Tag Archives: Photography

A Cabinet of Curiosities Awaits You — The First: Stories of Invention

Tom and Greg are on life-changing adventures this week so no new  episode of the Bowery Boys: New York City History. But there is something awaiting you in the Bowery Boys feed this week — one very New York City-centric episode of The First: Stories of Invention, the Bowery Boys spinoff hosted by Greg Young.

With 16 episodes now released, The First has become a sort of menagerie of innovation, a set of eureka! moments within a cabinet of curiosities, a collection of stories about the history of mankind’s most interesting inventions. As there’s no Bowery Boys episode week, why not dive into The First and give a couple past episodes a try?

From the automobile to the rocket ship, from chewing gum to the TV dinner, from the first face in a photograph to the first voice on the telephone, the world has been forever changed by impossible technologies and startling ideas. But these inventions do not always make the world a better place.

These are the stories of The First, a podcast exploring the history of human innovation, focusing less on iconic inventors and more on the forgotten geniuses and everyday people that were responsible for bringing us the tools of the modern world.

Episodes you may find interesting include (from the image at top, from left to right) the invention of recorded sound; Nikola Tesla‘s experiments with wireless power; Dorothy Catherine Draper, the first woman ever photographed; the creation of robot technology; Charlie Wagner‘s tattoo magic; the incredibly true story of a cow named Blossom and first vaccine; Alexander Graham Bell and the first phone call; and the Black Crook, considered the first Broadway musical. 

How to listen to The First podcast

Listen to episodes of both of our podcasts for free in any of the following ways:

1. The most popular way to listen to the show is through iTunes either played from your desktop or your mobile device:

The First on iTunes

2. However there are a great many ways to listen! Here are a sampling of streaming and downloading sites you can try. Most of these are for iOS and Android so search around to find the player that is right for you:

Cloud Caster —  The First

Google Play —  The First

Overcast —  The First

Player FM —  The First

Pocket Casts — The First

Podbay —  The First

ShortOrange —  The First

Stitcher —  The First

As well as DoggCatcher, Podcast & Radio Addict, Podcast Republic and AntennaPod on Android. If you have Chrome, you can also use SmarterPod.

3. In addition, you can stream the show directly through Libsyn, our podcast hosting service:

The First on Libsyn

New episodes of the Bowery Boys: New York City History return on July 21. And The First comes back with brand new episodes on July 28.


The First Podcast: Miss Draper and the first portrait photograph

02: Dorothy Catherine Draper is a truly forgotten figure in American history. She was the first woman to ever sit for a photograph — a daguerrotype, actually, in the year 1840, upon the rooftop of the school which would become New York University..

The circumstances that got her to this position were rather unique. She was the older sister of a professor named John William Draper, and she assisted him in his success and fame even when it seemed a detriment to her. The Drapers worked alongside Samuel Morse in the period following his invention of the telegraph.

The legendary portrait was taken when Miss Draper was a young woman but a renewed interest in the image in the 1890s brought the now elderly matron a bit of late-in-life recognition.

FEATURING Tales from the earliest days of photography and walk through Green-Wood Cemetery!

To get this episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services.

Subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio from your mobile device.

Or listen to it straight from here:

Dorothy Catherine Draper in the first portrait photograph ever taken and the first photograph of a female face.



Draper in the 1890s, in a photograph taken by her nephew.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY



The observatory attached to the Draper house in Hastings-on-Hudson.





John William Draper


Samuel Morse from an image taken of him in Paris.


History in the Making 4/14: Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Edition

Big Bowery Boys book news! The release date for Adventures In Old New York got pushed back to June a couple weeks but for the best reason ever — the book is enormous, almost 500 pages, and full of spectacular images. It’s really shaping up to become an attractive, entertaining and usable book. We cannot wait for you to see it.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or at your local book store. On Amazon you can buy it for a discount with Hamilton: The Revolution, the official book of the Hamilton musical! The book is also going to be available digitally, and you can already pre-order it for the Nook.

The Tale of Belvedere:  Meanwhile I was featured on a recent episode of the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Castle, talking about the history of Belvedere Castle, the dreamlike ‘folly’ in Central Park. It was Episode 3.13, originally broadcast on March 31.  You can catch it in reruns, watch it on-demand or on iTunes!

