From Post Offices to Radiograms: Local Primary Resources on Urban Media History

“Newsstand, 32nd Street and Third Avenue, Manhattan. (November 19, 1935),” Berenice Abbott: NYPL Digital Gallery:

I’ll be asking students in both of my fall grad classes to work with primary resources in local libraries and archives. I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer sifting through everything — figuring out which collections could be especially useful, which contain lots of great graphic or audio-visual material that we could use in our online projects, which are underexposed and deserve a little attention, etc. I’ll keep a list of resources I’ve uncovered that could inspire a student project:


New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives

Search the catalogue and finding aids to find appropriate resources, then contact the division to make an appointment. Photography typically isn’t allowed in this division, but each student in our class has been given special permission to take up to 20 photos (you must wait until the end of your research visit, and photograph everyone at once), and to use a limited number of photos in our online project (typically, you have to pay for reproduction). If you plan to use material in this collection, please speak with me first.

Chester F. Carlson Papers: “Chester Floyd Carlson (1906-1968) was an American patent attorney who invented xerography in 1938.” Collection consists of correspondence, technical papers, writings, personal and financial papers, photographs, ephemera, and printed matter. General correspondence reflects Carlson’s philanthropic interests; technical correspondence, laboratory notebooks, patent files, and other papers relate to his invention of xerography and to its commercial development. Other papers include family correspondence, diaries for 1928 to 1968, financial papers,speeches and other writings, scrapbooks of printed ephemera related to xerography, and photographs of trips to the Soviet Union and India. Also, papers relating to parapsychology and to the economic development of Guyana, 1966-1968.

Map of Parisian Pneumatique Network – NYPL SIBL

New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company Records: I’ve already combed through this collection. “The New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company was the original contractor in 1898 for mail delivery by pneumatic tube between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The company later became a contractor for tube service between post offices within Manhattan. In 1953 pneumatic tube service ended in New York and the company’s contract was canceled.”Collection consists of correspondence and documents pertaining to the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company’s delivery of mail in New York City using pneumatic tubes, and of U.S. government publications concerning mail delivery in New York City and nationwide. Records, 1897-1957, include contracts, Post Office Dept.orders, reports, plans, proposals, photographs, and clippings. Government publications, 1898-1955, are hearings, investigations and reports produced by Congress or the Post Office Dept. ***********************************************

New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 Records: “The New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940, was held in Flushing Meadows in the Borough of Queens. The non-profit Fair corporation was formed in 1935 under the guidance of business and civic leaders, and financed through federal, state, municipal and private funds. The Fair commemorated the 150th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration in New York City and took “Building the World of Tomorrow” as its central theme. Participants included close to 60 nations, 33 states and U.S. territories, and over a thousand exhibitors, among them some of the largest corporations in the United States.”…”The records of the New York World’s Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated present a comprehensive view of all aspects of the Fair including construction, maintenance and demolition of Fair facilities; planning and development; architecture and landscaping; displays and exhibits; government participation; publicity and public relations; amusements, entertainment and concessions; legal and financial affairs; the import and export of goods; labor relations; and public safety and welfare. In addition to correspondence and memoranda, the collection consists of reports, minutes, financial and legal records, architectural plans, design drawings, sound recordings, brochures, leaflets, press releases and other promotional materials, notably over 12,000 photographs of the Fair, its exhibits and visitors.”

Citizens for a Quieter City Records, 1950-77: “Citizens for a Quieter City, Inc. was founded in New York City in 1966 by Robert Alex Baron (1921-1980) as a non-profit, voluntary organization dedicated to the reduction of urban noise. Its objective was to develop information about the injurious effects of noise, the methods of controlling and reducing it, and the education of the public to the importance of its abatement. Baron, a theatrical manager, founded a predecessor organization, the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association, in 1965.”…”Collection consists of correspondence, minutes, diaries, financial records, photographs, printed matter, audio and video tape recordings pertaining to Citizens for a Quieter City and the Upper Sixth Avenue Noise Abatement Association as well as Baron’s papers as a theatrical manager. Correspondence, 1966-1974, is with officials of city, state and federal agencies, civic and community organizations, and manufacturers of construction equipment and noise abatement devices. Minutes and by-laws section contains minutes of the board of directors and of the technical committee, and by-laws of the organization. Diaries and notebooks, 1970-1973, consists of desk diaries and memoranda by Baron. Complaint center problem reports, 1969-1972, contain complaints received from the public; financial records include invoices, ledgers, balance sheets, audit reports, bank statements, and other items; and noise pollution inquiry, 1970-1972, consists of forms summarizing the nature of inquiries received. Upper Sixth Avenue Association records, 1965-1966, include correspondence, minutes and reports of Baron. Theater papers, ca. 1950-1960s, consist of his records as general manager of Theatre Tours. Also, photographs of Baron and photographic slides; printed matter; audio and video tape recordings of conferences, television shows and public events in which Citizens for a Quieter City participated; and some oversize materials, such as scrapbooks and publicity posters.”


The Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection and the New York Public Library Print Collection and Photography Collection

You’ll find a lot of material online, in the NYPL’s Digital Gallery. The NYPL has kindly given us permission to use this material for our project free of charge.

But there is of course a great deal that hasn’t been digitized — and, unfortunately, because the print and photography collections are organized, for the most part, by printmaker or photographer, it’s difficult to search for specific “content” or subject matter. If you’re interested in searching for non-digitized prints or photos, please contact the appropriate division via its website and speak with its archivist or curator.

Here’s some material from the Digital Gallery:

NY Post Office 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Morning Start of the NYC Mail Carriers in their New Uniform: NYPL Digital Gallery:
New York Post Office, 1893: NYPL Digital Gallery:
“Removal of the postal matter and archives to the new Post-office, Saturday, August 28th, 1875: NYPL Digital Gallery:
Printing House Square, 1866: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Interior of New York Post Office, 1857

Ladies’ Window at the Post Office, 1871

Loading Up the General Office, New York, 1875

Telegraph Apparatus, Old Fire Headquarters, Mercer Street, 1887: NYPL Digital Gallery:

Postal Workers Sorting Letters, 1899

Western Union Telegraph Building ([1870?-19]25?)

Newspaper Row, 1900

Radio Row, Cortlandt Street, Berenice Abbott, 1936

Radiogram Operating Room


New York Public Library Map Division

Some maps are available in the Digital Gallery (again, we are permitted to use this material for free), and many others are listed in the catalogue, but many maps have been neither digitized nor catalogued online. To find these maps, you’ll want to speak with the Map Room staff and consult the in-room “dictionary” catalogues, which you can search by subject or by location (I recommend searching by borough; vol. 7 is dedicated entirely to NYC).

Here’s how it worked for me: I scanned through the on-site catalogue:

…and found this:

…which I requested via a call slip:

…and, three minutes later, found myself looking at this (my iphone camera cannot fully capture its awesomeness):


They’ve got lots of City Maps: “Maps and atlases documenting the urban environment throughout the world represent a core strength of the collection, with the historical New York City map holdings among the deepest and most heavily used anywhere. With more than 2,000 sheet maps and 18,000 atlas map sheets illustrating the city and its five boroughs before 1922 (often to the building level), this collection is a critical support to many researchers of the local environment.” The staff recommends the Perris, Bromley,Robinson, Hyde, and Sanborn (on-site only) maps, and the Fire Insurance, Topographic, Zoning and Property Maps of New York City.

Here’s some stuff from the Digital Gallery:

Map Showing the Telegraph Lines in Operation, under Contract, and Contemplated, to Complete the Circuit of the Globe ([1867)?
New England, New York, New Jersey, Pensilvania (sic) Post Map: NYPL Digital Images


New York Historical Society

Search the catalogue (NYHS materials are included in Bobcat) and finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to use any of the special collections. If you plan to take digital photos of your research material, you’ll need to submit a form and pay a $15 fee. The Society has kindly granted us permission us to use our own research photos in our mapping projects.

Andreas Feininger Photograph Collection, 1939-54, 1970-84: Series III: New York in the 1970s and 80s: “Photographs focus on a variety of subjects, the largest of which are Times Square; Graffiti; Signs, Murals, Posters, and Billboards; and Reflections. Many of the photographs of graffiti feature a life-sized black painted figure Feininger refers to as “Shadowman,” painted in a variety of locations and variations on buildings and walls. Photographs of signs, murals, posters and billboards depict everything from hand-painted signs in foreign languages to explicit posters for strip clubs. Photographs on security and vandalism reflect Feininger’s descriptive annotations on his photographs of a security gate and locked and vandalized bicycles. Feininger’s photographs depicting construction, fire escapes, reflections, and water tanks focus on structure and pattern in the architecture of the city. The largest group of photographs depict the Times Square area, especially the signs for sex shops, strip clubs, and theaters of the 1970s and 1980s.”

