Edward Ewing Pratt.

Industrial causes of congestion of population in New York City online

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University of California.




Volume XLIII] [Number 1

Whole Number 109






As&iMant ProftsKor of Eronornics (uul Statistics
New York School of Philanthropy



London : P. S. King & Son

191 I


Copyright, 1911



« C €


The subject of congestion of population, especially in
reference to New York City, has been widely discussed, but
as yet the data presented have been lacking in definiteness.
Wise and well known governmental commissions have held
solemn conclave and have taken the testimony of eye-wit-
nesses. They have announced their findings in well chosen
but almost numberless recommendations. In spite of this
mass of material the author of this monograph hopes that
this contribution may still be of value.

The importance or conclusiveness of the facts and of the
subsequent deductions must not be overestimated. The num-
ber of employers interviewed has not been large but is rep-
resentative. The number of workers included forms a
comparatively small proportion of the great total in New
York City, but they are not unlike other workers. While
he recognizes certain limitations in his methods of investiga-
tion and in his manner of presentation, the author still hopes
that his work will be valuable as throwing light on the big
problem of congestion. His study dofs not pretend to be
exhaustive, but aims to segregate and examine intensively
a small but important part of the whole, — a part which is
closely related to other phases of the problem of which the
author has not treated.

Undoubtedly the most valuable portion of this work is the

statistical matter. Some of the tables have been placed in

Appendix II merely for the sake of convenience as they are

referred to freriuently in the text. Percentages have been

5] 5



used almost wholly. In many cases where the number of
frequencies is very small a comparison of them means little,
but it was thought best to pursue a uniform plan through-

This study was orginally undertaken for the Exhibit of
Congestion of Population which was held in the spring of
1908. A bit of the material was shown at that exhibit;
later the study was considerably enlarged while the author
was a Fellow in the Bureau of Social Research in the New
York School of Philanthropy. At all times the ready ad-
vice and helpful counsel of Professor Henry R. Seager
of Columbia University has been invaluable. The author's
obligations to Professor Roswell C. McCrea of the School
of Philanthropy can scarcely be discharged by this acknowl-
edgment. The author is also indebted for help, criticisms
and suggestions to Professors H. L. Moore, E. R. A.
Seligman. J. B. Clark, S. M. Lindsay and E. T. Devine of
Columbia University. Many of the statistical tables have
been compiled by Miss Dora Sandowsky, whose work has
been painstaking and careful. To the Russell Sage Founda-
tion are due sincere thanks for making possible whatever
breadth of scope this study has attained.

Edward Ewing Pratt.

New York City, March ii, 191 i.



Preface 5

Introduction 9

Congestion of Population in New York City 26

Reasons Given by Manufacturers for the Location of their Factories. 45

Causes of the Location of Factories 92


The Distribution of Workers Employed in Manufactures in New
York City: Manhattan below Fourteenth Street 116


The Distribution of Workers Employed in Manufactures inGreater
New York and Environs 147

Conclusions and Remedies 189

Methods of Investigation 215

Statistical Tables 242

Bibliograpliy 249

7) 7


From time to time attention has been drawn by econom-
ists and sociologists to the world-wide movement of popu-
lation from the country to the cities. This concentration
of population and the growth of cities should be carefully
distinguished from the increasing intensity or congestion of
population in certain sections of large urban areas. The
former phenomenon is universal in this country and abroad,
the latter is confined to a few of the principal cities. As
concentration of population in cities was one of the leading
social phenomena of the nineteenth, so congestion bids fair
to underlie the most critical social problems of the twentieth

The present essay will not attempt, beyond the briefest
summary, to deal with the causes or status of the move-
ment of population from the country into the cities. Nor
will it attempt to make a complete study of the problem of
congestion. It will seek merely to isolate, to analyze and
to investigate some of the factors which have made for the
very great density of population in New York City. That
city is without doubt the most extreme example of conges-
tion, and as a laboratory for research it is unequaled. The
specific set of factors or causes of congestion which will be
dealt with in the following pages are industrial. The
writer recognizes other economic causes, and still other
causes which may be called social, lliese are important,
they are not to be underestimated, but they lie without the
91 9


field which is defined here. A study of the industrial causes
•of congestion will comprehend the factors which have deter-
mined the location and congestion of industries in New
York City, and the part which they have played in the exist-
ing congestion of population. It may be found that such a
study of a specific phase of a large problem will suggest
some method of alleviation. It cannot, of course, lay claim
to be the foundation of a complete remedy.

