John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Take a look into all the wonderful stuff New Yorkers were creating a century ago, including a whole ton of women’s wear.
Where would a good lady go to peek some corsets and fur coats in early 20th-century New York? Where might a gent find billiard tables, cigar boxes, organs, and coffins?
The answer lies in this fantastic historical map laying out manufacturing industries by neighborhood. Drawn up by the Merchants’ Association of New York in 1922, using Census data from 1919, the document illuminates all the crafty goings-on in town, from clothes-making to chemical-and-drug production to “miscellaneous,” a category that includes rubber tires, umbrellas and canes, dental equipment, and “notions and novelties.”
Here’s (most) of the sprawling map, which is part of the new exhibit “Mastering the Metropolis: New York and Zoning, 1916–2016” at the Museum of the City of New York. Cross hatches indicate areas with overlapping industries, while flesh-colored ones were “unrestricted as to industry”:
And the key:
A quick scan indicates much of 1919 New York was involved in the production of women’s wear. This market involved 8,091 factories (the most out of all the industries), employed 169,965 people, and had a yearly product value of $1.7 billion.
The Upper East Side, Midtown East, and Williamsburg had a role in “food products and tobacco”—coffee, chewing gum, pickles, poultry, cigarettes, snuff, and other toothsome items. Clinton Hill/Bedford-Stuyvesant was big on leather goods like boots, trunks, and harnesses, while neighborhoods along the riverside in Brooklyn and Queens were hubs of metal-working, churning out tin and sheet iron, calculating machines and cash registers, pins and hooks, nuts, washers, stoves, and shipbuilding doodads.
Because taking a deep dive into the individual products can be fascinating, here are the lines in which New York at the time was a “leading manufacturer,” according to the merchants’ association: