A Layman's Sermon

Jacob Riis delivered his first lecture, “How the Other Half Lives and Dies in New York,” on January 22, 1888, at the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York. Using an early form of projector known as a stereopticon to display images of the slum and its residents, Riis took his audience on a visual tour of the tenements. The lecture’s success resulted from his ability to entertain with colorful anecdotes while simultaneously delivering a spiritual message. Terry Borton of the American Magic-Lantern Theater has created the abridged version of the lecture playing here, which is based on a transcript of an illustrated talk Riis delivered in Washington, D.C., in 1891. This presentation was produced by the Museum of the City of New York for Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half (October 14, 2015–March 20, 2016).

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New York in Motion

Jacob Riis. The Mulberry Bend, 1895. Modern gelatin printing out paper. Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Roger William Riis (

The Library’s Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division holds forty-five films of New York dating from 1898 to 1906 in its Paper Print Collection. Because the copyright law did not cover motion pictures until 1912, early film producers seeking rights protection sent paper contact prints of their motion pictures to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. Some motion picture companies, such as the Edison Company and the Biograph Company, submitted entire motion pictures—frame by frame—as paper prints. Other producers submitted only illustrative sequences. In its entirety, the Paper Print Collection totals more than 3,000 motion pictures. Most are American but many are from England, France, and Denmark. The extreme scarcity of early motion pictures makes these paper prints particularly valuable. In most instances they remain the only record of early films, providing a rare insight into America at the start of the twentieth century like these seven films of New York.

Thomas Edison, Inc.: New York City: “Ghetto” Fish Market (1903); Sorting Refuse at Incinerating Plant, New York City (1903); New York City Dumping Wharf (1903); Move On (1903); Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island (1903); White Wings on Review [street cleaners parade under the reform administration of Mayor Strong] (1903). Paper Print Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

American Mutoscope and Biograph Company: Arrival of Emigrants, Ellis Island (1906).
Paper Print Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress