Why New York?
"The New Yorkers have got Aladdin's lamp, and build palaces in a night. The city is gay, entertaining, full
of costly things,- but its lavish spending does not result in magnificence, it is showy rather than
fine, and its houses and churches and shops and carriages are expensive rather than beautiful."
- Charles E. Norton
Between 1900 and 1920, Times Square, complete with its popular music, plays, vaudeville shows and consumer goods, became America's national symbol of the increasing consumer culture throughout the country. It took on this role as a vast arena for commercial culture because national decisions turned America into a market economy that began to dominate all aspects of life, especially in the cities. So then the question becomes why did Times Square emerge in New York City?
Long before Broadway was invented in Times Square, it was destined to become the single central marketplace for commerce in America and to be located in New York. Already by the 1860's, New York was evolving into America's central area for commerce and culture, and the country's central marketplace. It was also the center of trade with Europe by 1870 when 57% of all imported and exported goods passed through New York. Although heavy manufacturing that required sources for raw materials began to move towards areas around the Great Lakes, New York held the industries that were most closely related to fashions and commercial culture, such as women's clothing, publishing, and luxury goods. A manufacturer in 1910 said about New York "Those industries which produce products of a standard pattern can locate anywhere...but industries whose products differ with each particular order must be located in or very near their market, in order to be under the constant supervision of their consumers."
During the late 1800's and early 1900's New York also had the largest growing population, and was easily accessible from almost anywhere through rail and canal routes. New York's population rose from 123,706 in 1820 to 813,669 in 1860, and then to over 3,000,000 in 1900. The city also took the lead in canal construction when the Erie canal, connecting New York to the West via Lake Erie, was completed in 1825. New York's uniquely diverse population offered a variety of skills, and every possible kind of service or supply in any quantity. New York also had many publications including newspapers and journals that ranged from Variety to Women's Wear Daily to the Wall Street Journal.
All these qualities of New York - its market, information sources, support services, and press - provided the necessary environment to support writers and performers in the fashion-dominated culture. Therefore long before what became known as Times Square came into existence, New York provided the market for it, and a desirable location.
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