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A Typical Group: 1910

New York, July 1910. "A typical group of messengers at Postal Telegraph Company's main office, 253 Broadway. During hot weather they wear these shirtwaists. (A Suggestion for the other companies.)" Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. Library of Congress. View full size.

New York, July 1910. "A typical group of messengers at Postal Telegraph Company's main office, 253 Broadway. During hot weather they wear these shirtwaists. (A Suggestion for the other companies.)" Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. Library of Congress. View full size.


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Working kids

If this was one of the more menial jobs for children in New York, how come there are no black kids among them? Did the races not mix? I'm from England by the way.


253 Broadway is where the Woolworth building is today.

[253 Broadway is the Home Life Building. The Woolworth Building is 233 Broadway. - Dave]

Shirts and Shirtwaists

I'd never seen the term "shirtwaist" used to refer to men's clothing, so I did a little research. In the 1897 Sears catalog all the men's shirts, from fancy dress shirts to laborer's shirts, were pullovers with a front placket so they buttoned only halfway down. Sears offered a few male shirtwaists (shirts with buttons all the way to the hem) but only for small boys. In the late teens Sears called button-to-the-hem shirts "negligee shirts" and by the '20s they are "coat style shirts."

I don't understand, however, why Hine considered this sort of shirt superior to the standard pullover style of shirt. The collar isn't the issue -- it was possible to get pullover shirts with soft collars, and it looks like a few of these fellows are wearing detachable collars on their shirtwaists. Yet another minor Shorpy mystery.

[Hine's point, as noted below, is that the boys don't have to wear coats as part of their summer uniform. - Dave]

Please keep the Hine photos coming

Lewis Hine, with his unique mixture of an artist's eye and a social worker's concern, left us an endlessly fascinating, provocative, and touching picture a world that is far away but also the past of us all and the family heritage of many of us. Seeing a Hine photo on Shorpy is always a treat. . . . And Dave, please give us bigger versions of those three images you added as comments here!

[They are on my to-do list. - Dave]


It's today's kids who are naive -- the only vice most of them will ever see is on a video screen or newspaper page. But these boys who were growing up in New York in 1910, they saw it and lived it firsthand. This was the world of Hell's Kitchen, the Bowery, Damon Runyon. What a time it must have been!


I am charmed by the naivete in these boys' faces. See what a hundred years has done for us? I would be hard-pressed to cast a group of boys with this lack of "knowing" in present day. There were some very simple films but this was a time before the movies like we have today. Before television too.

Just the books filled with great literature such as "Moby-Dick," etc., and the Bible and Torah of course. They yearned for and cherished books. Religious families rich or poor sat together and read together.

My father did this at the time of this picture as a child. He passed the habit on to us children in the 1950s to the early 60s.

[For the messenger boys and newsies of this era there were vaudeville and burlesque houses, the nickelodeon, gambling, "movies," tobacco and of course drugs and the red-light district as sources of diversion. Which isn't to say that the boys in our group portrait didn't all have library cards. Below, more Lewis Hine photos from 1910 and 1914. - Dave]

Shorpy Has An Upside Too ...

In the comment section for the Berberich Shoe Store photo, I mentioned that a downside in visiting this site was the depressive reaction I often have to seeing beautiful, old buildings and then finding out, by calling up their addresses on Google Maps, that they no longer exist. That's been very true for me - and, I'm sure, for more than a few other regular visitors here as well. But there's also a very personal upside for me, too, and I'd like to take this opportunity to mention it. I began studying my family's genealogy about two years ago and in trying to track down my Mother's New York City relatives, I've learned that in April of 1910 her then 16 year old Father was living with his parents and siblings at 512 W 125th St. I "went there" on Google Maps and discovered that the tenement they'd lived in was no longer standing. I shrugged my shoulders, moved on, and forgot about it - until I tripped over Shorpy earlier this year. This site's focus on (beautiful and cool) old buildings got me thinking about W 125th St. again and so I went back there today and had another look. While its certainly true that my family's tenement had long since disappeared, there were plenty of old buildings still standing in that area - and it dawned on me as I looked that my Grandfather, who'd died 15 years before I was born, had once looked at these same buildings and so did my Great Grandparents. Suddenly, the entire half-destroyed neighborhood took on a new meaning for me and I have to thank Dave - you know, the guy who wears white gloves and lives in a black box? - and his wonderful Shorpy-site for that new appreciation. Architectural history in both general and particular has come alive for me and has led me to new appreciations for what I had previously dismissed as irrelevant. I say this now because this current photo, "A Typical Group: 1910," was taken three months after the census that listed my Grandfather way up on W 125th. The guys in this picture would have been the same age as him - and for that reason both he and they come alive for me in a way that never would have been possible before.

How old?

How old do you suppose these boys are? They look short in stature but their faces have such a mature look to them. Like old men faces on little boy's bodies.


It is dishonest for Shorpy not to publish my comments on the "ethnic kids". It preserves history as a venue for gatekeepers, no matter how talented (or untalented) they are. While the site is undoubtedly remarkable for its inquiry into the past, the gatekeeper, "Dave", is a pedant of some sort who makes his comments from the safety of a black box. The results are predictable: as the site becomes a sentimentalized view of the past it will become less interesting.

[Actually I'm just trying to spare you comments like this. - Dave]

"Nip it in the bud!"

Front row left: It's Barney Fife before he was deputized!


Sort of refreshing to see young men who kept their trousers pulled up. I bet even plumbers hadn't yet gained their reputation as crack workmen in 1910.


What were or are "shirtwaists"?

[A shirt. As opposed to the suit coats that were the standard messenger uniform. - Dave]

Ethnic kids

This seems to be what the "ethnic" kids were doing - working for a living instead of going to summer camp with the wealthy blond boys.

The eyes have it

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the largest collection of "deer in he headlights" ever seen on the web....especially those two guys on the left!! Yeowww! Either that or somebody just hit them over the head with a blunt object.

Bless their Arbusy little hearts

It's a gnome convention! Have you ever seen so many weak eye muscles in all your life?


Nice ties!

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