Immaculately Restored Film Lets You Revisit Life in New York City in 1911

Other than one or two of the world's supercentenarians, nobody remembers New York in 1911. Plenty of living historians and enthusiasts of the city have paid intensive attention to that booming time period when the city's population fast approached five million, but none experienced it first-hand. They, and we, can get no closer to it than watching the footage above, originally shot by a Swedish documentary team which set out to capture the most celebrated places in the world at the time, a list also including Niagara Falls, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice. The practically immaculate condition of the film highlights both the similarities and differences between the street life of New York over a century ago and of New York today.

Take a look at the tailored or tailored-looking clothing on nearly everyone, even the one-legged man making his deliberate way past the Chinese grocery. Then as now, most New Yorkers got around on foot, and since the city's first subway line had opened just seven years before, the dominant public transit options remained streetcars and elevated trains.




In the realm of private vehicles, horse-drawn carriages had only just begun to give way to motorcars. (Since 1911 was still the age of silent film, the ambient sound of all this was added later.) "Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured along Broadway in the front seat of a convertible limousine," says the Museum of Modern Art's notes.

MoMA, which exhibited the footage last year, also points out familiar landmarks: "Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue." Any modern New Yorker halfway interested in the city will know all those places, and even if the city has changed in countless other ways, they'll sense the very same characteristic vitality in these clips that they feel there today. Will New Yorkers of the future have the same reaction, to, say, the Japanese high-definition video demo footage shot on those very same streets in the 1990s? It'll take about eighty years to find out. We probably won't be here by then, but New York certainly will.

via Kottke

Related Content:

1905 Video Shows New York City Subway Traveling From 14th St. to 42nd Street

See New York City in the 1930s and Now: A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Same Streets & Landmarks

The Oldest Known Footage of London (1890-1920) Shows the City’s Great Landmarks

Time Travel Back to Tokyo After World War II, and See the City in Remarkably High-Quality 1940s Video

Berlin Street Scenes Beautifully Caught on Film (1900-1914)

New York City: A Social History (A Free Online Course from N.Y.U.)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • Droy says:

    Lots of horse manure in the street and looks like people walking right through it!

  • Fred says:

    Everyone is wearing a hat, except for a few rambunctious kids.

  • Is Sojfer says:

    Movies in those days could only be silent movies. Was the soundtrack added afterwards ? It’s very well done.

  • patricia says:

    amazing and so interesting to watch and see the individuals going about their lives. I live near S.F. it was fun to see this early footage.

  • tom says:

    It says right in the main title that the sound was added and the speed corrected (movie film then was 18 fps)…

  • Eric O says:

    powerful!

  • eric oberle says:

    wow

  • Kiki Hood says:

    Who made the soundtrack?

  • Chuck Anziulewicz says:

    That was REALLY fascinating, and the added ambient sound gives the film much greater immediacy.

  • Megan Graney says:

    I’m impressed by the number of white men on the streets. Females and people of color were not allowed to move freely in public!

  • Clint says:

    Amazing but could someone now recreate it in 2018 frame by
    Frame it would be great to see the difference nowadays

  • yo Lawana4843@gmail.com says:

    Not sure whp thay lady is but i look just like her!!!

  • Amy says:

    This is amazing. I was also struck by how formally everyone was dressed. I’ve seen complaints online the decry modern public dress as the dissolution of civilization, but it’s another thing to actually see it. Of course, at the time all clothing *had* to be tailored because we didn’t have the stretch jersey materials we use now. Also, at the time clothing production and repair was part of housekeeping, like cooking.

  • Paula Malarky says:

    Fantastic video would love to have a copy of all it

  • Janelle Sadler says:

    I just adore this! Thanks so much for putting the hard work into creating this wonderful video. Very well done!

  • Mike says:

    What stands out. People are much better dressed than today. Notice, there are very few overweight people in these scenes. A very different time in our history. This footage makes you wonder what future generations a hundred years from now will notice about us that is different.

