Oldest known footage of New York City

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An evening pause: Having left Brooklyn last night, let’s take a look at what New York City looked like to the first documentary filmmakers. I myself am struck by two things immediately: First, how much the city really still looks like this. The buildings might have changed, but New York is still crowded, packed with buildings and people. Second, how much change also occurred in a very short time. The streets went from horses and carriages to street cars to automobiles in just a few decades, quickly, and with relatively little difficulty. Today such changes are hard, slow, and very expensive, mostly because of the introduction of an unending number of regulations.


  • mpthompson

    The thing that strikes me is that everyone of the people we see in those clips is long dead and buried. My great grandfather would have been one of their contemporaries.

  • hondo

    My earliest memory of NYC/BKLYN is of an electric streetcar on Utica Avenue and those crosshatched wood (bamboo?) seat cushions – and an automat on Eastern Parkway. This would be mid to later 50s. Damn! I got old!

  • PeterF

    “crosshatched wood (bamboo)” was most probably caning. very popular seating material before the introduction of air conditioning.

    One of the things thats not very clear are the brown “snowbanks that lined every street every day. The inevitable result of the intestinal processing of thousands of tons of feed by thousands of horses.

    The introduction of the automobile didn’t just put the buggy whip manufacturers out of work, it also put an army of street sweepers out of work.

  • hondo

    Thanks Pete

    Reference the urban street snowbanks – remember how dirty and dingy they became after a day or two from auto exhaust and general air pollution. Now it’s amazing how long they can remain white – massive environmental improvements over time that go completely unrecognized.

  • Edward

    Peter F wrote: “The introduction of the automobile didn’t just put the buggy whip manufacturers out of work, it also put an army of street sweepers out of work.”

    This is not so true in Paris, however. Her streets are still washed down each night.

    Robert’s comment about regulations is telling. A century ago, had there been the same desire by today’s government to heavily regulate everything then smokey, gasoline-powered cars would not have been allowed to roam the city. Indeed, considering the problems that they had with horse manure, the nineteenth century would have seen regulations limiting horses, too.

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