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How did New York become the financial hub of America?

How did New York become the financial hub of America?

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Why did New York become the financial hub of America, rather than one of the other big cities?

I think the best way to answer this question is to ask: Why did Philadelphia lose its position as the hub of American finance? Philadelphia had first mover's advantage over New York in terms of finance. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, national politics would erase Philly's advantage in the 1830s and 1840s, setting the stage for New York to begin to establish itself as the center of American finance.

Philadelphia's Early Dominance of American Finance

Philadelphia was home to the nation's most important banks before the Civil War: the Bank of Pennsylvania, the Bank of North America, the First Bank of the United States, and the Second Bank of the United States.

Similarly, most of the most important bankers and financiers of that era were Philadelphians (or ended up in Philadelphia): Robert Morris, Haym Salomon, Stephen Girard, and Nicholas Biddle. As I discuss below, Jay Cooke and the Drexels also deserve serious attention.

Jackson, Van Buren, and Philadelphia's Long Slow Fall from Grace

As one New York Jacksonian put it, "The general place of the deposit of the revenues of the government must become the money market of the nation" (Bray Hammond, p. 392). As long as the Second Bank of the United States survived as that "general place of deposit," this meant that Philadelphia would reign as the money market of the nation.

Andrew Jackson's determination to kill the Second Bank for ideological reasons is well known. Jackson received invaluable assistance from his Secretary of State (and later Vice President) Martin Van Buren. Van Buren's plans did not involve creating any replacement for the bank--in part because Van Buren hoped that much of that money would flow to New York's banking system.

During his incredibly short stint as governor of New York, Van Buren had helped to pass the Safety Fund Act of 1829. The Safety Fund is a remarkably influential piece of economic regulation, and its influence is still felt in the modern FDIC. New York's banks were awful prior to this act, and the Safety Fund provided some stability to New York banking until 1843, but even when the Safety Fund faltered it was soon replaced by a well-regarded Free Banking Law. So by the 1840s, New York arguably had the best-regulated banking system in the nation. New York's banking stability was further enhanced by the New York Clearing House, organized in the 1850s.

But the important thing for the Bank War is that the Safety Fund system united the power and interests of all of New York's banks into one "mighty influence" that answered to the leadership of the Democrats in the "Albany Regency." As Erastus Root reported of the New York banks,

The city banks were encouraged to enter into the combination and contribute their share to the fund--now hoping and expecting that the Bank of the United States would be put down and that they would have not only the great emporium of commerce but in addition all the deposits of the government and thus become the arbiters of the fiscal affairs of the nation. (Hammond 392)

Yet the alliance of dozens of New York state banks seemed less threatening to most Americans than one large bank in Philadelphia:

A national Bank is a formidable monster capable of doing mischief on a gigantic scale, while the state banks are so many lambs and can hurt nobody. (Hammond 392)

To some extent, bankers in all the states of the Union (other than Pennsylvania) saw that the destruction of the Second Bank of the United States would redound to their financial benefit. They all threw their weight behind Jackson's effort to kill the bank. But only the bankers of New York were well organized enough to step in and take control of this opportunity.

What about Buttonwood and the New York Stock Exchange?

Philadelphia is home to the oldest stock exchange in the US, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, founded in 1790. The Buttonwood Agreement was signed in New York two years later, but financial markets there were relatively sleepy in their early years. New Yorkers mostly traded old war bonds and Philadelphia-based Bank of the United States stock. In 1817, New York stockbrokers sent delegates to Philadelphia to learn from the original stock. On their return, they founded the NYSE.

So the NYSE is an imitation of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, and it relied on Philadelphia-based financial institutions for a non-trivial portion of its capitalization. Thus "path dependency" type arguments do not explain New York's current dominance in American finance.

What About the Morgans and Investment Banking?

Modern investment banking also has its origins in Philadelphia. Jay Cooke joined the Philadelphia banking house E.W. Clark & Co. in 1842. In 1861, he founded Jay Cooke & Company, a Philadelphia-based firm that helped underwrite the Union's Civil War effort and innovated many of the most important techniques in modern investment banking.

Even the House of Morgan--the greatest New York financial house in the US in the late 19th century--had important Philadelphia origins. Francis Martin Drexel founded Drexel & Co. in Philadelphia in 1837. Drexel was second only to Cooke in terms of government finance in the 1860s. In 1871, Anthony Drexel approached Junius Morgan about affiliating their houses. The Philadelphia-based Drexel had the money, but the New York-based Morgan had the London connections. As Drexel, Morgan, and Co., the Morgans would go on to dominate American finance for the next half century. (Source: Ron Chernow's House of Morgan)

Dutch Heritage?

Respectfully, there is little evidence that Dutch heritage or connections to Amsterdam mattered much to New York's success in finance. I've already argued that New Yorkers in the antebellum era borrowed regulatory structures from non-Dutchmen in Philadelphia. The Dutch character of New York was rather diluted by the 1870s, when the city was beginning to irreversibly eclipse Philadelphia as the American financial center. And during the 1870s, New York finance is largely associated with two non-Dutch ethnic groups: German-Jews and New England Yankees. European Jews and prominent Yankees both had one major advantage in finance: they had overseas ties to bankers in London, Paris, and the rest of Europe. The United States was industrializing so quickly that overseas capital was greatly needed, and so these two groups were able to act as channels for European capital. So New York owes some of its later banking preeminence to its centrality in immigration and thus its many European connections.