It may not be out of place to consider, in view of some
existing confusion, the definition of certain terms which
will occur with some frequency. Concentration of popula-
tion describes the movement of population from the thinly
populated districts to certain large centres. Concentration
is the collection or agglomeration of people at certain well-
defined points. Concentration of industries, likewise, is the
grouping of industries in certain advantageous locations.
Concentration is merely the antithesis of dissemination or

Congestion of population or of industries, while one of
the results of concentration is not concentration per se nor
is it one of the necessary results. Congestion is the undue
congregation of business or population on a limited area of
land. What degree of congregation should be termed undue
varies from place to place and from time to time, according
to the use to which the land is put, according to the type
of construction that is put upon it. and the manner and
character of its inhabitation. To lay down a hard and fast
rule as to the number of people who can be accommodated on
an acre of land, or to find a numerical measure or co-efficient
-of congestion is as hopeless as it is unnecessary. A given
acre of land may then be said to be congested when the mere
congregation of industries or population upon it is, in itself,
prejudicial to the physical, mental or moral well-being of its
inhabitants. A high degree of concentration of population


may take place without congestion ; it is possible, although
not usual, that congestion may exist without a large amount
of concentration.

Overcrowding more accurately, perhaps, than any other
term, describes the actual living conditions of the inhabitants
of any given congested area. Overcrowding is the excess-
ively intensive utilization of buildings. Here again a math-
ematical point beyond which conditions may be described as
overcrowded, or a standard of overcrowding, is not possible
of attainment. Conditions of overcrowding vary with the
size of rooms, the method and effectiveness of ventilation,
the lighting, sanitary and hygienic conveniences, and a mul-
titude of other elements. Again, the test must be the effect
upon tlie individual who lives in the given environment.
Overcrowding may occur wiiere neither concentration nor
congestion exists. It is more likely to occur, however, in
concentrated urban centres, and most likely, in congested
districts. The causes of overcrowding are heightened and
aggravated by concentration of population, and, to a greater
degree, by congestion.

The writer will, therefore, in the following discussions,
confine the use of the term concentration of population to the
phenomenon of the growth of cities, which is not subject to
any measurement except in particular cases. The term
congestion will be limited to congregation of population or
industries on given land areas, and will usually be measured
per acre. Overcrowding, then, will be confined to condi-
tions existing within a building and will be measured per
room, or i>er cubic foot.

Congestion of population is usually dependent upon con-
centration, and as cities increase in size, congestion be-
comes more intense. The fundamental causes of concen-
tration must, then, be brought clearly into the foreground.


These are to be found ^ in the great and general economic
development which has taken place in the last two centuries
in methods of production and distribution, which may be-
summarized as follows :

(a) The divorce of men from the soil, the result of im-
provements in agriculture and agricultural machinery, which
make it no longer necessary for so large a portion of the-
population to engage in the process of supplying food for-
the community.

(b) The growth of commercial centres, that is. the
gradual evolution of the self-centred economic unit from-
the town economy to the national economy and then to
world economy, which has gone along, step by step, with-
the development and improvement of transportation.

(c) The growth of industrial centres caused by the great
development of machinery and the processes of production,
the rise of factories and the utilization of labor which could
no longer be economically employed in agriculture. Hence
the rise of factory towns and industrial centres.

New York City is the example par excellence of con-
centration of population. At the basis of her growth are
the fundamental causes of concentration. Aside from these
there are other and more immediate causes. These have-
brought together at this particular point the greatest urban
population on the continent.

New York City is peculiarly fitted by nature for the im-
portant role she has played in the economic development of
the country. Located on a sheltered, deepwater harbor,.
New York affords the finest port on the Atlantic coast.
Glaciers which gouged out the river beds and deposited
rich soil in the valleys converged c^t this point. The topo-
graphy of the country has closely confined the best routes of

1 Cf. Weber, " The Growth of Cities," passim.


•communication from the West to the East, to the valleys
of the Mohawk and the Hudson. New York City has,
therefore, become the gateway to the Western Continent.

Similarly, because of the geological formation of the
harbor, the largest proportion of the trade and commerce
•of the port has been confined to Manhattan Island. Staten
Island and Long Island have been, until the last two de-
cades, almost useless for commercial purposes; they are com-
pletely surrounded by water and permit no direct inland com-
munication. On the other side, the shores of New Jersey
are low and swampy and the water is shallow. Within a
few hundred feet of the Hudson a high bluff rises abruptly,
making transportation difficult and expensive. On the
contrary, Manhattan Island is surrounded by deep channels
and abrupt rocky banks. These facilities for commerce and
communication have made the island the most precious par-
cel of land on the continent and have been important factors
in attracting a large and heterogeneous population.

