Wealth flowed during the 1880s and 90s, but only to the upper echelons of society. A vast gulf opened between rich and poor, earning this era the nickname "the Gilded Age." One immigrant photographer captured what it was like for New York's poor during this time, and his images remain arresting today.

The Danish-born carpenter Jacob Riis (1849-1914) migrated to the US in 1870. He started his career as a journalist in 1873 as a police reporter, only three years after he arrived in New York. Later he became the city editor of the New York Tribune.


When flash photography was born in 1887, he and three photographer friends began to photograph the slums of New York City and three years later he published How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York with more than a hundred photographs.

Later he wrote some other books, but none of those could approach the success of How the Other Half Lives. The whole book with photos and illustrations is available here.

Baxter Street, Mulberry Bend

Mulberry Bend

Bandits Roost, a Mulberry Street back alley

Baxter Street Alley, behind the Bandit's Roost

Street Arabs – tens of thousands of begging homeless kids, mostly boys

A shoemaker in 219 Broome Street

Police Station lodgers in Elizabeth Street Station

Scene on the Roof on the Mott Street Barracks

Sabbath Eve in a coal cellar, Ludlow Street

Dens of Death

Bohemian cigarmakers at work in their tenement

Lodgers in a crowded flat on Bayard Street. It cost five cents a day.

The old Mrs. Benoit in her tenement on Hudson Street

Mulberry Bend Park

"Knee-pants" at forty-five cents a dozen – A Ludlow street sweatshop

A school on the East Side

Immigrant children saluting the flag in the Mott Street Industrial School

Home of an Italian ragpicker

Essex Market School, East Side

A Flat in the Pauper's Barracks with All Its Furniture


Bunks in a seven-cent lodging house named Happy Jack's Canvas Palace, Pell Street

Hell's Kitchen

A Rear Tenement in Roosevelt Street

A pedlar who slept in the cellar of 11 Ludlow Street

Under the dump, Rivington Street

Under the dump at West 35th Street

Headquarters of the Whyo gang, Bottle Alley

Men's lodging room in West 47th Street Station

Mountain Eagle and his Family of Iroquois Indians — One of the few Indian families in the city, found at 6 Beach Street

A Black-and-Tan Dive in "Africa"

The Short-Tail Gang, Corlears Hook, under the Pier at the foot of Jackson Street

It cost a dollar a month to sleep in these sheds

A Talmud school in Hester Street

A downtown "morgue" (an unlicensed saloon)


A family making artificial flowers

Police Station Lodgers

Eldridge Street Police Station:

West 47th Street:

Getting ready for supper in the newsboys' lodging-house


The photos are from Zeno, except when noted otherwise.