New York was pretty much a cesspool in the 19th century. "We were a laughingstock," as anthropologist and trash historian Robin Nagle once put it. But in an odd way, New York owes its current success to its refuse—after all, it's built on the stuff.
The ocean has been New York's garbage dump for centuries. It's estimated that 80 percent of our trash ended up in the sea at one time, but plenty wound up lining the city's shore too—starting a long tradition of expanding the city's footprint artificially. By the 20th century, this "landfill" had created many thousands of new acres for the city—what the New York Times wouldcall the "fattening" of the city in 1966.