NY Harbor is one of the busiest in the world. At the turn of the century, ships were afloat with new immigrants and merchandise from far-flung places. Our collection features vintage photos of a younger Statue of Liberty, the Ellis Island abustle with immigrants, and the Queen Mary navigating its slip.
Sure, you could get to the beach by subway, but on this day at the end of July in 1914, you could take the Ferry from Lower Manhattan to Coney Island or Rockaway Beach. The Iron Steamboat Company operated summer ferry service to a number of seaside locations until the close of the season in 1932. In 1914, you could get a ride to Steeplechase Pier and spend the day at the amusement park or the beach.
In this photo, we see the RMS Queen Elizabeth docking in New York Harbor in 1956. The Queen Elizabeth was an luxury ocean liner operated by the Cunard Line. Her career ran from her launch on September 27, 1938 until her retirement in 1969, when she was replaced by the Queen Elizabeth II.
How hot would it have to be for you to strip off all your clothes, climb over all the debris along the shore, and go swimming in the East River? Today, it probably never gets that hot. But for these kids, there was no better way to cool off. In a world without air conditioning, there was the fire hydrant, sprinklers in the park, a couple of crowded public pools, and the river.
This crowd of immigrants waits in line at Ellis Island to be examined before being admitted to the United States. Their clothing bespeaks their relative wealth, compared to many others who passed through this way-station. Regardless of their economic means, these were incredible people, willling to leave everything behind in search of a better life.
The Statue of Liberty stands at the entrance to New York Harbor, welcoming all to the land of liberty. Looking past her, you can see a string of barges heading into the harbor and an Ocean Liner heading out. Beyond them are the Lower Manhattan Skyline and the East River bridges. The golden age of transatlantic sailing was coming to an end by this time, and the era of jet travel was about to begin.
For a Lady pushing fifty, Miss Liberty still looks good. In 1933, two years prior to this photo, the National Park Service took over the administration of the Statue of Liberty from the War Department. In 1938, they closed the Statue for renovation from May until December. Most of the buildings in this photograph were demolished as part of the renovation effort by the Works Progress Administration, which was a New Deal program designed to provide jobs to the unemployed during the Great Depression.
The RMS Queen Mary, nearing the end of her career, cruises into New York Harbor past Lady Liberty. The Mary herself was a familiar symbol of liberty, having served as a troop transport during World War II. After the war, she was refitted for passenger service, and until the era of jet travel forced her into retirement in 1967, she and her sister ship, the Elizabeth, served as the Queens of transatlantic travel.
United States Navy Airships float over the Lower Manhattan skyline. The view of this era presents a far different picture than the one of today. Most of the piers that you see here are gone now. Even the shape of Manhattan has changed, with the western shore of the island being extended out into the Hudson River with the landfill from the excavation of the World Trade Center.
RMS Queen Mary, outbound from New York Harbor, with fireboat spraying water alongside, 1958. Mary was the flag ship of the Cunard line from her maiden voyage in 1936 until 1945 when her sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth, supplanted her in that role. She had been outfitted for troop transport during World War II, but following the war, she and Elizabeth dominated the transatlantic passenger trade. At the time of this photo in 1958, the first transatlantic jet flight had just taken place, and the end of the golden age of ocean liners had come.
Immigrant child rides a toy horse on Ellis Island, while other children look on, 1920.