People and Professions

The true dynamic of early-1900 New York City is illustrated best by the people who lived, worked and played there. And as far back as 1876, our authentic photo collection shows New Yorkers—immigrants to America arriving through New York Harbor, laborers, professionals, children and street vendors—and a street life like no other.

Horace Ashton, Photographing the Construction of the Queensboro Bridge, 1907

Horace Ashton, Photographing the Construction of the Queensboro Bridge, 1907

In this black and white photograph, taken in 1907, an unknown photographer has captured the intrepid Horace Ashton, sitting on a girder above the East River, capturing the view from his own unique perspective. At this time, Ashton was probably working for the Underwood & Underwood studio.

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Madison Square Park, 1902

Madison Square Park, 1902

New Yorkers love their greenspaces. In this black and white photograph from 1902, we see a mother and her children strolling through Madison Square Park. Fellow New Yorkers occupy the benches, chatting, and reading newspapers. Beyond the cool shade of the trees, looms the newly-constructed Flatiron Building, an urban icon seen from a bucolic setting.

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Sightseeing Bus in front of Flatiron Building, 1910

Sightseeing Bus in front of Flatiron Building, 1910

New York City has always attracted tourists. Here a busload of them prepare to see the sights, and there's no better place to begin than the Flatiron Building, which had only opened a few years before, in 1902. The official name of the Flatiron is the Fuller Building,   which is inscribed on the metal gates below the arch.

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Depression Era Apple Seller at Broadway and W. 32 Street, 1930

Depression Era Apple Seller at Broadway and W. 32 Street, c. 1930

In 1930, the International Apple Shippers Association, overstocked on fruit, came up with short term solution for the unemployed. They sold them apples at a greatly reduced rate on credit. By November, there were 6,000 apple sellers in New York City alone. This remedy only worked while the overstock of fruit lasted, and by the end of 1931 the apple sellers were all gone. Here we see a young woman buying an apple from an unemployed man at Greeley Square. The Sixth Avenue Elevated Station can be see in the background.

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Kids Cool Off in a Sprinkler on the Lower East Side, 1923

Kids Cool Off in a Sprinkler on the Lower East Side, 1923

Some things never change. One of the joys of childhood is running through a sprinkler in summer. For most this probably conjures images of suburban lawns, but as this photo attests city kids did it, too. On a hot summer day in 1923 on the Lower East Side, these kids cooled off by running in the street under a sprinkler hooked up to a fire hydrant.

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Boys Swimming in the East River, c. 1910

Boys Swimming in the East River, c. 1910

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.

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West Side Cowboy, circa 1930

West Side Cowboy, circa 1930

The West Side Cowboy was a common sight on Tenth Avenue for over 80 years. By law, a man on horseback, waving a red flag, had to precede each train that ran down the avenue. Still, so many accidents occurred that Tenth Avenue became known as Death Avenue. In 1929, the city, the state, and the New York Central Railroad agreed on the West Side Improvement Project, which resulted in the creation of the High Line and the elimination of the street level tracks and the flagman on horseback. Here we see the flagman on Tenth Avenue and West 28th Street, alongside Chelsea Park.

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Oktoberfest circa 1947 on East 86th Street

Oktoberfest circa 1947 on East 86th Street

Germantown doesn't exist anymore. Even Yorkville is an unfamiliar term to present-day Upper East Siders. But until as recently as the 1990s, East 86th Street hosted many German restaurants, butcher shops, and pastry shops, and at the time of this photograph in the late 1940s, East 86th Street was known as the German Broadway. Nowadays, Oktoberfest is an excuse for Yuppies to go on a pub crawl and puke in the street, but as this photo attests, the finer elements of the tradition have been lost.

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Thompson and Houston Streets, 1929

Thompson and Houston Streets, 1929

Smile for the camera, boys!  Geez, New York was a tough town in 1929, at least if these guys are any indication. We don't know who these men were, posing for a picture on the corner of Thompson and Houston, but it looks like the only time they'd ever been in front of a camera was for a mug shot. Even the two guys with coke-bottle thick glasses look like they'd teach that photographer a lesson if they could see him.

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Bicycle Parade in Central Park, 1895

Bicycle Parade in Central Park, 1895

Central Park and Bicycles have a long history together, coming into existence in roughly the same era. In this late Nineteenth Century photograph, you see an early bicycle club, composed mostly of young men, pedalling their way along the unpaved roads of Central Park.

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