Two events early in the nineteenth century gave a great
impetus to the growth of the city. Of these the first was the
perfection of the steamboat, by Fulton and Livingston in
1807. This marked a new era of transportation in this coun-
try'. It was an especially significant event in the history of
New York City, because the city has largely developed her
trade and manufactures with the aid of steam transportation.
The second event was the opening of the Erie Canal in
1825. The Canal provided direct water communication be-
tween the seaboard and the regions around the Great Lakes,
by way of New York. The Erie Canal entirely changed
the direction of the internal commerce and made New
York City the hub of trade and commerce. Later the
railroads, following the best routes, centred their terminals
at this port. The magnificent harbor and the gradual de-
velopment of transportation routes from New York to the


West, attracted the principal steamship lines which operated
between Europe and America. Thus New York City be-
came the gateway to the New World, not only for trade and
commerce, but for the great tide of immigration which be-
gan about the middle of the century. No doubt the ease
with which the immigrant has been able to reach New York
has aided greatly in the growth of the city. The continu-
uously large proportion of foreign born in the population
substantiates this view.

The causes of congestion of population may be divided
into two main classes, first, those due to certain forces
which are operating constantly and steadily, or have so oper-
ated, to bring about congestion of population ; secondly, those
causes of congestion which are due to the failure on the part
of the community to provide necessary safeguards. These
two groups of causes may be termed positive and negative.
Each group may in turn be divided into causes which are
everywhere operating and causes which obtain only in par-
ticular places. The latter are here confined to those factors
to be found in the situation in New York City. Of the
general causes of congestion two main groups may be dis-
tinguished, the economic and the social. It is sometimes
difficult to draw a hard and fast line between the two, but I
shall attempt by this means to emphasize the important
phases of each.

The growth and concentration of industries, trade and
commerce are usually due in the first instance to peculiar
local advantages which make a particular place desirable for
the location of business enterprises. These advantages be-
ing given, the increase of industry and business induces a
larger and larger population which must live in the immedi-
ate vicinity. The advantages of any population centre are
usually located within a small area. In this area trade,
commerce and industries tend to concentrate. The ad-


vantages of a particular location may be the result of the
intersection of two rivers, or the juncture of several rail-
roads, or the presence of a harbor, or the mouth of a river.
The desirable sites are necessarily limited and hence all kinds
of industrial and commercial establishments tend t o con -
centrate within a small and favored district.

It is a truism that population is dependent upon its means
of support. It is by no means an even settled conviction,
however, that the residence of workers is closely dependent
upon their place of employment. It is certain, nevertheless,
that population must live within an accessible distance of its
place of work. Hence, it is scarcely necessary to point out
how important a cause of congestion of population the con-
^centration of industry, trade and commerce becomes.

Another almost axiomatic statement is that the poor in-
habit the congested districts of a city. This is in part due to
their poverty, the very smallness of their incomes. But we
also find a fringe of the most poverty-stricken around the
boundaries of any large city. There is a large class of poor,,
however, who find the central part of any city advantageous
for residence. The casual laborers find in congested dis-
tricts greater opportunity for work; the housewife finds a
convenient method of eking out her husband's slender earn-
ings in home work; the penniless immigrant finds the con-
gested centre eminently satisfactory as a starting point for
his new life; even the efficient workman counts the carfare
to distant points a drain on his income and locates near the
industrial districts. But the districts which provide all
these things for the p(X)r are limited in size and hence
buildings must be erected w^hich will house many families.
The rooms in these houses are then crowded to the extent
which the desires or necessities of the occupying families

Some part of most congested populations is due to


faulty systems of taxation and more especially faulty meth-
ods of assessments. Certain land is taxed as unimproved
property, at very low rates, which permits the owner to
hold it out of the market without building upon it.
This may be the case even in the heart of a congested
district. Further, the best improvements are usually taxed
the highest, regardless of their earning power or their ad-
vantages or disadvantages from the point of view of so-
ciety. Hence, a model tenement, because it is a more costly
building, is taxed more than a tawdry, unsafe rookery, in
spite of the fact that the latter may be returning the larger
net profits. Seldom are the social consequences taken into

Closely linked with faulty taxation is speculation in land.
As a cause of congestion it cannot be passed over without
consideration. Speculation in land values usually takes one
of two forms, either the holding of land for a rise in value,
or the anticipation of a future rise in value in the present
improvements. The speculator of the first type usually
allows land to lie dormant until its value shall have risen
and rewarded him with a goodly profit. The speculator of
the second type believes that land in a certain locality will
in the future be in demand for homes, accordingly he builds
houses, in anticipation of those needs. If he builds in the
outlying districts he may erect two or three story flats; if
he thinks the district in which he is operating will be sub-
ject to a peculiarly acute demand, he will run up tenements
in anticipation of this need. The building speculator, then,
by providing accommodations for a large and congested
population, in advance of present demands, is a constant
constructive cause of congestion.