Feininger Collection, Box 6, Folder 41: Graffiti

Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection, 1903-45, 1973-74: “The Arthur Weindorf Subway Collection spans the period from 1903-1974 and primarily contains photographs and photostats of drawings, models, and maps created by Arthur Weindorf during his tenure at the Public Service Commission. Also included are photographs taken by Public Service Commission photographers during the construction of the New York City subway system. The collection is divided into six series: Drawings and Models; Subway Maps and Posters; Clippings; Subway Construction Photographs; Miscellaneous Materials; and Negatives.”

Weindorf Subway Collection, Box 1, Folder 3

Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera, ca. 1700-present: “Collection of mainly 19th and 20th century advertising ephemera. Formats in the collection include American trade cards, lottery tickets, handbills, labels, broadsides, calendars, billheads, price lists, advertising fans, and other materials of history and popular culture. Media range from rough woodcuts to chromolithographs.”

Landauer, Box 1, Folder: “Signs & Sign Companies”

Landauer, Box 52(?), Folder: “Electricity: Telephone”

Billboard Photograph Collection, 1918-34: “The photographs appear to have been taken to record which advertisers bought billboard space at 13 sites in Manhattan and two sites in the Bronx, New York City. The views focus on signs but also show surrounding buildings, elevated railroads, and street activity at such heavily traveled intersections as Broadway and Seventh Avenue (Times Square), Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, Sixth Avenue at 27th Street, Eight Avenue at 110th Street, 125th Street in Harlem, and Third Avenue at 166th Street in the Bronx. The same sites appear repeatedly, sometimes monthly,during the 1920s and into the Great Depression. The photographs reveal changes in both the neighborhoods and in the advertising for many products, among them Chesterfield cigarettes, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and Pepsodent toothpaste.”

Browning Photograph Collection, 1918-52: Series I: “The Advertising subseries primarily focuses on billboards and other large signs, many of which were taken around the Times Square area. Several of these advertising photographs also appear in Browning’s photomontages…. Television and Radio consists of photographs of microphones, equipment, studios and broadcasters from the early days of radio and television. Theaters includes a few grand Broadway theaters of the era, but focuses heavily on the great movie palaces of the late 1920s and the 1930s, such as the Earl Carroll and the RKO Roxy Theatre. A heavy focus on interiors, and especially art-deco design elements, is evident. Also included are some views of burlesque and less legitimate venues, such as the Salon des Arts. Several theaters in this subseries were heavily documented by Browning, probably working on commission; some construction progress views are included.”

Browning Photograph Collection, Box 1, Folder 1
Browning Photo Collection, Box 20, Folder 198, “Crowd Listening to Election Results”

James Boyd Collection of New York City Etchings, 1861-1940: Includes etching of NY Telephone Building; it’s worth scanning through the rest!

Etchings, Box 4, Folder 60, NY Telephone Bldg, Woolworth & Tranportation Bldg

Stereograph File, 1855-1964: “Over 800 photographers and publishers created the work represented in theStereograph File…. Another significant amateur was Alfred T. Loonam, whose stereographs of New York in the 1950s and 1960s capture modern skyscrapers, expressways under construction, and the emerging television industry.”

Stereographs, Box 44

Charles Gilbert Hine Photograph Collection, 1883-1908: “Platinum, cyanotype, and albumen prints of various Manhattan locations dating from 1883-1908. Views of streets, buildings, businesses,monuments, theaters, billboards, posters, celebrations, and scenes of everyday life are included.The collection also contains a three volume set of photograph albums which portrays Broadway from north to south and includes historical essays and clippings.”

Lantern Slide Collection, 1860-1942: includes lantern slide photos of libraries, publishing buildings, Printing House Square, others.

Lantern Slides, Box 54, NewYork-NYC-Manhattan-CommercialBuildings-Publishing


New York University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Begin by searching the finding aids to identify relevant material, then make an appointment to visit. You’ll need to get permission before using a digital camera to photograph material. Reproducing material is a bit more complicated: you’ll need to obtain the Fales Librarian’s permission and contact the copyright holder (Fales staff can help you determine who this would be) and perhaps pay “rights to use” fees.

Guerilla TV Archive, 1965-97: “The Guerrilla TV Archive contains files, publicity information, audiocassettes, printed materials and photographs relating to Deirdre Boyle’s research for the book Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited and some materials related to her work on other publications and projects including Hong Kong Cinema, Video Classics, and Video Preservation.” Series 1 / Box 5 / Folder 163 contains material on the relationship between cable TV and cities (including some interesting documents on infrastructure at Roosevelt Island). Folders 164 and 165 contain material on public access television and the development of cable in NYC.

