Daguerrotype vintage photograpy Upper West Side New York Untapped Cities Samantha SokolUpper West Side in 1840. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Vintage photos have an aura of mystery. It’s as if the people in them know something we don’t know. While the location is the same, the culture and nuances of the time are completely different. While examining Washington Square Park then and now is fun, or seeing how much Brooklyn changed over the years can blow your mind, sometimes it’s nice to zoom out. So let’s take a tour of our favorite skyline through time, as inspired by David Galbraith’s post “Evolution of the NYC skyline.”

First stop (above) is an image of the Upper West Side before the camera was even invented.  This Daguerrotype, taken in 1840, was sold at Sotheby’s Fine Art Auctions for $62,500 (read more here). It is one of the oldest photographs of New York City, but to us this looks more like a farm.

In 1904, a little more than half a century later, the skyline has already changed dramatically. This photo of the midtown skyline is titled, “New York Skyscrapers.” If only the New Yorkers of 1904 saw what we call skyscrapers…

Just two decades later, “real” skyscrapers are starting to take flight. This is one of the first images where one can feel the true buzz of the city. Check a view of lower Manhattan in 1929:

This next image is a view of lower Manhattan dated between 1956 and 1959. Here, the feeling of the skyline is the same, the buildings have just gotten taller:

And now, for the grand finale, marvel at this projected image for the lower manhattan skyline upon the completion of the World Trade Center complex, including 1 WTC. While we gaze starry eyed at this image, just think that one day, it will end up as a “vintage photograph.”

If vintage photos are your thing, check out our Vintage Photography Column, which includes naval activity in the HudsonThe Bronx in the 1930s and 40s, and much more. If you wonder about the different shapes of skyscrapers, discover the great impact of zoning on architecture in New York City.

2 thoughts on “Vintage Photos: The NYC Skyline 1840 to Now

  1. Cool photos and post–I just came to your site via brownstoner’s link to your cemetery article.

    This reminds me of the The Amazing Shanghai photo exhibition, just closed at Rockefeller Center (www.rockefellercenter.com/events/2013/09/09/amazing-shanghai/) showed how quickly cities can change. From 1990 to the present, it went from a flat city to hundreds of skyscrapers and the photo exhibition showed how the city changed. Living in NYC I just accept the topography as it is, but I had no idea that Shanghai had changed so dramatically and there were so many tall buildings and over such a large geographic area, which puts Manhattan’s skyscrapers to shame.

  2. Enjoyed reading this view of what we see, what was there, and what could be. Great article!

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