Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

Keeping Track Of The Criminal By His Finger Prints

From July 30, 1911


KEEPING TRACK OF THE CRIMINAL BY HIS FINGER PRINTS: The Wonderful Art, Long Used in China, Rapidly Being Adopted by the Police of This Country, with the New York Force Leading. (PDF)

I love articles like this one.

Over in Jersey City awaiting his trial is the man who marked each successful burglary by a note defying the police and jeering at their methods. He has not been proved guilty, but the police are certain he is their man. He was caught by the finger prints which never lie.

He was much too clever a burglar to do his work with bare hands. He always wore white lisle gloves, like a village undertaker. But one night in taking out a pane of glass he cut his finger, and had to take off his glove. And there on the glass was left the tell-tale finger print. The detective who was sent out from the New York office saw it with his naked eye.

He dusted a bit of chemist’s gray powder from a tube in his pocket over the glass and photographed the prints to which the powder stuck, bringing out every ridge and whorl. Back in the New York Bureau of Identification the photograph was carefully measured and classified according to these whorls and arches. And in the files, among the 60,000 finger prints was found its duplicate. The man’s photograph was in the Bertillon department next door, and he was quietly arrested.

The criminal who leaves his finger marks behind him is doomed, provided anywhere in the world he has been “finger-printed,” or if he is ever caught in another offense, no matter how trivial. In ten minutes the expert of any police department receiving his finger prints and a request for information can look him up and forward description, photograph and record. There is no possibility of mistake, for nowhere in the 60,000 records in the New York Department is there a single duplicate. The thousands in the other American cities which have adopted the system show none. Not one has been found in the fifteen years that the English detective department at Scotland Yard has used this means of tracking criminals. And for 2,000 years Chinas has been affixing a thumb print to a passport as a means of identification. No two have ever been found alike.

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Written by David

July 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

How New York Looks From A Downtown Roof

From July 23, 1911



While it was still novel to look around from atop a tall building, here’s a description of what that was like back in 1911.

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Written by David

July 18th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Development,Life

New York 100 Years Ago, When The City Hall Was Built

From July 9, 1911


NEW YORK 100 YEARS AGO, WHEN THE CITY HALL WAS BUILT: They Had a Safe and Sane Fourth and a Hot Wave — Also They Had the New Theatre, and After All Life Wasn’t So Very Different in the Little Town of a Century Ago. (PDF)

Here’s a look back 100 years at a look back 100 years.

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Written by David

July 8th, 2011 at 10:45 am

Posted in Development

How Conversation Across A Continent Came About

From July 9, 1911


HOW CONVERSATION ACROSS A CONTINENT CAME ABOUT: The Men Who Made It Possible for New York to Talk to Denver — Graham Bell Has Lived to See His Invention Grow Beyond All the Bounds Believed to be Set for It When He Made It. (PDF)

The development of the long distance telephone, which began thirty years ago, is due in a most striking way to a group of brilliant scientists and inventors, each of whom contributed one or more factors essential to the success of the whole. But for the discoveries and scientific devices of these men the original invention of Prof. Alexander Graham Bell would not be the wonderfully practical means of communication that it is, and talking over continental distances would be out of the question. With but a very few exceptions, these men, who by their improvements on the Bell instrument have made the long distance telephone a reality, are alive to-day and actively engaged either in the further development of the telephone or in other scientific pursuits.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 10:03 am

Making Washington One Of World’s Beautiful Capitals

From July 2, 1911


MAKING WASHINGTON ONE OF WORLD’S BEAUTIFUL CAPITALS: L’Enfant’s Dream to Come True After a Century — With the Approval of the Plans for Three New Department Buildings, the Ten-Year-Old Plan for a Splendid Home for the Government Is Launched (PDF)

Pierre Charles L’Enfant was a French born American architect who designed the layout of Washington DC in the country’s early years. But, the article says, his “great work was hampered and thwarted for a century by the lack of appreciation for beauty in the Government.”

Ugly buildings, slums, and “even houses of ill-fame” lined the mall. In 1911, plans were approved to build some new government buildings in keeping with L’Enfant’s original vision.

Today, work is still being done to improve the mall and surrounding parks. You can see a list of ongoing projects under supervision of the National Parks Service.

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Written by David

June 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

New York’s Proposed New Subway System At A Glance

From June 18, 1911



Time to update your subway maps.

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Written by David

June 16th, 2011 at 10:30 am

Posted in Development

What Is The Most Beautiful Spot In New York?

