Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: 12 photos from the ‘Vehicles’ collection

September 14, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

This week’s display will be a little different than any of the previous ones. As you can see, the category is “Vehicles,” and judging by the one image you just saw, the vehicles will not be run-of-the-mill passenger cars.

Even though my father rarely took pictures of just vehicles, and only then because they were unusual or noteworthy for some reason, cars turn up often his photos. Using the simple definition of “vehicle” — a thing used for transporting people or goods, especially on land — I realized I had dozens of images that included them.

Most of the time those images were buried in a photo that was highlighting something else. So, I had to crop and zoom some images to make the vehicle the prominent item. Sometimes the resulting picture lost some clarity and will appear grainy. A few of the pictures this week have been displayed before, with the focus on something else.

As suggested above, I avoided routine passenger cars. There is a group, however, that I will display later this week that I call “Cars.” It shows normal cars being used for non-routine purposes. The other kinds of vehicles featured later in the week will be commercial trucks, other especially heavy vehicles and, finally, fire-specific vehicles.

Even for the non-car-lovers out there, I hope you find these photos fun to look at.

Today’s photos:

With the exception of this first one, today’s photos show devices that have no source of power built in, and have to be powered by something else — an animal, a person or another vehicle. Interestingly, that leads to what is probably the widest variety of carriers we’ll see all week.

Odd man out: Machine fits no other category, undated

I start the week with the odd vehicle you see above. The drum in the rear is clearly designed to smooth things down — a gravel drive, for example. But the chains on the tires in front would make that task harder. I’m sure I’m missing something, but it’s an interesting sight nonetheless. It doesn’t fit neatly into any of my categories, but I like it, so I decided to start off with it.


Fragile wagon: Fundraising rally, Borough Hall, March 15, 1938

You may have noticed one of these wagons as part of the busy scene posted just a few weeks ago (August 18). But seeing it close up makes you realize how fragile these wagons were, especially meant for use on rutted, uneven dirt roads.


Buggy ride with a purpose: Gasless Sundays, undated

Last week’s coverage of home front efforts to support the Second World War didn’t include everything it might have. During the war, there was a great deal of rationing of food and important materials that required sacrifices from everyone. Gas was a precious wartime commodity, of course. Though civilian use was rationed, there were campaigns to encourage people to use even less. One suggestion — advertised by scenes like this — was to do without your car every Sunday. It’s not clear how many people had an alternative, but this group did.


Actual delivery? Hard to say, Sept. 25, 1936

In the 1950s and ’60s, Borden was one of my father’s regular clients. I don’t think the relationship started this early. But the wagon wasn’t the focus of this picture; the building behind it — a new Post Office on Church Avenue — was the reason for the shot. I don’t know if Borden was still using a horse and buggy to deliver milk products in 1936; there could have been residences or a food store nearby. Or maybe the wagon just drove around for publicity.


Past its prime: Pushcart in decline, undated

Pushcarts were not as widely used in the ’30s as they had been around the turn of the century. That’s why I don’t have many pictures of them, and why this pushcart looks like it’s been in use for decades.


Familiar face: I couldn’t resist, August 16, 1943

You may recognize this adorable face from a posting back on June 4. The focus then was the vegetable market, though I drew attention to this little one and his older sister. Now I’m changing again, to focus on the carriage — a very versatile vehicle to carry the child, and probably some bags of produce and other purchases. It happens to be the best picture I have of a carriage or stroller, so I grabbed the opportunity to show this cute and curious kid one more time.


How many can you find? Toys can be vehicles too, undated

These toys were repaired by firemen and are ready for holiday distribution to kids. I count eight vehicles scattered around, though some are small and obscure.


Virtual vehicle: Probably can’t actually carry anything, c. 1940

Kindergarten at Packer Collegiate Institute. It looks like a vehicle, and that’s enough for me.


Tike on trike: Happily out in the cold, undated

Maybe this was a recent holiday gift. Dressed warmly and smiling, he looks comfy and happy.


I don’t see a kickstand: Ad for Bicycle Institute, undated

It’s not easy to look poised and posed on a moving bike. But she is a professional on a closed track; do not try this at home.


Resting firmly on the ground: Why is this called a float? June 6, 1955

Yes, I’ve drifted a decade out of our usual time period, and to the next borough. But Chinatown is just on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge. This “float” is quite a bit bigger than any of the other items here that rely on power from an outside source, but it still fits the description. The occasion is apparently a civic publicity and/or fund-raising parade. Another piece from this parade will show up later in the week.


Stretching the definition: High-tech at the time, December 1, 1960

It has wheels so it moves, and it carries stuff, so I guess it’s a vehicle. My father’s note identifies it (along with other negatives in the envelope) as “Army Equipment.” Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 20: Photos from the ‘Vehicles’ collection

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