Assorted Ideas

1911 New York City Rising

It’s 1911, and New York City is rising fast. Electric elevators, subways, cities merging… All these sent the city soaring, and a newly colorized film from MOMA tells the story.

By David Stone

The New York City the world knows today is a child among urban giants. It didn’t exist until 120 years ago. That’s when Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island merged with Manhattan and the “Annexed Section,” forming a major metropolis.

The Annexed Section is The Bronx, part of New York County since 1874, but not yet home of the Yankees.

That, along with two other inventions, made an exciting brew.

Those were the electric elevator, popularized in the 1880s, and the New York City subway, opened in 1904.

But there’s more to that story than rapid growth and urban power, and you get the idea from the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s remarkable video.

It shows a city in 1911 with many familiar sites but also people on the cusp of change.

1911 New York City Rising

Although the video starts and ends with a cliche, views of the Statue of Liberty, it’s really about the streets of New York.

Another recent invention, horseless carriages compete with street cars, horse-drawn buggies and pedestrians in the days before painted crosswalks.

One of the first chauffeured vehicles carries a jammed in family down the avenue, cheerful driver contrasting with a stiff head of the family. (Don’t miss the grinning daughter in the back. She seems to be having the most fun.)

The Flatiron Building, Madison Square Park — without the Shake Shack — the Third Avenue El curling north and Chinatown, all make appearances. Crisp, clean and thoughtfully colorized.

1911 New York City Rising, MOMA Video

What strikes me in this video is something that stayed for decades, until culture exploded in mid-century: Almost every man wears a suit, tie and hat. Women? Fewer on the streets than today, but all fully covered in long skirts and high collars.

A puritan ethic prevailed, nice in its way, until it wasn’t.

After watching this video, take a walk and see how much changed. We talk about computers and the digital revolution, but it’s the people. The public differences are so dramatic, it’s hard to imagine the flux stopping here.

From buttoned up formality to ripped jeans and Tees… What comes next?

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