Below: Central Park’s fairytale weather station in a postcard dated sometime early 1900s

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

Some links that you may find of interest;

Treasure Hunt: Where in New York City you can find beautiful examples of Gaustavino’s amazing tile work — from grand spaces (or, more specifically, Grand Central) to hallowed halls (the Cathedral of St. John the Divine). [Gothamist]

On Montague: A unique view of Brooklyn  Heights in the 1970s/ [Brooklyn Historical Society]

Now Playing: The tale of one of New York’s most unique performance spaces — the Neighborhood Playhouse in the Lower East Side. [Daytonian In Manhattan]

Opening This Week: Class Divide, a movie about the High Line and the gentrification in Chelsea. [Vanishing New York]

Coming up tomorrow: The new Bowery Boys podcast. Tom goes on the road to find the food of the past!

And now, in honor of tonight’s historical Democratic presidential debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a look at some less volatile events there over the years. (Yes, these are pictures during times of war. Modern campaigning is tough!):

These images are all courtesy Library of Congress, dated between 1910-1920

Launch of the USS New Mexico — April 1917


A few images of Japan’s Admiral Togo Heihachiro touring the Navy Yard in August 1911:




3 4


Armed up on the USS New York with visiting children during Christmas.



At the launch of the USS Arizona, June 1915




Jacob A. Riis: The Power of the Flash

The daredevil antics of Nellie Bly (subject of our last podcast) proved that investigative journalism could prove a benefit to society while also selling stacks of newspapers (specifically, those of Joseph Pullitzer’s New York World).

A few months after Bly’s trip to Blackwell’s Island, Jacob Riis published his first investigation for the New York Sun, revealing the wretched conditions of New York’s worst slum neighborhoods by employing an experimental technology — flash photography.  The startling pictures, by Riis and a team of other photographers, were at first rendered in line drawings, but the effect was nevertheless profound.

In the Museum of the City of New York’s fascinating new show on Riis — Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half (on view until March 20, 2016) — we get to see his photos on an intimate scale, in original prints, stereographs and glass negatives, their subjects trapped forever in meager situations.

The pictures are more than social activism; they’re history themselves, the first flash photography ever to be used in this fashion. Riis was showing New Yorkers a vivid glimpse of poverty — orphans in the gutter, street gangs in the alleyway — using a technique that few were regularly exposed to apart from portraiture.


Riis never considered himself a professional photographer. Later in his career, he even farmed out the photographic work to others as he focused on writing and social activism. And yet modern photojournalism wouldn’t really be what it was today without his first forays into slums, opium dens and beer halls with his bulky and costly equipment.  His early work influenced an entire field of social photographers seeking to prove the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” (a phrase which debuted near the end of Riis’ lifetime),

With that in mind, it seems shocking that Revealing New York’s Other Half is the first museum retrospective of Riis’ work in over fifty years, culling from their own massive collection of photographs and papers from the Library of Congress and New York Public Library.  The show is complete but not over-crowded, starting with artifacts from his private life, then methodically spanning his career.


The Museum’s show also pays tribute to the 125th anniversary of Riis’ How The Other Half Lives, a landmark examination of New York’s lower classes which provoked many city improvements in housing and labor.

I was particularly taken with the original books and newspaper clippings of Riis’ work. We’re used to engaging closely with older photography, presented relatively largely and with the ability to study detail. But his first impactful images weren’t actual photos at all, but pencil engravings of his photos.  It would take many years after Riis’ debut for newspaper printing processes to effectively reproduce photographic images.


One very useful feature of the exhibit is a large map indicating the many locations in Manhattan from Riis’ photographs. He’s principally associated with the old Five Points neighborhood (mostly demolished due to work), but his work spans the entire island. In fact many of his most famous photographs were actually taken a short distance south of Five Points in the slum called Gotham Court.

You may be tempted to skip the exhibit’s final section — a slide-show lecture with a stern Jacob Riis-style voiceover — because it seems at first rather unpleasant. But in many ways, this is the best part of Revealing New York’s Other Half, a reenactment of Riis’ magic lantern show, the first illustrated TED Talks if you will, and the method in which he brought his messaging closest to the audience. The presentations were stark and eye-opening, not to mention stilted at times. But you can’t deny their effectiveness.


Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half
October 14, 2015 – March 20, 2016
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street)


Life in New York City 1935-1945: Heavenly images from Yale University

Yale University has sprung a beautiful present onto the Internet — a searchable database of over 170,000 public-domain photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, documenting the aftermath of America of the Great Depression and World War II. The photos, dating from between the years 1935 to 1945, include of the greatest American photographers from the period (such as Gordon ParksWalker Evans and Dorothea Lange).

These images aren’t really new; they’ve been available at the Library of Congress for many years. I’ve even ran a couple of these on the blog before.  But Yale has done an outstanding job of sorting and cataloging. Their site even comes with a map if you want to look at images from a particular area of the country.