The economic causes of congestion, those causes in which
the economic motive is uppermost, may be summarized as
follows: (a) the concentration of industries, trade and com-
merce; (b) the close dependence of population upon the


means of support; (c) poverty and small incomes; (d)
faulty systems of taxation and assessment; (e) speculation
in land values.

XForemost among the causes of congestion which are pre-
dominantly social, is the so-called gregariousness of certain
classes of people. Usually this trait is ascribed to certain
classes — the poor, the unskilled workmen, the petty trades-
men, or to certain nationalities, as the Italians, the Slavs, or
to a race, the Jews. /There is no doubt truth in the as-
sumption that certain classes or nationalities do group to-
gether, sometimes in the most congested districts, but that
this trait of the mere gregariousness of peoples is an im-
portant cause of congestion, is scarcely proved. Conscious-
ness of kind holds great groups of people together, and these
natural instincts do tend to bring similar people together,
and they often find convenient and sometimes not uncon-
genial homes in the congested districts.

Some students of the problem of congestion have dis-
covered the fact that in the most congested districts there
are to be found the largest proportions of aliens. The con-
clusion is then drawn that congestion is due to immigration.
The best that can be said of this generalization is that it is
indeed a hasty one. There is. however, some basis for this
conclusion. It is a matter of common knowledge that cer-
tain nationalities and certain races tend to group them-
selves in certain localities. This tendency is so strong that
there are often to be found little colonies in a large city
whose members are from the same village in Sicily or
Russia. Little Italy, Bohemia, the Ghetto, are common
terms indicating those districts which are inhabited largely
by persons from one nation. These names usually signify
more than this, they are usually " slums ". the congested
and crowded quarters of the city. This tendency for people
to group themselves together in a strange land is most na-


tural. The newly arrived immigrant seeks his friends or
relatives, — if he has none, he seeks companionship where
he can be understood and where he can understand. From
this little nationality group he makes his start in the struggle
of the New World. These steady accessions of newly ar-
rived immigrants no doubt augment the crowded districts,
but they are scarcely an important cause. Chicago has and
has had for decades a proportion of aliens almost as large
as New York City, and yet the intensity of congestion there
does not apprc^ach that of New York City. Similar ten-
dencies of congregation among immigrants are found in
sparsely settled Minnesota and the Dakotas. in the mining
towns of Pennsylvania, and in the mill towns of New Eng-
land, but we do not find congestion. These differences may
be simply of degree, but a more logical explanation, no
doubt, is that there are other and perhaps more fundamen-
tal causes at work.

One of the most powerful lodestones of the city is the
city itself, and within the city, the centre is the magnet.
These advantages of the city and the centre of the city are
not purely pleasurable, but are social in the best sense of
the word. Tt is at the centre of a great city like New York
that educational and cultural facilities are found most highly
developed. As a shrewd employer of men once said, " A
man can get more for nothing in New York City than he
can buy with his whole wage in a small town." True, he
can get more pleasure, more excitement, more education,
than he can anywhere else. The city contributes to every
side of a man no matter how varied his nature. This is
true in general of the city; it is preeminently true of the cen-
tre of the city's population, where congestion has occurred
or is likely to occur.

A consideration of the social causes of congestion would
scarcely be complete w-ithout reference to that perverse in-


dividualism which we are wont to call democracy. It is that
pseudo-democratic sentiment that i>ermits men to use their
property in the way that yields them the greatest benefit and
permits men to live as they see fit, to tiie detriment of
themselves and of society. As long as the majority of us
hold these ideals, so long will we permit the overcrowding
of our cities.

Important as are the causes of congestion which have been
discussed, in every city local factors are ev^en more influen-
tial. As relating to New York City, two such factors are of
great consequence, first, the natural and physical peculiar-
ities of the vicinity, and, second, the converging of transpor-
tation routes.

The most potent factor in shaping the history and de-
velopment of New York City, has been the peculiar shape
of Manhattan Island, and the comparative disadvantages
of other available districts. Y Practically the entire trade of
the city has been confined, until recent years, to lower Man-
hattan. There the great steamship lines have landed, there
the great exchanges have grown up, and there also have
grown up great industries. Only the veritable lack of
standing room has hitherto forced the occupation of less
intensely desirable districts.

Probably as a result of the peculiar shape and fomiation
of Manhattan and New York Harbor, at least growing out
of them, has been the convergence of transportation routes
upon lower Manhattan. /(For many years the only communi-
cation between Manhattan and the other boroughs was by

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Online LibraryEdward Ewing PrattIndustrial causes of congestion of population in New York City → online text (page 1 of 19)