What do bacon, ginko trees and Julian Assange all have in common? They're all scents that New Yorkers have complained about—and they all prove that we don't know how good we have it. Because as you can see in the map below, New Yorkers had a lot worse smells to contend with in 1910, like banana oil, gas, fecal odor and "strong fecal odor."


View Manhattan Sewer Smells in 1910 in a larger map

Matthew Frank, who consults on sewer monitoring in NYC, created the map based on information compiled from a 1910 report of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, which the state created to improve the sanitary condition of the harbors, and protect the public health. "It's an unusual perspective on New York's urban geography from a century ago," he told us.

As far as he knows, 1910 was the only year in which the city compiled this kind of data; researchers entered the sewers at 246 places, and tabulated many structural defects as well as “the most pronounced local odors.” He says that industrial activity is to blame for many of the offensive smells of the day: "I am quite happy not living near the tanneries and breweries and paint shops of a century ago!"

As for the worst smells he comes across today, he says it's on Central Park South, "where the horses congregate and horse droppings accumulate." But even so, we should count our lucky nose hairs that we don't live back then: "The streets in 1910 probably had it ten times worse, and the streets in 1890, with no subway and many more horses, probably had it 100 times worse in the volumes of droppings on the road."