New York in the 1920s had nearly 6 million residents and was a center of manufacturing, commerce, and culture. Immigrants entering through the port and migrants coming by road and rail fed the citys thriving economy. In 1923, New York produced 1/12th of all manufacturing in the nation.
As part of the great migration from the south to northern cities, some 200,000 African Americans moved to New York between 1917 and 1925. In addition to the lure of jobs, many were drawn to the cultural life of Harlem, on the citys East Side.
The island of Manhattan, March 9, 1927
Almost everyone who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the 1920s did so by steamship. Businessmen meeting overseas clients, entertainers on tour, and travelers making leisure trips booked passage on ocean liners of all sizes. They sailed alongside vast numbers of emigrants coming to the United States and immigrants returning abroad. The Leviathan and its crew of 1,100 ferried as many as 3,400 passengers to or from New York City each week. German-built in 1914 but used as an American troopship during World War I, the Leviathan was the largest American merchant ship of its day.
The Leviathan in New York, 1923
First-class dinner menu from S.S.Leviathan, 1929
Concert program from S.S. Leviathan
Model of S.S. Leviathan, bow view
Air travel, still highly experimental, captured Americas imagination during the 1920s. It promised to speed communication and commerce among peoples and nations. At a time when ocean liners symbolized modernity, wealth, and national pride, it was exciting to think that giant and graceful airships might one day replace their ocean rivals. The German dirigible Graf Zeppelin inaugurated the first commercial passenger service across the Atlantic by air in October 1928. It carried 20 passengers at a time, with a crew of 43.
The Graf Zeppelin over Manhattan, 1928
Model of rigid airship Graf Zeppelin
Although the United States began to restrict immigration in 1924, 1920s New York was still a city with a large immigrant population. Foreign-born residents played a crucial part in the citys economic, social, and cultural life. At a time when Americas ready-made clothing industry was centered in New York, immigrants provided much of the labor that made the nations suits, coats, and dresses.
Workers at the Kops Bros. clothing factory, New York City, 1928
Singer industrial sewing-machine head, 1917
In the 1920s many African American artists and performers were drawn to New York to take part in Harlems dynamic jazz and blues music scene. One such migrant was Georgia native Fletcher Henderson, who led the most successful African American jazz band in the decade. Other musical talents who made New York home in the twenties were Coleman Hawkins (from Kansas City); Duke Ellington (Washington, DC); King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong (New Orleans); and Bessie Smith (Chattanooga). Jazz became a powerful expression of New Yorks cultural life and was exported through recordings, radio broadcasts, and live performances abroad.
Clarinet in B-flat, made by Harry Pedler Co., about 1920
Tenor saxophone, made by C. G. Conn, Ltd., about 1920