We recently stumbled upon the New York Public Library's digital photo archive. The library houses thousands of cool images, and its online archive is an eye-popping way to suck up an hour or two. Fiorello LaGuardia in a microcar, anyone?
The possibilities are endless: We didn't try any search terms other than "car," and all of these shots were found within the first twenty pages of results. Unsurprisingly, the search engine is pretty broad — our quick "car" dive brought up everything from railroad cars to armored cars, with a smattering of ancient brochures and turn-of-the-century Pullman menus thrown in for good measure. The only downer is an almost complete lack of captions.
The archive seems slanted toward pre-1950s material, but when you can gape at dismantled pre-war grand-prix cars and see what kind of road food William McKinley ate, who's complaining?
(Left: The "Death Dodgers" perform at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.)
A man at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair examines his spindizzy. (Note to the uninitiated: Spindizzies were gas-powered, control-line model cars popular in the first half of the twentieth century.) If you look closely, you can see the control harness coming off the car's chassis. Dig the tiny stick axle.
I mean, really: If your World War I military apocalypse car isn't just a bunch of right angles and rivets, then you're trying too hard. Also, mobile reveille equals fun on a bun. 1918.
An undated photo of Henry Ford. Note the "Young America" stamp on the photo. No mention of whether or not this was before or after the invention of the Jew Harpoon.
The General Motors "transparent car" display at the 1939-1940 World's Fair. Note the cute "Two-Cycle Diesel" plaque over the door in the background.
The dinner menu from the presidential tour of the West Coast in the spring and summer of 1901. On May 21, 1901, William McKinley apparently had mock turtle soup and half of the western seaboard for dinner. He was assassinated by an anarchist five months later. (Down with the five-course meal! Up with the law-free people!)
In 1903, this single-cylinder Oldsmobile racer, dubbed "the Pirate," broke the world speed record for the one-mile straight. It looks deadly. It probably was. Thankfully, the man is wearing no helmet or protective gear of any kind.
A drawing of the 150-hp Benz racing car of 1904.
Mechanics work on what appears to be a European grand prix car in New York in the late 1930s. We can't place the car, and there isn't enough resolution to make out the logo on the right cam cover. Anyone?
A Maserati (front right), two Alfa Romeos (rear), and one Ford special contest a road race on the east coast. The date published with the image ties it to the '39-'40 World's Fair, but if we had to hazard a guess, we'd say it's a bit earlier.
Performers from the "American Jubilee" retrospective at the 1939-1940 World's Fair. Ladies, you are pretty, and your dresses are surprisingly low-cut. Attention, half-naked statues in the background: You have surprisingly nice legs.
A spindizzy race in the late 1930s. Note the car's tether; if you enlarge the picture, you can see it extending into the lower right foreground. The glasses-wearing guy at the rear looks like our middle-school history teacher. Unlike our middle-school history teacher, he is probably not drunk.
What appears to be the Lucy O'Reilly Schell ex-Indianapolis Maserati 8CTF undergoing routine maintenance in the late 1930s. This car is still intact and currently competes in historic racing in Europe. We've sat in it, and we've had our eyes water from the methanol when it crackles to life. We feel lucky.
A German rail car (What the heck is a "77"?) after being shredded by American artillery in 1918.
New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia looking thoroughly weirded-out in the front seat of an unnamed microcar in 1940. ("What is this strange little beast? The Little Flower does not want to ride in such an oddball contraption! Where's Roosevelt? Someone call my physician! I demand to be extricated immediately!")
The caption on this one was pretty slim: Man in MG, 1940. Going by the year and the way the dashboard is laid out, the car has to be a T-series; judging by the mushroom-shaped shift knob and steeply raked/narrow rear cockpit, it's a TA.
A how-to-diagram for an early Franklin automobile. Note the odd gear positioning: Reverse is up and away, first ("Low") is over and down, second ("Intermediate") is toward you and up, and third ("High") is toward you and down. Cool.
Again, only the sparest of caption: Man in a Bugatti, 1939. Your guess is as good as ours: Long cockpit, so...Type 51? Too big to be a T35, right? Also, the driver looks strangely familiar. Any thoughts?
A "Death Dodgers" performance, New York World's Fair, 1939-1940.
American Howitzers packed for railway shipping during World War I. ("Mademoiselle from Armentieres, meet my gun. It's so big they had to bring to me on a train.")
Some Things Never Change Department: A James Montgomery Flagg cartoon depicting the automobile's impact on New York's Fifth Avenue. The cartoon is dated September 29, 1904.