Van Buren, of course, was Dutch-American, but his magic was political, not financial.

After the Second Bank

The Second Bank of the United States was liquidated in 1838, and government funds began trickling from Philadelphia to the rest of the country. Much of this money found its way to New York's stable and well-regarded banking system, thus beginning the shift of financial power northward. If Jackson had not killed the bank, Philadelphia likely would have maintained its preeminence longer. (Philadelphia was in the process of improving its connections to domestic markets in the west, which would have gone a long way toward mitigating New York's advantage in trade.) If the Bank had survived, Drexel may never have approached Morgan, or at least the Drexels might have remained the dominant partners in that relationship. German-Jews interested in finance may have immigrated to Philadelphia, not New York City. In the end, however, the Bank did die, and New York had the wealth, the financial infrastructure, and the foreign connections to take over as America's financial hub in the wake of the Bank War.

There are several reasons:

  • One was historical - this was where Buttonwood Agreement was signed in 1792, starting what would later become the New York Stock & Exchange Board and eventually morphed into NYSE.

  • One was geographical. New York was one of the main Atlantic sea ports in USA, thus ensuring connections to European and especially London banking. Leaving aside Philadelphia and Boston, I think it was the only big sea port situated in a major city that was NOT in the South.

New York was a natural trade center for a few key reasons.

Access to Upstate NY

Upstate NY was very important place in commercial history. The settlement of New York was driven by access to beaver and other furs, and the Hudson River was the 16th century equivalent to an interstate highway, leading right to the port of New York City.

Later, as fertile land in New England was accounted for, agriculture became a huge force. The feudal-style Dutch Patroonships produced all sorts of goods, and the Schoharie Valley was called "the breadbasket of the american revolution", and much of the agricultural surplus was shipped down the river to New York. Later, the construction of turnpikes opened up the interior of Central NY, which meant more farming, more credit & banking activity in Albany and NYC and more economic activity.

Dutch Heritage

Most of the English Colonies were formed by relatively homogeneous, religiously-oriented communities. New Amsterdam was totally different -- it was a commercial venture of the Dutch West India Company. Being motivated by money vs. god, there was a diversity of religious backgrounds, languages, etc.

The Erie Canal

The construction of the Erie Canal brought New York to a whole new level -- the flow of goods from Western New York and Ohio all came through New York to be shipped all over the world.

All of this stuff created a scenario where New York City became this dense concentration point or hub for wealth and trade. Until the later half of the 20th century, this proximity made the New York metro region a premier industrial center -- which further strengthened it's role as a financial center.

I would add that Holland was the financial centre of the Earth in 17-18th centuries. NY, having the best specialists in finances simply couldn't fail.

Capital of the World

August 2, 2018

When the ground was first broken in 1900 to build a subway under the crowded streets of New York, some 25,000 of the city’s residents gathered to watch the ceremonies and cheer: “To Harlem in 15 minutes!” Not that it would be easy—removing 3 million cubic yards of earth and laying rails under the city was a job that would take four years and thousands of workers, 54 of whom lost their lives during the construction. 1


Greater Gotham: A History of New York City From 1898 to 1919

When the subway finally opened, it was a day of civic celebration. The city’s factories gave workers a half-holiday, and every passenger was permitted to ride free of charge. Some 150,000 people did. Yet what was perhaps most remarkable was just how quickly New Yorkers adapted to this engineering miracle. One reporter for The New York Times observed that after their exploratory journey, people poured out of the stations and made their way quietly home, “having finished what will be to them the daily routine of the rest of their lives.” 2

The story of the subway, then, is one of an extraordinary achievement that came to be regarded as perfectly ordinary, and it is, in a way, the urtext of any book about New York. “It is a miracle that New York works at all,” wrote E.B. White in his famous paean to the city. “The whole thing is implausible.” Yet this sense of awe and mystique, even as it animates much writing about the city, can also make New York difficult to see clearly—especially in relation to the rest of American history. 3

Often, writers treat New York either as the apotheosis of America or as a national outlier. It is perceived as the center of trends that have shaped the rest of the country’s history—the heart of immigration, the capital of finance—or as an extreme metropolis that has little in common with the rest of America, the so-called heartland. To a certain extent, some of the difficulties inherent in writing urban history (or perhaps any history at all) show up with special force in histories of New York: Is the purpose of writing about the city to illuminate its distinguishing features, or to tell a larger story of which New York is representative? 4

Mike Wallace’s Greater Gotham—the second of what he hopes to be four books about the city—manages to do both. It is a book about New York in all its bewildering particularity, yet it also addresses the sweep of American history in the early 20th century. Greater Gotham is the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gotham, in which Wallace, along with co-author Edwin G. Burrows, told the story of the rise of New York over its first 300 years: the transformation of an unassuming island into the hub of a vast city. 5

Greater Gotham covers a shorter span, the period from 1898 to 1919, but there can be no doubt that the book is a remarkable scholarly achievement. At 1,196 pages, divided into five parts and 24 chapters, it manages to cover what can seem at times like almost every facet of life in the city over the 21 years that separate the consolidation of its various boroughs, in 1898, from its emergence as the nation’s economic capital by the end of World War I. There are chapters on the economics that drove the skyscraper boom of the early 20th century and the labor processes and technological developments needed to make possible the construction of the first subways. We learn about the fissures that divided local activists in the Industrial Workers of the World from those in the Socialist Party, as well as the machinations of the Socialists’ Morris Hillquit, who kicked the IWW’s Big Bill Haywood out of the organization. 6

