How do you capture the essence of New York City in one catchy phrase? It’s a problem that plagued advertisers in the late 19th century as New York City became a major tourist destination. With attractions like the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and towering skyscrapers unlike any other city in the world, marketers needed a way to quickly sum up all that New York had to offer. “American Cosmopolis,” “City of Marvels” and “The Foremost City in the World” didn’t really catch on. A more succinct phrase, which now lends itself to the title of the latest exhibition at Poster House, did the job: Wonder City.

Poster House Wonder City exhibit
Photos by Stephanie Powell Photography

The term “Wonder City” had been applied to other cities across the globe before, but in 1914 New York claimed it on a souvenir booklet. In the new exhibit at Poster House, Wonder City of the World: New York City Travel Posters, visitors can see the various ways artists and advertisers have used imagery and words to entice travelers, immigrants, and tourists to come to the five boroughs for nearly a hundred years.

Wonder City After-Hours Tour

Poster House Wonder City exhibit

On May 29th, join Untapped New York Insiders for a free after-hours tour of the exhibit led by Es-pranza Humphrey, Assistant Curator of Collections! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today with promo code JOINUS and get your first month free!

In the final decades of the 19th century, everything about New York City was booming. The city was an important hub for rail and sea travel, both leisure and commercial. The streets were rapidly filling with the tallest buildings the world had ever seen. People from every corner of the globe wanted to call New York home. This explosive growth led to the creation of more travel posters than were designed for any other city in the world.

Fifth Avenue NYC travel poster
Fifth Avenue/New York, 1932 Frederic Kimball Mizen (1888–1964) Collection of Jolean & David Breger

In Wonder City, visitors will see posters dating from the 1890s to the 1970s. Walking through the exhibit, you can see how the ever-evolving landscape of New York City changed how it was marketed throughout time. During World War I, the Statue of Liberty became a visual shorthand for American ideals and was used heavily in posters for saving stamps and war bonds. Futuristic buildings from the 1939 World’s Fair like the Trylon and Perisphere were used in posters that inspired optimism for the future, despite the looming threat of World War II. After the Twin Towers fell, hardly any notable travel posters have since featured silhouettes of the New York City skyline.

Poster House Wonder City exhibit

The wide breadth of posters on display also illustrates the multifaceted appeal of New York City. While some posters focus on the bustling metropolis with images of the bright colorful lights of Times Square and crowded scenes of the concrete jungle, others spotlight the more serene side of the city, capturing bucolic vignettes of Central Park.

Posters on display include work by artists like Charles Edward Chambers, Adolph Treidler, Joseph Binder, Sascha Maurer, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Donald Brun, Tomoko Miho Henri Ott, Guy Arnoux, David Klein, Weimer Pursell, Horace Taylor, and Stanley Walter Galli. They were used as advertisements for airline companies like TWA, Swissair, United, Pan Am, and American, oceanliner companies like Cunard White Star, railroad lines, and more.

Central Park Travel Poster
New York/United Air Lines, c. 1950 Joseph Feher (1908–87) Poster House Permanent Collection

Wonder City will be on view until September 8, 2024. Join Untapped New York Insiders for a free guided tour of the exhibit on May 29th! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today with promo code JOINUS and get your first month free.

Wonder City After-Hours Tour

Poster House Wonder City exhibit

Poster House, the first museum in the United States dedicated to the global history of posters, turns five years old this year! To celebrate, the museum is hosting a members-only event on Wednesday, May 8 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM where guests can join curator Nicholas D. Lowry and Chief Curator & Director of Content of Poster House Angelina Lippert for an engaging discussion regarding the exhibition, followed by a cocktail reception and signing of the show’s companion book, Wonder City of the World: New York City Travel Posters, published by Cernunnos in March 2024.