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August 22, 2006 > Topping Out ceremony

Topping Out ceremony

by Turner Construction Company

The beam, the tree and the flag represent one of the construction industry's oldest customs, the "Topping Out" of a completed project. Scandinavian mythology suggests that humans originated from trees and our souls returned to the trees after death, giving each tree a spirit of its own.

Humans began constructing their shelter with wood. Before cutting a tree, they would formally address the forest, reminding it of the consideration they had always shown toward the trees and asking the forest to grant use of a tree for construction of their home. When the house was complete, the topmost leafy branch of the tree used would be set atop the roof so that the tree's spirit would not be rendered homeless. The gesture was supposed to convince the tree spirit of the sincere appreciation of those building the home.

The custom of placing a tree on a completed structure came with immigrants to the United States and became an integral part of American culture in barn raisings and housewarmings. As wood beams came to be replaced by steel, the tradition was carried on to the new steel structures. It also signifies the belief that as long as the tree is alive it will bring good luck to all future occupants.

The custom of placing a flag atop the beam is not so old. It is a patriotic symbol that signifies the united effort to achieve a common goal, and a proud representation of the history that stands behind ironworkers. Flags became very common in the early 1900's, perhaps as a protest in response to the "American Plan" launched in 1919 that promised the destruction of the union.

Today the custom is continued most frequently on completed structures such as bridges and skyscrapers, and hospitals. Ironworkers have carried on the topping out tradition and consider it their own. While others join the celebration of topping out, it is the ironworkers and their skills that make them first to reach the pinnacle of the structure, and it is around this group of workers that topping out revolves.

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