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Updated: May 24, 2021

From colonial times up until World War 2, May 1st was Moving Day, the one day a year when people in New York City moved. It’s said that the tradition came from the Dutch, who set out for Manhattan on May 1st and therefore celebrated each year by swapping homes on this day. All yearly leases began on May 1st.

Landlords had to notify their tenants of rent increases on February 1st, which would take effect three months later at 9am. Tenants waited until May 1st to move, and the streets would be filled with “moving vans,” Long Island farmers’ wagons led by horses, clogging up the city streets and creating complete pandemonium.

“During the last two weeks in April of each year the cartmen begin to put on a few extra airs, and look and act with more importance than at any other time during the year. Everybody then calls him Mr. Cartman…when the first of May arrives.

Finally, the city began to regulate prices to discourage gouging. Per 1890 laws, it cost $2 per one-horse truckload within two miles and a whopping 50 cents per extra mile.

At the height of Moving Day in the early 20th century, it was estimated that a million people in the city all changed their residences at the same time. Resistance to Moving Day was strong in the 1920s and 1930s, but it took the start of World War II to end the general practice, as the moving industry found it difficult to find able-bodied men to do the work. The post-war housing shortage and the advent of rent control finally put an end to the custom for good.


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