Pictures of Cities, 100 Years Ago vs. Today
French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the world’s first photograph in 1826. Two centuries later, pictures have become an everyday part of life, thanks to the cameras we all have on our phones.
And just like then, when we’re not taking pictures of ourselves, we look at the world around us. Old photos (some over 130 years old ) show how fast technology changed the face of cities.
From Seoul to Cairo, Paris to Mumbai, these historical pictures of cities reveal the past and how we got to the present.
Seoul, South Korea, in the 1930s
In the 1930s, unified Korea (the North did not separate until 1953) was still under Japanese military rule. The Japanese Empire used its colonial power to force Korea into providing food and soldiers to support its imperialist expansion over Asia.
At the time this photograph was taken in Namdaemun Gate, Korea was a poor country suffering mass hunger and an attack on its culture, since Japan prohibited Korean from being taught in schools and people were forced to take Japanese names.
The country was under Japanese rule until the end of World War II and then almost immediately entered the bloody Korean War that split the country in two.
Today, South Korea has one of the highest gross domestic products in the entire world. The wealthy country is known for its advanced technology industry.
As the photos show, Seoul went from an underdeveloped capital city to one of the most futuristic and cool cities in the entire world.
Paris, France, in the Late 19th Century
Men and women in "modern" clothes can be seen crossing into Paris' Ile de la Cite, where Notre Dame is located.
In the late 19th century, Paris was one of the most industrialized and modern cities in the world. Electricity had been around for over 15 years, and France dominated the burgeoning film industry.
Cars weren't invented yet, so fashionable Parisians got around in horse carriages.
In terms of architecture, Paris hasn't changed drastically, thanks to laws that protect its unique beauty.
Other things that haven't changed are the tourists who come to see the City of Lights with their own eyes (though the numbers have gotten much higher), and the general importance of the arts to its residents.
Still, Paris is not by any means a city stuck in time. It was the center of educational reforms in the 1960s, the home of many of the most important intellectuals and artists of the 20th century, and a place that always welcomes new ideas.
Beijing, China, in the Early 20th Century
In the early 1900s, Beijing was still the center of the Qing Dynasty, which started ruling China in 1636. The city was on the cusp of change.
In 1912, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown by the Xinhai Revolution, making it the last dynasty in the history of China.
The Qing Dynasty was succeeded by the Republic of China, which ruled until 1949, when it became the People's Republic of China.
Now the country with the second-highest GDP (after the United States), China is quite different from what it was like at the beginning of the 20th century.
Beijing is a gigantic city with 21.54 million inhabitants. Though you can still visit historical sites from the Qing Dynasty, like the Forbidden City, the Chinese capital is also dotted with skylines and modern buildings.
New York City, United States, in the Early 20th Century
New York is the city that stole modernity away from Europe. A center of commerce, culture and innovation for centuries, the city evolved in the early 20th century. In 1904, the first metro line was open, forever changing the city's mode of transportation.
Wealthy New Yorkers were also some of the first people to begin using automobiles after the Model T became available in 1908. Horse carriages still dominated the streets, but that was not the case for long.
We love looking at historical pictures of U.S. cities in general, but New York's transformation may be the coolest of all.
New York City Today
The City That Never Sleeps was always buzzing, but it's never been as busy as it is today — and somehow that's a good thing.
New York's greatest talent is that there is always something new and exciting happening. The sheer diversity of its population also means that anyone can find something to suit their taste.
It may not be the capital of the U.S., but it is irrevocably the country's most important city.
Mexico City, Mexico, in 1893
During the 1890s, Mexico was under the rule of Porfirio Diaz, a highly controversial political figure blamed for taking land away from indigenous groups and poor farmers but praised for investments in infrastructure and the arts.
As the capital, Mexico City was the economic, political and cultural center of Mexico.
Mexico City Today
While the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is still an important place of gathering, a lot has changed since the 1890s.
