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American Cities Before they Exploded

Have you ever wondered what our major cities looked like before they became the hubs of activity they're known for today? Every town has a history. And in many cases, it reveals a rich tapestry of events that combined at just the right time and place to create the opportunity for growth. Think of the history of Las Vegas before it was populated with casinos and branded sin city. The 110-acres of land in the desert was auctioned off by a railroad company. Its position between Salt Lake City and southern California made it the perfect stopping point for travelers between the two. The first casino didn't come along until the 1950's. Many more of the same came along, and, well, modern Las Vegas was born.

We can learn a lot from observing the past of today's bigger cities. One thing we can learn is the impact of the unknown. Think of the Boston fire of 1872, or the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. These events forever changed the landscape of the cities they struck permanently. Detroit, a once-bustling city that was at the center of the country's auto manufacturing business, also has a lesson to teach us. Success doesn't last forever. Things happen that can turn even the busiest cities into veritable ghost towns. Here are some images from the past of some of America's biggest cities, taken before anyone knew just how important they would become.

Detroit, Michigan

When driving was novel, the Ford auto was at the top of the game. As the headquarters for the Ford Motor Company, Detroit's manufacturing status brought it to the peak of success.

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Detroit During the Week

This image of Detroit's Highland Park just as the evening shift was getting ready to start at the auto plant. Year: 1916

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New York City Markets

Circa 1900, Mulberry Street in NYC, where skyscrapers didn't fill the line of sight, but fruit and veggie stands spread as far as the eye could see, along with the busy market atmosphere.

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Columbus Circle N.Y.C.

Before ritzy condos took over, Columbus Circle was wide and free,with Central Park showing in the background.

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New York Roads

Once farmland, New York City in 1811 was just beginning to find interest in developers who decided the first step to creating a bustling city was to build some sturdy roads.

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Los Angeles' Central Park

Pershing Square was once known as Central Park. This image shows the greenery looking northwest from 6th and Hill Streets. Year: 1885

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L.A. Bank of America

The old Bank of America building in 1941, when cars were proliferating and the population was growing.

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Oil Fields of L.A.

Los Angeles oil Fields in the early 1900's. At the time, the city was a huge oil hub, with twenty blocks of pumps and machinery.

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Beverly Hills

And then eleven years later, in 1906, when the luxury city of Beverly Hills was created.

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Miami, Florida Swamps

What was once swampland, being made into something more. The year was 1908.

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Future Miami Beach

An aerial view of James Snowden's estate in 1917, before it became home to future mayors and was eventually turned into a hotel.

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Miami as it Grows

The ”American Riviera,” Miami in 1926, as it was on its way to a modern city.

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Columbus, Ohio Before it's Time

Downtown Columbus in 1872, a highly residential area, before commercial buildings overtook the central part of the city.

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Columbus Lazarus Building

In Columbus, the old Lazarus building shown in 1908. The city was beginning to come into its own, the presence of the Dance Academy and Bliss College guaranteed a cultural peak.

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Suburbs of Columbus

The original location of the wealthy suburb Upper Arlington. Once private farmland, the city of Upper Arlington was built between 1915 and through 1918.

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Boston, Massachusetts: Traffic

Was Boston traffic always bad? Kenmore Square, where cars and streetcars shared the space even back in 1928.

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Boston Harbor From Outside

Print of Boston harbor looking inland. Circa 1873. As one of the country's earliest cities, it was already well-established even before the 20th century.

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A Boston Catastrophe

After the great Boston Fire of 1872. The well-populated area was devastated and had to start over in many ways.

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Austin, Texas and Congress Street

One of only a few buildings on now-bustling Congress Street, 912 Congress in 1875. It was owned by A.H. Cook and Son.

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Mount Bonnell Before People

One of the area parks, looking down from above, Mount Bonnell. Now the area to the right of the water below is inundated with homes.

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Austin's Downtown

The region around Driskill and 6th Street has always been a busy place, even before it became the big music scene it is today. Small business owners flocked here from a variety of different cultures.

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San Francisco, California

San Francisco in 1862. The bay area was a bustling place with a lot of charm, even way back when.

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The Arch of Market Street

Market Street and its mystery arch. San Francisco around 1899, supposed to be a welcome home for soldiers who fought in Spanish American War.

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Near Little Italy, S.F.

North Beach, in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Francisco.

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Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle in 1880, long before the grunge movement made it famous.

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Cherry Street, Seattle

The Cherry Street Buildings, showing a historic Seattle vista. The year was 1903.

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Pike Street Streetcar

A streetcar traveling down Pike Street in Seattle, circa 1902. Notice Cordray's Theater house, which had opened less than ten years before this picture was taken.

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The Las Vegas Strip Before the Bustle

The opening of the Hacienda hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, taken in 1956 when the area was more of a suburb than a city.

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Fremont Street, Downtown Las Vegas

Downtown Las Vegas Fremont Street in the 1950s. Looking above from the old railway station. There was no glitz and glamour here yet.

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The Strip in Las Vegas

When Las Vegas was nothing but a strip of land in the middle of the desert, taken in the early 1950s.

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Nathan

Article WriterNathan

Let us introduce you to the Listicle Liege, the Article Aficionado, the one and only Nathan. Since creating his first photo collage at the age of five with images clipped from his mom’s Chatelaine magazines (all of them), it’s been nearly impossible to stem this one’s tide of visual learning. Be it the annals of history or the latest celeb gossip, Nathan has probably researched it, likely already has a folder of relevant photos on his desktop, and definitely learned a lot of interesting facts to go with those images. Whereas most well-read adults have bookshelves full of classic literature, Nathan’s stacks are composed of National Geographic and TIME special editions and a curated section of first-grade readers (for inspiration). If you prefer picture books to wordy novels, listicles by Nathan are right up your alley.

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