A map of the “Greater New York” issued by the Merchants Association of New York in 1897.
Image via David Rumsey Map Collection
January 1st, 1898, marks the first day in the life of the five boroughs of “Greater New York“. The referendum started in 1895, around a decade after the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The consolidation plan made New York the second largest city in the world behind London. Before the consolidation, The Bronx was mocked as the “annexed district,” Queens was made up of factories and farms, and Staten Island was pretty much wilderness. Brooklyn, however, was known as “the City of Churches” and it was actually the third largest city in the country.
By 1898, the city has finally recovered from the 1893 recession, and the economy was on the rise. Besides the fact that the city was under corrupt boss rule in Tammany Hall, and Staten Island was having some trouble with Malaria, New York City in the 1890s was a pretty good time for some. It was actually nick-named the “Gay Nineties” because of the decadence of the era. New York City had also begun to market itself as the center for entertainment and media at this time. In fact, the city made $38,000 just on permits for masked balls in 1899.
While New York still serves as an important hub for entertainment and media, the city back then was still a world’s difference from what it is today. A cab ride was 50 cents for the first mile, the city speed limit was a break-neck speed of nine miles per hour, and the tallest building was a whopping 23 stories high. There were even electric taxi cabs by 1897!