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15 Before And After Photos: What Manhattan Looked Like 100 Years Ago

1936: View of the Manhattan Bridge as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge. photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library
30.05.2017, 17:4209.07.2019, 14:47

Today, more than 8.5 million people live in the Big Apple. Switzerland as a whole country cannot even match that number. These historic photos, some of which are more than 100 years old, show that even New York was once a more tranquil place.

Brooklyn Bridge

This New York landmark is also known as the «bridge of longing». The photo shows the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground and the Manhattan Bridge in the back, as seen from Brooklyn.

  • Opening: 1883
  • Used to be the longest suspension bridge in the world (486 meters)
  • Construction time: 13 years
  • Cost: 15 million USD
1924: View of the Brooklyn Bridge looking toward Manhattan.
1924: View of the Brooklyn Bridge looking toward Manhattan.photo: The new york public library / new york city library
all photos from 2016/2017: Jennifer Zimmermann
1945: View of Manhattan.
1945: View of Manhattan.photo: the new york public library / new york city library

The public distrusted the construction when only six days after its opening a mass panic broke out, and twelve people died on the bridge.

In Mai 1884 the Barnum Circus had 21 circus elephants parade across the bridge to demonstrate its stability.

1925: Nowadays you will hardly ever find the bridge this empty.
1925: Nowadays you will hardly ever find the bridge this empty.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library
The second tallest building to the left of the bridge is the Woolworth Building, tallest in the world from 1913-1930.
The second tallest building to the left of the bridge is the Woolworth Building, tallest in the world from 1913-1930.
1952: View of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River and Lower Manhattan.
1952: View of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River and Lower Manhattan.photo: the new york public library / new york city library
The tallest building in this photo is One World Trade Center.
The tallest building in this photo is One World Trade Center.

Flatiron Building

The Flatiron Building, also known as Fuller Building (named after the contracting business), was never the highest building in NYC, as is often stated.

  • Completion: 1902
  • 91 meters high, 22 stories
  • When the Flatiron first opened there were no female bathrooms in the whole building.
Date unknown, view towards the South.
Date unknown, view towards the South.photo: the new york public library / new york city library

Union Square Park

This place is also known as the Times Square of Downtown Manhattan and has been a popular meeting place ever since. Nowadays you come across break dancers, painters, Hare Krishna followers, skateboarders, bikers, homeless and business people.

  • Opening: 1839
  • In 1828 this space was called Union Place and was used as a cemetery for the destitute.
1922: The building in the middle is the Metropolitan Life Tower.
1922: The building in the middle is the Metropolitan Life Tower.photo: the new york public library /new york city library
Empire State Building (on the left) and MetLife Tower (to the right of it, with clock tower) surrounded by office and apartment buildings.
Empire State Building (on the left) and MetLife Tower (to the right of it, with clock tower) surrounded by office and apartment buildings.

Madison Square Park

  • Opening: 1847
  • Between 1794 und 1797 the space served as a cemetery for the poor.
  • Like all parks in NYC this one also has opening hours. People who are caught in this park right next to the Flatiron after midnight may well need to go to court.
1936: The statue shows William H. Seward, who was Secretary of State from 1861 until 1869.
1936: The statue shows William H. Seward, who was Secretary of State from 1861 until 1869.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library

Williamsburg Bridge

This suspension bridge connects the Lower East Side of Manhattan with Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

  • Completion: 1903
  • While the bridge was being built New York and Brooklyn were still two separate cities.
  • The Williamsburg Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are the only suspension bridges in New York which can be crossed by car and by subway.
Around 1900: The construction of the Williamsburg Bridge as seen from Williamsburg.
Around 1900: The construction of the Williamsburg Bridge as seen from Williamsburg.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library
Photo taken in 1945.
Photo taken in 1945.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library
Photo taken from Transmitter Park (in Greenpoint, Brooklyn).
Photo taken from Transmitter Park (in Greenpoint, Brooklyn).
1935: View of Brooklyn as seen from Manhattan.
1935: View of Brooklyn as seen from Manhattan.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library

Statue of Liberty

«Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.»
Inscription on the Statue of LibertyPoet Emma Lazarus
1960: View from the Staten Island Ferry.
1960: View from the Staten Island Ferry.photo: the new york public library / new york city library

Central Park

  • Built in 1857. Enlarged to its current size in 1873.
  • 340 hectares in size, it makes up 6 percent of Manhattan's land area.
  • Popular location for shooting films, such as «When Harry met Sally», «Breakfast at Tiffany's», «Home Alone 2», «Elf» and «Léon».
1970: A group of people play a game of «red rover» on Sheep Meadow.
1970: A group of people play a game of «red rover» on Sheep Meadow.photo: the new york public library / new york city library

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park has been used as a public park since 1827. Not too long ago, in 1797, the land served as a place for executions and as a cemetery. Historians believe that to this day 20,000 people still lay buried here.

The prominent building to the right of the Arch is the One Fifth Avenue Apartment, which was built in 1927. The Art Deco building was originally a hotel. Later it was mostly converted into apartments. A 1 bedroom apartment costs 1.75 million dollars.

1936: To the right of the Arch towers the One Fifth Avenue Building.
1936: To the right of the Arch towers the One Fifth Avenue Building.photo: the new york public library / new york city library
Washington Square Arch around 1900.
Washington Square Arch around 1900.photo: oldnyc.org / new york city library

Manhattan's Skyline

This is undoubtedly one of the prettiest views of Manhattan's skyline, and it’s for free! The Staten Island Ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal in South Manhattan and drops you in St. George, free of charge. While you’re cruising along, you can sip a beer on the ferry. A special moment, since drinking in public is otherwise prohibited in NYC.

1960: View of the Battery as seen from the Staten Island Ferry.
1960: View of the Battery as seen from the Staten Island Ferry.photo: the new york public library / new york city library

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