  • Larry Saltzman says:

    Notice that almost no one is overweight. I watched this twice to confirm that.

  • Donna Miles says:

    It felt like you were really there,and everyone was very well dressed in suits and 🎩 enjoyed it immensely 😁

  • Sue Vaughan says:

    I noticed that also!

  • Sue Vaughan says:

    I saw several black men.

  • Sue Vaughan says:

    This is fantastic!! I shared it with my friends. Thanks to whoever compiled this footage.

  • papamen says:

    it was a good time to be in the hat business

  • Larry Barnes says:

    Just think, all those people are dead! Actually, I’m sorry I brought that up.

  • Michael (Joseph) Siano says:

    I was just noticing how poor the air quality was back then. I look at that and thInk, imagine if our air quality today resembles the air quality then what an uproar that would create. They couldn’t even see their sun or a ckear sky can you imagine that today. Other than that I like how differently the wardrobe being worn by women was compared to today’s fashions , lots of big hats adorned with birds feathers of long extinct birds /and it’s no wonder why.
    The general appearance of the population looked like they were in better shape than the current version. The absence of high fructose corn syrup in every processed food and the absence of processed foods altogether made for a healthier population.

  • Lisa DI says:

    At 5:13 to the left of the screen a guy makes what looks like an insulting gesture at the camera after a kid points out the film maker! So funny!

  • Cappie stuff says:

    The American Bible Society was there giving out Bibles to all new people’s arriving. They still do exist and give Bibles through out United States. God Bless America

  • Suzanne M Morss says:

    Not many overweight people. Everyone is dressed so nicely!

  • Barbara Johansen Newman says:

    I just caught that, too, upon a second viewing! So funny!

  • Mary Ann Gimbel says:

    When this excellent film was over, I was surprised to see that my cheeks were wet from crying. I realized that my beloved grandparents were about 13 at that time and I had been thinking about getting a glimpse of what their world looked like back then. What a treasure this film is! I am going to watch it again and again. Thank you so much for posting this wonderful film!

  • Walt Trepashko says:

    This is the New York my Grandfather immigrated to from Russia in 1917. It’s a tour that feels wonderfully familiar because I saw much of what was in the documentary growing up in New York in the 1950’s. No horses of course but some of the sky scrappers are recognizable. Images from my childhood were captured in b/w and look similar to the b/w images in this film. Such an excitiung trip down memory lane.

  • Mike says:

    No Golden Arches

  • George Rowles says:

    Do you think the 2 men walking holding hands did that for the camera, or were there gay men walking around holding hands in 1911?

  • Michael Gillivan says:

    I really enjoyed this. Very nicely done.

  • Chris Donze says:

    The frequent use of electric car horns in the added soundtrack is incorrect. In 1911, cars didnt have them yet, they had “bulb” horns.

    The Klaxon horn (“aaoooggha”) wasn’t available for three more years, and didnt become standard fair on cars until the 1920’s.

    Using this as a sound effect is like adding the sound of jet planes flying overhead.

  • David says:

    Wow!! What a great restoration! (And sound adding too!)
    I too thought of my grandparents, who would have been 13 and 11 yrs old and my great great Uncle Eddy who was 23 at the time.
    Although not from there, or an urban area, I remember old family photos just like that, everybody dressed so dapper with modesty and respect in attire being expressed. A time when no television sucked people and kids into a vortex, while processed & packaged food and snacks and high fructose corn syrup sculpted bodies, and an active lifestyle was “living life”. And to also think of their perseverance in the upcoming WWI, the Great Depression and WWII, transportation/flight, and medical advancements, all in the era of the slide-rule, no work/no eat culture and lay-away.
    I saw no headphones worn to block out the world of sounds or flashy, blinding, scrolling marquees
    My Wife also mentioned, ahhhhh, no cell phones!

