The history of New York City begins with its Lenape inhabitants prior to the arrival of Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, and continues with its founding as "New Amsterdam" by the Dutch in 1625 and the period of English rule and its renaming as "New York" in 1664. The city was the location for multiple battles of the American Revolutionary War, and served as the capital of the United States until 1790. Modern New York city traces its development to the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 and an economic and building boom following the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout its history, New York City has served as a main port of entry for many immigrants, and its cultural and economic influences have made it one of the most important urban areas in the United States.
European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement in Lower Manhattan in 1613 later called New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam) in the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625. Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. Later in 1626, Peter Minuit established a long tradition of shrewd real estate investing when he purchased Manhattan Island and Staten Island from native people in exchange for trade goods.
Willem Kieft became director general in 1638, but five years later was embroiled in Kieft's War against the Native Americans. The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present day Jersey City resulted in the death of eighty natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, eleven Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans, and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645.
On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival, and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. He curtailed the city's religious freedoms and closed all of the city's taverns. The colony was granted self-government in 1652 and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city February 2, 1653. In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it "New York" after the Duke of York and Albany. The Dutch briefly regained it in 1673, renaming the city "New Orange", before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the British for what is now Suriname in November 1674.
By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200.
The 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger in the city was a seminal influence on freedom of the press in North America. In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by King George II as King's College in Lower Manhattan.
The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent among local residents, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The site of modern Greater New York City was the theatre of the New York Campaign, a series of major battles in the early American Revolutionary War. After early British success in that campaign the city became the political and military center of operations in North America for the remainder of the war, and served for more than seven years as the main base of British operations (1776-1783). New York was greatly damaged twice by fires of suspicious origin during British military rule. Continental Army officer Nathan Hale was hanged in Manhattan for espionage after the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn), the largest battle of the entire war. In addition, the British began to hold the majority of captured American prisoners of war aboard prison ships in Wallabout Bay, across the East River in Brooklyn. More Americans lost their lives from neglect aboard the prison ships than died in every battle of the war, combined. British occupation lasted until November 25, 1783. George Washington triumphantly returned to the city that same November 25th, as the last British forces left the city. The Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation, making it the first national capital of the United States, and the United States Constitution created the current Congress of the United States, first sitting at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The Supreme Court first deliberated, the United States Bill of Rights drafted, and the new United States first expanded (via the passage of the Northwest Ordinance) in the city.
| City of New York |
Population by year
|Including the "outer|
boroughs" before the
New York grew as an economic center, first as a result of Alexander Hamilton's policies and practices as the first Secretary of the Treasury and, later, with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior. Other contributory factors for New York City's expansion were an influx if new immigrants, and by a street grid system that expanded to encompass all of Manhattan. After the Revolutionary War thousands of mostly New England Yankees moved into the city. Their numbers were such that by 1820, the city had far outstripped its pre-War population, was largely middle class with a growing upper-class, and was fully 95% of American born heritage. Its economy was a vigorous artisan and craftsman society second to none in the United States while its banking and commercial sectors were fast becoming dominant in the country as a whole. From 1800-1840 the city grew in wealth and power and never again would the city have such a substantially stable society of American born citizens. In 1831, as the city continued to expand, the University of the City of New York, now New York University, was founded at Washington Square in Greenwich Village.
It was into this stable Protestant middle class American society of stockbrokers, guildsmen, bankers, artisans, craftsmen, merchants, shippers, porters, and shopkeepers, and well paid laborers, all operating in an early republican environment of volunteer firefighters, watchmen, and other civic organization that thousands of mostly illiterate unskilled Catholic Irish fleeing the rural depression of their homeland disembarked onto New York City in the 1840s. The Irish Potato Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850, the Irish comprised one quarter of the city's population. Government institutions, including the New York City Police Department and the public schools, were established in the 1840s and 1850s to respond to growing demands of residents.
The social change was an earthquake. Lacking the bureaucratic civic structure of today, the city's infrastructure built as it was a volunteer network of similar minded individuals collapsed. Crime rose as competing ethnic volunteer groups vied for control of the municipal patronage and its utility networks of fire, sanitation, garbage, and police.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the city's strong commercial ties to the South, its growing immigrant population, and anger about conscription led to divided sympathy for both the Union and Confederacy, culminating in the Draft Riots of 1863. After the Civil War, the rate of immigration from Europe grew steeply, and New York became the first stop for millions seeking a new and better life in the United States, a role acknowledged by the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.
The new European immigration brought further social upheaval, and old world criminal societies rapidly exploited the already corrupt municipal machine politics of Tammany Hall, while local American barons of industry further exploited the immigrant masses with ever lower wages and crowded living conditions. In a city of tenements packed with cheap foreign labor from dozens of nations, the city was a hotbed of revolution, syndicalism, racketeering, and unionization. In response, the upper classes used partisan hand-outs, organized crime groups, heavy handed policing and political oppression to undermine groups which refused to be coopted. Groups such as anticapitalist labor unions, native American patriot organizations such as the American Protective Association, and reformers of all stripes were fiercely repressed, while crime lords that became too independent disappeared.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan and outlying areas. Manhattan and the Bronx, though still one county, were established as two separate boroughs and joined together with three other boroughs created from parts of adjacent counties to form the new municipal government originally called "Greater New York". The Borough of Brooklyn incorporated the independent City of Brooklyn, recently joined to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge, and several municipalities in eastern Kings County, New York; the Borough of Queens was created from western Queens County (with the remnant established as Nassau County in 1899); and The Borough of Staten Island contained all of Richmond County. All municipal (county, town and city) governments contained within the boroughs were abolished. In 1914, the New York State Legislature created Bronx county, making five counties coterminous with the five boroughs.
