The piece was conceived with Marc Blitzstein spent part of a winter with his sister Jo in Ventnor, NJ. They spent time with some cooks and workers who were trying to better their conditions.
Blitzstein had expected the Mercury Theatre to produce the work. After signing a contract in February 1939 with Mercury, Orson Welles left to go to Hollywood to make Citizen Kane and the company began to fall apart.
The character of Paul is allegedly based on Blitzstein himself.