“Hurrying for the Train”

September 2, 1871

Thomas Worth

“Hurrying for the Train”

Home Life; New York City, Transportation; Suburbanization; Transportation, Railroads; Women, Wives;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

New York City;

Nosegay resides in the suburbs. He is late this morning and Mrs. N. informs him that she hears the train in the distance.

Mr. Nosegay rushes for the train, the dogs of the village accompanying him.

A narrow escape, in which he receives some bruises and loses his hat and basket.

Mr. N. having borrowed a cap of the brakeman arrives safely at the office.

The hat and basket, having been found, are sent home. Terrible anxiety of Mrs. Nosegay.

She hastens to the office where her joy at the safety of Mr. Nosegay knows no bounds.

The light-hearted melodrama of this cartoon is based on one of the most profound changes in American history:  the rise of the suburbs.  When the cartoon was published in 1871, the vast majority of Americans lived in small towns or on farms, with the nation's few cities located primarily in the Northeast.  Historians have characterized urban areas prior to the late-nineteenth century as "walking cities" because their limited geographic size allowed residents to walk to work, the market, stores, church, and most destinations they frequented regularly.  These cities were socially and economically diverse, containing commercial and residential buildings--as well as rich, middle-class, and poor families--within only a few blocks of each other.  

The population and number of American cities grew, especially in the post-Civil War decades, as European immigrants and rural migrants moved to the increasingly congested municipalities.  The establishment of horse-drawn (and, later, cable or electric) street railroads permitted residents to travel farther in their daily routine.  Businesses followed the streetcar lines and increasingly established their operations downtown or in other distinctly commercial districts.  Real estate developers trailed the tracks of streetcars and steam railroads (as in this cartoon) in the opposite direction, building residential neighborhoods (which historians term "streetcar suburbs") on the outskirts of the crowded city.  

These planned "sub-urban" communities provided spacious houses and yards on broad, tree-lined streets, which contrasted dramatically with the brownstones, apartments, or tenements standing against each other on narrow streets in the compact cities.  It was the middle-class who could afford to move to the suburbs; and the wealthier the new homeowners were, the farther out of the city they could afford to purchase property.  Suburbanization undermined the socioeconomic diversity of the former "walking cities" by segmenting the metropolis into concentric circles of wealth, from poor residents in the inner city to wealthy homeowners in the farthest suburbs.  The comfortable middle-class status of the cartoon's main character is indicated by his genteel name (a nosegay is a small bouquet of flowers), his and his family's apparel, their employment of a maid (lower-left panel), and his job as a business clerk in an investment firm (center- and lower-right panels).

The construction of suburbs necessitated the expansion of utilities and services, such as piped water and sewer, fire and police protection, roads, and bridges.  Those and other needs of the new communities spurred a movement to bring professional standards to the occupations of the service providers:  architects, civil engineers, police, firefighters, public health officials, and so forth.  The establishment and expansion of suburbs also resulted in the development of more sizeable and populous metropolitan areas.  Over the second half of the nineteenth century, for example, Boston changed from a merchant city of 200,000 to an industrial metropolis of 1,000,000 spread over 10 miles and 31 towns.

New York City's status as the nation's leading port, immigrant depot, financial center, and arts mecca, meant that it paved the way for suburbanization.  By the early 1830s, ferry service to Manhattan allowed Brooklyn Heights to become the first commuter suburb in the world.  The ferry and railroad also served Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1852 as the first planned, picturesque suburb, which provided a park-like setting of manicured lawns, winding roads, and an open commons in the center.  The development of the steam locomotive in the 1840s and 1850s encouraged the construction of Tarrytown, New Rochelle, and other railroad suburbs.  Westchester County, New York, became the nation's first major suburban area, doubling its population in 1850-1870, 1870-1890, and again in 1890-1910.  By the end of the nineteenth century, New York City had more suburbs than any city in the world.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Hurrying for the Train”
May 29, 2024

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