These stunning photographs show how New York City looked like in the 1880s and 1890s. The images depict the streets of the city that never sleeps, the hustling crowds of Manhattan, swimmers at Coney Island, and people’s everyday life.
The photographs, taken by Wallace G. Levison, was a chemist, inventor, and lecturer who founded the Departments of Mineralogy and Astronomy at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in the latter half of the 19th century. He used the new photographic technology both as a scientific tool and a recreational activity.
The new developments in photography allowed pictures to be taken with faster and faster shutter speeds. And you can tell that the photographer had an obsession with motion and a delight with freezing actions that could previously only be recorded as a blur.
The economical growth and population growth radically changed the face of New York City. Noise, traffic jams, slums, air pollution, and sanitation and health problems became commonplace. Mass transit, in the form of trolleys, cable cars, and subways, was built, and skyscrapers began to dominate the skyline.
New communities, known as suburbs, began to be built just beyond the city. Commuters, those who lived in the suburbs and traveled in and out of the city for work, began to increase in number.
Many of those who resided in the city lived in rental apartments or tenement housing. Neighborhoods, especially for immigrant populations, were often the center of community life. In the enclave neighborhoods, many immigrant groups attempted to hold onto and practice precious customs and traditions.
(Photo credit: Wallace G. Levison / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images / Library of Congress).