Take a look at this particular images from New York City during this period, then head over to the database and lose yourself inside these captivating, sometimes harrowing pictures. Thank you Yale!



June 1936 “New York street scene: striking in front of Macy’s” Photographer Dorothea Lange



November 1936 “Street scene at 38th Street and 7th Avenue” Photographer Russell Lee



1938 “New York, New York. 61st Street between 1st and 3rd Avenues. Tenants” Photographs by Walker Evans



1938 Photographer Jack Allison (no caption on photo)



June 1941 New York City, East Side, Sunday morning, photographer Marion Post Walcott


picDecember 1941 :Children playing, New York City: Photographer Arthur Rothstein



October 1942 “High school Victory Corps. Learning the rudiments of advancing on an enemy will prove valuable to these boys if they are called to join their older brothers in the armed forces. This is part of the “commando” training given in physical education courses at Flushing High School, Queens, New York” Photographer William Perlitch



January 1943 “Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. The gymnasium is one of the busiest places at Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. The physical education program is handled by many noted exponents of boxing, wrestling, track and judo. Paul (Tiny) Wyatt, one-time leading contender for heavyweight boxing honors, is shown sparring with Hart Kraeten, former Golden Gloves champ.” Photographer Roger Smith



January 1943 “New York, New York. Child on Mott Street on Sunday” Photograph by Marjory Collins




January 1943  “Italian grocer in the First Avenue market at Tenth Street” Photograph by Marjory Collins



March 1943 “Rockefeller Plaza, exhibit [for] United Nations by OWI, New York, N.Y. Between photographic displays is [the] Atlantic charter in frame with transmitters at each end and where voices of Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek are heard each half hour; surrounded by statues of the four freedoms.” Photograph by Marjory Collins



March 1943 “New York, New York. Times Square on a rainy day” Photographer John Vachon



April 1943 “A follower of the late Marcus Garvey who started the “Back to Africa” movement” Photographer Gordon Parks



June 1943 “New York, New York. Dock stevedore at the Fulton fish market” Photographer Gordon Parks



June 1944 “Children’s school victory gardens on First Avenue between Thirty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Streets” Photographer Edward Meyer



June 1944 “A crowd on D-Day in Madison Square” Photographer unknown

The story of ‘Painters On The Brooklyn Bridge’, a classic photograph taken 100 years ago this month

The photograph above (officially called “Brooklyn Bridge showing painters on suspenders”) is perhaps the best-known image taken by Eugene de Salignac, a city employee who took municipal photography of most major New York structures during the early 20th century.

His work had never appeared in a gallery until 2007, almost 65 years after his death.  His exquisite eye rendered otherwise ordinary shots with a captivating grandeur; this was certainly beyond the call of duty of his responsibilities for the Department of Bridges (later named the Department of Plant and Structures) for which he worked from 1906 to 1934.  In all, it’s estimated the city owns about 20,000 glass-plate negatives taken by de Salignac.

On September 22, 1914, de Salignac headed to the Brooklyn Bridge to observe workers painting the bridge’s steel-wire suspension.  Perhaps a bit inspired by modern artistic photography of the day, the normally workaday photographer returned to the bridge a couple weeks later, on October 7.

To quote Aperture:  “The image was obviously planned, as evidenced by the relaxed nature of these fearless men who appear without their equipment and are joined, uncustomarily, by their supervisor.”

It was, generally speaking, an unspectacular day for the 31-year-old bridge.  It’s believed that the original color of the Brooklyn Bridge was ‘Rawlins Red’ although by this time, the vibrant color might have been replaced with the less dramatic ‘Brooklyn Bridge Tan.’  Can you imagine what this image would have looked like in color?

I would like to think de Salignac took some inspiration from photographers like Paul Strand who were beginning to see New York City as a set of geometric abstracts.  The spirit of this photograph echoes into the work of Berenice Abbott and especially Lewis Hine.  In 1932, while de Salignac was still employed by the city, Hine was hired to document the construction of the RCA Building. In one photo, workers were posed in a way that eventually became quite iconic**:

Most likely, none of those other photographers saw de Salignac’s Brooklyn Bridge picture.  It was essentially lost among the thousands of archives pictures until the 1980s.  For his first film for PBS, Ken Burns used the photograph  in his Brooklyn Bridge documentary which went on to snag an Academy Award nomination.  In 2007, de Salignac was belatedly honored with an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

 De Salignac returned to the bridge to several times to catch more workers in the act of maintaining the bridge. Such as this photograph the following year:

Want to get lost for an hour or so? Check on the New York Municipal Archives vast trove of Eugene de Salignac photographs directly.

