Studs Terkel on the Meaning of Work

Studs Terkel in studio

Chicago History Museum; ICHi-065442; Stephen Deutch, photographer

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Over his lengthy broadcast career, Studs Terkel talked with people from all walks of life about their work, from firefighters, to steel workers, to labor activist Cesar Chavez. Terkel was a broadcaster, historian and author who developed a particular talent for finding the stories of ordinary people and showing us what it was like to work a day in their boots. 

In the 1960s, Terkel spent years crisscrossing the country, talking with people about their working lives. In addition to their stories, he often mused on the nature of work itself. 

"So many of us would not like to need the jobs we have," said Terkel, speaking on a Labor Day broadcast in 1960. "But we must get down to fundamentals. Certainly, it's a necessity that has sent so many men deep down into the bowels of the earth."  

Terkel, who died in 2008, was a familiar radio voice for decades, interviewing from his studio in Chicago at WFMT. In the spirit of his legacy, we have a whole hour on how work has changed in recent history, with a few of his timeless insights sprinkled throughout. But for a deeper dive into Terkel's fascinating conversations about the nature of work, we've gathered excerpts from some of his most interesting conversations about work on this timeline.