From June 18, 1911


WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SPOT IN NEW YORK? Well Known Artists Express Their Preferences and Show an Astonishing Lack of Unanimity, No Two Selecting the Same Place — But They Upset the Popular Opinion That Skyscrapers Are Ugly. (PDF)

What’s the most beautiful spot in New York City? Answers in this article from a variety of artists include The Ramble in Central Park, Madison Square Park, Broad Street in the financial district, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

What do you think is the city’s most beautiful spot?

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Written by David

June 15th, 2011 at 10:15 am

Centenary Of City Hall To Be Observed On July 4

From June 11, 1911


CENTENARY OF CITY HALL TO BE OBSERVED ON JULY 4: Descendants of Mayor De Witt Clinton and Other Officials of That Day Asked to Join in the Celebration — The Story of the Building. (PDF)

100 years ago, the city celebrated City Hall‘s 100th anniversary. But I can’t find any announcements of bicentennial celebrations planned for this year. So I propose that we all celebrate by riding the 6 train through the abandoned City Hall subway station.

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Written by David

June 10th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics

There Is Too Much Waste In Our Educational System

From June 11, 1911


THERE IS TOO MUCH WASTE IN OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: Business Principles of Factories Should Be Applied to It, Says Leonard P. Ayres, of the Sage Foundation. We Don’t Demand Definite Results and Don’t Know What We’re Aiming At. (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

June 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Celebrating The Naming Of America At St. Die

From June 4, 1911


CELEBRATING THE NAMING OF AMERICA AT ST. DIE: Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Mathias Ringmann, Who First Suggested the Name of This Continent in His “Introductio Cosmographiae.” (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 31st, 2011 at 9:50 am

Posted in Development

Sectional View Of The New Municipal Building

From May 21, 1911


SECTIONAL VIEW OF THE NEW MUNICIPAL BUILDING: Intricacies of the Huge Structure Shown, and the Approaches to the Subways Connecting with the Bridges Plainly Indicated. (PDF)

A lovely cross-section of the Municipal Building. Almost exactly four years ago, I got married in that building.

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 20th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Sectional View Of New York’s New Public Library

From May 14, 1911


SECTIONAL VIEW OF NEW YORK’S PUBLIC LIBRARY: Some Idea of the Size and Completeness of the Structure May Be Had from the Accompanying Drawing. (PDF)

I love this illustration. I like to imagine that the cutaway walls are really like that, and you can go up to the roof of the library and slide down them.

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Written by David

May 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

A Fire Detective — Latest Necessity Of City Life

From May 7, 1911


A FIRE DETECTIVE — LATEST NECESSITY OF CITY LIFE: His Strange Discoveries in Tracking Firebugs — His Studies in the Psychology of That Increasing Product of Present Conditions, the Pyromaniac. (PDF)

See also: Robert De Niro in Backdraft

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Written by David

May 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911


CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Fighting To Beautify Fifth Avenue With Trees

From April 30, 1911


FIGHTING TO BEAUTIFY FIFTH AVENUE WITH TREES: Widening of the Avenue Above Forty-Seventh Street Gives Fresh Impetus to the Movement of the Tree Planting Association (PDF)

This article discusses a proposal to turn Fifth Avenue in to a tree-lined street with a tree-lined median, like Park Avenue has today.

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Written by David

April 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development

Seeking An Invention To Prevent Railroad Collisions

From April 23, 1911


SEEKING AN INVENTION TO PREVENT RAILROAD COLLISIONS: Inter-State Commerce Commission Makes Tests on Staten Island of Young Texan’s Device, One of Twenty Selected for Official Investigation. (PDF)

In a sort of precursor to the X Prize, Congress set aside $50,000 and invited inventors to submit their inventions which would prevent railroad collisions.

Of course there was an avalanche — a grand rush of eager young geniuses to the spot. They submitted plans of every description, ranging from those that seemed to possess real merit to the wildest and most impossible dreams that ever rioted through a human brain.

The total number of inventions submitted was 185. Every one of them, no matter how extravagant, was looked into my the commission’s experts. Flaws were picked out which made device after device impracticable — one by one the fruits of hours and days and years of sleepless toll were discarded. At last barely twenty survived.

These were put aside for further consideration and further weeding out. Then exhaustive practical tests of the few survivors were instituted by the commission’s examiners.

I’m unclear if the winning inventor gets the $50,000, or if that money was used to test the inventions. But either way, one invention stood out as having promise, devised by a twenty-six year old named Frederick Lacroix.

