His reputation survived, as did his searing words. But the revolutionary photographs almost did not. For many years they moldered in one of the former Riis family homes, until that building was scheduled for demolition in 1946. The owner, who knew little about the former tenant’s significance, stumbled across a box of photographs before the wrecking ball started swinging. The box contained 412 glass plates, 161 slides, and 193 paper photos. Fortunately for posterity, the owner tracked down the location of a Riis descendant and carried the box over to the proper Manhattan address. Nobody answered the door, so the bearer of this visual legacy placed it on the doorstep and walked away. 

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Steve Weinberg is the author of eight nonfiction books. His most recent book, Taking on the Trust: How Ida Tarbell Brought Down John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, has just been published in a paperback edition.