Summer Scenes in Old New York

The wave of superpremium, creatively flavored ice cream we’re enjoying now is relatively new, but New York has been an ice cream city since the 19th century. By the late 1800s, technology had advanced far enough to turn ice cream from a rare, expensive dessert for the elite into a traditional summer treat for the masses.

In honor of celebrating all the treats of summer, here are a few scenes from New York summers past, courtesy of the New York Public Library’s digital collections. Let them inspire you to savor the remainder of the ice cream high season before—sigh—pumpkin spice latte season sets in.

Washington Market, 1868. Before there was the Union Square Greenmarket, there was the Washington Market in what is now TriBeCa.
Washington Market, 1868. Before there was the Union Square Greenmarket, there was the Washington Market in what is now TriBeCa and the Meatpacking District.

 

A Summer Scene in the Streets of New York
Street vendor serving up ice cream, 1885.

 

Rockaway Beach, 1901. Fortunately, social norms about modesty no longer require women to swim in full-length bathing dresses.
Rockaway Beach, 1901. Fortunately, social norms about modesty no longer require women to swim in full-length bathing dresses.

 

A young boy making ice cream
Boy making ice cream cones, 1912. Child labor is wrong and all, but this seems like a pretty sweet gig.

 

Luna Park in Coney Island, 1917.
Luna Park in Coney Island, 1917.

 

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Rudy Vallée and women in an ice cream eating contest in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, at the New York World’s Fair, 1939.

 

Actors and audience members cool off with ice cream in the Theatre District's Shubert Alley, 1937.
Actors and audience members cool off with ice cream in the Theater District’s Shubert Alley, 1937.

 

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Shaved ice vendor, 1948.

 

Macbeth in Washington Square Park, 1966. An early production of the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as Shakespeare in the Park.
Macbeth in Washington Square Park, 1966. An early production of the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as Shakespeare in the Park.

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