The city that would become New York began as a Dutch trading post. Henry Hudson, an English explorer hired by the Dutch, arrived in 1609 searching for a faster route to the Orient. He immediately saw the potential for trade as he viewed the sheltered bay and the river that ran into it. The local natives, who called themselves the Lenape, welcomed Hudson's ship, and thus began a profitable fur-trading business.
Fifteen years later, Dutch colonists arrived to begin a permanent business enterprise -- New Amsterdam. The colony welcomed people from different nations who were willing to work. By the 1640s, there were 18 different languages spoken there.
In 1664, the British decided to seize the prospering colony for themselves. New Amsterdam, whose spirit was more merchant than warrior, surrendered without a shot fired. By 1740, New York (as it was soon renamed by the British) had become the third largest port in the British Empire. Its population of 10,000 was more mixed than ever, including Europeans from many countries and 2,000 black slaves taken from Africa against their will. While the colony prospered from the efforts of this diverse population, not all was peace and harmony -- in 1741, the slaves rebelled, but were harshly put down.
On April 23, 1775, New Yorkers learned that the American Revolution had begun in Boston. Although Americans tried to keep control of the city, it was taken over by British forces and became the largest military base on earth.
But America won the Revolution. George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States in New York, which became the first capital of the new country. In 1790, the nation's capital was moved to Washington, D.C., but New York became the economic capital of the nation. Its harbor and rivers became the trade gateway to America. In 1825, the opening of the Erie Canal connected New York to the heartland and the future of the city was brighter than ever.
In 1825, New York was peaceful, orderly, and rural, with a population of under 175,000. It did not have -- and had not yet really needed -- a professional fire department or police force, a water or sewer system, or any newspapers aside from dull business reports for merchants.
The next few decades would bring every problem and every possibility of the modern age to the small island of Manhattan. There were fires, disease spread by bad water and overcrowding, and riots. There were gangs, crime, and a lack of public space. New public services were urgently needed. A swelling population wanted news about what was going on in the city, and big-city entertainments. Meanwhile, a huge wave of immigration from Europe brought hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, who had to fit themselves in somewhere. Poet Walt Whitman celebrated the chaos in his book LEAVES OF GRASS, while the city's elite were horrified.
But the city seemed to rise to the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. By 1865, it had a new fire department, waterworks, popular newspapers, a world-class Central Park, mass entertainments, and whole new communities of recent immigrants who added to its diversity and energy.
More trouble was brewing, though. Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln made himself an overnight celebrity when he won over New Yorkers with a powerful speech against slavery. But the South would not give up slavery so easily, and the Civil War broke out. At first New Yorkers rushed to enlist on the Union side, but as the war dragged on, the Union army had to start drafting men. Rich men got out of the draft by paying money, while poor men had to fight and die. The resentment this caused flashed into terrible riots in the streets of New York, in which working-class mobs murdered blacks as scapegoats and fought the soldiers brought in to restore peace.
The aftermath of the riots brought the founding of a new police force and important reforms on behalf of the poor. And then President Lincoln was assassinated....
In the second half of the nineteenth century, New York grew into a truly world-class city. By the end of this period, only Tokyo and London would be bigger.
New Yorkers tackled tremendous projects during these years. They built the Brooklyn Bridge, an engineering marvel that cost the lives of many but connected Brooklyn to Manhattan at last and inspired artists and poets. They raised the money (finally!) to put together the Statue of Liberty and raise her to her feet in New York Harbor, where she awed newly arriving immigrants with her mighty welcome. And they made one unified city out of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx (some people still regret this!).
People made fortunes during the Civil War, with its huge demand for manufactured goods, and afterwards -- fortunes on a scale never seen before. Ruthless "robber barons" seemed like they would do anything to make money, including lie and embezzle. But the stock market kept going up, up, up -- until its hollowness became clear and the inevitable crash came.
New York used the newly invented electric light bulb and telephone on a grand scale, to light up Wall Street and hook up conversationalists all over the city.
In city politics, a new "machine" called Tammany Hall sold services and city jobs for votes, and, under its infamous "Boss" William Tweed, took the city for all the money it could in crooked deals. It seemed Tweed's "gang" would fleece the city of everything; until finally a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast brought them down, with a constant stream of cartoons that exposed Tweed's dishonesty.
Meanwhile, the city became home to the greatest concentration of wealth in history -- and of poverty. It was like two cities -- one dazzling, one dark. Photographer Jacob Riis took shocking pictures of the terrible conditions of the poor, while the super-rich partied in their mansions and thought the poor were lazy.
Could it all go on?
In the late 19th century, a new wave of immigrants was arriving on America's doorstep, New York Harbor. They came from Southern and Eastern Europe -- Italy, Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, etc. -- and many settled in New York City.
Upon arriving, they were greeted by a gigantic statue of a woman holding up a torch. On its base was inscribed a poem: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…"
The poor, tired people huddled in lines at Ellis Island, waiting to be "processed." Some did not pass the health inspection and were sent back, but most -- about a million people a year -- were admitted to the U.S. to begin new lives.
From there, many of them packed into one teeming neighborhood, New York's Lower East Side. Crowded into tenement buildings, eking out a living in factories or as street peddlers, the new arrivals tried to adjust to their new country while still hanging onto some of the ways and traditions of their homelands.
Working and living conditions were often terrible, since there weren't many laws regulating either. Even children worked long hours for little pay in unsafe settings. A few outspoken reformers -- and a terrible factory fire in 1911 that claimed 146 lives -- aroused New Yorkers' sense of outrage and led to a series of important reforms in housing, health, and labor.
But New Yorkers also had many new amusements to distract them. A new medium, the moving picture, was born and people flocked to see films depicting such everyday scenes as a "New York City Dumping Wharf" or "Delivering Newspapers."
They marveled at the great skyscrapers being built and the new subways that roared below the sidewalk. The subways converged at Times Square, where music, theater, and nightlife melded into a new kind of popular culture that would soon be broadcast across the country.
On the morning of September 16, 1920, Wall Street was bustling with the new post-World War I prosperity. Suddenly, outside the House of Morgan, J.P. Morgan's investment bank, a bomb exploded. The perpetrators were never caught, though the police thought that anarchists, Communists, labor organizers, or other radicals were responsible. However, even this calamity, which left 38 dead, was not enough to stop the seemingly unstoppable upward march of the stock market. The next day, business continued almost as usual.
Meanwhile, another kind of expansion was happening uptown. After World War I, Harlem, once a mostly German-Jewish section of the city, had been transformed into a thriving, creative community of blacks, known as the "Negro capital of the world." An important literary and artistic movement called the Harlem Renaissance was born.
In midtown, the publishing, radio, and advertising businesses began to present products, ideas, celebrities, and ways of life to audiences of previously unimaginable size, across America. Entertainment was also booming: the Broadway musical was born, and jazz music, though not invented in New York, found its capital in the city. The author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who dubbed the period "The Jazz Age," captured the newfound energy and glamour of the time in his novels.
In another sign of postwar prosperity and optimism, corporate America was involved in a race to build the tallest building. During most of the 1920s, the tallest building in the city was the almost 800-foot-tall Woolworth Building. But as the decade neared its close, the Bank of Manhattan and Chrysler drove skyward with their own gleaming monuments to progress. The Chrysler Building won by towering 1,046 feet above the sidewalk, though it was soon to be overtaken by the Empire State Building, which was finished in 1931 and reached 1,250 feet.
The main source of all this optimism was the dizzying upward spiral of the stock market, fueled by speculation (risky investments). However, the end came suddenly. On October 24, 1929, the sudden failure of a major investment bank exposed the lack of substance beneath the speculation, and stock prices began to fall. People panicked and began to sell their stocks, which led to an even greater drop in prices. By the end of the day, the market had fallen over $14 billion dollars, and the nation's economy began to collapse.