I wasn’t able to pre-screen the following, but they might contain some useful material:

Richard Hell Papers, 1944-2003: “The Richard Hell Papers consist of comprehensive documentation of Richard Hell’s career as a poet, novelist, author, publisher, musician, and filmmaker. Materials include personal journals, manuscripts and materials relating to the publication of several works, correspondence, clippings, reviews, posters, photographs, film, video and audio materials and objects and artifacts. In addition the collection contains financial and legal documents pertaining to Hell’s publications, and musical career. The materials span 1944-2003 with the bulk of the material covering 1969-2003.”

Creative Time Archive, 1973-2006: “Founded in 1973, Creative Time is a public art organization based in New York City. The organization has a history of commissioning, producing, and presenting public artworks of all disciplines. The material in the collection document all aspects of the creation, exhibition, and reception of these commissioned artworks, as well as invaluable financial records that reflect how the organization has sustained, promoted, and financially supported its mission.”

David Wojnarowicz Papers, 1954-1992: “David Wojnarowicz was a painter, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performer, and activist. He made super-8 films, created the photographic series “Arthur Rimbaud in New York”, performed in the band Three Teens Kill 4 – No Motive, and exhibited his work in well known East Village galleries. In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called “Graffiti Show”. He died of AIDS on July 22, 1992. The David Wojnarowicz Papers includes journals, correspondence, manuscripts, photography, film, video and audio works, source and production materials, objects, and ephemera.”

Martin Wong Papers, 1982-1999: “Born Martin Victor Wong in Portland, Oregon on July 11, 1946, Wong was raised by his Chinese-American parents in San Francisco. Wong was involved in performance art in the 1970’s, but focused almost exclusively on painting after moving to New York in the early 1980’s. The self-taught Wong, whose work showed a distinct gay sensibility, became a respected, renowned and prolific painter in New York’s downtown art scene. He also cultivated both working and personal relationships with graffiti artists and enthusiasts in that scene. His compositions combine gritty social documents, cosmic witticisms, and symbolic languages that chronicle survival in his drug-and-crime-besieged Lower East Side neighborhood. In addition to his painting, Wong also experimented with poetry and prose, much of which he recorded on long paper scrolls.”

Fales also has old issues of Punk and East Village Eye magazines (search Bobcat).

See also the Tamiment Library‘s excellent labor history materials, including collections of media industry unions’ records and the NYU Archives’ Washington Square Park Image Collection (1850-1990).


The Paley Center for Media

All of these materials are available for viewing/listening at the Center, but none can be used outside the Center. In on other words, we can’t use any of this material in our mapping project, but it’s still worth checking out! Read about the Scholars Room here.

New York Telephone: Business [Commercial] (Dennis Hayes & Associates, Young & Rubicam Historical Reel, 1977-97): “In this commercial for New York Telephone, documentary style footage features businessmen throughout the New York area who stay connected to the business world with New York Telephone. The announcer adds that New York Telephone helps businesses with voice and data networks and offers many additional cost-effective services for businesses big and small. Slogan (supered and in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York Telephone: Deli Man [Commercial] (32nd Annual Broadcasting Awards, 1991): “In this commercial for NYNEX, a telephone company representative visits Katz’s Deli on New York City’s Lower East Side. In honor of the occasion, deliman Marvin Waldman has created a replica of NYNEX’s regional calling area on a serving platter. “The lox is Long Island,” he explains, “the gefilte fish is Westchester and Rockland, and the pickled herring is the five boroughs.” Slogan (in jingle): “We’re all connected. New York Telephone.””

New York City Tourism Promotion: I Love New York at Night (I Love New York Campaign, 1977-89): “In this commercial for the New York State Department of Commerce, Beverly Sills explains that “at night in New York, all the stars come out.” She stands beside the fountain in the plaza at Lincoln Center, surrounded by performers from the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes, and cast members of popular Broadway shows including “They’re Playing Our Song,” “Evita,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The announcer points out that special discounts are currently available on 23 Broadway Show Tours. In conclusion, Sandy Dennis, as “Peter Pan,” adds that she loves New York at night because “there’s something in the air.” Slogan (in jingle): “I Love New York.” Supered: “I Love New York at Night Show Tours.””

And of course there are the digital resources available through the Library of Congress and the Internet Archive (see in particular the Prelinger Archives material.

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