New York City, NY

Vintage photographs from the 1940s that beautifully reflect many aspects of life in New York City

Kath Lee

New York City is one of the most sought after tourist places in the world. The city has some of the most renowned sites that attract millions of people from around the world every year. The 1940s was an important decade for New York City. They faced the challenges of World War II as well as many challenges after the war. These challenges also brought about innovation and it is fitting that we have the now classic pictures of New York City during the 1940s.

These stunning black-and-white photos from the 1940s show regular New Yorkers going about their lives and provide a window into a bygone age. There are many nostalgic and recognizable sights in the scenes, from street vendors selling fish or fresh ears of corn to cars stuck in snowdrifts. When World War II ended, New York City looked very different from how it had four years before. The war was largely responsible for the transformation, as it ended the Great Depression and brought in an age of unprecedented prosperity in the city.

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A crowd of customers gather at Sloppy Joe’s soft drink stand during a dimout in Times Square, New York, May 21, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

Wartime commercial expansion rekindled the city's economic engine and propelled it to a degree of economic might and domination seldom seen before or since. By the 1940s, New York had over a million factory employees and 40,000 factories, making it the world's largest manufacturing center. One-fifth of all U.S. wholesale business went via this one location, making it the country's largest wholesaling hub.

It was the largest port in the world, processing 150 million tons of cargo annually, or 40% of the nation's total waterborne freight. And it was the center of international finance, with daily transactions totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars. About 63 million tons of supplies and more than 3 million men left from New York Harbor, and over 900,000 New Yorkers served in the war. Every fifteen minutes during the height of the war, a ship would set sail. There were precautions taken to keep New York safe from assault; for example, during the war, the lights in Times Square and on Broadway were turned down low in case of an air raid.

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An Italian spaghetti house and a German health food store next to each other on 86th St. in New York, Jan. 22, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

Beverley Nichols, an English writer, described the NYC of 1940s:

More than ever before, as the shop windows filed past in a glittering parade, there was the sense of New York as a great international city to which all the ends of the world had come. London used to be like that, but somehow one had forgotten it, so long had it been since the Hispanos and Isottas had glided down Piccadilly, so many aeons since the tropical fruit had glowed in the Bond Street windows. Coming from that sort of London to America, in the old days, New York had seemed just, American; not typical of the continent, maybe, but American first and foremost. Now it was the centre of the world.

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Customers gather at a soft drink stand during a dimout in Times Square, New York, May 21, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

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The bright lights of Times Square during the New Year’s Eve celebration, Dec. 31, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

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Times Square dimout, New York, March 1, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

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Rows of cars line the curb as a result of free parking over Labor Day weekend in New York City, Sept. 6, 1942.Rare Historical Photos

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Workmen prepare to lower one of the 100-pound metal cornices from the Hotel Ansonia in New York, Sept. 22, 1942Rare Historical Photos

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A boy swings and misses at a ball during a practice session in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 9, 1943.Rare Historical Photos

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After 18 months in the dark, theater marquees on Broadway light up again while underneath the crowds come out of the dimout gloom in New YorRare Historical Photos

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Two black Army soldiers assist a white man who was involved in a scuffle that occurred during the outbreak of a race riot in the Harlem areaRare Historical Photos

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Ice skaters in New York’s Central Park look from the top of the Savoy Plaza Hotel at 59th St. and Fifth Ave., Jan. 9, 1944Rare Historical Photos

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Pedestrians strolling Broadway stop to peek into one of the many photo studios looking for diversion in New York, Dec. 1, 1944.Rare Historical Photos

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A huge crowd in New York’s Times Square jubilantly welcome the news that the Japanese had accepted the Allies’ terms of surrender on Aug. 14Rare Historical Photos

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People observing the death of President Roosevelt, the United Nations flags fly at half mast at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, April 13, 1945.Rare Historical Photos

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People sunbathe on the beach and walk along the boardwalk at Coney Island in Brooklyn, May 27, 1945.Rare Historical Photos

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A Christmas Eve shopper with a crated rocking horse tries to hail a cab outside Macy’s department store in New York City on Dec. 24, 1946.Rare Historical Photos

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A pushcart vendor cleans fresh fish before weighing it for a customer at the corner of Orchard St. and Stanton in the Jewish section of NewRare Historical Photos

