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100 Years Ago: July 1918

This is the forty-second installment in my series of short reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they become a century old.

The first (and main) article in this issue is entitled “New York --- Metropolis of Mankind”. It was written by William Joseph Showalter, the author of such articles as “The Panama Canal”, “How the World Is Fed”, and “Steel – The Nation’s Greatest Asset” among others. The article contains thirty-nine black-and-white photographs of which twenty are full-page in size.

This is the first of a series of articles concerning the principle cities of the United States. It tells the story of what these cities are, what problems they are facing, what futures they are planning, and what roles they are playing in the nation.

Mr. Showalter starts by stating that the “Great War” has made New York earth’s international trade center. In value its exports exceed those of Asia, Africa, and Australia combined; while its imports exceed the combined imports of South America, Asia, and Africa. In population it outranks any one of half the nations of the world, even surpassing that of the entire continent of Australia. Its annual expenditures are greater than all but seven nations on the planet. Its water system could supply the whole earth with drinking water, and its electric transportation lines carry about twice as many people as all the steam railroads in the nation.

New York is a true cosmopolis. It has more Irish immigrants and their children than Dublin; more of Italian descent that Rome; more Germans than Leipzig and Frankfort combined; and more Russians than Riga and Dvinsk. Likewise, New York draws its growing population from other States in the Union. It has more “Jerseyites” than in Passaic, Princeton, and Rahway combined; more Connecticut-born than in Danbury; more people from Massachusetts than in Taunton; more Ohioans than in Chillicothe; and more Pennsylvanians than in Allentown or Altoona.

Three out of every four New Yorkers are immigrants or children of immigrants. The Americanization of these peoples is performed by the Public Schools. Not just English as a common language, but also “citizen-building” are the focal points of early education. In times gone by, elementary education prepared students for college. Now it has multiple tracts. While some students will continue their education in college, a large number are given technical training, or “vocational education”. In high school the “backward children” are moved from regular classes and into trade schooling where the boys learn machine-shop activities like sheet-metal work, electric wiring, plumbing, woodwork, mechanical drawing, sign painting, garment design, and printing. Each boy takes three of these courses and then choses the one to specialize and takes further courses in that field. The girls’ departments have courses in dressmaking, millinery, homemaking, etc.

With a staggering population density New York requires an equally impressive Public Health Department. Anthrax, ague, typhus and cholera are kept in check; even with the subway, elevated, and surface transportation lines affording an opportunity to spread disease. In spite of these conditions, New York is one of the healthiest cities in America. Population density has grown while death rates have decreased. Water and milk supplies are guarded against germs; rats and mosquitos are fought; and health care and cleanliness are promoted.

To quench the thirst of this ever-growing city, a massive water works was undertaken with dams being built upstate to create massive reservoirs. Tunnels and aqueducts were built on a herculean scale to transport this water to where it is needed. Political resistance and jurisdictional disputes were overcome and, at a cost of $200 million, a water system “to slake the thirst of the world” was built. The author goes into great detail of this wonder of the engineering world from the Catskill Aqueduct to the great tunnel under the city.

Urban transportation is an acute problem with the city’s population supplemented by an army of commuters living in Jersey, Long Island, or upstate. Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania Station are both packed at rush hour, as is the Hudson Terminal. But getting to Manhattan is only half the problem. Moving people around the city requires a massive electrical transportation system involving elevated and surface cars as well as the subway. Each year they carry two billion passengers, and every day thirty tons of nickels flow into the city’s coffers. New elevated and subway lines are continually being added.

Several bridges link Manhattan to the rest of New York (north and east). They cost nearly $100 million to build and more are being planned. In conjunction with the bridges, eight tunnel tubes have been built to share the burden; with eight more tubes being dug.

Many suggestions have been made to alleviate vehicular traffic congestion on the island. One is razing a path for a major avenue down its length. Another is to double-deck one of the existing avenues with a second level for light traffic. Still another is a subway for heavy trucks.

Railroad traffic to New York is being expanded. Until recently only one of the many trunk lines that approach the city from the west and the south entered the city. To solve the problem of the unbridgeable river, tunnels were built. Now there are six tunnels: two belonging to the Pennsylvania Railroad, and four belonging to the Hudson and Manhattan Subway System. To help with the increasing vehicular traffic, which at present is being handled by ferry, a tunnel is being built.

With the Pennsylvania Railroad now not only going to Manhattan by tunnel under the Hudson, but also by another tunnel under the East River, the company expanded its sights and decided to link Long Island to the Bronx mainland. This was done with the world’s largest cantilever bridge. It carries a four-track railroad and cost $27 million.

To feed a city of six million New Yorkers eat 200 trainloads of food per week. They must have 2,160 carloads of cereals and flour, 2,000 carloads of milk, 1,636 carloads of vegetables, and 1,168 carloads of meat. This is equivalent to a train 76 miles long.

The handling of foodstuffs and manufactured goods are only the beginning of the city’s freight-moving problem. Raw materials and coal must flow in while the manufactured goods flow out. New York has 578 miles of waterfront of which 450 miles are available for pier construction. As a bonus, New York Harbor is practically tide free. Giant piers are being constructed on Manhattan; a great ship terminal is being built in the Bronx; and these will match the Bush terminals in Brooklyn.

