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This Rare Footage From The 1920s Shows New Jersey Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Life in New Jersey has changed a lot in the last 100 years and this vintage footage of Newark from 1926-1927 highlights some major differences. The skyline has only gotten more spectacular as trolley cars and trams have been left in the past; the fashion is almost unrecognizable and automobiles have made significant advancements. Still, you’ll see similarities. Newark has been a bustling city for decades and that certainly hasn’t changed.

In the 1920s, Newark thrived. A transportation hub, the city was accessible by rail and by river. Jobs were abundant and New Jerseyans flocked here for culture and education. All sorts of industries could be found here and, at one point, Newark manufactured 90 percent of America’s leather goods. Another accomplishment? The first commercially successful plastic, Celluloid, was developed and produced in the city.

By 1922, Newark had 63 live theaters, 46 movie theaters, and a vibrant nightlife scene; Billie Holiday was a frequent visitor. By some measures, the intersection of Broad and Market Streets (known as the “Four Corners”) was the busiest intersection in the United States. On October 26, 1926, a State Motor Vehicle Department check at the Four Corners counted 2,644 trolleys, 4,098 buses, 2,657 taxis, 3,474 commercial vehicles and 23,571 automobiles. Traffic in Newark was so heavy that the city converted the old bed of the Morris Canal into the Newark City Subway, making Newark one of the few cities in the country to have an underground system.

The city reached its population peak just after WWII, reaching around 480,000 residents (today’s population is approximately 277,000). By this time, the city was already seeing some issues. There were major budget cuts and the city had been slow to recover from the Great Depression. Crime was on the rise as housing projects were built and many residents began to move to neighboring suburbs. Tenement housing was not uncommon and the creation of highways including Interstate 280, the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 78 displaced many residents.

Today, Newark struggles with crime and poverty but it remains a hub of culture and industry. Many major industries are headquartered here including Prudential, PSE&G, Panasonic Corporation of North America, Audible.com, IDT Corporation and Manischewitz. Cultural attractions include the Newark Museum, NJ PAC, Prudential Center and the Jewish Museum of New Jersey. The dining scene is phenomenal with Portuguese cuisine reigning supreme. And, we must absolutely mention Branch Brook Park when talking about Newark – the park is home to largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the United States, having over 4,300 in more than fourteen different varieties. Each year, the park hosts a fun-filled Cherry Blossom Festival; this year’s festivities will take place between April 8 – April 23.

What surprises you most about this footage? Do you remember life in Newark decades ago? For more New Jersey nostalgia, check out this video featuring some of our favorite businesses from days gone by: Old New Jersey Video.

Kristen Koennemann
Kristen is a freelance writer, editor and social-media manager who really loves her state. She's here to share all that New Jersey has to offer with residents and the rest of the world.