Crawford's interest in docks, shipyards, bridges, and grain elevators stems from his childhood, which was spent near Lakes Erie and Ontario. His exposure to the precisionist art of Demuth and, especially, Sheeler, while a student at the Barnes Foundation from 1927 to 1930, further fueled his interest in industrial subjects.
Crawford was often drawn to rural locales, in this case an area with grain elevators on a river. Although the exact site of Boat and Grain Elevators, No. 2 has not been identified, it was probably located near the port of Buffalo, because it depicts an ocean-going merchant steamer rather than a flat riverboat. Crawford often painted several versions of the same subject, progressively distilling the essential forms. In the Phillips painting, from 1941-42, Crawford eliminated details, focusing instead on the center of the elevators, the central image in the composition. To increase the two-dimensional effect even further and render the subject even more universal, Crawford simplified the various elements into broad, flat planes of color.
Boat and Grain Elevators, No. 2, which idealizes the industrial landscape, is one of Crawford's last precisionist explorations. His later compositions depict a machine aesthetic in an increasingly fragmented, hard-edged style.