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March 11, 2016

35 Vintage Photos Capture Everyday Life of Seoul in the Korean Empire

In the late 19th century, after hundreds of years of isolation, Seoul opened its gates to foreigners and began to modernize. Seoul became the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone, and telegraph systems all at the same time. Much of this was due to trade with foreign countries like France and United States. For example, the Seoul Electric Company, Seoul Electric Trolley Company, and Seoul Fresh Spring Water Company were all joint Korean-American owned enterprises.

In 1904, an American by the name of Angus Hamilton visited the city and said, “The streets of Seoul are magnificent, spacious, clean, admirably made and well-drained. The narrow, dirty lanes have been widened, gutters have been covered, roadways broadened. Seoul is within measurable distance of becoming the highest, most interesting and cleanest city in the East.”

When the Empire of Japan annexed the Korean Empire, it utilized Seoul as the colonial capital. While under colonial rule (1910–1945), the city was called Keijo. Keijo was an urban city that had 2 wards: Keijo itself and Ryusan-ku. Gyeongseong was part of Gyeonggi Province, instead of being an independent city or prefecture as in Joseon and present days.

In 1914, several outer districts of the prefecture were annexed to neighboring Goyang County (now Goyang City, reducing the administrative size of the prefecture. In 1936, Gyeongseong expanded itself as it annexed Yeongdeungpo from Siehung County (Now Siehung City) and recombined some parts of former Gyeongseong districts (Sungin, Yeonghee, etc.) from Goyang County (now Goyang City). The Government-General Building served as the seat of the colonial government of Colonial Korea but was torn down in 1995.

These amazing photographs show what everyday life of Korea in general and Seoul in particular looked like in the early 20th century.

A restaurant in Seoul, ca. 1900

A rustic road near Seoul, 1904

American electric trolley at the South Gate of Seoul, 1903

Charcoal carriers, Seoul, ca. 1900

Chowing down at an old 'greasy spoon' where the food tastes great, Seoul, ca. 1900

First class transportation, Seoul, ca. 1900

Four peace-loving Korean gentlemen at the temple of the god of war, Seoul, 1903

Happy kids with grandma and the water boy, Seoul, ca. 1900

High class dandies on a nature hike, Seoul, ca. 1900

High class family, ca. 1900s

Junks along the Han River at Yongsan, a logging town near Seoul, 1903

Kids on the City Wall, Seoul, 1904

Korean girls testing a new 'short drop' parachute design, ca. 1900s

Officials of the Imperial Department of Communications, Seoul, 1903

On the road in the suburb of Seoul to Beijing, 1903

Pack train on a city street in Seoul, 1903

Pottery packing mountain men, near Seoul, ca. 1900

Public school with a holding cell under the floor reserved for kids, Seoul, 1903

Ready to roll, a high-class girl rides, her servant walks, Seoul, ca. 1900

Shoeing a horse at the blacksmith's home, Seoul, 1903

Smoking, gambling, and gossiping, ca. 1900

The bean grinder, Seoul, ca. 1900

The Chicken Seller, Seoul, ca. 1900

The flying see-saw Korean girls, ca. 1900-05

The hay carrier, ca. 1900

The human back-hoe laying the foundation for a new post office in Seoul, 1903

The rice pounders, Seoul, 1903

The wedding party, Seoul, ca. 1900

Tiger hunters in the hills outside of Seoul, ca. 1900

Two high-class gentlemen killing time, Seoul, 1903

Two kinds of loads on the streets of Seoul, ca. 1900

View from the City Wall, Seoul, Korea, 1904

View from the City Wall, Seoul, Korea, 1904

A happy couple visiting relatives in Seoul, 1903

A Korean drum and bugle corps escorts the grand-master of the emperor's royal stable through Seoul in 1903


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