161 Duane Street

New York, New York | C.1843

Photo Credit: Corey Cohen

Instead of disarmingly impressive wit and prose, the creators at 161 Duane Street once crafted baleen hoops for horse whips and corset stays out of, you guessed it: Whalebone. (The animal bone, not the magazine.)

In 1864, whalebone cutter William Forster arrived in Manhattan, set up shop and swiftly placed an ad for a shop boy. Fifteen year old George Messmann answered the listing and was hired for a whopping $2 per week. This arrangement would change the lives of both men – and the future of the building & it’s facade – forever.

Messmann continued working at the shop, ascending the ranks to foreman, and eventually bought the business in 1890. It was Messmann himself who painted “WHALEBONE” on the building in the early 1900s, explaining to a reporter from The Sun newspaper, “I had the sign painted large and white because I learned as a mere lad that advertising pays.”

Decades after 161 Duane Street ceased purveying vertebral bric-a-brac, it was converted to a residential building and 1 rumor has it – today at least one Whalebone (magazine) employee calls the place home.

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