Picture postcards of the French Market have been popular with visitors to New Orleans since the 1890s. This image of five young boys in a mule cart was just one of many taken in the French Market by an unnamed photographer working for the Detroit Publishing Company, founded in the late 1890s as the Detroit Photographic Company. Until about WWI, the company’s primary business was to take black-and-white photographs of “exotic” places around the United States and then publish them as colorized postcards, using its exclusive color process called “Photochrome.” 

It was only natural that the company’s photographer found great scenes in the French Market, which has lured artists and photographers for over a century. From its early 19th century beginnings to the late 1960s, the market was a lively Caribbean-like outdoor commercial center where farmers, merchants and fishermen of all ethnic and racial groups sold their goods. A 19th century visitor described the vast number of languages spoken in the market as “a ceaseless babble of tongues that is simply bewildering.” The market’s exotic scenes and people so impressed the French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, who came to New Orleans in 1872 to visit his mother’s family, that he wrote to friends in Paris, stating: “Everything attracts me here. I am accumulating plans which would take ten lifetimes to carry out.” The Detroit Publishing Company had the same idea.

The old French Market shown here got a major facelift in the 1930s when the Works Progress Administration added modern facilities and rebuilt the Farmers Market near Barracks Street. 

The market we see today emerged in the early 1970s when Mayor Moon Landrieu and the French Market Corporation launched renovations that rebuilt the 1830s Red Store and converted vegetable and seafood stalls into modern shops and tourist attractions.