How New York Ate
100 Years Ago
Click on the map below for information on each borough

New York in 1900
New York City has five geographic areas, "boroughs", that were incorporated into one city in 1898. Of these, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn had their own city governments, tax base, etc. The Bronx had been more connected to Manhattan administratively and much of the development from farmland followed the advent of public transportation to Manhattan. With the exception of the border between Brooklyn and Queens, each borough is separated from the others by a river or harbor; local food production, industry, neighborhood markets and restaurants developed their own flavors and functions in the communities.

How New York Ate 100 Years Ago
At the turn of the last century nearly 3.5 million people saw the birth of the newly consolidated City of New York. In their food supplies, Manhattan had ceased to be self-sufficient decades before, and relied on imports and the bounty of the other four boroughs.


The New Yorkers in these boroughs cultivated orchards, trapped wild fowl in the teeming woodlands, foraged for edible plants, fished in the surrounding waters of New York Harbor, Long Island Sound, and Jamaica Bay, and worked 250-year-old farms raising cattle, horses, hogs and grain.

In the urban neighborhoods of all boroughs, residents bought bread, milk, ice, fish, hot corn, pie and more from horse-drawn wagons and pushcarts. Children bought snowballs of shaved ice and sweet syrups for a penny.

As for restaurants and hotels, they fed millions, from single five-cent meals to $10,000 banquets. Ethnic foods helped establish immigrant enclaves, and dishes and markets were starting to find cross-cultural acceptance. As the largest port and market in North America and a leading manufacturing area, New York City provided food and food products for the entire country.

The variety of ethnic communities and the diversity of immigration to New York created a wealth of cultural traditions, each community taking on a different character as it grew, strengthened, diversified, assimilated, dispersed, specialized in industry or faced special discrimination.

When communities were substantial, their food dynamics affected food quality and prices (for more on the Kosher Meat Riots, click Manhattan on the map above) stimulated import trade, created manufacturing and farming opportunities as in the Chinese farms and restaurants, restaurant chic and frequently food industries, needing limited English language skills or American certifications (see pushcarts for one example, current restaurant practice for another--links from Retail section at left).

Opportunities in the food business led to advancement in other food-related businesses, and fostered restaurant ownership and ethnic food manufacture. For recent immigrants, a neighborhood that practiced familiar food traditions meant a place of security, fellow countrymen and women, news from home.

Immigrant communities, particularly Greeks, worked truck farms near Bull's Head that provided the Manhattan markets with vegetables and livestock for Washington Market.

Thanks to:
Brian Rock - exhibit production and content
Annie Hauck-Lawson - inspiration, research and technical advisement
Suzanne Wasserman - content advisement
Gina Pollara - research and images
Mimi Martin - writing and research on Chinatown
Yale University Press for permissions on chicle, sugar manufacture and kosher food
Peter Pancucci of Flux Co. for Angermeier's and Lüchow's menus
Thanks also to Lynn Loflin of the Miracle Grill and Miracle Bar and Grill in Manhattan
for providing food for the exhibit opening and emotional support for the duration.
follow the links under "How New York ate..." at left to continue your tour