Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis

Jacob August Riis was a renowned social reformer from America who was also a famous journalist and social documentary photographer. He put a lot of efforts to improvise the New York City with the help of his photography and journalism talent. He is one of the main founders in the development of the city and practicable casual photography,

Birth: Jacob Riis was born on May 3, 1849 and he passed away on May 26, 1914.


Jacob was born in Ribe, Denmark and his father was a school teacher. He was also involved in writing for a local news paper. He had a happy childhood with his parents. He lost one his brothers at an early age which impacted him badly because his mother got a severe shock. His father wanted him to become a literary man but he had a dream to become a carpenter. Later on his family shifted to different place for better livelihood.


Jacob was not very fortunate to get quality education. He has been guide by a Catholic Monk from Fordham College and tried to learn many things. He also got religious education in his family environment. He learned about the photography and journalism. His main passion of life was to utilize his knowledge and abilities for the wellbeing of his native place New York City.


Jacob started his career as a city editor for Long Island Newspaper. He soon realized that the chief editor was dishonest and he decided to quit after two weeks only. He then joined a weekly newspaper and started writing informative articles. Riis worked hard at his newspaper and earned money so that he can clear his all debts. He was now feeling strength because of the fact that he can target the corrupt politicians for whom he was working previously. Riis was still anxious and searching for more impressive medium to express his feelings. He decided to use photography as a powerful tool to exhibit the real world in more impressive manner.


He was involved in many activities at different levels. He wrote an eighteen page article named’ ‘How the Other Half Lives’ for Scribner’s magazine. Later on this collection took a form of an entire book. He took initiative to expose the existing bad water supply in the New York City. He published the article ‘Somethings We Drink’ and created a sensation on the affected area. He was very compassionate for the down trodden people and started many initiatives to upgrade their quality of life like education, medical facilities, sanitation, proper housing and many others.


Jacob Riis was given respect and honor in many ways. He has been awarded for his keynote contribution in the field of social reform, constructive photograph to improve the living conditions in the great New York City. Many places have been named after Jacob Riis like Jacob Riis Park, on Rockway Peninsula; Jacob Riis Triangle, in Richmond Hill; Jacob Riis Playground, at Babbage; Jacob Riis Community School, in New York City; Jacob Riis Settlement House, in Queens; Jacob Riis Park Historic District, Jacob Riis Houses of NYCHA at Avenue D(Manhattan).

Jacob Riis Quotes

The slum is the measure of civilization.
- Jacob Riis

The more I live, the more I think that humor is the saving sense.
- Jacob Riis

Some defeats are only installments to victory.
- Jacob Riis

When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.
- Jacob Riis