Wallace also discusses the public-health campaigns of the early 20th century, which reduced the death rate in the city from 27.2 per 1,000 in 1890 to 13.4 by 1914 despite the organized opposition of the city’s doctors, who feared the state’s expanded role in medical care. He analyzes the proliferation of prostitutes in immigrant enclaves in which men greatly outnumbered women. He also places the worldly city within the larger world, examining the role of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the pogroms that followed in driving hundreds of thousands of Jews to New York. 7

Current Issue

On top of all of this, there are wonderful sections on Coney Island, Irish politics, the literary and visual arts, the rise of Harlem as a center of African-American life, Lenin’s appreciation of the New York Public Library, and the strength of anarchist traditions in working-class Italian neighborhoods. Out of this welter of specificity comes a distinctive portrait of something far larger than New York itself: The city’s story, we come to learn, is really the story of American capitalism. It is also the story of the radical politics that emerged in response to it. This is certainly one way to read the book’s title: America itself became New York’s “Greater Gotham.” 8

W allace has given a great deal of thought to the right way to tell this story. In the introduction, he outlines five major areas to examine in unraveling the city’s history: first, its emergence as the financial center of international capitalism by the end of World War I second, its national importance as the “unofficial capital” of the United States third, its material development, as New York took on an ever-expanding catalog of economic functions for the country fourth, the year-by-year rhythms of capitalist expansion and contraction, which helped to spur labor organizing and radical politics and finally, a view from the ground, the daily experience of the thrilling, chaotic city for people from all social classes and backgrounds. 9

Running through all of this are certain more general themes. The first is the profound ambivalence of New York’s financial and corporate elite when it came to the nature of competitive capitalism. These were people at the pinnacle of the national economy and the avatars of its achievements. Yet far from being ardent believers in the ruthless precepts of laissez-faire, they sought to tame the market and replace the “ruinous” competition of yore with corporations that dominated their economic sectors to a degree that had never been seen before. The city’s financiers presided over the great merger wave of the early 20th century: Between 1899 and 1904, fueled in part by the expansion of trading on the New York Stock Exchange, they reduced 4,200 companies to a mere 250, resulting in many of the powerful mega-firms that would dominate the American economy during the 20th century, among them US Steel, the American Smelting and Refining Company, United Fruit, and International Harvester. Many of these firms were headquartered in New York the banks they relied on were located there as well. And their growing power pulled in the elite executives from other businesses. New York, as Wallace puts it, “sucked in millionaires and corporations as fast as they were created, and yanked some already existing ones out of other cities’ orbits.” 10

This flood of money shaped the physical landscape of the city. Competition between real-estate developers drove its vertical growth. Skyscrapers represented the aspiration to wrest as much money as possible from each lot of land. The very dynamic of growth spurred the buildings higher: Every additional floor meant new tenants and new rents, magnifying the value of the property as a whole, so that by 1912, New York had more tall buildings than any other city in the nation. Ultimately, the Manhattan skyline became the physical embodiment of profits literally seized from the air. 11

Yet far from reigning with unquestioned confidence, New York’s elites were always afraid of potential challenges to their authority, and this uncertainty forms the second major theme of Wallace’s book: the increasingly organized efforts to push back against their control. There were the Progressives and the middle-class reformers who sought to challenge the raucous power of the new business elite and to tame and civilize the disorderly city. And then there was the working class, which was not content simply to serve as the subject of reform experiments descending from on high. Labor unions proliferated in the city, and New York became a center of radical politics teeming with socialist and anarchist activism that often found its way into the unions and pushed them into confrontational actions against factory owners and financiers. 12

Even the Industrial Workers of the World, those anti-capitalist poets often seen as the organizers of the Western mines, had their pockets of strength in New York. Immigrant strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, sent their children to the city during the IWW-led strike in 1912, and when the hundreds of malnourished children arrived by train, they were greeted by thousands of supporters at Grand Central Station. Two years later, during a recession, radical activists in the IWW circle organized an “army of the unemployed”: Hundreds of people marched through the streets of New York, entering churches to demand food and shelter. 13

This challenge to the status quo in one area of life soon fed the growth of others. Margaret Sanger was a member of the Socialist Party and a supporter of the Lawrence strike before she became an advocate of birth control. In 1914, a Feminist Alliance, drawing from socialist, anarchist, and labor circles, was organized to challenge sexual inequities in the city (such as a Board of Education policy that forced female teachers to resign once they got married). The Greenwich Village bohemians—a small number of whom famously climbed to the top of the Washington Square Arch one cold January night in 1917 to proclaim the neighborhood a “free and independent Republic”—also shared a milieu with the labor movement and provided spaces for women to step outside the norms prescribed by gender. 14

The city’s left also spilled into African-American politics. One of the strongest chapters of Greater Gotham traces the expansion of black New York and the city’s emergence as a center of resistance to segregation and inequality throughout the country. The city’s African-American population swelled from around 60,000 in 1900 to 91,700 in 1910, as migrants arrived from the Caribbean and the southern United States. Housing and employment were highly segregated: Black doctors couldn’t practice at public hospitals, and black teachers weren’t employed by the Board of Education until 1895. (The city’s public schools had been legally segregated since the 18th century, and they didn’t become integrated until the 1870s and even later in Queens, which had a separate Board of Education.) 15