During the 1910s, the Mexican Revolution sought to change the corrupt system that favored wealthy landowners. Mexico City at this time became a center of global intellectualism, with writers, artists and politicians gathering here to discuss new ideas.
Today, Mexico City is still one of the busiest, most exciting cities in the world. It has largely been saved from the drug-related violence that has taken over other parts of the country. The city is known for its food, museums and well-funded cultural institutions.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 1964
Oil wasn't discovered in the United Arab Emirates until 1966.
In 1964, Dubai was a center of commerce, particularly for the trade of gold. Investment in infrastructure started in the 1950s.
But Dubai was very much still a small coastal city away from global attention.
In 1966, oil was discovered on UAE soil, forever changing the history of the country. The effect was massive. Looking at the pictures is enough evidence.
In about 60 years, Dubai has gone from a quiet port city to a symbol of modern luxury travel. It attracts international commerce, as well as tourists who like the lavishness it exudes.
Expats make up 85 percent of the city's population, which is absolutely dumbfounding.
London, England, in the Late 19th Century
In the late 19th century, London was the place to be — unless you were a factory worker, an orphan, or simply poor.
If something was invented, there was a good chance that it came out of England. Though the country's dominance with innovation was already being challenged by cities like Paris and New York, there were still many exciting things happening.
Joseph Lister — the person credited with coming up with germ theory and telling doctors that not washing their hands was causing patients to die — lived here during the time. Having doctors who actually cleaned themselves between operations is enough of a reason to crown London as the best city at the turn of the century.
The 20th century for England was largely a century of losing their place as the largest empire in the world, a loss we won't mourn in any way.
While London is no longer the only city where the best and cleanest doctors reside, it is still an incredibly exciting, innovative city. With its eye focused on a greener future, London has been called a world leader in environmental governance.
Tokyo, Japan, in 1933
In 1933, Japan was at the height of its imperial power and caught in endless wars against the countries it invaded and colonized.
Much of this violence was missed by the people of Tokyo, as is often the case with capitals. Rapid urbanization marks the country at large, but particularly in Tokyo, which was one of the most — if not the most — modern cities in Asia at the time.
This photo shows the famous Ginza street in Tokyo.
With 37.44 million people in its metropolitan area, Tokyo is the world's largest city by population. Its Ginza district (shown in both photographs) is famously one of the busiest areas on the entire planet.
While the city is known for being futuristic, technologically advanced, and always loud and busy, traditional Japanese culture is still very much alive in it. You can still find quiet neighborhoods that have not been gobbled up by modernization.
Experiencing both contradicting parts of the city is one of the most exciting things about it.
Cairo, Egypt, in the Late 19th Century
Taken between the 1870s and the 1890s, this photograph shows the centuries-old Cairo Citadel. At the time the photo was taken, Egypt was on a mission to modernize and had undertaken numerous projects that were meant to help it compete against European cities like London and Paris.
Many of these projects did not pan out, and the British Empire used Egypt's massive debt (much of it held by British bondholders) to invade in 1882.
Egypt did not gain independence from Britain until 1922. (Though Cairo remained occupied by British troops until 1956.)
Still one of the most visited cities in the world, Cairo has preserved its historic center quite well. You can visit the breathtaking pyramids and take pictures of camels and pretend to go back in time.
But the rest of the city has rapidly expanded since the late 19th century and continues to do so. As a response, the Egyptian government plans to transfer the capital to New New Cairo (no, that's not a typo), which will be a smart city.
Even if this happens, we think people will continue to want to come to Cairo, which has served as the capital of Egypt for thousands of years.
Sydney, Australia, in the Late 19th Century
Sydney is often misidentified as the capital of Australia, a title it has never held. It is, however, the largest city in the country, a title it has held since the late 19th century.
At this time, British colonial rule over Australia was almost total, after driving Aboriginal peoples deep into the bush or forcing them to assimilate. Sydney grew exponentially since the mid-1900s thanks to a gold rush that had people from all over Asia, Europe and North America come to seek their fortune.
This was a time of great wealth for the city, which resulted in many improvements to infrastructure.
