Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Brooklyn is big. If it were its own city, and not part of Gotham, its 2.5 million residents would make up the fourth largest metropolis in the United States. Brooklyn covers almost a hundred square miles of intensely varied terrain, from the beaches of Coney Island and Sea Gate to the brownstones of Park Slope and the thronging sidewalks of Williamsburg—a neighborhood filled with stoop-shouldered young men who, evidently, can afford fedoras but have difficulty finding socks, or pants that fit.

There’s cobblestoned Dumbo; the mean streets of East New York; the mansions of Brooklyn Heights; the tree-lined avenues (and, miracle of miracles, driveways) of Ditmas Park; the glories of Prospect Park; the soaring container cranes of Red Hook; the unnameable, party-colored, aromatic ooze of the Gowanus Canal.

The borough boasts countless ethnicities, creeds and religions. It’s somehow wildly bustling and unselfconsciously low-key at the same time. It has given the world memorable phrases (fuhgeddaboudit) and immortal delicacies (the egg cream with no egg and no cream). Brooklyn is cool.

These photos of Brooklyn, made by LIFE’s Ed Clark right after World War II, show something that’s long been elemental to the borough’s enduring appeal: a free-wheeling and unpretentious self-confidence.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

View of the Manhattan Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with that island across the East River, 1946.

View of the Manhattan Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with that island across the East River, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

From photographer's notes: "Trolleys & tracks at corner of Flushing Ave., Graham & Broadway."

Trolley tracks on the corner of Flushing Ave., Graham and Broadway. The last trolleys in Brooklyn stopped running in 1956.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn, New York, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Corner of Middagh and Hicks, Brooklyn Heights, 1946.

Corner of Middagh and Hicks, Brooklyn Heights, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Jumping rope on Siegel Street near Humboldt, Brooklyn, 1946.

Jumping rope on Siegel Street near Humboldt, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

City veterans housing project, Canarsie, Brooklyn, 1946.

City veterans housing project, Canarsie, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Laundry out to dry, Brooklyn, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn street scene, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Unidentified Brooklynite, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Taking the sun on a Brooklyn rooftop, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Listening to a Dodgers-Giants ballgame on the radio, Brooklyn, 1946.

Listening to a Dodgers-Giants ballgame on the radio, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Ebbets Field, 55 Sullivan Place, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Dodgers ballgame, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1946.

Dodgers ballgame, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Dodgers fans, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1946.

Dodgers fans, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Jack Kaufman outside his barber shop on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn in 1946, holding a signed baseball that once beaned future Hall of Famer Joe Medwick.

Jack Kaufman outside his barber shop on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn in 1946, holding a signed baseball that once beaned future Hall of Famer Joe Medwick.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Subway entrance, Eastern Parkway at Utica Avenue, Brooklyn, 1946.

Subway entrance, Eastern Parkway at Utica Avenue, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 1946.

Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 1946.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, 1946.

Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

On the waterfront, Brooklyn, 1946.

On the waterfront, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Moore Street near Graham Avenue, Brooklyn, 1946.

Moore Street near Graham Avenue, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Sumner Avenue (now Marcus Garvey Boulevard) near Myrtle Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, 1946.

Sumner Avenue (now Marcus Garvey Boulevard) near Myrtle Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Grocery shopping, Brooklyn, 1946.

Grocery shopping, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Unidentified boys, Brooklyn, 1946.

Brooklyn, New York 1946

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Under the elevated tracks, Broadway at Lynch, Brooklyn, 1946.

Under the elevated tracks, Broadway at Lynch, Brooklyn, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Brooklyn Bridge, 1946.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1946.

Ed Clark The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

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