Mid-nineteenth century immigrants inhabited a social world far removed from that of native born, middle class Americans, one often marked by economic hardship. With no government relief and only limited private efforts, poor New Yorkers often searched everywhere for means to survive. This engraving showed people scavenging on garbage barges, searching for coal, rags, and other discarded items that might be used or sold to junk dealers. The picture, according to a Harper’s Weekly editor, showed how some people in New York were forced to “live upon the refuse of respectable folk.”
Source: Stanley Fox, Harper’s Weekly, September 26, 1866—American Social History Project.