NEW YORK: Mulberry Street in 1900, a hub of Italian-American culture and history, and the heart of Manhattan's Little Italy. Mediadrumimages/DetroitPhotographicCompany/PublicDomain

By Alex Jones


CAPTIVATING colour images show what life in New York City was like when horse-and-carts ruled the roads and the skyline was considerably closer to earth.

Beautiful photochroms, taken approximately 120 years ago, show the artisans and junkmen plying their trade in the bustling Mulberry Street; crowds of fabulously dressed pedestrians parading down Sixth Avenue; and the Big Apple’s first attempts at dominating the skies.

NEW YORK:New York’s burdgeoning skyline. The ‘original twin towers’ was called the Park Row Building and was the tallest building in world from 1898 to 1908. Mediadrumimages/DetroitPhotographicCompany/PublicDomain

The United States’ biggest city has always played a significant role in the country’s history. It was founded in the 1600s by Dutch colonists and served as the U.S. capital for five years in the 1780s. Over the last two hundred years, millions of immigrants have come to New York seeking safe harbour and chasing the American Dream, waving into their new lives by the Statue of Liberty grandly situated just a mile off the coast of Lower Manhattan.

NEW YORK: 2)Bowling Green and Lower Broadway, New York City in 1900. Mediadrumimages/DetroitPhotographicCompany/PublicDomain

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the city’s population exploded – more than doubling from 1890 (1,515,301) to 1900 (3,437,202). As the city grew out, it also grew up with a number of prototype skyscrapers built at the start of the 1900s before the roaring twenties and early thirties saw iconic structures such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Rockefeller Centre form New York’s unmistakable urban silhouette.

NEW YORK:The Washington Bridge, opened in 1888. It links Manhattan and The Bronx. Mediadrumimages/DetroitPhotographicCompany/PublicDomain

Nowadays its population sits comfortably over 8.5 million and it attracts tens of millions of tourists every year, keen to take in the sights and sounds of the city which never sleeps. It is the most photographed city in the world and, as these photochroms prove, has always attracted shutterbugs since the invention of the camera.

NEW YORK: St Paul Building, another of New York’s first tall building built in 1898. It was not a valued architectural feat and described as the “least attractive design of all New York’s skyscrapers. Mediadrumimages/DetroitPhotographicCompany/PublicDomain

The striking images were produced by Detroit Photographic Company circa 1900 using ‘Photochrom’. This is a method of making colourised photographs from black and white negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates.

It was invented in the 1880s and was most popular in the 1890s, when these images were taken. Although true colour photography had been developed by then it was not commercially practical yet.