Jacob Riis: How the Other Half Lives


Jacob Riis (1849–1914) was a Danish immigrant and photojournalist best known for his first book, How the Other Half Lives, subtitled Studies among the Tenements of New York. Published in 1890, the book shocked the conscience of Americans by showing in vivid detail the slum conditions of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Jewish, Bohemian, German, Italian, Chinese, and Irish immigrants were packed into tenements, many of them with no windows or ventilation, and waged a daily battle against overcrowding, crime, disease, filth, and poverty.

A number of developments enabled Riis's book—and Riis himself, later a confidant of President Theodore Roosevelt—to achieve prominence. One was technological. Riis was among the earliest journalists to take flash photographs, using a mixture of magnesium and potassium chlorate powder. Without this early kind of “flash bulb,” developed in Germany in 1887, Riis would not have been able to illuminate the darkened, airless corridors...

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Jacob Riis (Library of Congress)

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