Jacob Riis

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by SharonGillette
Last updated 7 years ago

Social Studies
Historical biographies

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Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1870 when he was 21 years old. He came over in the steerage compartment of a ship like many other immigrants. The only things he had were the clothes on his back, lock of his girlfriend's hair, and $40. When he got to New York City, he was unable to find a steady job. To survive he begged, lived on charity, and did manual labor like digging ditches and laying bricks as a day worker. This inspired him to try and make living and working conditions better for new immigrants.


Teddy Roosevelt was the NYC Police Commissioner when Riis worked as a police reporter. He once called Riis, New York's most useful citizen.Flash photography was a new invention and it helped Riis take pictures inside dark tenements.After his death, the city of NY remembered Riis by naming a park in his honor.

Riis finally got a job as a reporter for the police department. He started taking photographs to document the poverty and horrible living buildings of the immigrant slums. Eventually, his photographs were published in a book called, How the Other Half Lives. This book shocked wealthy New Yorkers and inspired them to set up charities to help the new immigrants. It also caused officials in New York to pass new laws and codes to make housing safer and cleaner.


“...every man’s experience ought to be worth something to the community from which he drew it, no matter what that experience may be, so long as it was gleaned along the line of some decent, honest work.” - From How the Other Half Lives, 1890"Bad boys and bad girls are not born, but made…They are made bad by environment and training. The children must have room to play." - Riis also advocated for parks and other open spaces.


"About Jacob Riis: Richmond Hill Historical Society." Richmond Hill Historical Society. Richmond Hill Historical Society, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015."Jacob Riis." Karina Schroeder. N.p., 14 Mar. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.Stamp, Jimmy. "Pioneering Social Reformer Jacob Riis Revealed." Smithsonian. N.p., 27 May 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.United States. National Park Service. "Jacob Riis Biography." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.


Jacob RiisMuckraking Photojournalist for Social Change1849-1914

Children sleeping on Mulberry Street, ca.1890. (Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York)

Lodgers in a crowded Bayard Street tenement, 1889. (Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York)

"Fun" Facts

A typical tenement, ca.1890. (Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York)


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