The History of New York City is a fascinating subject. Getting to the core of the “Big Apple” was what Giovanni Di Verrazzano (the bridge’s namesake) wanted to do. In 1524, Di Verrazzano, an Italian, was the first European to explore the New York Harbor. In the new world, Di Verrazzano met Native American tribes such as the Lenape, Manahattoes, and Raritan. Although Di Verrazzano was the first explorer to visit New York City, it is Dutch explorer Henry Hudson who is credited with bringing Europe to the “Big Apple.” After several failed attempts to find the Northeast Passage to Asia, Hudson received funding from the Dutch East India Company, a popular tea corporation, to explore the world in 1609. Within the next 20 years, many Dutch settled in New York City and called it New Amsterdam. Many immigrants to the new world saw New York City as a place for religious freedom.
Peter Minuit, a Dutch political director of the new world, is credited with making the deal of the century when he bought New York City from the Canarsees Indians for only 60 guilders (about $25 in 1626 dollars). The Dutch continued to settle New Amsterdam until 1664 when British ships took control of the island from then Governor, Peter Stuyvesant. Despite losing the island to England with little resistance, Stuyvesant had prepared for an invasion for years. Stuyvesant asked the Dutch West India Company for money to build a 2,400-foot wall with spikes across the northern end of the populated portion of the island. This part of the island is now known as Wall Street. The English easily conquered Manhattan with an attack from sea rather than on foot.
England renamed the city and the colony, New York, after James, Duke of York. Until the Revolutionary War, New York City was one of the most important places in North America due to its outstanding location and fervor for trading. British troops fought off any opposition from the colonists on the island and even controlled New York City after the Revolutionary War. It was not until 1783 that British soldiers and loyalists left New York City. Six years later, George Washington was inaugurated President of the United States at Federal Hall on Wall Street, and the capitol of the new country was now New York City. One year later, the capitol moved to Philadelphia.
New York City in the 1800s
In the early 1800s, New York City was thriving due to economic power; the state soon acquired the nickname, “The Empire State.” The New York Stock Exchange opened with great success on Wall Street a few years before the new century. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 providing boats a gateway to the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The economic impact of the Erie Canal to the state of New York was tremendous. Businessmen were able to ship goods and services in and out of New York City through this man-made river. New York City’s ports were some of the busiest in the world.
Just before New Yorkers celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 1835, a devastating fire engulfed many of the stores and churches near Canal Street. Many store owners lost thousands of dollars. The mid-1800s were plagued by disease, intense immigration, political corruption, and a weak economy. The Civil War did not further help matters in New York City. The city was the focal point of the Draft Riots of 1863, in which young men were drafted into the military by President Abraham Lincoln. There were several days of riots in protest of the draft and the increasing black political, economic and social power. According to many publications, the riots claimed the lives of more than 100 people and cost more than a million dollars to remedy.
The mid-1800s were also a prominent time for local gangs in the five boroughs. Director Martin Scorsese portrayed the problems of such gangs in a 2002 film called “The Gangs of New York.” William Marcy Tweed, also known as “Boss Tweed,” was the most famous political boss in New York City’s history. Behind closed doors at Tammany Hall, Boss Tweed made illegal deals with gangs and crooked politicians from Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan in the 1860s and 70s. He was eventually exposed when one of his former associates ratted him out to the New York Times because the illegal funds he gave the man were not sufficient.
Ellis Island to become new citizens. In spite of taking jobs from many Americans, immigrants contributed in many different ways to the history of New York City. On the way to Ellis Island, many foreigners were greeted by the Statue of Liberty, which was built by the French and given as a gift for America in 1886.
Despite corruption at Tammany Hall, the construction of many bridges, museums, and parks gave New York City a personality unlike any other. The city’s wealth continued to grow into the 20th century.
New York City in the 1900s
Just before the new century the five boroughs, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, were conceived. The 1900s in the city are mostly remembered as a time of prosperity, skyscrapers, and war. Tragedy did strike in the early 20th century with the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire in which more than 140 women workers died, also a boating accident seven years earlier claimed many lives.
Grand Central Terminal opened and became the world’s largest train station. Citizens and visitors of New York were going places fast. The early part of the century saw Broadway flourish for the first time. The New York Times newspaper moved its offices in 1904 to an area near 42nd Street, which was renamed Times Square in honor of the publication. Each year thousands gather to watch a ball drop from a building to signal the beginning of a new year.
Empire State Building standing 102-stories 1,250 feet high was constructed. In October of 1929 Wall Street suffered one of its worst days ever despite a previous great summer for investors. The collapse of the stock market in 1929 sparked an American Era known as the “Great Depression.” It took many decades and a World War for the economy to get back into shape. Sports became a part of every day life for most Americans with the baseball teams the New York Yankees, Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers capturing the imagination of fans during the early part of the century. The Yankees won numerous World Series titles, while the Giants and Dodgers both took home some titles, but not as many as those “Damn Yankees.” Both the Giants and Dodgers left New York in the 1950s for California and were replaced with the Mets in 1962.
The 1970s was a tough decade for New York City. The country was in a recession and crime was high. Residents were moving out of New York City at staggering rates. The 1980s were not much better crime wise, but Wall Street was in better condition. The World Trade Center‘s Twin Towers were bombed in December of 1993 killing six people and injuring more than 1,000. The bomb did not cause much structural damage to the buildings but did obviously force them to close for a couple of days. Six Islam extremists were given 240 years in jail in connection to the garage bombing. The buildings were built as part of seven part building project in 1943. New York City cleaned up its act in the 1900s doing away with many strip clubs and crime. The decade became a prosperous time for the city thanks to a strong economy.
The world changed in September 2001 when terrorists flew two planes into the Twin Towers knocking them down and killing more 2,800 people including many firefighters and police officers. An Islam group named Al-Queda claimed responsibility for the attack. Plans are in the works to rebuild on the World Trade Center site and bring an empty part of the skyline back. Today New York City is as political as it gets being the home of the United Nations and some of the most powerful people in the world. The city’s next major project is building a home for the football team the New York Jets in Manhattan. Despite opposition, plans are underway for a billion dollar stadium.