**This famous picture was attributed first to Lewis Hine, then to Charles C Ebbets.  Corbis officially lists the photographer as ‘unknown’.  Thank you to Michael Lorenzini for pointing this out!

Top photo courtesy New York Municipal Archives. Hine photo courtesy the George Eastman House

History in the Making 9/9: The Former Avenue A Edition

[Junior Sea Breeze for sick babies.]

A particularly haunting image — the caption “Junior sea breeze for sick babies — 64th Street and Avenue A.” Circa 1895, this was taken in a park at 64th and today’s York Avenue, the area of Rockefeller University.  On this 1899 map, you can see that the future Sutton Place and York Avenue were still referred to as Avenue A then.  By the 20th century, the lettered avenues were so synonymous with poorer immigrants that the upper portions were renamed to appeal to wealthier residents.   (Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

Food Fight:  Junior’s Restaurant, the legendary Brooklyn restaurant on Flatbush Avenue, rejects lavish cash offers to remain in the same spot. “This is Junior’s identity, is this building. This is the one where I came on my first dates. It’s where my family spent most of their waking hours … Not the one down the street, not the one below 20 stories of condos. This one.” [Curbed]

Re-booked: Rizzoli’s Bookstore, forcibly vacated from its 57th Street location, finds a new home downtown. [Wall Street Journal]

Reinventing the Sandwich:  The rise and fall of the panini in New York City [Gothamist]

Sky High:  The staggering development of Manhattan over 350 years, courtesy an extraordinary cross-section of bird’s eye illustrations. [Gizmodo]

The Glow of the City:  A look at the dreamlike photography of pictoralist Alvin Langdon Coburn. [Ephemeral New York]

Beautiful Trash:  And another photographer from a different era — Mike Frey and his black-and-white take of New York in the 1970s. [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

I Want To Go To There: And speaking of great photographs, my favorite Instagram account of the moment is by Rolando Pujol who finds the most remarkable examples of Americana restaurant signage in New York.  I want to eat ice cream at all of these places.  Follow him there or check out his blog. [The Retrologist]

Meanwhile, if you’re watching The Knick or Boardwalk Empire, follow along with me on Twitter (@boweryboys) for some extra trivia about the historical eras being depicted.  I’m trying to avoid actual spoilers at all possible, although sometimes history itself provides the spoiler as with the murder of this prominent mob boss.  Here’s a few example of Tweets for this weekend’s episodes:

‘Be Honest and True Boys’, a poem from this 1887 issue of Golden Days: #BoardwalkEmpire http://t.co/IDPRD1lkyj pic.twitter.com/6BwCaVNACe
— The Bowery Boys NYC (@BoweryBoys) September 8, 2014

Hats, hats, and hats. As a fun comparison of fashion, here’s a lineup of men’s looks from 1899: #AtTheKnick pic.twitter.com/NfDT2tgl5w
— The Bowery Boys NYC (@BoweryBoys) September 6, 2014

A hansom cab from 1896 on the streets of New York (courtesy @librarycongress) #AtTheKnick pic.twitter.com/FvVEWaX1xw
— The Bowery Boys NYC (@BoweryBoys) September 6, 2014

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — in New York City?

Butch Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh (aka the ‘Sundance Kid‘) were notorious Western outlaws of the 1890s-1900s who were rendered into romantic icons courtesy Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  I did not realize these two scalawags had any connection to New York City until I watched this clip from tonight’s PBS American Experience documentary on the adventurous criminals (fast forward to minute 40:

Here is the photo of Longabaugh and Etta Place, taken at De Young’s photo studio at 815 Broadway:

This is not New York City related in anyway, but I just loved finding this headline in an 1898 issue of the Salt Lake City Herald


The American Experience film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was originally broadcast in February 2014.


Picture at top: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy; Standing: Will Carver, alias News Carver, & Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry; Fort Worth, Texas, 1900.


The New York Public Library’s old-timey 3D magic maker

Stop what you’re doing and go play around with the New York Public Library‘s addictive Stereograminator, which gives you their collection of stereograph photography and the ability to animate them, emulating the ‘3D effect’ audiences who first viewed them would have experienced. Go here for the fun.

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index

The originals are below:

Which year was this photo was taken? (Hint: Not yesterday.)

I’m becoming slowly obsessed with the Life Magazine work of photographer Leonard McCombe, whose colorful images of midtown Manhattan render the busy streets with a warm, vibrant palette. Last week I posted another Mccombe picture of this particular street corner that perfectly captured the era. But this image manages to seem incredibly modern.

The place? Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Center.

The year? 1960.

By the way, perhaps McCombe’s most famous photograph, taken in 1949, was of Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long, the inspiration for the Marlboro Man.