If you have ever wondered what it would be like to have lived a century ago, or to have wandered the streets of a much younger New York City, you’ll be amazed by this found footage from 1911. The film is filled with clear images that make old Manhattan feel almost close enough to touch.
Shot in various locations around the city, it offers a fascinating look at what daily life was like during in the midst of society’s transition from horse-drawn carriages to motorcars. As a result, the streets are filled with a chaotic assemblage of carriages and cars, trolleys and pedestrians. What you won’t see in these street scenes are traffic lights, stop signs, lane lines or crosswalks.
These views were made possible thanks to cameramen working for Svenska Biografteatern, a Swedish film company that operated between 1907 and 1919. The original nitrate print of the film managed to survive this past century in stellar condition, which allowed it to be restored by NYC’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
While the actual footage had no audio, ambient and background sounds were added to give the film a lifelike atmosphere. The frame rate was also slowed from the original to restore it to a more natural speed (compared to the jerky super-fast silent film look).
We hope you will take a few moments to breathe in the old-time hustle and bustle of New York, New York. The complete video is below, and we have also added a few still photographs to help orient you to some of the locations featured.
View of Manhattan Bridge from the ferry as it comes into the city
New York in 1911: Waiting to board the ferry
The steamer Rosedale – a ferry also seen at the end of the film.
Carriages exiting the ferry
A street scene, with the ladies and gents in dapper white hats
New York in 1911; Trolley car near 264 Fifth Avenue
See a similar modern-day view here — look for the black railing on the right.
Street scene in Chinatown
Some of the best shots feature curious people who spotted the camera — like this boy.
New York in 1911: At Grace Church
Located at 802 Broadway, you can see how this Gothic-style church looks today in this street view.
On Broadway, chauffeured car with a well-to-do family
Based on the license plate number 65465, the automobile seen in the front is apparently a 1911 E-M-F Touring Car, registered to Mrs F Lochwicz, 548 Eighth Street, Brooklyn.
Elevated railways at Bowery & Worth Streets
On the Brooklyn Bridge
New York in 1911: See Lower Manhattan
Fifth Avenue and Broadway — looking north, taken from the Flatiron building. (A similar modern view, including the Flatiron, is here.)
Traffic by the Flatiron building
As you will see, it seems that almost everyone in the era blithely walked and drove around moving vehicles without much obvious regard for the possible dangers.
Amazingly enough, surprisingly few people were seriously hurt in traffic. In fact, on February 2, 1911, the New York Times noted, “Four persons were killed by automobiles last month, according to Edward S Cornell of the National Highway Protective Society. Five were killed by trolleys, and nine by wagons. The total number of injured was 113.”
#NYC: New York in 1911 – Newly-discovered footage the city (video)
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 including Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue. (Information from MOMA)