At first, it appeared that a moderate politics of racial uplift through free enterprise might predominate in black New York. Booker T. Washington built his “Tuskegee machine” in part through financial contributions from New York philanthropists, speaking at Madison Square Garden before audiences of corporate tycoons to raise funds. Soon, however, the city became home to a much more ideologically diverse black politics. Wallace traces the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People the founding of The Messenger, socialist A. Philip Randolph’s magazine and, ultimately, as Harlem emerged as the city’s center of black life, the rise of Hubert Harrison, whose politics blended socialism and black nationalism. By 1917, following what Wallace describes as a “racial pogrom” in East St. Louis, Illinois, in which some 200 black people were killed, Harrison helped organize a silent march down Fifth Avenue, with people bearing placards that read “Mother, Do Lynchers Go to Heaven?” It was the largest protest of African Americans in the city’s history, and it marked the emergence of Harlem as the heart of resistance to racism throughout the country. 16

E ven so, left-wing politics never came to dominate New York, and, as Wallace shows, the city also served as a center for reaction. The press denounced the Industrial Workers of the World as “vicious outcasts” the police arrested nearly 200 members of the IWW’s “army of the unemployed” on charges of incitement to riot and open-air meetings were suspended by the city. While the fire that killed 146 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company resulted in the passage of workplace-safety legislation, the owners of the factory were nevertheless acquitted in court of any wrongdoing. Even the suffragist movement—which gained momentum through an alliance of wealthy society women and downtown labor activists—failed to carry the city when New York State voted on a 1915 referendum to grant women the right to vote. 17

New York was also home to a flourishing political right. Advocates of eugenics and racist pseudoscience, such as Madison Grant and Charles Benedict Davenport, built institutional centers in the city, while Columbia University became the home base for John Burgess, the founder of political science, who denounced Reconstruction as “a monstrous thing” and built his discipline on the principle of racial difference. While many structural features of city life made it possible for radical politics to thrive—among them the city’s density, its plethora of common meeting spaces and gathering points, and above all its inequality, which placed rich and poor in close proximity—none of this meant that the city’s elites would simply allow this new politics to flourish. Instead, they were determined to retain their control, no matter how much turmoil would come as the result. 18

Federal agencies often helped. Anthony Comstock, the repressive US postal inspector, banned an issue of Sanger’s publication, The Woman Rebel when Sanger kept publishing material on contraception with the aid of an IWW printer, she was forced to flee the country, under threat of a 45-year prison sentence. (Following Comstock’s death in 1915, the US attorney dropped the charges against Sanger, but only after her husband spent a month in the Tombs for selling another of her publications.) Comstock also went after the bohemian artists, at one point arresting the 19-year-old receptionist of the Art Students League of New York when she gave him a free catalog that included three nude images. 19

The tensions between radical and reactionary New York came to a head in 1916, as the nation’s leaders debated entry into World War I. On the one hand, the example of a multiethnic city appeared to be a challenge to the ethnic nationalism that had begun to dominate European and, to some extent, American politics. But the subject of what constituted an American national identity was hotly contested in New York, where the pro-war constituency was mostly Anglophile and upper-class and the large anti-war camp was built around the multiethnic working and middle class. With the country’s entrance into the war, the transnational ideal that defined much of the city came into conflict with a shrill and forceful reassertion of militaristic patriotism, one that extolled white Christianity as the only true American identity. Wallace details the shutdown of radical magazines and organizations and the rise of hyper-patriotic organizations, not just among the elites but among many other New Yorkers as well. 20

F or Wallace, despite the repression that accompanied the First World War, the story of New York is ultimately one of triumph—the narrative of a vast city coalescing, despite the intense pressures that might have pulled it apart. In the final pages of the book, he suggests that the experience of New York in its first 21 years as a consolidated city points to the power of shared participation: “Despite those two decades having witnessed nonstop battling between classes, races, ethnic groups, genders, and religions—verbally and at times violently—the center had held.” The “ties that bound”—shared institutions like the subways, the theaters, Tammany Hall, and most of all “the excitement and pride of living in a great city”—kept New York together, a single metropolis and a model of the cosmopolitan ideal. Although Wallace doesn’t make this point explicitly, his “Greater Gotham” is also a city that came to represent a template for the nation as a whole, a particular vision of what it meant to be American that is nearly the exact opposite of Donald Trump’s. 21

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The Frontiers of American Capitalism

While Wallace’s invocation of New York as an alternative vision of American identity is welcome, there’s a way in which the book’s concluding depiction of a city unified despite its tensions runs counter to its broader narrative of struggle and contest. New York’s political and economic consolidation in the early 20th century (especially after World War I) also meant the shutting down of certain kinds of political challenges. By the end of 1919, the ranks of the Socialist Party had been decimated, thanks both to wartime repression and the internal splits in the party after the Russian Revolution. Emma Goldman had been imprisoned for organizing anti-conscription protests and the rich network of newspapers, magazines, and political groups that had sustained the city’s left and its artistic counterculture had been driven almost out of existence. Only a few years later, the country would pass a “genuine 100 percent American immigration law” to shut out the “scum of the earth” (to quote New York real-estate developer and eugenicist W.E.D. Stokes). There’s a suggestion in Greater Gotham that the multiethnic working class of New York offered a counterpoint to the world of real estate, finance, and corporate capitalism—one that was able to check and contain its dominance and provide a real alternative. But was this actually the case? 22