  • Eamonn says:

    Very cool video. Kudos to the folks who restored it and added the sound. Compared to today, air quality looks atrocious and pace of movement is much slower. Yes everyone looks more fit than most Americans today but overall New Yorkers have always looked more fit because most of them are likely walking a ton each day.

  • GrumpyVisualArtist says:

    hats!
    thanks for this dreamland vision

  • Geraldine Ewing says:

    During that time friends often showed affection in public. You often see men hugging in old photos. I noticed it too.

  • dan cole says:

    Actually, that’s not accurate. There were really not that many minority folks in New York at the time, the mass migration from the south was not yet in full swing. Also, many women were at home raising children or managing the household. It’s not because they were restricted from going out, it was because they had responsibilities that kept them at home. And managing the house was hard, time-consuming work.

  • Rich Bergstrom says:

    What a great piece of history. All parents should share this with their kids.

  • Tony Green says:

    I turned the sound off

  • Michael Edwards says:

    I wonder about that also! Clearly they notice the camera; but I’m unsure whether the young men are jesting or if they are pleased with their own bravado in daring to be so open? Either way, it is a memorable scene. I hope they had happy lives in any case.

  • Cynthia Rollo Hannon says:

    Nostalgic for me because my father was born in 1911 and I had no idea of what the city was like then. He became a photographer as a profession and worked in the city at Newsweek Magazine. I felt a connection to when his life began that I could never have before.

  • Jim Benson says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Well done!!

  • Helen Houghton says:

    This was simply wonderful…as a history buff, and especially of this time period, I’m so glad to have seen this and will watch it again and again and share it with others. Many thanks to all who made this possible. I’d love to see the other films the Swedish team made in other cities at that time, if they still exist.

  • David Berry says:

    Fascinating film, but the added soundtrack is spoiled by the use of electric Klaxon car horns that hadn’t been invented yet. Someone didn’t do their research.

  • Melissa Keiper says:

    In addition, folks were expected to keep their bodies covered, even in the summer, during which this seems to be filmed. No shorts, no skirts above the ankles. Not even a bare arm in sight!

  • Herkie says:

    You nailed it, I noticed one overweight person, just before the amputee with the crutches at minute 2:02 there was a fellow getting off the tram who was a bit portly, otherwise everyone looked fit. As for dress, even in the sixties people still dressed appropriately for the most part. But in those days it was an offense to go out inappropriately attired. I noticed air pollution also. Clearly it was filmed in summer and was quite hot. At one point the camera is at least 25 floors up and you can see only a few blocks for the haze, yet the wind was blowing, flags were moving about. You could see what appears to be steam plumes on top of buildings. That would make sense in winter but as hot as it was it had to be smoke. And the way that chauffeured car belched exhaust. I cannot imagine living in NYC and having to wear a collar and tie with a jacket in high summer prior to air conditioning.

  • Cathy says:

    That is not true. My mother, grandmother, aunt’s & cousins all lived in NYC. I have tons of pictures of them walking in the city. I can’t speak for people of color but I think your comment is a ridiculous one.

  • Barton Santello says:

    Beautiful! NOTE: This is not a criticism, but technology has improved such that all the ‘artifacts’ seen in this film preservation can now easily be removed in Davinci Resolve Studio software.

  • Zooganopolos says:

    It was a really different world. Plenty more trains and trolleys, far fewer cars, far fewer fat people. Almost everyone is dressed somewhat nicely — and likely everyone on the trains/trolleys are quite a bit better mannered, thus public transit isn’t a bad option.
    Now New York is a different place completely. Better in a many many regards and worse in quite a few. Few people even carpool and according to Wikipedia, there are 910 cars for every 1000 people in the US. Plenty are spoiled silly and an obnoxious. Several people I’ve met in the last few years have called themselves cut throat. In relatively flat areas like this, trolleys and trains would have made a lot more sense, but oil barrens got their way, got their money — from you — and your planet is warming up because of emissions, respect and decency is here, but fewer between (and often only for those who can give some money for it). It’s weird.
    1911 certainly wasn’t perfect, but some of the trade-offs we’ve made haven’t been for the better. In any case, ‘who’ knows what will happen next!