Sydney is still not the capital of Australia, but it does continue to be the country's largest and coolest city (sorry Canberra, being the capital is not enough).
The port city is known around the world for its beautiful beaches and cultural institutions, most notably the iconic Sidney Opera House.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1889
This photograph shows Rio de Janeiro in 1889, the year that Brazil declared independence from Portugal and established itself as a republic.
At the time, Rio was the capital of the Kingdom of Brazil, so it was the location of the coup that changed the history of the country. The port city was a center of commerce, which, tragically, also meant it was a center of slavery, which had been abolished a year before this picture was taken.
Brazil was the last country in Latin America to abolish the trafficking of humans to be used as slaves.
Rio de Janeiro Today
While it is no longer the capital, Rio is Brazil's crown jewel. As the country's second-largest city, it enjoys worldwide popularity thanks to its famous beaches, exciting nightlife and amazing food.
The Christ Redeemer Statue, one of the most iconic landmarks of the city, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The city is also known for its raucous Rio Carnival, the largest carnival on the planet.
Mumbai, India, in 1890
Then known as Bombay, Mumbai was an important center of commerce during the 1980s, particularly for materials like cotton. Like the rest of the country, the city had been under British rule since the 1857 and would continue to be until 1947.
In the 1890s, Mumbai's infrastructure expanded, particularly in terms of rail transportation, which was used for passengers as well as exports and imports.
The eighth-most populous city in the world, Mumbai still trails behind the Indian capital of New Delhi, which is second only to Tokyo.
Nevertheless, Mumbai is is the major center of commerce and trade for India and is one of the world's financial hubs.
Cape Town, South Africa, in 1948
In 1948, Cape Town was already one of South Africa's most important cities. The city enjoyed advanced infrastructure and commerce. Still, the city had not yet expanded into the metropolitan hub it is today.
The above photograph reveals one of the most defining (and heartbreaking) years in South African history. Still a self-governing commonwealth realm under British rule, this was the year that South Africans voted for the National Party, which established apartheid.
Before this year, Cape Town was considered one of the most racially integrated cities in South Africa, with men of all races enjoying equal rights to vote (only white women were allowed to vote until 1983). After 1948, interracial neighborhoods were deemed illegal, and the country suffered legalized racial segregation until the late 1990s.
Cape Town was one of the centers of anti-apartheid movements.
Cape Town Today
As one of South Africa's three capitals, Cape Town is the country's most famous city. Its tourism industry is strong, which is not surprising given its beauty and culture. Beaches and mountains grace the landscape of the city, with South African penguins bathing on its shores.
The city is also famous for its vibrant modernity, as well as its historical landmarks, which include Robben Island. Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 years on this former prison island.
Toronto, Canada, in 1890
Still part of the British Empire, while enjoying relative independence, Toronto was built to mimic European cities.
By 1890, street lights and paved road were already normal in the city, as can be seen in the picture. But the real point of interest here is the horse-drawn carriages, which were replaced by electric streetcars only a year later.
Toronto is Canada's largest city (though not its capital) and has grown to be one of the coolest destinations in North America.
Incredibly diverse, the city is known for its relative inclusivity, as well as for having just about any type of cuisine you could ever crave.
It is also Canada's center of commerce and culture.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1915
In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires was a thriving city that was proudly a center for artists and intellectuals.
For decades, it received large numbers of immigrants from Europe, particularly during World War I and the Spanish Civil War. This influx helped consolidate it as the most globally recognized South American city of the time.
The Teatro Colon, which opened in 1908 (seven years before this photograph was taken) had already established itself as one of the world's most important theaters.
Buenos Aires Today
Decades of dictatorships, wars and recessions in the 20th century have destabilized the economy of Argentina. Still, Buenos Aires has kept its head up high and continues to be one of the most exciting cities in South America.
Great wine, perfect steak and a good nightlife keep things lively around the city. Impressively, Teatro Colon is still considered one of the top 10 opera houses in the world.