Given the heft of Greater Gotham, asking for more might seem perverse. Still, one cannot help but wonder how Wallace’s story might have been different had he brought his story forward to examine the ways the conflicts and tensions he describes affected New York’s response to the Great Depression. How did the class politics he explores inform the liberal state as it took shape in the postwar city, and how did they shape the undermining and transformation of that liberalism after the 1975 fiscal crisis? Going further forward still, how does the city he chronicles foreshadow the one of today, which is still home to dense ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods and where intense poverty exists right next to some of the most extreme wealth the world has ever known? While elements of the robust public sector that ultimately emerged out of those contests a hundred years ago still exist, the radical politics that once animated the city does not—at least, not in the forms it did during the years chronicled in Greater Gotham. Perhaps New York will someday find itself the center of such a political uprising once again, as the myriad dispossessed of a city dominated by extreme wealth might be able, even today, to discover new points of rebellion. The intensity of life “compressed” (as E.B. White put it) in the city can never, as Wallace shows us, truly be controlled from the top. But we will have to wait for the sequel to find out why this radical spirit got lost in the later years of the 20th century—and whether this narrative of the rise of a city may also be, in a way, a story of its fall. 23

Kim Phillips-Fein Kim Phillips-Fein is the author of Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal and Fear City: The New York City Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of the Age of Austerity.

The Day New York Tried to Secede

A bird's-eye view of pre-war New York displays the shipping commerce that made the city rich. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Because of a production problem, a portion of this article was omitted from the January 2012 issue of America’s Civil War. It follows here in full.

During the first three months of 1861, New York City boldly flirted with leaving the Union. The reasons were decades in the making, but the sentiment was never more pointed than on January 6, 1861, when New York Mayor Fernando Wood addressed the city council. “It would seem that a dissolution of the Federal Union is inevitable,” he observed, noting the sympathy joining New York to “our aggrieved brethren of the Slave States” and suggesting that the city declare its own independence from the Union. “When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact, why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master—to a people and a party that have plundered her revenues, attempted to ruin her, take away the power of self-government, and de­stroyed the Confederacy of which she was the proud Empire City?”

Wood was preaching to the converted. Then, as now, New York City was the nation’s financial hub, and had made its reputation—and the lion’s share of its revenues—by supplying goods and services to the slave South. Most New Yorkers were decidedly pro-Southern and for years leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s election, two scoundrels—Wood and U.S. Marshal Isaiah Rynders—nurtured pro-slavery practices, both legal and illegal, in the city.

Corrupt to the core, three-time mayor Wood was handsome and charming—and a crook and a racist. He bribed the police, made a fortune selling public offices and offered immigrants naturalization in exchange for their votes. As Harper’s Weekly reported in 1857, New York under Wood was “a huge semi-barbarous metropolis…not well-governed nor ill-governed, but simply not governed at all.”

Slavery wasn't so much a moral evil as an economic necessity, according to Mayor Fernando Wood, a former shipping merchant who well knew the city's dependence on the South's slave economy. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Wood virulently opposed the anti-slavery movement, and at his instigation, Rynders would send bully boys to break up meetings of reform groups and disrupt speeches by the likes of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Wood believed black people were racially inferior and regarded slavery as a “divine institution.”

Sadly, many New Yorkers had a similar view of slavery—or at least a high regard for the profits to be made from it. “New York belongs almost as much to the South as to the North,” observed the editor of the New York Evening Post. The city’s businessmen marketed the South’s cotton crop and manufactured everything from cheap clothing for outfitting slaves to fancy carriages for their masters. Wood himself called the South “our best customer. She pays the best prices, and pays promptly.”

Wood’s political base included the city’s gentry and businessmen who made their living from the slave industry as well as the working class whose jobs would be threatened by freedmen surging North. The mayor was not far wrong when he claimed “the profits, luxuries, the necessities––nay, even the physical existence [of New York] depend upon…continuance of slave labor and the prosperity of the slave master!”

New York was not only a major commercial supply hub for the South’s legal institution of slavery it was—and had been for many years—the epicenter of America’s illegal slave trade. Although the state of New York had voted in 1827 to abolish slavery, New York City traders continued to provide slaves––first to the South, then to Brazil and Cuba––right up to and during the Civil War. Whether as investors, ship owners or captains and crews, New Yorkers promoted, enabled and carried on the traffic in humans. Of all the cities in America, New York was the most invested in the transatlantic slave trade.

New York’s ship owners built their vessels to accommodate large slave cargoes its businessmen financed and invested in the voyages and its seamen made the trips. The profits realized from a single slaving expedition were staggering: A slave purchased for $40 worth of cloth, beads or whiskey would sell for between $400 and $1,200 on the blocks of Charleston, Mobile, Rio de Janeiro or Havana. With the sale of an average cargo of 800 slaves bringing as much as $960,000—a sum equalling tens of millions in today’s currency—many a ship owner, investor and captain grew wealthy from the proceeds of a single successful voyage.

And in the unlikely event that a slave ship was captured at sea and subjected to proceedings in New York’s courts, the city’s bondsmen stood ready to falsify bond transactions, freeing the vessels for future slaving voyages. In the first 60 years of the 19th century, New York City financed and fitted out more slaving expeditions than any other American port city, North or South. Between 1858 and 1860, New York launched nearly 100 slave ships. And in keeping with the latest maritime technology, many of these vessels were New York–built steamers that could handle much larger “cargoes” than the earlier sailing vessels. It was all about business the more Africans that could be crammed aboard, the greater the profit.

