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Building the Brooklyn Bridge

Facts of Life
in Greater New York

Police with bicycles

The measure to unite the five boroughs into one city was approved by the residents of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan in a citywide referendum in 1895, by a vote of 176,170 to 131,706 [although the measure passed in the proud City of Brooklyn by just 300 votes]. When the present day five boroughs were consolidated on January 1, 1898 to form Greater New York, horses, trolleys, elevated railroads and ferries were still the preferred methods of travel; chop suey was developing a following in New York City, but was still unknown to residents of China; malaria was a big health threat on Staten Island; and New York had just become the last American city to open public high schools.

Prior to 1898, the Bronx was often derisively referred to as the Annexed District. Queens was factories in the west and sprawling farms in the east. Brooklyn, called the City of Churches, was the third largest city in the country prior to consolidation and was still struggling to come to terms with its new status as a "borough." Staten Island was largely uncharted territory, with a population of 68,000 people. And Manhattan was a hub of commercial activity and had long surpassed Philadelphia as the great American City. The following facts provide a snapshot of life in Greater New York after consolidation:

  • In 1898, the population of New York City was 3,350,000 — it has since more than doubled
  • New York City was 360 square miles in 1898 — it is now 321.8 square miles
  • After consolidation, New York became the second largest city in the world behind London
  • There were 56 cities and towns within New York City and 1,150 churches in 1898
  • There were 2,000 farms in the city
  • The tallest building in the city was 23 stories — the tallest building today is 110 stories
  • Thirty percent of New Yorkers were foreign born, seven percent of New Yorkers were illiterate
  • Almost 50 percent of all the immigrants in the city were from Germany and Ireland
  • To qualify as a juror, a New Yorker had to be male between the ages of 21 and 70 and own $250 worth of property
  • Electric taxicabs were introduced in New York City in 1897 and 100 were operating by 1898
  • A cab ride in Manhattan cost 50 cents for the first mile, and 25 cents each additional half mile or portion thereof
  • The nation's first automobile accident occurred in New York City in 1897 The nation's first auto fatality occurred three years later, at Central Park West and 74th Street
  • The city speed limit was nine miles per hour
  • A total of 7,428 people were employed by the Police Department in 1899; 38,000 in 1996
  • 138,875 arrests were made in 1899; 363,471 arrests were made in 1996
  • There were 473 school buildings in 1899 and of the nearly half million students enrolled in public schools, approximately 15,000 moved beyond the eighth grade.
  • Over one and a half million New Yorkers lived in slums by the turn of the century
  • City employees worked ten hours a day
  • 1,333 people were arrested for gambling in 1899
  • The city raked in $38,000 by issuing permits for masked balls in 1899
  • Street cars were converted to electricity in 1901
  • In 1898, 100,000 Brooklyn residents commuted each day to Manhattan
  • At the victory celebration of the first mayor after consolidation, spectators chanted: "To Hell with Reform"
  • At the time of consolidation, New York City had a bicameral legislature called the Municipal Assembly, consisting of the Board of Alderman and the City Council.



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