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39-page Jacob Riis manuscript on the Firefighters of New York

RIIS, JACOB.. (English) Autograph Manuscript Signed, “Heroes Who Fight Fire.”

New York, 1898

39 pages. 8 1⁄2 x 11 in. Approximately 9000 words, complete with Riis’s revisions, written on rectos only. Signed “Jacob A. Riis” on first and last pages. Some minor tears and chips, heavily worn final page has been affixed to another sheet for added stability, otherwise very good condition.

[with:] the first printing of the essay in Century Magazine, February, 1898, published with 8 illustrations by Jay Hambidge. Original wrappers.

An outstanding Jacob Riis manuscript on New York’s firefighters. Riis wrote “Heroes Who Fight Fire” for Century Magazine, and it later appeared as a chapter in his book, Children of the Tenements (1903).

Riis’s vivid portrayal of the heroism of New York City’s firemen echoes the praise one hears today from the city’s officials and citizens: “Take it all in all, there is not, I think, to be found anywhere a body of men as fearless, as brave, and as efficient as the Fire Brigade of New York.” His essay is filled with stories of amazing and tragic events in and around the Lower East Side tenements.

Jacob Riis became famous in 1890 upon publication of his first book, How the Other Half Lives. After living in squalid circumstances himself during his first years in America, Riis, who emigrated at the age of 21, eventually secured a position as a police reporter at the New York Tribune and then later at the New York Sun. While there, he spent his nights documenting the life of those living in the Lower East Side tenements, epitomizing the style of reporting for which Theodore Roosevelt, Riis’s close friend, later coined the term “muckraking.”

Riis first drew the interest of Theodore Roosevelt, then head of the New York Police Board of Commissioners, with the release of How the Other Half Lives. Roosevelt accompanied Riis on a number of late-night expeditions into the tenements, prompting Roosevelt to take reform measures. When Roosevelt took office, he offered Riis a high-ranking political position. Riis declined, explaining, “to represent is not my business. To write is; I can do it much better and back up the other; so we are two for one.” Riis’s promotion of progressive social reform led Roosevelt to call him “New York’s most useful citizen.”

“Jacob Riis was one of those men who by his writings contributed most to raising the standard of unselfishness, of disinterestedness, of sane and kindly good citizenship, in this country … If I were asked to name a fellow-man who came nearest to being the ideal American citizen, I should name Jacob Riis” (Theodore Roosevelt, The Outlook, 1914).