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The Central Libraries > Mid-Manhattan Library > Historical Postcards

A Record of Time

Immigrants at Ellis Island, New York
Digital ID 836573

The dawning of the 20th century, coinciding with the peak of the industrial age, saw the foundation poured for many characteristics of New York living known worldwide. The digitized postcards are filled with New York flavor:

The City is home to a diverse population, representing every language and nationality. The main Ellis Island immigration center opened on Dec. 17, 1900 and was designed to process 5,000 immigrants a day. This postcard was published one year after Ellis Island’s peak year—1907—when 1,004,756 immigrants passed through the facility. Here, they can be seen patiently waiting to be afforded entry onto Manhattan’s shores.

Subway Station, N.Y. City.
Digital ID 836135

The City is renowned for public transportation. When the first subway opened on October 27, 1904, 150,000 people paid a nickel each to ride. This postcard, which uses applied glitter to highlight the shiny metal of the rails and beams, was postmarked two years after that opening. The writer of the card expresses a lament often heard from New York commuters: "Dear Mame: Sorry I canít stop but stay'd too long here. Grace." Also digitized are many examples of street railroads and elevated railroads.

Broadway and 42nd Street, New York City
(The big Corticelli Spool Silk sign)
Digital ID 836263

New York is the town for showmanship and advertising. The postcard to the right, advertising Corticelli Spool Silk, also depicts some of the first exuberant animated electric signage to play in Times Square. The sign is described on the postcard as 45 feet wide by 50 feet high; the kitten as 36 feet wide by 30 feet high; and the lighting achieved by the use of 1,962 electric lamps.

The financial heart of the United States pulses through lower Manhattan. The final quarter of the 19th century was characterized by the rise of big business and industry. The empire builders J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie used the concentration of capital on Wall Street to finance their strategies of consolidating production, monopolizing markets and influencing government, thereby winning possession of most of the wealth of the nation. Below is a 1905 view of Broad Street from Wall Street, where the New York Stock Exchange sits. A correspondent named Martin was inspired to write, "This is one of N.Y. busy streets where a great deal of money is gained and lost."

Broad Street, N. Y. City
Digital ID 836737