Winner of the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for Best Book in American Planning History

Although the decades following World War II stand out as an era of rapid growth and construction in the United States, those years were equally significant for large-scale destruction. In order to clear space for new suburban tract housing, an ambitious system of interstate highways, and extensive urban renewal development, wrecking companies demolished buildings while earthmoving contractors leveled land at an unprecedented pace and scale. In this pioneering history, Francesca Russello Ammon explores how postwar America came to equate this destruction with progress.

The bulldozer functioned as both the means and the metaphor for this work. As the machine transformed from a wartime weapon into an instrument of postwar planning, it helped realize a landscape-altering “culture of clearance.” In the hands of the military, planners, politicians, engineers, construction workers, and even children’s book authors, the bulldozer became an American icon. Yet social and environmental injustices emerged as clearance projects continued unabated. This awareness spurred environmental, preservationist, and citizen participation efforts that have helped to slow, though not entirely stop, the momentum of the postwar bulldozer.


“An excellent and enjoyable history of the transformation of the bulldozer from military weapon to instrument of urban planning.”—Jo Guldi, Brown University

“The bulldozer! How obvious! But no one before Francesca Ammon realized that the biography of this protean machine was the royal road to an illuminating understanding of Schumpeter's 'creative destruction' of capitalism. An inspired topic, a perfect metaphor for effacing the past and engineering the future. Carried out with dash, breadth, attention to symbolism, technical knowledge, and attention to historical detail. The difference between Baron Haussmann's Paris and Robert Moses's New York is that Moses had the bulldozer and dynamite and Haussmann did not.”—James C. Scott, Yale University

“Ammon has found an original topic of wide appeal. Her creative and multi-faceted approach leads her to countless new, deeply engrossing discoveries about the history of clearing, building, and rebuilding in the mid-20th century.”—Alison Isenberg, Princeton University

“In this original and incisive book, Ammon shows that machines and methods developed for warfare remade American landscapes and cities after World War II.”—Edmund Russell, author of War and Nature:  Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring

“Strikingly original and thoroughly engaging, Bulldozer shows how an adulation of destruction-as-opportunity, honed during World War II, became deeply engrained in postwar American visual culture and the design politics of urban, suburban, and superhighway development. By viewing the bulldozer as both machine and mindset, Ammon reveals the fascinating confluence of celebratory staging and complex environmental and social loss.”—Lawrence J. Vale, author of Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities

“Ammon recovers the military, economic, and artistic importance of the American bulldozer from World War II to the present, combining in her exemplary study oral history, popular culture, and archival work. Bulldozers were transformative machines, whether charging up the beach at D-Day, reshaping land for highways and suburbs, reclaiming damaged spaces, or sculpting earthworks of devastating grandeur.”—David E. Nye, author of American Technological Sublime

“Ammon . . . puts the earthmoving machine at the center of this absorbing history of American postwar construction.”—Booklist

“Ammon has penned a surprisingly engrossing story about an unlikely topic.”—A. E. Krulikowsi, Choice

“Ammon has produced a profoundly creative book that should clear new vistas, especially in urban and environmental history, leading future scholars to ask critical questions about the various ways we go about destroying, constructing, and reconstructing our cities.”—Robert Gioielli, Reviews in American History

“Ammon unites seemingly disparate takes on the machine and its meanings via a conceptual framework, the “culture of clearance,” that is so telling and so evocative.”—Greg Hise, Journal of American History

"The book deserves to be read widely in urban studies, not only because it tells the history of an absolutely crucial piece of technology that remade the American landscape, but because Ammon, step by step, makes us look again at post-war American culture... The 'culture of clearance' and the fitful, incomplete rebellion and move toward a 'culture of conservation' is a new way to understand not only urban planning history but the cultural history of the second half of the twentieth century."—Max Page, Planning Perspectives

"The impressively researched collection of cultural artifacts that she deploys makes vivid the postwar faith in progress through destruction. Indeed, Ammon’s use of visual material, which she culled from a range of sources ... sets a high bar for how visual materials can enrich, and complicate, analysis of the postwar city."—Mary Rocco, Buildings & Landscapes

“At times the bulldozer and the culture of clearance fade into the background of the book. Far from a critique, though, this is perhaps the best indication of the power of Ammon’s argument. Both machine and practice are foundational but nearly invisible parts of America’s postwar development. Simultaneously recognized and obscured. Ammon’s sparkling history of the machine and the world it helped create insists that both be drawn to the fore.”—Kyle Shelton, Environmental History

“Business historians interested in how their field meaningfully intersects with scholarship in environmental, urban, technological, and cultural history could hardly ask for a better example than the cautionary tales in Bulldozer.”—Jeffrey K. Stine, Business History Review

“This book can stimulate political science research: first, because it questions the weight of technological instruments in public policy, that is, their material potential as much as the imaginaries and the economic incentives surrounding their utilization; and second, because it offers a new angle on the old problem of the link between international and domestic politics, or between technologies developed for the sake of war and the politics undertaken to modernize a country.”—Frédéric Mercure-Jolette, Canadian Journal of Political Science