Travel back to old New York City with this interactive map

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New York, one of the most populous cities on the earth, is often called the cultural and financial capital of the world. Tracing its origins back to 1624, the city is home to some of the world’s most-recognized landmarks – Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park, et al. But have you ever wondered how New York used to look before all these developments had taken place?

Dan Vanderkam, a Software Engineer at Sidewalk Labs, was curious enough to find out. So he took more than 40,000 images from New York Public Library’s collection from 1870s-1970s and neatly geocoded them on a present-day map over a period of 18 months. The result? An incredible interactive map called OldNYC that lets you see the history behind the places you are oh-so-familiar with!

So put on your sepia-tinted glasses and zoom into the past of the cultural icons you know and love, such as these under-construction scenes of the Manhattan Brooklyn Bridge or ice skaters in Central Park in 1905. The map has a cool little time slider that lets you narrow down your searches to specific time periods as well.

Most of the images used by Dan come from the New York Public Library’s Milstein collection which catalog photographer Percy Loomis Sperr’s works documenting the changes to the city between the late 1920s and early 1940s.

At an event celebrating the launch of the OldNYC website, Dan detailed how the idea for this map germinated when he stumbled upon a historic, incorrectly-labeled image of his neighborhood. “I realized the right way to present this information is not through keywords. The right way to present this information is through maps.”

If you are technically-inclined, you can read about how Dan extracted the images from the library’s photo cards here, and how he generated the training data for the photodetection project here.