and self-advocacy, and thanks to wider economic, technological and cultural factors, these immigrant “scrappers” rose to become mainstays of a global recycling industry. Their story provides a path for examining themes of immigration and Americanization, technology and the environment, and interpretation of scrap recycling in visual culture and art.

First Schredder -- Prolerizer Rendering

First Shredder — Prolerizer Rendering

Contemporary public discourse is replete with concerns about immigration, national identity, technology, environmental sustainability, and the economic impact of waste. The proposed project will inject historical context into debates, elucidate the networks and processes that transform waste into resources, and inspire thinking about the economic, technological, and environmental challenges communities face. Our purpose is to encourage visitors to appreciate scrap recycling through the people who work in the industry, the technologies that they use, and art that interprets their work.

Bales of rags. Shapiro Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 1942

Bales of rags. Shapiro Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 1942

The JMM is partnering with regional and national institutions including ISRI, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the American Visionary Arts Museum, and other organizations. JMM will deepen partnerships with regional schools and departments of education, and with educational institutions nationally to adapt exhibition content to curricula and learning goals.

 Scrap Yard is one of several ambitious projects the JMM has undertaken to illustrate intersections between immigrant cultures and STEM subject matter. Our current IMLS-supported project, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, explores historical and contemporary Jewish approaches to healthcare through the confluence of Jewish ethics and historical experience with the evolution of the medical practices.

African American 1940s Washington DC Scrap Processing

1940s Washington DC Scrap Processing


Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling has all the ingredients for not only success but for greatness. It’s a chance of a lifetime for an industry to come together and share its story with the world. Together let’s make this exhibit nothing short of spectacular!

For more information about the exhibit contact Neal Shapiro at