Weegee was born in 1899 in the Austrian province of Galicia, today part of Ukraine. His real name was Usher (later Arthur) Fellig and he was the second of seven children from Jewish parents. Weegee's family left Europe in 1910 for New York, but life wasn't easy at that time in the Lower East Side where Weegee attended the local public school. At only fifteen, Weegee left home and in 1917, he got a job in a photo studio where he became an assistant to a cameraman. In 1921, he got a part-time position in the darkrooms of the New York Times and its agency Wide World Photos, soon afterwards switching to Acme News pictures. Eventually, frustrated with the lack of recognition for his work, and not having his name on photographs, he became a freelance news photographer by late 1935.
"People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film."
First published in LIFE, December 6 1943, he gained almost instant success. He specialized on the night shift between 10pm and 5am. His reputation spread quickly for always being one of the first to arrive at a murder scene, a fire, arrest or rescue event. By 1937, his success had earned him profile pieces in LIFE and Popular Photgraphy magazines. In 1938, as one of the first civilians and as the first photographer, Weegee was granted a permit to install and operate a shortwave radio capable of receiving all police and fire transmissions from his 1938 Chevrolet.