New-York Historical Society

Author Archives: Edward O'Reilly

Cuttin’ the mustard: Gulden’s and the American Institute

Let’s talk mustard. Even if you’ve never actually tried it, it’s unlikely you’d have trouble recognizing a bottle of Gulden’s. Its distinctive gold and crimson label is, at least as far as condiments go, iconic. But have you ever taken a closer look? Like many brands, Gulden’s slapped images of medals  earned in bygone days on […]

William Waldorf Astor’s Premature “Brush” With Death

Celebrity train wrecks are pretty standard fare for today’s news media (thank you TMZ) but that doesn’t mean history lacks its share of eccentric and ill-advised antics; among these is the the premature report of William Waldorf Astor’s death in 1892. After a middling political career and having inherited a personal fortune that drew the unrelenting […]

“Meet Me at the Double R Coffee House”

Coffee’s big in the “city that never sleeps”. And it’s not a new thing either: a great little snapshot of this love affair has popped up in the form of a menu and an advertisement for the Double R Coffee House. Sure, you’ve never heard of it but the venture’s partners were none other than […]

Snake Oil Almanacs: Patent Medicine Advertising in the 19th Century

This post was written by cataloger Catherine Falzone. The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library of the New-York Historical Society has a number of almanacs that were printed as advertisements by patent medicine companies.  Most people in the nineteenth century bought an almanac every year and considered them trustworthy sources of information.  Unscrupulous patent medicine manufacturers capitalized […]

Postmortem photography at the turn of the 20th century

By Joe Festa, Print Room Reference Assistant Today, photographs of dead humans are seen as taboo, and talk of death is almost always avoided at all costs. But this hasn’t always been the case. During the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, capturing the image of a corpse was commonplace, and was viewed as a normal, culturally acceptable […]

Before Rosa Parks: Taking on New York’s Segregated Street Car Companies

Post written by Eric Robinson  So much has been written about the struggle against slavery and segregation in the American south that it is easy to forget that race relations in the north have been just as knotty. It is comparatively unknown that nineteenth-century New York City’s public transportation systems were racially segregated: African-Americans were […]

“Undesirable edifices generally”: The 1916 Zoning Resolution

The built environment, especially in so eclectic a place as New York City, has a way of hiding history in plain sight. With that in mind, if you have never noticed how many of the profiles of early 20th century buildings in New York retreat incrementally from the sidewalk as the building grows taller, then […]

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

It sounds like an easy question, right? Well, Thomas Jefferson certainly wrote it — in terms of authorship. But do you know whose hand it was that literally produced the famous handwritten copy? If you’re not sure, don’t worry, historians aren’t completely certain either. That said, there is consensus that it was “probably” Timothy Matlack, of […]

Golf and the Gilded Age at Newport Golf Club

It’s probably no consolation for last week’s heat wave but if you were a well-heeled New Yorker living in the late nineteenth century, you would probably be spending the sultry days of summer living it up in Newport, RI. Not surprisingly, the story of Newport and New York’s richest dwellers is well documented at the N-YHS. […]

Who put the “Williams” in Williamsburgh?

Today uttering Williamsburg  is more likely to precede a snarky comment about hipsters than it is to spur thoughts of its namesake. After all, time has heaped layers of meaning onto New York’s place names, and while places like Fort Greene and Fort Tryon require little effort to discover that they were once military installations, other […]

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