No sooner had his idea firmly established itself in his inventive brain than he set to work making experiments, adopting and rejecting various schemes, until at last he hit on exactly what he was after. Then he had a model made for him, and with it made numberless further experiments to see whether his invention fully realized his dreams.

It did.

His solution involved adding a third rail to carry electricity, which forms a circuit with some equipment in the train. Another train on the same section of track would interrupt the circuit, triggering a device that automatically applies the brakes and whistle. As an added benefit, the third rail would also provide a telephone line so the trains can talk to each other.

In repeated tests, Lacroix’s solution worked. But I am unable to find any evidence that it was actually adopted as a safety device. Does anybody know?

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Written by David

April 22nd, 2011 at 9:00 am

New York’s First Subway Built More Than Forty Years Ago

From April 23, 1911


NEW YORK’S FIRST SUBWAY BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO: Curious History That Surrounds a Grating Opposite City Hall Marking a Forgotten Enterprise of “Certain Prominent Citizens.” (PDF)

New York City’s subway opened in 1904. So what is this article talking about? Well, there was a secret subway, built without permission from the city. It was only one block long because it was exposed by a reporter before much work could be done. And this subway didn’t run on electricity as our modern subway does. It ran in pneumatic tubes!

So why did it need to be built in secret? Why wouldn’t the city have wanted it? Well, when the subway was first proposed, people did not think it was a good idea. Even the Times was against it:

The Times of March 15, 1869, editorially exclaims: “It is said that the Legislature is quite likely to charter a project for building what is called an arcade railroad under Broadway. We can scarcely believe it. When this wild scheme was dismissed a year or two ago we hoped and believed that we had heard the last of it — and so did everybody else.”

The public and The Times, though, were justified in their distrust of the scheme. Those prominent men wanted to build a subway with a vengeance. What they wanted to do was to dig down, the whole width and length of Broadway from the Battery away uptown, for seventeen feet. They proposed to restore the street by building a roof over the chasm.

This plan, as has been said, died a natural and unobtrusive death. The next move toward a subway was in the early part of 1869. It didn’t seem like a move at all. Legislative power was obtained to construct a pneumatic tube from Warren Street to Cedar Street for the purpose of blowing small and large parcels, indeed all kind of express business, between these two localities.

Then queer rumors began to fly around.

In the latter part of 1869 a young man dressed in working clothes, and looking rather mussed and dirty, went down in the middle of the night to the cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building. In this cellar he groped around until he found an opening he was looking for. He went through the opening and landed in an underground tunnel, dark except for flaring lights here and there. There was an air of excitement and feverish work in this tunnel. Whatever talking there was was done in whispers, although a shout wouldn’t have been heard on the street. The young man applied for work. He got it and spent that and the following night in very hard and earnest digging.

And then The Tribune came out with a full expose of the subway that was secretly being built.

The young man was a Tribune reporter.

The substance of the article was this: In the last week one block of subway tunnel had been dug and built by night. It extended from the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street to Broadway and Murray Street. So that nobody should see the earth that was dug away it had all been carted to the big cellar of the Rogers-Peet Building and dumped there. If The Tribune had not exposed what was going on a subway under the whole length of Broadway was to have been secretly built. A car was in the tunnel. Also a big machine that was going to blow the car from one end of the track to the other.

It seemed incredible. Who had ever heard of being blown through the earth to one’s destination?

New York wavered between perplexity and indignation.

When this article came out, the tunnel still existed. But it was most likely destroyed when an authorized subway system tunnel was built soon after. has a page with sketches of the pneumatic subway system, and more information about its demise.

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Written by David

April 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Moving A Million Books Into The New Library

From April 16, 1911


MOVING A MILLION BOOKS INTO THE NEW LIBRARY: Transfer of the Lenox and Astor Library Contents to the Beautiful New Building at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue a Big Undertaking. (PDF)

The worst thing about moving is all the books. They take much longer to pack than you think they will, they fill more boxes than you guess they will, and they’re a lot heavier than you remember them being. The last time I moved, I probably had a few hundred books that came with me. That’s about 0.02% of what had to be moved into the new library.

At the Forty-second Street entrance to the new building there is always a long line of moving vans, and sixty men from the establishment which is handling the job go in and out, bent under the weight of learning, like frugal ants stocking their hill for the Winter. At the entrance a lady in a sheath skirt, with her hair done in the style of 1860 and her finger poised under her chin, watches the laborers. Even though she is marble, she seems to grow daily more bewildered at the endless procession.