“Few of our readers are aware…of the extent to which this infernal traffic is carried on, by vessels clearing from New York, and in close allegiance with our legitimate trade,” the New York Journal of Commerce wrote in 1857, “and that down-town merchants of wealth and respectability are extensively engaged in buying and selling African Negroes, and have been, with comparative little interruption, for an indefinite number of years.” Everyone knew who these merchants and traders were. Despite the pretense of secrecy, some slave traders occupied lofty positions in New York society and maintained visible offices along South Street. One such “businessman” also served as the Portuguese consul general in New York.

By 1860, New York City’s reputation for official corruption and leniency toward slavers was unrivaled. Putting money into slaving voyages was considered a good investment—much as one would invest today in AT&T or Microsoft—and although the practice was illegal and the transgressors were widely known, no efforts were made to apprehend either the investors or the traders. Amazingly, it was generally viewed as a “victimless” crime. In fact, when­ever a voice was raised to condemn the practice, New York’s businessmen were united in their opposition to change.

Arrests at sea were rare, thanks to the gross inefficiency of the Navy’s tiny, antiquated and unmotivated African Squadron. Navy vessels didn’t try to capture slave ships. Their commanders acted under orders to protect the rights of American merchant seamen—in other words, keep the British off our ships. And if they happened to come across a slaver, all well and good: Arrest it. Their record of seizures was predictably abysmal. During a six-year period in which its British counterpart seized more than 500 slave ships containing some 40,000 captives, the American fleet captured only six––one per year. And on the infrequent occasions when slavers were arrested and brought to trial in federal court, they were almost invariably released or given a token slap on the wrist.

In New York City, where most of the Northern prosecutions took place, hardly any of the few indicted were actually convicted. Of the 125 seamen prosecuted as slave traders during the 24 years before the Civil War, only 20 were sent to prison—with sentences averaging two years apiece. Ten of these received presidential pardons and three more, facing the possibility of the gallows, were allowed to plead to lesser charges. Although slave trading had been a capital offense since 1820, not a single slave trader had been executed by 1860. American judges and juries simply refused to hang American sailors for bringing slaves from Africa to Cuba or Brazil at a time when it was perfectly legal to sell one’s slaves from, say, Virginia to Louisiana.

Skilled attorneys were employed anonymously by New York’s established slave traders to defend accused captains and their crews. Ironically, a number of these lawyers were former U.S. and assistant U.S. attorneys, whose job it had been to prosecute the very men they were now hired to get off. The pay was considerably better and the verdicts almost certain to run in their favor. Their defense arguments were transparent and absurd nonetheless, New York’s judicial system regularly allowed slavers to walk out of court scot-free.

But attorneys did not rely on their arguments alone payoffs and violence helped. It was common practice for public servants at all levels of city government to be on the take. A June 1860 editorial in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune described the state of “The Slave Trade in New York”:

It is a remarkable fact that the slave traders in this city have matured their arrangements so thoroughly that they almost invariably manage to elude the meshes of the law. Now they bribe a jury, another time their counsel or agents spirit away a vital witness….The truth is, the United States offices in Chambers Street…have become thoroughly corrupt….To break up the African slave trade…it will be necessary to purge the Courts and offices of these pimps of piracy, who are well known and at the proper time will receive their just des[s]erts.

No “just desserts” would be forthcoming, however, so long as James J. Roosevelt was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He had been a member of the State Assembly, a congressman and a justice of the New York Supreme Court. He was now old, tired, facing retirement and not about to undertake the prosecution in a capital trial of an accused slave trader. He also shared President James Buchanan’s avowed refusal to hang a man for slave trading, despite the law.

Before the game-changing election of 1860, Wood bought the New York Daily News for his younger brother, Benjamin, who was as racist as his big brother. During Abraham Lincoln’s campaign, Benjamin Wood churned out an endless stream of caustic editorials, howling that “if Lincoln is elected you will have to compete with the labor of four million emancipated Negroes,” and “we shall find Negroes among us thicker than blackberries.” As for the city’s businessmen, the prospect of losing their biggest client—the South—was terrifying indeed, and Southern growers and newspapers knew it. One New Orleans editor put it succinctly: Should New York lose the South’s trade, its “ships would rot at her docks grass would grow in Wall Street and Broadway, and the glory of New York, like that of Babylon and Rome, would be numbered with the things of the past.”

In December 1860, with Lincoln elected and the threat of secession fast becoming reality, some 2,000 terrified New York men of commerce gathered in support of the South—and of secession. “If ever a conflict arises between the races,” proclaimed attorney Hiram Ketchum, “the people of the city of New York will stand by their brethren, the white race.” These men—and thousands like them—owed their livings to the cotton trade, and they were willing to do virtually anything to ensure the Southern connection remained intact.

To some extent, their fear was justified. The South did, in fact, owe New York’s coffers tens of millions of dollars. When South Carolina’s legislature dissolved its bond with the United States on December 20, it foreshadowed a series of events that threatened to plunge New York into severe economic crisis. Clearly one of the first commercial steps the seceded states would take would be to repudiate their debts to Northern suppliers and business associates.

Mayor Wood acted quickly. When he declared national disunion to be a “fixed fact” on January 6, he also proposed that Gotham declare itself an independent commonwealth, to be called the Free City of Tri-insula, Latin for “Three islands”—Long, Staten and Manhattan. As its own sovereign city-state, it would be free to “make common cause with the South” and deny Federal troops the right to march through the city.

