Accepting that this isn’t really about my usual topic of London, I still think the below panorama drawing of New York City as it was in 1855 is still rather impressive to look at.

Whether, as predicted in the news article that accompanied the drawing, New York has indeed rivalled London is a matter which both sides of the Atlantic continue to debate even to this day.

Image and article below taken from my collection of the Illustrated London News.

New York City in 1855

Click on the image for larger versions!


The rise and progress of the commercial metropolis of the United States may be included among the marvels of modern history. That part of the American coasts which comprehends the State of New York was discovered by Sebastian Cabot in 1497 ; but he made no claim to it on behalf of King Henry VII of England, by whom he was employed. In 1608 Henry Hudson sailed up the river which bears his name. The Dutch made a settlement by building some stores and cottages in 1620, and called the district in which they planted a colony the New Netherlands. On the island which the Indians called Manhattan they built a city which they named New Amsterdam. When Charles II. of England gave to his brother James, Duke of York, Long Island, Hudson’s .River, and other contiguous possessions, New Amsterdam became New York. In 1697 the population cf the city was 4302; in 1784 it had increased to 23,614; and at the present time it exceeds 600,000.

Seated on a river navigable for 160 miles from the sea, and possessing a sheltered harbour where a ship can ride in safety, it has become the emporium of trade between Europe and America. Its progress has been rapid since its independence was recognised; and it may almost be asserted that, while Liverpool has built New York, New York has built Liverpool.

It is within the last thirty years that improvement and enterprise have advanced with the steps of a giant. It is within that period that the first line of sailing packet-ships was established between Liverpool and New York; and it was deemed so doubtful an experiment that it was only undertaken with two vessels of 450 tons each. Complete success rewarded the adventurers; and very quickly similar lines were established from nearly all the Atlantic cities.

In 1819 a steamer sailed from Savannah having the same name as the port from which she sailed, and reached Liverpool in safety ; and in 1833 the Royal William, of 180-horse power, sailed from Quebec to Picton, and thence to London. But these voyages seemed to have been overlooked, or only regarded as lucky accidents, for scientific men had declared the navigation of the Atlantic by steam impracticable. In 1838, however, the problem was solved by the arrival of the Great Western from Liverpool, and of the Sirius from Bristol in New York harbour. The Canard line of steamers was then established, followed by the Collins line; the former British North American, the latter United States, but both running to New York. Then were added lines to Southampton, Havre, and Bremen.

While rapidity of intercourse was thus promoted between America and Europe, a net of railways and of electric telegraphs brought into almost immediate contact all the main points of the United States, and an extended system of canalisation brought all the lake districts into juxtaposition. From these multiplied improvements New York derived incalculable benefits as the great port of distribution for the products of the Old and New World. Mr. William Chambers, in his recently-published tour in America, states that in one single establishment for the sale of “dry goods”that is, clothing and haberdashery of all kinds—the annual returns exceed seven millions of dollars. It is called Stewart’s Store, a huge building of white marble. This alone gives a vast idea of the traffic of New York.

The churches, theatres, and especially the hotels, are magnificent. One of the most remarkable objects in the neighbourhood of the city is the Croton Aqueduct. In the second volume of the ” First Report of the Commissioners for the Health of Towns” the height of the water is described as 115 feet above tide, about 105 feet above the lowest, and 60 feet above the highest grade of streets. There are 150 miles of mains, besides 40 miles of aqueducts. The sizes vary from 36 inches to 6 inches. They are always charged, and the water is kept at high pressure in all the streets and at all times—a most valuable aid in case of fire. This splendid work cost 14,000,000 dollars. There are numerous educational establishments in New York, and some noble libraries. One of the most splendid is the Astor Library, called after its munificent founder, John Jacob Astor, who bequeathed 400,000 dollars to erect a suitable building and fill it with books.

Should the United States remain at peace with the world, New York may rival London at the close of the present century, for it must continue to flourish as the Far West is peopled and cultivated.

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