Or maybe 1930s? It’s hard to tell when this postcard first appeared, but the illustration presents a very sophisticated, Art Deco skyscraper city during Christmastime.
Happy Holidays from Ephemeral New York!
If you were a stylish woman in late 19th century New York, a collection of fashionable hats was a must—the more elaborate and feathered, the better.
And the Hill Brothers, importers and manufacturers headquartered first at 564 and 566 Broadway at the corner of Prince Street, seemed to be the leaders in their field.
An 1888 guidebook called Illustrated New York: the Metropolis of To-Day had this to say about the Hill Brothers and their millinery emporium:
“This firm have long enjoyed a national reputation as importers and manufacturers of millinery goods, while all the partners bring practical experience to bear, coupled with an intimate knowledge of every phase and feature of the wholesale millinery trade.”
By 1902, Hill Brothers had moved up to 806 and 808 Broadway, closer to the rest of the Ladies Mile shops and department stores.
When and why they disappeared is a mystery—but images of their creations and elegant sales floor live on in these advertisements.
Irving Plaza has featured music in some form or another since the 1920s: ballroom dancing, folk hootenannies, Polish songs.
By the late 1970s, it was a rock venue. And if you were young and reasonably into up and coming bands in 1983, these are the groups you’d have been able to see.
The Violent Femmes! I wouldn’t mind going back in time to see them play in their heyday.
This ad appeared in the downtown alternative arts and entertainment paper the East Village Eye. Browsing their digital archive is a lot of fun.
A roller rink once packed in young people in Brooklyn Heights?
Here’s the proof: this late 19th century trading card, which puts the Brooklyn Heights Roller Skating Rink at Fulton and Orange Streets, a corner of old Brooklyn that no longer exists.
The card is part of the fascinating collection of Victorian-era trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library.
Ads for the rink appear in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle. But there’s not a whole lot on the rink itself—though plenty of articles chronicle the roller skating trend of the 1880s city.
“‘The roller skating craze has passed away, as regards popular favor,’ said a former proprietor of a Brooklyn roller rink to an Eagle reporter.”
“‘Roller skating is like love—once dead, it can never be revived. The first established rinks realized immense profits. At this time last year, no less than 20 rinks were open in this city.
“Many did a good business, but others lost money. The best year for roller skating was the Winter and Spring of 1883 and 1884.'”
Before July 1968, if you had an urgent situation to report, you actually had to dial the NYPD’s seven-digit main number: 440-1234.
That all changed when the police department adopted the 911 system. Developed by the FCC and AT&T in the mid-1960s, New York was the first city to implement it, for police calls only.
It was a big success, increasing daily calls to central command from 12,000 to 17,000, cutting down on street crime, and leading to more police cars being dispatched, according to a March 1970 New York Times piece.
As this New York Post ad from December 2, 1970 shows, two years after the police began using 911, the fire department and EMTs adopted it too.
Cyclists racing down city streets at top speed, darting around pedestrians on sidewalks and roadways? It’s not just a contemporary New York thing.
Called “scorchers” for their speed, they gave the very trendy new sport of cycling a bad name and were much-discussed in newspaper articles of the day.
“A new menace appeared in the streets: the ‘scorcher’ or bicycle speed fiend, ‘that idiot with head sunk between bent handle bars,’ body thrown forward and pedaling at top speed,” wrote Peter Salwen, author of Upper West Side Story.
The Upper West Side was especially popular with riders. From Columbus Circle to 72nd to Riverside Drive and Grant’s Tomb, the broad avenues were packed with riders—and some terrified residents.
“The Boulevard, in the vicinity of 72nd Street, is becoming a place very difficult to cross, and at times dangerous to limb and possibly to life,” one New York Times letter writer complained in November 1895.
“The number of ‘hoodlums’ scorching along there with heads down, with no regard to the safety of persons crossing, is rapidly increasing; and the matter certainly needs regulating by the officers of the law.”
One month later, police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt approved the formation of a “scorcher squad,” four men who were tasked with catching and ticketing these speeding cyclists.
Considered a success, the scorcher squad eventually expanded to include 100 officers (middle photo).
