The Rise of New York City: A Fascinating Look at Manhattan in the 1940s

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"This is New York! A miracle city! A city of tall buildings, narrow, dark streets, magnificent parks, broad avenues, homes and schools, stores and theaters and palatial hotels. A fascinating city. An incredible city!" the narrator begins in this 1946 gem from Encyclopedia Britannica Films. The 20-minute documentary chronicles the growth of America's most iconic city, the second largest in the world at the time, focusing on its infrastructure, different neighborhoods, and industries. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, the film is packed with great shots of the city from the air and street scenes from Wall Street to Central Park. "Why is New York, once a little Dutch settlement, the great city it is today?" the narrator asks. Watch and find out. 

Traveling decades back in time reveals how neighborhoods have changed. The Lower East Side, for example, is considered one of New York's "less attractive areas," according to the narrator, who singles it out for discussion:  

The human story of the Lower East Side is a familiar chapter in the epic of America. Here have lived the people whose hands built the city's subways, its bridges, and its skyscrapers. Its tenements and crowded streets magnify all the problems of big city life. Yet, not all of the district is blighted. For from its dark tenements have come generations of American workers, men and women of many different national origins who have given their lives to the building of America. 

From the MOMA to the subway system, the film celebrates every facet of the city. 

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://archive.org/details/prelinger.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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