Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870 (“Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library)
A stench map today would include things like urine, rotting pizza, cigarettes and flavored vapors, and whatever unidentified odor of the day is pouring out of the subway. And while these are clearly unpleasant, at least they can be neutralized with some soap and water or the passing of time. But in the 19th century, the stenches of the city were far more permanent, stemming from the various industrial sites across Manhattan and Brooklyn (the five boroughs weren’t yet consolidated).
CityLab has uncovered an historic map from 1870 that shows the locations of New York’s odor-producing industries, including oil refineries, slaughter houses, fat renderers, and gas works. In the 19th century, it was believed that foul odors carried diseases, so the New York City Metropolitan Board of Health created the map of stenches (then known as “offensive trades”) to pinpoint the areas affected.