To any oen who has ever moved from one abiding place to another, the mere statement that 1,300,000 pieces have had to be packed, transported, and unpacked is enough without elaboration. When to this is added the fact that many of the volumes are old and of great value and that two picture galleries have had to be moved as well, there is room for amazement that the readers of the city are not going to be deprived of their books for a longer period.

I hope they remembered to lift with their knees, not with their backs.

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Written by David

April 15th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Planning To Make New York A Beautiful City

From April 16, 1911


PLANNING TO MAKE NEW YORK A BEAUTIFUL CITY: Municipal Art Society Assembles in an Exhibition Many Suggestions for Doing Away with Ugliness and Increasing the Beauty of the Town. (PDF)

New York City recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of the gridded street system. The Times has put together an interactive map where you can compare the original plan with the final outcome.

I bring it up because in this article — which is mainly about an art exhibit at the Municipal Art Society in which various artists share their vision for a beautified New York — the grid system is not hailed as such a great idea:

[T]here is not a city in Europe laid out on the rectangular plan like New York that has not had to change it sooner or later… Have you ever stopped to think how much time we lose by going straight up and then straight across.. and perpetually rushing around right angles?

It always takes five or ten or fifteen minutes longer to get from one great centre of the city to another than it should. Persons of a statistical turn of mind may calculate that if five million persons lose ten minutes a day in this way it makes fifty million minutes, or nearly a million hours, and so on.

Nobody denies the necessity for more and diagonal avenues. The objection has always been based on expense. It does seem a considerable undertaking to buy up land enough for a new avenue and tear down houses and lay a street, but other municipalities have met the same problem and settled it.

For such a celebrated street system, I was surprised to see that the Municipal Art Society concludes “New York is very badly planned, indeed, but… things are going to be changed, and just as soon as they are the artists can be trusted to see to it that beauty is not forgotten.”

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Written by David

April 11th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Development

We Safeguard Property; Now Protect Life — Waldo

From April 9, 1911


WE SAFEGUARD PROPERTY; NOW PROTECT LIFE — WALDO: Fire Commissioner Outlines Plans by Which, Having Made Our Building Fireproof, We Can Prevent the Slaughter of those Who Have to Work in Them. (PDF)

A couple weeks ago, you probably noticed a lot of coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It happened on March 25, 1911, which was a Saturday. The Sunday Magazine did not cover it that weekend — the main news sections of the paper did — but on April 9, Rhinelander Waldo, the city’s Fire Commissioner, wrote this article for the Magazine proposing a new division of the fire department with a new goal: instead of just fighting fires, let’s try to prevent them.

Fire extinguishment in this city has about reached its maximum efficiency. When the motor-driven fire apparatus is installed throughout the city and also the high-pressure water system there will be little left for us to do to raise the efficiency of our fire-fighting force.

The great thing is to prevent fire.

This is simply taking a leaf from the book of the medical profession. For many years doctors concentrated all their efforts upon curing disease. The modern school bends its main efforts to preventive measures.

One of his recommendations doesn’t actually prevent a fire from starting, but can extinguish a small fire before it spreads: automatic sprinklers.

This is a system of pipes which is suspended from the ceiling and which is connected with a tank on the roof. At certain distances on the pipes are nozzles which have fusible metal caps. This metal fuses at a temperature of 160 degrees. Even a small flame will open adjacent nozzles, and the water, which is thrown up against a plate, is diffused over the floor in a spray which covers about eight square feet.

Only last Wednesday there was a demonstration of the efficiency of the sprinkler system. Fire was discovered at 5:15 o’clock in the afternoon in the receiving department on the ninth floor of the building occupied by a well-known department store. Although there were probably more than 1,000 customers in the store at the time, only a few of them knew of the fire. The fact was unknown even to most of the employees. When the heat in the room rose to the necessary temperature the sprinkler system automatically began to work, and at the same time an alarm was automatically sounded. The fire was extinguished quickly with a damage by water that did not exceed $200.

Compare this with what would have occurred had there only been hose pipe in reels on the wall and panicky employees relied upon to haul them through rooms filled with panicky customers.

He goes on to describe how narrow aisles, blocked doors, and discarded rubbish can all create fire hazards. He concludes by proposing a new Bureau of Fire Prevention within the Fire Department that would be in charge of inspecting fire escapes, sprinklers, fireproofing, etc. The proposal went through, and the FDNY website has information about the Bureau of Fire Prevention today.

Bonus: If you actually download the PDF to read the article, you’ll get another article on the same page profiling a circus lion tamer.

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Written by David

April 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Development,Politics