Without a doubt, the wrecking ball is the most iconic symbol of the demolition industry. It is universally recognized as the demolition calling card. This grand notoriety has even been padded by pop singers and memorialized in a hit song. Ironically, wrecking balls are very rarely used in modern demolition. To explain why this is the case, it’s helpful to take a historical look.
In the early 1930s, when demolition was becoming its own industry, the process was very controlled and meticulous. A crew of workers would use hammers and pry bars to take down a building piece by piece. The materials would then be sorted and repurposed for new construction. This process was so extensive workers could clean the mortar off up to 5,000 bricks in one day.
Eventually, as buildings became bigger and more complicated to tear down, this process became unsustainable and unprofitable. Enter the 1950s and the rise of the wrecking ball. During this era, speed was the name of the game and recycling was an afterthought at best. This is why the wrecking ball was so popular. It was cheap to buy, easy to use, and, above all, fast. Instead of paying a whole crew to dismantle a building by hand over a few weeks, you could now bring it down in a few hours with one man behind the controls.
This lasted for a while until the mess became too large of a concern. While wrecking balls are fast, they’re also quite dangerous. Anytime a large steel ball is sent flying through the air, the potential for danger is high. Another big concern with wrecking balls came with the discovery of the dangers of asbestos.
When asbestos materials are broken, it releases the dangerous fibers into the air. As asbestos was discovered in more and more buildings, the use of wrecking balls became less and less practical and safe.
Today, excavators and other heavy machines are used in place of wrecking balls. These machines offer much more control, safety, and precision when completing demolition. However, the wrecking ball is sure to continue as an icon of demolition, despite the sparse use of it.