Lower Manhattan criss-crossed by wires

As this 1880s postcard reveals, New York streets in the late 19th century held messes of wires—telephone and telegraph wires like these as well as power lines.

The streets are much more attractive—not to mention safer—now that all the wires have to be buried underground. It’s a result of the Blizzard of 1888. That March storm dumped so much snow on the city, exposed wires and polls all over New York snapped like twigs, knocking out power and communication and paralyzing the city. 

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6 Responses to “Lower Manhattan criss-crossed by wires”

  1. CorlearsHook Says:

    Great picture, it looks like a few of the buildings between Cortlandt and Dey Streets are still standing (The white building which I am fairly sure is 175 Broadway is definitely still there, though the ground floors have been defaced by Century 21). Shame we lost the Western Union Building though 195 Broadway isn’t a terrible replacement.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    The Western Union building was something. I’ll try to get a link up. Gorgeous…and gone.

  3. Mara Says:

    Do you know if those utility poles were all wood, or a combination of wood and iron? I’ve been looking for information on electic power line poles in 1880′s NYC, but am having trouble finding specifics. I understand a lot of poles fell during the blizzard. Would the iron poles fall as easily as the wooden poles? I read a few articles in the NYT archives of the period, and they suggest that the poles that were specifically for electricity were made of iron with wooden crossbeams. I wanted to know if, before the iron ones went up, there were wooden ones? Or was it mostly telegraph and telephone poles falling during the blizzard? Were telegraph, telephone, and electric light lines all on separate poles or stuck all together?
    Do you know of any place I can find out more? :) Thanks for the post. I love the picture.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I don’t know whether the poles were wood or iron but have you tried asking over at the tenement museum? They might know. Also, the librarians at the New York Public Library take random questions over the phone. I don’t know the number but you can Google it. Good luck!

  5. Tommy Says:

    The Blizzard of 1888

    When we complain about the latest MTA rate hikes or the noise and dust from the construction of the 2nd Avenue subway line, we are unaware of just how far rapid transit in this city has come in a relatively short time in human history. This shows how short our collective memory can be.
    In late winter and early spring, most New Yorkers count on a reprieve from the oppressive cold of the months of January and February, but sometimes there are unpleasant surprises. From March 11-14, 1888, New York City like much of the Northeast Coast was completely paralyzed by what came to be known as the Great White Hurricane. In parts of the state, houses were completely engulfed in snow. The rapid fall of the snow in Manhattan blocked streets for several days. Supplies could not come in and out of the city, and residents even then who were used to daily shopping at local markets soon ran out of food. Children thus went with out milk. Worse yet was the fact that fire wagons could not make it in sufficient time or could not leave the fire stations to make it to a burning building. It has even been suggested that the wind chill was so severe that birds froze to branches where they were perched.
    Beyond traffic problems and pollution that were beginning to make life challenging in the late 19th Century, this unusual climactic inspired the city’s government to pursue construction of an underground transit system even more seriously.

  6. The “Great White Hurricane” changes New York « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] the blizzard permanently cleared the city of the mish-mash of telephone and telegraph cables that marred so many streets. They were moved [...]

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