On September 4, 1781, the eleven men, eleven women, and twenty-two children recruited by Alta California Governor Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of the Angels). They had gathered in August at the Mission San Gabriel in New Spain (present-day Mexico) and traveled together to arrive at the site of the new pueblo alongside the Los Angeles River.
Located between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, El Pueblo, as it was called, remained independent of the United States until the Mexican War in 1846, when the city was taken in a bloodless effort by U.S. forces. On April 4, 1850, the city was incorporated as Los Angeles and designated the county seat of Los Angeles County.
The city grew considerably with the arrival of the railroad in the mid-1870s allowing both the easy export of agricultural products and an influx of immigrants. During the 1880s, the population of Los Angeles more than quadrupled—increasing from approximately 11,200 in 1880 to 50,400 by 1890, and then doubling to 102,500 by 1900.
For the stranger Los Angeles is the place to go to see a new play, or marvel at the display of fruits seen at a citrus fair—forts made of thousands of oranges, and railroad stations and crowns of lemons, etc.—and admire a carnival of flowers, or for a day’s shopping; but there are better spots in which to remain. I found the night air extremely unpleasant last winter, and after hearing from a veracious druggist, to whom I applied for a gargle, that there was an epidemic of grip in the city, and that many died of pneumonia and that a small majority of the invalids got well, I packed my trunk hastily and started for Pasadena.
Sanborn, Kate. A Truthful Woman in Southern California. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1893. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900
As the city continued to grow in the new century, planners sacrificed several thousand acres of farmland for highways and housing. Los Angeles, once the nation’s wealthiest agricultural county, now derives its wealth from trade and transportation, manufacturing, tourism, finance and banking, and the entertainment industry.
- Panoramic Photographs
- Panoramic Maps
- Cities and Towns in Map Collections
- American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920: a Study Collection from the Harvard Graduate School of Design External contains the preliminary plans for the city of Los Angeles, as well as photographic images.
Browse the following collections to find a diverse historical array of photographs of the city:
- Detroit Publishing Company
- American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936: Images from the University of Chicago Library External
- Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
Search on Los Angeles in “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900 to find memoirs documenting the formative era of California’s history.