The Massive AP Archive on YouTube Offers a Compelling, Bite-Sized History of NYC


This summer, the Associated Press uploaded (and keeps uploading) its archived film to YouTube — more than a million minutes of it thus far. The aim of the A.P., which is partnering with British Movietone, the now-defunct newsreel service, is to put their more than 550,000 videos on its YouTube channel.

“Aren’t they a treasure trove?” says Jenny Hammerton, an archivist for the videos based in London. She adds, “The main reason for us putting our collection on YouTube is financial. Up until now, only filmmakers, news channels, and documentary makers really had access to our collection.

“The added bonus to this, of course, is that historians, educators, and members of the general public now have access to the biggest collection of historical material ever loaded up to YouTube.”

Hammerton, who’s been working as a film archivist for twenty years, says it’s “mind-boggling” that anyone with an internet connection can now access the vast collection: “It used to be that the archivists were the vault keepers, and only the chosen few could gain access to the treasures within.”

The archivist says she’s “looking forward to seeing which of our films are the most popular, and which films suddenly go viral,” a near impossibility when they were confined to the A.P.’s private servers. (You can see a list of the organization’s most popular videos, including the gruesome attack by a polar bear at a zoo, on its YouTube channel.)

The A.P. helped us sift through the massive archive for New York clips, which we’ve shared in chronological order, below. Some are gray windows to the past, some offer stunning, silvery views of the Manhattan skyline from above, and others — well, others are of jubilant Mets fans.

Here are some of the more interesting New York videos we found with Hammerton’s help:

Above is a look at the Flatiron building in 1901, horses and trolleys in 1903, and the subway and Broadway in 1904.

These various shots around Manhattan in 1916 show that happy hour here has always been plentiful. Also included here: shots of “Yorktown’s Brau House, unchanged since before the turn of the century. Then there’s Little Italy, with its tantalizing aromas.” Also seen are early Chinatown and various shots of Old Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, and the Gay White Way, as well as the U.N. building.

The Woolworth building, near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge, was one of the world’s first skyscrapers, standing 792 feet and 57 stories when it was completed in 1913. It’s still one of the twenty tallest buildings in New York and one of the 100 tallest in the United States. Here’s a 1919 newsreel showing, in part, the construction of the “cathedral of commerce.”

In 1930, British Movietone decided to thrill audiences with this footage of this “intrepid gentleman” (with the name “DARE DEVIL JACK” sewn into his bathing suit) diving 155 feet off the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1934, the newsreel service British Movietone took this trip, “six miles above New York City!”

On Easter in 1938, thousands filled Fifth Avenue to attend church service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, including then-governor Al Smith. Lovely hats, everyone! Some would say they’re much more dignified than today’s Easter bonnets.

This one seems the most unlikely today, maybe because as a culture we spend more time looking down at our phones, but in 1951 an acrobat named Marilyn Rich performed these “acrobatics above New York,” while hanging by two ropes from a hovering helicopter.

There’s a protest every day in New York, but here’s what they looked like in 1959, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.N. as a guest of the U.N. — not the United States, hence the chilly welcome you see above.

Here’s a look at the expanding Manhattan skyline of the Sixties, shot in September 1962.

In 1964, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, Farah, attended the World’s Fair in Queens. This video shows their procession in all of its cosmopolitan cool. He was the king of Iran from September 1941 until his overthrow by the Islamic Revolution in February 1979. Here he is in happier times.

Fifty years ago, Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. This is an interview with a reporter who witnessed it. The interview begins at 14 seconds into it.

A hopelessly dry English narrator explains how New York City, in 1971, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Stick around for the early-Seventies views of New York.

In this video, from 1973 (there’s no audio), you can see the World Trade Center’s various stages of construction.

This is what the African-American Day Parade in Harlem looked and sounded like in 1982.

Here’s a 1987 report on homeless children in New York.

Twenty years ago, Mike Tyson returned from prison to Brooklyn — to protests.

Nineteen years ago, we learned about the “mole people” who lived in subway tunnels. Despite the terrible name given to the community of homeless people, the video is remarkably documentarian in nature, typical of the A.P.

In the summer of 2000, the A.P. profiled the reptile rescue man, Robert Shapiro, who operated his business in the East Village. “People throw them in fish tanks, don’t know what temperature to keep them, don’t know what to feed them, get bored of feeding them,” he says in the video. “Some of these things try to bite them when they try to pick them up, so they get tired of having them around at all and basically he was neglected when we got him — he’s doing better now.”

Fifteen years ago, New York was preparing for the first intra-city World Series in 44 years, as the Mets prepared to face the Yankees, who won the matchup four games to one.

Take your own deep dives here — — and here: