Fort Lee was formed by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 29, 1904, from the remaining portions of Ridgefield Township. With the creation of Fort Lee, Ridgefield Township became defunct and was dissolved as of March 29, 1904.
The New Jersey entrance to the George Washington Bridge is in Fort Lee.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 2.9 square miles (7.5 km²), of which, 2.5 square miles (6.6 km²) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.9 km²) of it (12.15%) is water.
Fort Lee is named as a result of George Washington and named after General Charles Lee, who camped in this area, defending New York City. George Washington and his troops actually walked on a road which is called Main Street in Fort Lee. In fact, it was during Washington's retreat from Fort Lee in November 1776 that Thomas Paine composed his pamphlet, "The American Crisis", which began with the recognized phrase, "These are the times that try men's souls". The George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to the Washington Heights neighborhood in uptown Manhattan, New York City, has its western terminus located in Fort Lee.
In recent years, Fort Lee has seen a surge of residents of Korean origin which has led to the conversion of much of the town into a large Koreatown, similar to Chinatowns of such cities as New York and San Francisco in that many traditional Korean stores and restaurants may be seen in Fort Lee, and the hangul letters of the Korean alphabet are as common as signs in English in parts of the downtown area.
The rapid increase of the Korean population has seen the decline of many other immigrant communities once centered in Fort Lee, notably the Greek and Italian communities, once quite large but now all but extinct. Luxury high-rises built near the George Washington Bridge have attracted many New York City residents to the city as well, as Fort Lee offers some relief from the stresses and prices of living in New York City. A sizable Russian immigrant community has also sprung up in recent years, also attracted by the urban setting of Fort Lee.
Filmmaking began attracting both capital and an innovative workforce and when the Kalem Company began using Fort Lee in 1907 as a location for filming in the area, other filmmakers quickly followed. In 1909 a forerunner of Universal Studios, the Champion Film Company, built the first studio. They were quickly followed by others who either built new studios or who leased facilities in Fort Lee. In the 1910s and 1920s, film companies such as the Independent Motion Picture Co., Peerless Studios, The Solax Company, Éclair Studios, Goldwyn Picture Corporation, American Méliès (Star Films), World Pictures, Biograph Studios, Fox Film Corporation, Pathé Frères, Metro Pictures Corporation, Victor Film Company, Selznick Pictures Corporation were all making pictures in Fort Lee. Such notables as Mary Pickford and Miles Remy got their start at Biograph Studios.
With the offshoot businesses that sprang up to service the film studios, for nearly two decades Fort Lee experienced unrivaled prosperity. However, just as the development of Fort Lee production facilities was gaining strength, Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey, built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Nestor Studios owned by David and William Horsley, later merged with Universal Studios, and William Horsley's other company Hollywood Film Laboratory is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood, now called the Hollywood Digital Laboratory. California's more hospitable and cost effective climate led to the eventual shift of virtually all filmmaking to the West Coast by the 1930s. Some companies, such as American Méliès, moved to San Antonio, Texas, and others moved to Jacksonville, Florida. However, the companies which moved to Texas and Florida soon folded or joined the move to Hollywood.
Since 2000 the Fort Lee film commission has been charged with celebrating the history of film in Fort Lee as well as to attract film and television production companies to the borough.
As of the census of 2000, there were 35,461 people, 16,544 households, and 9,396 families residing in the borough. The population density was 14,001.7 people per square mile (5,411.7/km²). There were 17,446 housing units at an average density of 6,888.5/sq mi (2,662.4/km²). The racial makeup of the borough was 62.75% White, 1.73% African American, 0.07% Native American, 31.43% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 1.69% from other races, and 2.26% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.87% of the population.
There were 16,544 households out of which 22.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.7% were married couples living together, 7.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.2% were non-families. 39.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.14 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the borough the population was spread out with 17.5% under the age of 18, 5.1% from 18 to 24, 32.6% from 25 to 44, 24.7% from 45 to 64, and 20.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.1 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $58,161, and the median income for a family was $72,140. Males had a median income of $54,730 versus $41,783 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $37,899. About 5.7% of families and 7.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.9% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.
As of the 2000 census, 17.18% of Fort Lee's residents identified themselves as being of Korean ancestry, which was the fifth highest in the United States and third highest of any municipality in New Jersey; behind neighboring Palisades Park (36.38%) and Leonia (17.24%) — for all places with 1,000 or more residents identifying their ancestry. In the same census, 5.56% of Fort Lee's residents identified themselves as being of Chinese ancestry, and 6.09% of Fort Lee's residents identified themselves as being of Japanese ancestry, the highest of any municipality in New Jersey for all places with 1,000 or more residents identifying their ancestry.
In elections held on November 6, 2007, voters filled the position of mayor and two seats on the borough council. Democrat Mark J. Sokolich (3,873 votes) was elected mayor, defeating Republican Judith Waters Fisher (1,415). Democratic incumbent Ila Kasofsky (3,744) and running mate Jan Goldberg (3,762) were elected to the council, ahead of Republican candidates Puzant C. Torigian (1,329) and Boris Zmijewsky (1,319). Democrats will again occupy all seats on the 2008 governing body.
On Election Day, November 7, 2006, voters filled two three-year seats on the Borough Council, on a Council that was comprised entirely of Democrats, in a community in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a better than 2-1 margin. Incumbent Democrats Mark J. Sokolich (6,020 votes) and Joseph L. Cervieri Jr. (5,836) won re-election, defeating Republicans challengers John Cali (2,475) and Boris Zmijewsky (2,316).
On the national level, Fort Lee leans very strongly toward the Democratic Party. In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 61% of the vote here, defeating Republican George W. Bush, who received around 38%.
Fort Lee is served by Palisades Interstate Parkway, New Jersey Route 4, New Jersey Route 5, New Jersey Route 67, Interstate 95/New Jersey Turnpike, U.S. Route 9W, U.S. Route 1-9, U.S. Route 46, and County Route 505. The George Washington Bridge crosses the Hudson River from Fort Lee to Manhattan.
Fort Lee is also served by New Jersey Transit buses 154, 156, 158 and 159 to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan; the 171, 175, 178, 181, 182, 186 and 188 lines to the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal; and local service on the 751, 753, 755 and 756..