Maxwell Did It!: Photographing the Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1920s-1950s

1950s

Four Roses, Schmidt's, and Sea Nymphs billboards

Summer boardwalk with bathers

African Americans on the Boardwalk
Through the growth and popularity of Atlantic City, the town also gained a sizeable number of African American residents who provided much of the service labor for the tourist trades. By 1900, African Americans comprised nearly a quarter of the permanent population of the town; most worked as seasonal employees who frequently lived in poverty during the winter months. Group photographs taken over the decades, show a diverse mix of races and ethnicities on the Boardwalk, but they do not reveal all of the overtly enforced and tacit rules of social interaction at play in Atlantic City.

Miss America Parade, Sherwin-Williams and Schmidt's billboards

Miss America
In 1921, Margaret Gorman won the Golden Mermaid contest and was crowned the first Miss America. Originally a competition among the winners of various city beauty pageants, the Miss America pageant was conceived solely as a way to extend the tourist season by hosting a major event scheduled after Labor Day. It generated immediate controversy, bad press and complaints from faith-based groups like the YWCA. The pageant was actually abandoned in 1927 under pressure from civic groups, but resumed in 1935 under a different set of guidelines that sought to promote an image of wholesome femininity. The first televised pageant occurred in 1954, with longtime emcee Bert Parks joining a year later. In 2006 the Miss America pageant will take place for the first time outside of Atlantic City, in Las Vegas.

African Americans strolling the boardwalk

Through the growth and popularity of Atlantic City, the town also gained a sizeable number of African American residents who provided much of the service labor for the tourist trades. By 1900, African Americans comprised nearly a quarter of the permanent population of the town; most worked as seasonal employees who frequently lived in poverty during the winter months. Group photographs taken over the decades, show a diverse mix of races and ethnicities on the Boardwalk, but they do not reveal all of the overtly enforced and tacit rules of social interaction at play in Atlantic City.

Miss America Parade

Miss America
In 1921, Margaret Gorman won the Golden Mermaid contest and was crowned the first Miss America. Originally a competition among the winners of various city beauty pageants, the Miss America pageant was conceived solely as a way to extend the tourist season by hosting a major event scheduled after Labor Day. It generated immediate controversy, bad press and complaints from faith-based groups like the YWCA. The pageant was actually abandoned in 1927 under pressure from civic groups, but resumed in 1935 under a different set of guidelines that sought to promote an image of wholesome femininity. The first televised pageant occurred in 1954, with longtime emcee Bert Parks joining a year later. In 2006 the Miss America pageant will take place for the first time outside of Atlantic City, in Las Vegas.

Beach scene with Schlitz and Ballantine billboards