  • Warren Litsinger says:

    Most people only had one or two suits of clothing. They would wear the same clothes, usually, for at least a week. They rarely bathed; generally they would wash their face and hands only. If you consider that there was no air conditioning, men’s outer clothing was made of wool, and women wore layer upon layer of skirts, the stench must have been overwhelming. Add to that the constant horse manure and the thick coal and wood smoke in the air… it’s no wonder that city dwellers would try to escape to the countryside when possible.

  • Kenji Fuse says:

    Excellent!

    One question:

    Why no seagull cries in the opening scene?

  • Jim says:

    All pre-‘talkie’. A huge tip of the hat to the sound team!

  • Danna says:

    Amazing footage. And, not one cell phone in sight!

  • Catherine says:

    Loved the fact that it was a simpler life – no rushing – no road rage – respect of one another seemed evident. Loved that fact that everyone dressed so nicely and everyone wore hats – my kind of time and the women wore long dresses. The food seemed to be fresh to buy from the carts. I remember growing up we lived a block away from the 3rd Ave. L train. The preservation of the documentary is excellent and it would be fun to see the exact footage of the old with today the new.

  • Norma says:

    This was really impressive, I enjoyed watching it and found it mesmerising. Thanks for all your hard work. It was very well done!

  • Irena says:

    I was thinking the same thing.. its normal to think that, it was 107 yrs ago
    my grandmother was born 1911 so this was really cool to see.

    Everyone is dressed up, not like today people wear ripped jeans
    and call it a style imagine if they would to see that today?

    They would think these people are in insane

    What I would have liked to have seen if they went into
    the restaurants and see the prices of those days long ago.

  • Mario Desimoni says:

    Amazing footage!!! Some of that hustle and bustle is the same as today along with many of the buildings. NYC is timeless.

  • Mike C says:

    Fantastic seeing this. Thank You..

  • rick says:

    slender to medium size builds on people seemed to be the norm . . . . why???

  • James says:

    These are all such great comments. The civility and courtesy and respect make the comments like they come from the time of the film!

  • Phineas J Whoopy says:

    That’s because there were few processed foods.

  • Phineas J Whoopy says:

    Now you’re just being silly.

  • JC says:

    The Flatiron Building is on the south side of 23rd Street between Broadway & Fifth Avenue…NOT Madison Avenue.

  • Carol says:

    Everyone in this footage was dressed nicely but not everyone dressed nicely at that time. These are the upperclass who had time to walk about the city during the day. The lower class were hard at work in the sweat shops wearing whatever they could afford, often clothes made out of scraps. Other lower class people were hard at work in these rich folks homes doing their laundry, cooking, sewing, gardening, etc. Those people did not dress like this. Many rarely saw the sun as they went to work before day break and returned home after dark.

  • Angela E Hall says:

    This was almost like being in a time machine. It was a wonderful experience. I would have love lto seen more people of color for I know they where there but, it was nice any how.

  • linda sheppard says:

    SO?? THEY DID NOT HAVE RUNNING WATER OR TOILETS EITHER. LIFE WAS HARDER THEN. IT IS AMAZING THEY DRESSED SO WELL. THOSE HORSES WERE THEIR LIFE SUPPORT.

  • Janie Mannio says:

    My Dad was born in 1911 and I’m so impressed how people dressed back in those days. Going to a baseball game the men wore suits. Today we are for comfort it is kind of sad to see how relaxed we have become. This is a beautiful video.

  • Junius says:

    Wow…..so ignorant

  • Junius says:

    What is wrong with seeing several black men? Black people have been on this continent for almost 500 years

  • Benno Medina VonKupferschein says:

    Humbling..thank you…

  • Jose Sanchez says:

    That part intrigued me the most. Maybe two young men holding hands was just considered a friendly gesture at the time. Perhaps they were indeed gay and doing something very bold. And maybe is just the angle and a shadow effect but the guy on the right looks dark skinned.