The Police and Fire Departments of New York are barely touched on since any detailed account of either would necessitate an entire article. The traffic police deal with the inevitable congestion. With the vast population the police force faces tremendous problems which they solve admirably. Compounding the problem of a congested population, the fire department must deal with protecting the loftiest buildings in the world. With the worlds busiest waterfront to protect, with industry’s most inflammable products to guard from harm, the fire department must be the last word in efficiency.

New York is indeed a many-sided city. Its entertainment grosses $60 million a year. A single theater had box-office receipts of $1.5 million in one season. The opera has brought in $10 million in one season. Adding concerts, you can see how the entertainment sector generates that kind of money.

Hotels and restaurants also have a booming business. Nearly 300,000 people go in and out of the city every day, and one third of them find abode in the hotel district. Hotel and restaurant food and drink bills are $1.25 million a night. 14 million glasses of beer and 12 million glasses of soda water are drunk each day for a price of around $1.3 million. The city even spends $100,000 a day on ice cream.

The shopping district caters to one and all, from the open-air shops on the East Side “where a hobo can outfit himself in second-hand rags for a song”, to the exclusive specialty stores on Fifth Avenue. Once New Yorkers went downtown to shop, but now the shops have come uptown. More and more shoppers are drifting away from the department store and to the specialty shop. With rent high on Fifth Avenue many small owners who can’t afford “a place with a front” rent rooms in office buildings and set up shop. The greatest shock Fifth Avenue ever had was when Woolworth decided to put a ten-cent store there. Now women who do their shopping in imported cars and have chauffeurs and footmen shop there for bargains.

The second article is entitled “Under the Heel of the Turk” and was written by William H. Hall. It has the subtitle “A Land with a Glorious Past, a Present of Abused Opportunity, and a Future of Golden Possibilities”. It contains fourteen black-and-white photographs, seven of which are full-page in size.

The Empire of Turkey spans many ancient lands full of fascination to the historian. To the archeologist and the geographer, it has a wealth of knowledge to be studied. To the romancer it gives its “thousand and one tales of the Arabian Nights”. The region is steeped in mythology and legend. Homer wrote of Tory at the mouth of the Dardanelles. Along the shores of Asia Minor sails Perseus. The Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Croesus obtained his wealth from gold washed down from the mountains of Smyrna. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in Syria and Babylon on the Euphrates where he would later die. Chaldea and Babylonia, the richest and most powerful nations of antiquity, were in lower Mesopotamia. In Roman times, Antioch, a powerful city even in Hellenic times, became the vice-regent for Rome ruling all of the eastern world.

On the banks of the Bosphorus, [sic] Constantine founded his world capital. Since that time, Constantinople has been central to world history. Also within the bounds of Turkey is Phoenicia, an ancient country synonymous with commerce and trade. And then there is the Holy Land: a region hallowed by three major religions.

And what of all these great and prosperous lands of the past? They lay desolate and impoverished under the rule of the Turks. The Turkish Empire, minus Arabia, spans 540,000 square miles around the same area of Britain, France, and Germany; or the Southern Confederacy. While the Arabs and Kurds are second class citizens even though they are Muslim (a word derived from the Kurdish city Mosul), the Christian Armenians are being persecuted to the point of genocide. Even the Turks themselves know no freedom for the government lays “in the hands of 300 men”.

The population of the Ottoman Empire is roughly 18 million people. Of this number 7 million Turks, 4.5 million Arabs, 2 million Kurds, 2 million Armenians, 1.5 million Greeks, a half million Jews, and a half million other races. Despite the current neglect, this is a land of great potential. Currently, only the most primitive methods of agriculture are being used; but with modern techniques and proper irrigation this region could bloom again. There is a vast wealth of minerals locked in the mountains and oil under the desert. Water power is available for development, and the country’s strategic location and splendid natural harbors leave the potential for a great future world power.

The last article is entitled “A Day with Our Boys in the Geographic Wards”. It was written by Carol Corey, the author of such articles as “From the Trenches to Versailles” and “Tales from the Trenches”. It contains eight black-and-white photographs, three of which are full-page.

Ms. Corey compares her first trip to what was then called the American Ambulance Hospital at Neuilly, (just outside of Paris), to her second trip to what is now called the American Military Hospital No. I. On her way to the hospital in the Spring, she stopped to buy flowers. When she mentioned to the women selling them that the flowers were for American wounded, the woman snorted that she didn’t realize there were any. And when her cab driver found out where she was going he charged her an extra supplement. At the hospital there were only around fifty soldiers, mostly sick or with minor wounds. On her second trip a few weeks later, things were completely different. The flower peddler deducted two francs from the bill wishing she could do more, and the taxi driver refused the supplement and said it was the least he could do for the “saviors of France”.

When Ms. Corey arrived at the hospital she found it full past capacity. Designed for 1,000 beds, 300 extra had been added, two great tents had been erected on the terrace, and the operating rooms had not been empty for three days and nights. Past a “constant procession of stretchers” and what seems like miles of beds she traverses the hospital to reach the two Geographic Wards made possible by donations from the National Geographic Society and its many generous members. A third ward is being discussed at present.

During Ms. Corey’s visit to the wards, she talked to many of the wounded patients, some of whom are the heroes of Chateau-Thierry, and of whom the Germans call the “tiger cats”. She spoke with several of the patients in Ward 1, many of whom expressed thanks to the Society for all we had done.

The patients in Ward 2 are the seriously wounded. She had much fewer and much briefer conversations. The whole time she gives encouragement to the troops. When talking to the boys on the mend, with knitting bones and returning appetites, she queries, “It COULD be worse, couldn’t it Yanks?”

Tom Wilson

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