Incredibly, the Common Council—a notably corrupt lot of politicians informally dubbed “The Forty Thieves”—actually approved Wood’s proposal and had copies printed and widely distributed. For a brief period, it appeared as if the North’s major commercial port and business center would join the South in rebellion. The council reversed itself only after the attack on Fort Sumter in April had they stuck by their original decision, the outbreak of war would have made them all traitors and arguably put them in line for the gallows.

But when the Lincoln administration took office in 1861, changes came to New York as well. Roosevelt and Rynders—both political appointees—were replaced by two honest and dedicated men: U.S. Marshal Robert Murray and U.S. Attorney E. Delafield Smith. At the next mayoral election in 1862, the Democratic ticket was split beyond reconciliation, and to his surprise, “Fernandy” Wood was replaced by a staunch Lincoln Republican, George Opdyke.

Smith immediately set out to drive the slave traders from New York. He convicted and jailed Albert Horn, a local ship owner. Horn’s 572-ton steamer, City of Norfolk, was captured at sea with 560 slaves aboard. Smith also jailed Rudolph Blumenberg, a bondsman responsible for bailing out captured slave ships, enabling them to return to Africa. And most dramatically, in 1862 Smith—with the support of President Lincoln—hanged a slave trader, a New England sea captain named Nathaniel Gordon, who had been arrested off the West Coast of Africa with nearly 1,000 captives—half of them children—in the hold of his small ship.

The execution sent shock waves through New York’s slaving community. The traders were stunned New York’s newspapers exulted. “[T]he majesty of the law has been vindicated, and the stamp of the gallows…set upon the crime of slave-trading,” the New York Times reported, “And it was time.”

“Since entering upon the duties of this office, I have made an earnest effort…to check the Slave Trade from the Port [of New York],” wrote Rynders’ replacement, U.S. Marshal Murray, to his superior, the secretary of the Interior. “This City had become the principal depot for vessels in this traffic, and I felt that here the attempt must be made to arrest [it]….I am satisfied that the parties interested have removed their operations from New York to the ports of New London, New Bedford, and Portland.”

Once the war began, New York rallied to the cause and supplied invaluable troops and support to the Union effort. In the words of historian Murat Halstead, “The thunder of Sumter’s guns waked the heart of the people to passionate loyalty. The bulk of the Democrats joined with the Republicans to show by word and act their fervent and patriotic devotion to the Union.” The city came alive with mass meetings and patriotic rallies—and, never one to miss an opportunity, one of the most vociferous in his support of the Union and condemnation of the rebellious South was Fernando Wood.

But as the war dragged on, most New Yorkers held fast to their Democratic roots, their rabid hatred of blacks and their opposition to Lincoln. In 1863, when conscription became an issue for working men throughout the North, it was a mob of New York residents that tore up the city’s streets, burned out its buildings and left dozens of dead in its wake. By the war’s end, New York had much to celebrate—and much to forget.

Historian and author Ron Soodalter is a regular contributor to America’s Civil War.

Is NYC Still Financial Capital of the World?

For the hundreds of camera-toting tourists who visit Wall Street every day, the New York Stock Exchange presents an imposing sight.

The building-sized American flag draped over the exchange's towering Corinthian columns. The sculptures on the facade that symbolize the prosperity of a capitalist nation. The stern-looking statue of George Washington across the street.

These icons of national pride mark Wall Street as both a site of business and a symbol of the risk-taking and financial success that have spurred American global dominance and helped shape this country's identity.

But with the nation's top investment houses shuttered, sold or changing into staid commercial operations, doubts have emerged about whether the city that for generations has been known as the world's financial capital can retain that title -- or the daredevil swagger that has defined Wall Street for so long.

It is a transformation that some say was under way long before the meltdown of 2008.

"It's going to be a long, slow process and take many years for us to really restore our leadership in the world," said Ron Chernow, who has written extensively on the history of Wall Street. "New York has been damaged, and some of it I think is permanent."

First, Bear Stearns nearly collapsed and was bought by JPMorgan Chase in a deal backed by $29 billion in federal money. Then Lehman Brothers filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history and the British bank Barclays PLC swept in to buy up key units of the firm. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley opted to become commercial banks. And even Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. -- long associated with Wall Street's iconic bull -- announced its sale to an out-of-town commercial bank, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp. Citigroup has been crumbling day by day in the last week.

At the same time, places like London, Tokyo and Hong Kong have become global financial centers on a scale that some believe already rival New York.

The New York Stock Exchange still far outweighs the London Stock Exchange -- with the value of shares traded at the NYSE in 2007 nearly triple the $10.33 trillion traded in London.

However, the financial sway of cities such as London has been growing faster than New York's. From 1997 to 2007, the new capital raised yearly in New York dropped by nearly one-quarter -- while in London the figure almost quadrupled, according to the World Federation of Exchanges.

Even the domestic market capitalization, or value of the market, has been growing faster in London than New York, the exchange federation says.

"In the short and medium term, the U.S. will still remain a very important financial center, and I think most likely the most important. But after the term of five years, I'm no more sure," said Lorenzo Gallai, economic statistician at the World Federation of Exchanges.