During the Great Depression many New Yorkers lost their jobs, savings, and property. There was no unemployment insurance, and almost no government relief reached the people of New York. Some New Yorkers - even those who had made a fortune in the stock market before the crash - now struggled simply to survive. Many stood in bread lines.
After coming to office, Mayor La Guardia fired thousands of city government workers who had gained jobs in exchange for favors and votes. He replaced corruption with civil service, which was guided by men of expertise and merit. La Guardia did not just clean house inside his government, he set to work on cleaning the entire city of crime and corruption.
Mayor La Guardia appointed Robert Moses as City Park Commissioner. Using federal money Moses rebuilt the crumbling Central Park Zoo, renovated all 1,700 of New York City's playgrounds, finished the Triborough Bridge and began the huge West Side Improvement project.
Riots broke out in Harlem, because black New Yorkers faced greater employment discrimination than did their white counterparts, and had poor access to health care and education. Under Robert Moses, few public parks and playgrounds were provided to the residents of black neighborhoods.
Built on the outskirts of the city, the 1939 New York World's Fair was built by Robert Moses and an army of men, who transformed a 1,200-acre ash heap called Corona Dump into an arena of shining models of the city of tomorrow. The Trylon, a huge white spike, and the Perisphere, the huge white dome next to it, as well the fair's sleek gates, were built in Art Deco style, a style associated with the celebration of city life. But, Democracity, the model of the futuristic city contained inside the Perisphere, like most of the exhibits at the fair, emphasized the triumph of commerce over art, highway over city.
At the end of the Second World War, the people of New York descended on Times Square for the celebration of their lives. New Yorkers were not only reveling in the fact that the United States and its allies had won the war, but that their brothers, fathers, sons, and neighbors would now be coming home.
With the building in 1949 of the United Nations' headquarters on Manhattan's East Side, New York truly became the world's capital. The United Nations, an international alliance for peace, was brought into existence in October 1945 without a permanent home. Multicultural New York, with more than sixty ethnic groups living closely together, seemed the perfect location for the international organization, a model for the new world order.
The Cross-Bronx Expressway was a tremendous feat of engineering on an almost unprecedented scale. At 225 feet wide and seven miles long, its builders had to demolish many six- and seven-floor apartment houses to build it. On December 4, 1952, those who lived where Moses would build the Cross-Bronx Expressway were sent a letter telling them that their homes were in the paths of progress and that they had 90 days to get out. Built on a straight line, the shape of the expressway did not accommodate existing neighborhoods and the people who lived in their way. The Cross-Bronx Expressway was the most destructive expressway-building project in the city, but it was not the last.
In the summer of 1964, an off-duty police officer shot and killed a fifteen-year old boy, James Powell, in Harlem. For two days the protests were peaceful, but on the third day, July 18, 1964, the crowds outside the 123rd police station became violent. They threw rocks, bricks, and bottles, lit garbage cans on fire, and looted stores, including those selling guns. A police officer on a megaphone said, "Go home! Go home!" A voice in the night cried back, "We are home, baby!" The riots went on for five days, in both Harlem and in Bedford-Stuyvesant. One person died; 520 were arrested. The FBI classified the riots as an attack on "all constituted authority."
As Mayor of New York City during some of its most bleak years, John Lindsay had to be inventive when it came to balancing the city's enormous budget with its dwindling tax dollars. During his administration, the city borrowed heavily from banks until, in 1975, the lenders demanded payment, or else. When Lindsay asked President Gerald Ford to guarantee New York's loans, the president declined. He thought his stance would force New York to become more fiscally responsible. The next morning, THE DAILY NEWS headline covering the story read, "Ford to City: Drop Dead."
Ford relented, however, about thirty days later, and New York began the steep climb to financial solvency. In the years to come, New York would not only survive, but begin to thrive and flourish again. By the 1980s, the relentless commercial energy that had characterized the city for nearly four hundred years had returned -- with a frantic intensity not seen on Wall Street since the days of the Roaring Twenties. New York's role within the increasingly global economy continued to expand.