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Exploring the Hilarious Noise Complaints of 1930s New York

The irritating sounds of Manhattan's Jazz Age included yelping newsboys, river dredgers, a marching band of orphans, and a fog siren.
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New York City

For those with delicate ears, New York City in the 1930s was a 24-hour nightmare. The city rumbled, squeaked, mewed, and tooted thanks to the aural diarrhea of ice deliverers, cattle-car operators, jazz players, river dredgers, steam whistle-happy boat captains, cats, dogs, chickens, and construction workers shooting rivets into everything in sight.

The cacophony that thundered through New York in the Jazz Age has now received proper cartographic attention from Emily Thompson, a historian at Princeton who studies acoustic innovation and the historical "emergence of excessive noise," according to her MacArthur "genius grant" bio. Back in 2002, Thompson penned a book about noise and architecture called The Soundscape of Modernity, which triggered a flood of people bugging her to work up a companion piece that you could actually, you know, hear. More than a decade later the result is here for all to savor: The Roaring 'Twenties, an interactive map of roughly 600 peevish, outraged, and frequently hilarious noise complaints from 1926 to 1932.