From the towering majesty of the Empire State Building to the verdant beauty of Central Park, The Big Apple is as much a New Yorker’s pride as it is a tourist’s dream. But go back through the years, and the city is almost unrecognizable — but just as magical. Step back in time with the following photographs, which reveal just how much NYC has changed over the years.
Brooklyn Bridge builders
It’s hard to believe that the Brooklyn Bridge wasn’t always just… there, but photographic evidence proves it didn’t randomly pop into existence. This amazing photo shows the iconic bridge not only during construction, but onlookers surveying the monumental event from a scarily high walkway — and in dapper hats to boot! A few more cogs and this could be a painted landscape straight out of a sci-fi steampunk art book.
If you think internet pop-up ads are bad, you should have seen 1880s New York — the ads lined the buildings! The marketing approach to old stores seemed to be ‘write your name in letters as large as possible and attach it to your place of business.’ Looking at this picture is almost like seeing the ancestor of the modern mall. It’s hard to believe it’s an NYC street and not a cowboy town, though.
For New Yorkers who routinely ride the subway, the now-scrapped 1870s elevated trains — or “the els” — are whimsical pieces of societal nostalgia. Sure, they revolutionized public transport in a time when crossing the street was far more dangerous. But as history professor Clifton Hood told website Bloomberg in 2016, “The els were loud, dirty, messy and slow… run by monopolistic companies that provided bad service.” At least the subway’s fast.
Early Penny Farthing bicycles, with their overly large front wheels and theatrically small rear ones, are a quintessential Victorian image. And it’s true that English inventor James Starley made them. Yet they weren’t just used across the pond! New Yorkers rode them too, and seeing the asymmetrical vehicles side-by-side with a modern bicycle just highlights how strange and alien they look to us now.