Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
A pina colada was 5 cents and everyone wore hats.
The early 20th century forms a uniquely black-and-white period of world history. Painting as the art of record was dead, and the rise of newspapers, photography, film and TV ensured that the entire era was visually documented as never before, and for the first time in history, without color.
I think that's why it still seems peculiar, thrilling, and special to see color footage from the era. It's easy to imagine the color of a 19th-century Parisian boulevard or a Dutch streetscape. But an American city?
Here is New York in 1939, as vibrant as a any Impressionist painting. A pina colada was five cents and everyone wore hats.