There is very little photographic evidence of the time between the late 1890′s and 1900 when cars arrived in NYC. Look at this first video. Most of theses fascinating pictures were taken in 1896-7 and as you can see there’s not a car to be seen. The horse and carriage is still ruling supreme. And yet just a few years into the future that was all to change.
Then in this next video, made up of pictures taken in 1900, here at last are the first early cars whizzing along New York streets at the startling rate of 15 miles an hour. That doesn’t sound very fast but you can see how fast they went compared to the pace of a horse and carriage. It is startling to see how open and comparatively unbalanced these early cars were. As they shake and rattle along they all look as though they could easily tip over.
It also reminds us that when cars arrived they were driven along streets originally designed for horses and carts and the fit was not always good.
The final compilation is made up of pictures from 1928 and includes a very funny clip of Babe Ruth being driven to Yankee Stadium by a maniac taxi driver. But you can see that by now cars have taken over and the pace at which everything moves in the street and the danger this posed for pedestrians was considerable. Look at the difference in design of these 1920′s cars and the ones from 1900. Cars are now longer, completely enclosed, more stable as they drive along and much faster.
It’s pretty clear the 1900′s cars were only for the very well to do, but by the 1920′s the T model ford was for sale right around the nation and obviously New Yorkers were buying them because here they are in their hundreds in film from that time. It is unlikely very poor New Yorkers owned them, they were using cable cars or the subway to get around but cars had generally become available to a broader range of people.
All the horses and carts are gone, vanished into history as this new technology took over. Living as we do in a time when technological change is so rapid, these pictures from the past remind us that the advent of cars was rapid for the time but took place over a considerable period compared with today.