On June 15, 1904 over 1,000 people, mostly German Immigrants, were killed when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and burned on North Brother Island, in the East River; and on March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers, which would eventually lead to great advancements in the city's fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.
A series of new transportation links, most notably the New York City Subway, first opened in 1904, helped bind the new city together. The height of European immigration brought social upheaval. Later, in the 1920s, the city saw the influx of African Americans as part of the Great Migration from the American South, and the Harlem Renaissance, part of a larger boom time in the Prohibition era that saw dueling skyscrapers in the skyline.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication. Interborough Rapid Transit (the first New York subway company) began operating in 1904, and the railroads operating out of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station thrived. New York City became the most populous city in the world in 1925, overtaking London, which had reigned for a century.
Crime rates also increased as the city grew in size. Newspapers made household names of sensational criminals, such as Harry Thaw, Peter Hains and Josephine Terranova. Terranova's murder trial, pitting the seventeen year old killer against the nation's medical establishment, rivetted the city for months in 1906.
New York City's ever accelerating changes and rising crime and poverty rates ended when World War I disrupted trade routes, the Immigration Restriction Acts limited additional immigration after the war, and the Great Depression ended the need for new labor. The combination ended the rule of the Guilded Age barons. The period between the World Wars saw the election of reformist mayor Fiorello La Guardia and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance. As the city's demographics stabilized, labor unionization brought new protections and affluence to the working class, the city's government and infrastructure underwent a dramatic overhaul under LaGuardia, and his controversial parks commissioner, Robert Moses, ended the blight of many tenement areas, expanded new parks, remade streets, and restricted and reorganized zoning controls.
In the 1920s, New York City was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the era of Prohibition, coincident with a larger economic boom that saw the skyline develop with the construction of competing skyscrapers. For a while, New York City became the most populous city in the world, starting in 1925 and overtaking London, which had reigned for a century). The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.
Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the 1930s saw the building of some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including numerous Art-Deco masterpieces that are still part of the city's skyline today. Both before and after World War II, vast areas of the city were also reshaped by the rise of the bridges, parks and parkways coordinated by Moses, the greatest proponent of automobile-centered modernist urbanism in America.
In 1938 the political designation "ward" was abolished. New York City had used this designation for the smallest political units since 1686, when Governor Thomas Dongan divided the city, then entirely in Manhattan, into six wards. In 1791, wards were given numerical designations. The First Ward was the tip of Manhattan, and the wards going north were given consecutive numbers with new added as the city expanded. The older wards were also subdivided as their populations swelled. Brooklyn had also composed of wards since it became a city in 1837. It originally had nine, and by the time of the 1898 consolidation it had 32.
Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom and led to the development of huge housing tracts in eastern Queens.
New York emerged from the war as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America's ascendancy,, and in 1951, the United Nations relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the East Side of Manhattan. During the 1960s, the views of real estate developer and city leader Robert Moses began to fall out of favor as the anti-Urban Renewal views of Jane Jacobs gained popularity. Citizen rebellion killed a plan to construct an expressway through lower Manhattan.
Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars and population and industrial decline in the 1960s. Street activists and minority groups like the Black Panthers and Young Lords took matters into their own hands and organized rent strikes and garbage offensives, demanding city services for poor areas.They also set up free health clinics and other programs, as a guide for organizing and gaining "Power to the People." By the 1970s the city had also gained a reputation as a crime-ridden relic of history. In 1975, the city government avoided bankruptcy only through a federal loan and debt restructuring by the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Felix Rohatyn. The city was also forced to accept increased financial scrutiny by an agency of New York State. In 1977, the city was struck by the twin catastrophes of the New York City blackout of 1977 and the Son of Sam serial murderer's continued slayings. These events were perhaps the impetus to the election of Mayor Ed Koch, who promised to revive the city.
Define $dx = 20 # shift text to right side of bar
bar:events width:20 shift:($dx,-4)
from:1898 till:2010 color:teal
from:1783 till:1898 color:yellowgreen
from:1664 till:1783 color:green
from:1524 till:1664 color:teal
at:1524 text:"1524 Giovanni de Verrazano finds New York"
at:1609 text:"1609 Henry Hudson explores the Hudson River
at:1623 text:"1623 First settlers come from Netherlands" shift:($dx,-8)
at:1624 text:"1624-5 Dutch settle, incorporate" shift:($dx,+8)
at:1658 text:"1658 Nieuw Haarlem settled" shift:($dx,-8)
at:1664 text:"1664 British capture" shift:($dx,-2)
at:1735 text:"1735 Zenger trial"
at:1756 text:"1756 First St Patrick's Day"
at:1776 text:"1776-83 British occupation"
at:1789 text:"1789 Washington inauguration" shift:($dx,-8)
at:1795 text:"1792 Stock Exchange founded"
at:1811 text:"1811 Commissioners' grid plan"
at:1825 text:"1825 Erie Canal"
at:1835 text:"1835 Great Fire"
at:1863 text:"1863 Draft riots"
at:1883 text:"1883 Brooklyn Bridge" shift:($dx,-2)
at:1898 text:"1898 Unification of the boroughs" shift:($dx,-9)
at:1904 text:"1904 IRT Subway"
at:1929 text:"1929 Stock market crash"
at:1939 text:"1939 World's Fair"
at:1964 text:"1964 New York World's Fair"
at:1975 text:"1975 Near-bankruptcy"
at:2001 text:"2001 WTC disaster "
Streets & Thoroughfares