How the Other Half Lived: photographs from the Byron Company

Step back in time with early 20th century wealthy and professional New Yorkers from the photographic archives of the Museum of the City of New York.

 

Bridgeman is delighted to have access to more than 22,000 prints taken by The Byron Company, New York's famed commerical photography studio. Founded in 1892 by Joseph Byron, Byron Co. chronicled the changing cultural and physical environment of New York City from the turn of the century until WWII. These images come to Bridgeman through our representation of the Museum of the City of New York.

View all the Byron Company images currently available for licensing.

 
MNY381523 A group in costume at the home of Miss Morganthau, 1906 (silver gelatin print) by Byron Co./ Museum of the City of New York, USA

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

If you are curious about how the other half lived in early 20th century New York, check out wonderful portraits of the well-heeled at fancy dress balls. Or spy on a young May Robson at her dressing table as she prepares to go on stage. Other highlights include stage and screen actress, Edna Wallace Hopper, learning to box and Oscar Hammerstein smoking a cigar on set at the Manhattan Opera House. The theatre has always been a large part of life in New York as evidenced by many images of professional and amateur productions, set designs and startletts pictured on stage and off.

More images of the rich and famous at play.

The Nine-to-Fivers

In order to afford those fancy parties, one had to earn a decent living, of course. The Byron Company chronicles workers from every walk of life and profession: piano makers, teachers from the New York Association for the Blind, industrial workers and even bone setters(!). Be a fly on the wall at the Edison Company's booth at a Madison Square Garden trade show, or reminisce about the days when designing a layout had to be done over a light table (left). You can also pretend you are a wealthy patron as you catch a glimpse of artists at work in their studios. An unusual site, there is even an image of girls hard at work on a rooftop vegetable garden.

More images of New York at work.

MNY381154 Man with his secretary taking dictation in a private office at Parke, Davis & Co., chemists, Hudson & Vestry Streets, New York, 1910

 

MNY380774 The Union Square Hotel at Union Square East and 15th, New York, 1905 (silver gelatin print) by Byron Company/ Museum of the City of New York, USA

 

The Backdrop

As always, one of the most important characters in any story about New York is the city itself.  Take a walk through the seemingly wide open spaces as New York was a beginning to build the modern version of itself. Take a look at Pennsylvania Station when it was just a hole in the ground and the train tracks were being laid. Revel in the lack of crowds in Times Square while you check into the Hotel Knickerbocker. As much as things change, find comfort in the fact that some things stay the same.  The Plaza Hotel's Palm Court in present day looks very much like it did in this 1907 photograph.

View more images of interiors and architecture from the Byron Co. collection.

And if you lived on the wrong side of the tracks...

See images of child laborers, the impoverished and unemployed in early 20th-century America with our feature about photography as a medium for social change.

Read more here.

MNY381181 View of an ice cream peddler on the street, with three newsboys buying ice cream (detail), New York, c.1901

 

 


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