American Studies Home Site Map Gallery of Prints Writing Across the Curriculum Currier & Ives Introduction Currier & Ives Opening

Winter Scenes

A horse-drawn sleigh leaves a farmhouse; wires pulled down during a real blizzard  in New York City.

Numerous of the Currier and Ives prints show sleigh rides, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, and—in general—the beauty of winter. Winter throughout the nineteenth century was harsh, however. While deep snow and cold were terrible enough in a rural area, a farmer at least expected to be self-sustaining no matter what the weather. The rise of cities, on the other hand, also meant a rise in dependency on conveniences such as grocery and dry goods stores, public transportation, delivery services, and electricity for survival. In the newly wired cities, blizzards were devastating.

By the 1880s weather was monitored through 154 local weather stations that telegraphed information to the U.S Army Signal Corps (the nineteenth-century equivalent of the National Weather Service), which boasted that their forecast was accurate eighty-two percent of the time (Murphy 3). In 1888, however, the Corps dismissed as unnoteworthy two storm systems. With winds up to seventy miles per hour, the colliding systems slammed into New England (Murphy 70). Cities—especially New York City—were particularly hard hit by the blizzard, which halted all deliveries, including those of food, milk, and fuel. Around 15,000 homeless children were without shelter during the blizzard (Murphy 74). Workers were trapped in factories or frozen on their way to jobs that they feared they would lose if they did not show up. The fragile economy had led to lay-offs of more than 100,000 workers that year (Murphy 36).

All businesses shut down for several days. With drifts as high as second-story buildings, the streets were impassable. Snow removal was up to individuals.

The city was draped in thousands of miles of live wires. Toppled poles had carried from 100 to 200 wires each, fifty to 150 feet in the air. Every separate electric, telephone, burglar-alarm, and telegraph company, as well as the police and fire departments, ran their own lines and had ignored laws requiring that they be placed underground (Murphy 61).

The three-day blizzard cost businesses nearly three million dollars and killed at least 800 people (Murphy 112).


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