But as the cycling fad eased and the automobile took over city streets, the squad’s days were numbered. Considering that we’re in a new bicycle era and not all riders follow traffic rules, maybe it’s time for a second incarnation of the scorcher squad?
Toilet paper? That’s a city creation too.
Before the invention of the modern water closet, people used newspaper, corncobs, even the Sears catalog to take care of business.
As advances in plumbing and sanitation brought indoor privies to an increasing number of homes in the 19th century, a businessman began marketing the first commercially produced toilet paper.
Joseph C. Gayetty sold “flat sheets of ”Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water closet,’ for the fairly expensive price of 1,000 sheets for a dollar out of his shop at 41 Ann Street in Lower Manhattan,'” states this New York Times article from 2004.
As his ads reveal, Gayetty positioned his paper as a curative.
“Young and old should use it systematically. The sedentary should never be without it. All other paper is poisonous, be it white or printed.”
Apparently, Gayetty’s paper wasn’t the biggest hit. The average consumer in the 1850s may not have wanted to pay for something that used to be free.
Or maybe it was the fact that his flat sheets weren’t so easy to use. According to the Times article, it wasn’t until “the brothers E. Irvin and Clarence Scott produced a roll of perforated paper in Philadelphia and founded the Scott Paper Company in 1879 did the idea catch on.”
It’s just the latest in a long history of ad campaigns to get residents to stop littering.
The early appeals focused on the health consequences of garbage, as this ad sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Association (a commercial group organized to keep factories off Fifth Avenue) makes clear.
Cleanliness for cleanliness’ sake seems to be the message in this 1936 campaign, sponsored by the Department of Sanitation.
Did the Sanitation heads really enlist kids to be “junior inspectors” and spread the word about proper trash disposal?
Littering on the subway and inside stations was called out too. I’m not sure when this ad came out, but it was produced by the IRT, which went out of business in 1940.
A giant waste basket in the middle Times Square shaming New Yorkers for their poor littering habits seems like a pretty effective tactic. This photo was taken in 1955.
Did the campaign work? Probably not—as anyone who remembers a trash-filled, littered New York in the 1970s can attest.
At least we’ve come a long way from throwing food and other waste in the street, expecting feral pigs to come along and clean it up for us, as New Yorkers actually did well into the 19th century!
[Photos: NYC Municipal Archives; top photo: Shutterstock]
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair. There, New Yorkers were introduced to the touch tone phone, caught their first sight of the Unisphere to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and were able to view Michelangelo’s Pieta.
Amid all the nostalgia for that fair, it’s worth remembering the century’s other New York World’s Fair. The 1939 version, also in Flushing Meadows, captured the imagination of the Depression-era city.
This Art Deco souvenir matchbook features the fair’s logo: an image of the Trylon obelisk and 18-story Perisphere, the iconic, futuristic buildings that helped make the fair seem so magical.
Both symbolized the promise of the Machine Age. Yet after the end of the fair, they were scrapped and used for armaments in World War II.
Wow, look at that pill box. No childproof safety features!
When these medicine trade cards were circulating around New York, surgery was in its infancy and antibiotics had yet to be invented. The average New Yorker wouldn’t have enjoyed easy access to a doctor.
So when aches and pains and ailments struck, potions and remedies like these were there, ready to be picked up at the corner pharmacy.
[Above: the front and back of an ad for “Scott’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil With the Hyophosphites of Lime and Soda,” for a cough]
Did they work? Without an ingredient list, it’s tough to know. But the cards are interesting to look at—a reminder that earlier generations dealt with the stomach issues, headaches, and colds that drive us to Duane Reade today.
[Above, the back and front of a trade card for a medicine sold by Charles Schneider of East 17th Street, then the upper reaches of Kleindeutschland, the city’s German neighborhood. What is it for?]
[Above: Alexander’s Cholera Infantum Cure, made by the Alexander Medicine Co. in 14th Street and Sixth Avenue and sold by a druggist named Rosenzweig in Brooklyn, could help your kids get rosy cheeks, apparently.]
They’re part of the wonderful William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards in the New York Academy of Medicine Library—which has a recently renovated and reopened Rare Book Room, available to researchers by appointment at their headquarters on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street.