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Enticing delicacies on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, in New York, June 1, 1946.Rare Historical Photos

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Men stop to look at fabric for sale at an outdoor table in front of a store in New York’s Lower East Side on June 1, 1946.Rare Historical Photos

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Soldiers stand rigidly at attention in their vehicles which carry 8-inch Howitzers, during the Victory Parade of the 82nd Airborne DivisionRare Historical Photos

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The Third Avenue el winds its way through lower Manhattan, February 12, 1946.Rare Historical Photos

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A man stares at the prices scribbled on the window of Bowery restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side, Sept. 26, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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A longshoreman listens to his radio as he sits on the terrace wall in front of the New York Public Library on the corner of 42nd Street in NRare Historical Photos

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A pedestrian stops and enjoys a hot ear of corn from the vendor in New York, July 14, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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A pedestrian walks between drifts of snow in Times Square, Dec. 27, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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A row of red-brick mansions peek through Washington Square Park’s Washington Arch in New York City’s Greenwich Village on February 25, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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An elderly street merchant wheels his pushcart loaded with crockery slowly along at the corner of Orchard and Delancy Streets on the Lower ERare Historical Photos

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Passengers scurry to buses at 49th Street and Fifth Ave., as snow continues to fall reaching a depth of 10.5 inches, Dec. 26, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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Pedestrians make their way in between cars stalled on the bridge while crossing the Grand Central Parkway at Union Turnpike, Kew Gardens, QuRare Historical Photos

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Smoke from a massive fire pours out of Pier 57 on the Hudson River at 15th Street in New York, Sept. 29, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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The Bowery where it intersects with Canal Street in New York, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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The Empire State Building is seen at right in this aerial view of buildings in Manhattan’s Garment District on Seventh Avenue on Dec. 9, 194Rare Historical Photos

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The Fulton Fish Market from the corner of Fulton St. looking north, New York City, Jan. 6, 1947.Rare Historical Photos

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A huge balloon in the form of comic fireman floats over Broadway during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Nov. 25, 1948Rare Historical Photos

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A man takes a nap on the ground in New York, July 17, 1948Rare Historical Photos

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A pretzel vendor displays his wares on an approach to the Manhattan Bridge in New York City, April 29, 1948.Rare Historical Photos

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A young boy makes a chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of a tenement house on 36th Street, NYC, May 12, 1948Rare Historical Photos

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Early morning in the Fulton Fish Market, New York City’s wholesale fish center, on Sept. 5, 1948.Rare Historical Photos

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Police and pickets scuffle at the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange at 11 Wall Street in New York, March 30, 1948.Rare Historical Photos

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The bridge crossing over the East 34th Street station, looks north over the Third Avenue Line El train, New York City, 1948Rare Historical Photos

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The crowded beach at Coney Island in Brooklyn, Aug. 28, 1948.Rare Historical Photos

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Two workmen eat their lunch beside their excavation on fashionable Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets in New York, June 8, 1948.Rare Historical Photos

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People crowd into Times Square, in New York, on Dec. 31, 1949, to welcome the New Year.Rare Historical Photos

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Skaters glide on the ice at the center’s skating rink in midtown Manhattan, New York, Dec. 8, 1949.Rare Historical Photos

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Snow-covered trees in Central Park are seen against the Essex House building on Central Park South, NYC, March 1, 1949.Rare Historical Photos

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West Broadway looking north from Vesey Street in New York City on July 21, 1949.Rare Historical Photos

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Yellow cabs line New York’s Fifth Avenue, Jan. 15, 1949.Rare Historical Photos

It’s not a secret that New York is a city of contrasts. The city has a reputation of being fast-paced, always on the move, and never stopping. But what many people don’t know is that the city has its own history, just like any other place in the world. The images that are shown are an excellent example of it. It’s amazing how much change the city has seen in the past few decades, but it’s also amazing how much the city has remained the same.

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Kath is a vivacious lady who is passionate about writing. She writes articles on all kinds of topics. From funny trending stuff, history, informative articles, and everyday scenarios of different kinds of individuals. She is a very busy lady and didn't have time to write this bio herself. So she asked her husband and kids to fill it. I think

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