  • Antoinette says:

    I throughly enjoyed this old video. Noticed that they people are all well dressed ander there ladies so trim, no fat people. Thanks so much

  • Sandy says:

    What a glorious time to be born; to witness the extreme changes over the past one hundred years! My parents, grandparents (for sure) easily recalled these life-style changes. I too, have many memories of the extreme changes. Surreal.

  • Ruth says:

    I would like to Have a copy of it .when I go to MY now it is so different. Amazing

  • Deborah Denaro says:

    This film was fascinating ! My grandmother told me what NYC was like “in her day” but to actually see it was absolutely amazing. She was six in 1911. I especially liked the bored girl in the motor car. Kids are the same in every generation !

  • Denys Bucksten says:

    Horse manure became an enormous problem in NYC and other large cities. Armies of men cleaned up the manure from sunset to early morning, when the cycle repeated itself.

  • Peter S says:

    The city as it used to be any maybe wish it could be. Civilized and clean and people moving through their daily lives. A hark back to a more gentile era. A time when then President Taft was leading the free world before everything changed. Memories!

  • Angelique Pacheco says:

    People back then didn’t eat all the processed crap we do today and beside that in most major cities people actually walk a lot!

  • RS says:

    My dad came to NYC in 1914 as a child so this gives me an idea how the city was back then horses and horseless carriages. People walking everywhere Thanks for the video.

  • Diana says:

    One thing that stood out to me is that in some of the scenes, there are no women. And in others, a woman here and there. In the park scene, there is a woman pushing a baby. Where there are women, all are well dressed in skirts and dresses. If you compare it to today, I’m guessing there would be a big difference in the amount of women out and about and of course in the clothing. I’m sure that in 1911 women were home taking care of the kids, and not going to work in the business districts.

  • Valerie says:

    Amazing no visible accidents! And without traffic lights or stop signs, despite people, street cars, automobiles, horse-drawn vehicles etc.

  • Jim says:

    Iwasn’t Able, w/o much difficulty to watch the clip, Jen, but I did see it long ago in ‘still’ shots! Perhaps upon your return, you will be able to show it to me in way you sent it! Looks stupendous! Dad

  • Jen Frederick says:

    I am impressed with how little trash there is back then. Presumably there were fewer disposables. I don’t see people carrying much. We could do with less…

  • Marlene L. says:

    Lisa, HOW did you pick that up? I just re-ran the film and yes, it does indeed look like an insulting gesture was mad to the camera man! That is so funny!

  • evelyn says:

    Amazing film. i enjoyed it.my mom wilhelmina frost was born in that year.thank you.

  • Randall Tenor says:

    It is too bad they did not film a baseball game. If the people only knew World War I was coming and that next Presidential election with three candidates would change Presidential politics for years to come.

  • Randall B Tenor says:

    On that point, my father told me there was little unemployment because if someone could not other a person could get a job as a manure cleaner. Remember too, even health officials say we may be too sanitized today in some cases.

  • Randall Tenor says:

    You are correct. The industrial revolution was in full force. Laborers were poorly treated for the most part, it was mainly a patriarchal society, and minorities were unfairly treated. This is why it is unfortunate the so many people are not interested in the deeper roots of our problems today. When we could have back then, few addressed it.

  • Adela Guzman says:

    You know,even in the late 50s and 60s there was still a dress code, if you will. I remember one time when my brother went out, then suddenly returned. I asked what was the matter, and he said he forgot to put on a shirt- he was wearing a tee shirt. In those days he would’ve gotten a summons for indecent exposure.Nowadays, people walk around half naked on the street, and no one blinks. That’s how much things have changed in the last 50, or so years.

  • Kelly says:

    Blacks,Hispanics,Asians were allowed to move freely. Stop with the race card

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