The Sellers of Shell-fish from 'Street Life in London', 1877, by John Thomson and Adolphe Smith.
This week I stumbled onto a fun collection of old street food photos from my hometown, Los Angeles, which sent me on a hunt for similar photos in other places around the world. From a bicycling onion peddler in Wales to child factory workers on an ice cream break, these ten snapshots give a brief but illuminating look at the past — through street food.
All of the photos come from The Commons on Flickr, a treasure trove of fascinating historical photographs from universities, libraries and national archives around the world. Most of the photos have very little information about their subjects, but some offer a little more backstory, like the haunting photo of children buying ice cream cones from a street cart — haunting because these young children are actually factory workers.
The photographer, Lewis Hine, was an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. This is what he had to say about the children working at the "Kindergarten Factory":
Every child in these photos worked; I saw them at work and I saw them go in to work at 6:30 A.M. and noons and out at 6 P.M. One morning I counted 22 of these little ones (12 years and under) going to work at about 6:15 A.M. Some of them told me their ages: 1 boy said 8 yrs. (worked when he was 7). 1 girl said 10 yrs. (apparently 7). 3 other girls said 10 yrs. 2 boys said 10 yrs. (1 got $3.00 a week).
Of course, not all of these snapshots are so grim. In particular, the bread seller in Istanbul balancing a Jenga-like tower of bread on his head, the Welsh vendor with a big knot of onions tied to his bicycle, and the Dutch customers eating herring are all photos that make me smile.
Which are your favorites?
(Images: Flickr Commons members Nationaal Archief; The U.S. National Archives; University of Washington; Brooklyn Museum; LSE Library; The Library of Congress; The National Library of Wales; Smithsonian Institution; New York Public Library; The Library of Congress)