A loss of status in the world of finance could hurt the city on many levels. Money is stored here, higher-income jobs come here. This creates tax revenue and supports a higher quality of life, as businesses and cultural activities -- which themselves attract visitors -- spring up to support these workers, said Richard Sylla, a curator at the Museum of American Finance. He is also a professor of economics and financial history at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Last year, 11 percent of the city's employees worked in the finance and insurance industries, but they made nearly 40 percent of the city's income.

The meltdown is expected to wipe out tens of thousands of those jobs.

Even the top achievers in the financial field -- the people in pinstriped suits who live on adrenaline, bet big and reap even bigger rewards -- could be making less money.

As the major investment banks change their focus following the crisis and evolve into commercial banks, they will be more constrained by government regulation, limiting both their risk-taking and potential profits.

And the federal government's injection of hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the banking industry also means that financial institutions will be forced to be more conservative in their investments, Chernow says. Taxpayers simply wouldn't stand for the kind of bold risk-taking that has defined Wall Street, he said.

"When you think of Wall Street . one has an image of these very freewheeling, razzle-dazzle, buccaneering kinds of firms," Chernow said. "That style of business is now history."

David Henderson knows all about this history. He works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and is a fifth-generation Wall Street worker whose great-great grandfather started the family tradition in the 1860s.

Back then, London was the global financial capital. Although Wall Street traces its roots to the 1600s, it did not become the pre-eminent global financial center until after World War I.

Now Henderson wonders if he'll see that era end.

"This wheeling and dealing atmosphere we've had going on for umpteen years, that's going to be more contained," he said.

Others are not as ready to predict Wall Street's downfall, including Ted Weisberg, who has worked at the New York Stock Exchange for 40 years.

"When you walk outside the New York Stock Exchange every day, there are thousands and thousands of tourists taking pictures of a building that they're not even allowed to get inside," Weisberg said. "They're not standing out in front of the London stock exchange . they're not standing out in front of NASDAQ."

Some observers say New York has slowly been losing ground as the world capital for years.

In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer warned that New York risked being overtaken and they blamed what they said was a burdensome regulatory atmosphere.

The New York City comptroller's chief economist, Frank Braconi, warned in October that the meltdown had "sped up the process of financial dispersion that was already under way," adding that "in coming years, New York will have to share the financial stage."

It's not just other world capitals that could benefit.

"One thing New York did uniquely well was investment banking," Chernow said. "When they become commercial banks -- well, commercial banks can do very well in Charlotte, N.C. Chicago, Ill. or San Francisco, Calif. They don't need the New York ambience to flourish."

However the crisis plays out, Wall Street still looms large to people around the world.

Visiting Wall Street during a recent vacation, Dutch tourist Maryke Heyman said she wanted to see the NYSE because of all the turmoil in the market.

"I don't know where it ends. Maybe it's not anymore the big place in the world," she said. Not long ago, she added, "It was happening here. This was No. 1."

8. 1798 – Great Epidemic killed more than 5000 people

In the summer of 1798, yellow fever hit New York’s three major cities concurrently – Boston, Philadelphia and New York City taking the lives of more than 5000 people from July – November. Yellow Fever was a frequent visitor in New York at that time from late 18 th century to early 19 th century but the year 1798 epidemic was something else. Doctors were totally unaware about the possible cause of this disease and were therefore helpless. As many as 50,000 residents left their respective places to move in the other safe New York cities. The Yellow Fever of 1798 was undoubtedly the greatest epidemic New York has ever seen.

The wonder of the Twin Towers

Among the centerpieces of the exhibit is a scale model of the World Trade Center towers courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. When they were completed in the early 1970s, the Twin Towers were the tallest (110 stories at 1,368 and 1,361 feet) and largest skyscrapers in the world. Their floors were an acre wide, with more square footage than the taller Sears Tower in Chicago. No skyscraper has matched their scale since, and the scale of imagination, fascination with technology and money that it took to make the Twin Towers a reality won’t likely be seen again.

History of New York City

The jazz age in New York is one of the most infamous times throughout the history of New York. From the booming music scene, to the changing social and sexual norms, New York became the hub for enjoying the newly emerging American culture. New York City is one of the entertainment capitals of the world, and much of that entertainment is from music. Music is not new to the city, and came to a peak during the jazz age. The jazz age was at its peak in the 1920s, when jazz was becoming more and more popular. Many of the most famous jazz musicians were African Americans such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The jazz age was not only a pivotal time for music, but also for fashion, mass culture, prohibition, the automobile, and the lives of women. This time is also called “The Roaring Twenties,” since it was a time known for its opulence and over the top parties. New Yorkers travelled to Carnegie Hall to get their fix of jazz music at one of the many concerts put on there. People looking to party and drink illegal alcohol would visit speakeasies such as The Back Room, where the entrance to the bar was hidden behind a bookcase. The Cotton Club was another major jazz club, known for its “#1 Beer” and a memorable house band led by Duke Ellington. New York is full of landmarks that will transport visitors back to the Jazz Age with just one step inside.

The Jazz Age was an age marked by the uprising of jazz music, and the drastic change in American culture. Women called “flappers” were wearing shorter dresses and cutting their hair into bobs, dancing to the popular music in speakeasies and dance clubs. With prohibition in effect during this time period, alcohol had to be illegally made and served at places called speakeasies. One of the most popular speakeasies could be found at 102 Norfolk Ave, and was called The Back Room. While many speakeasies had fake fronts, this speakeasy had an actual business operating in conjunction with the speakeasy, Ratner’s Restaurant. This particular speakeasy was known for serving illegal alcohol and the criminals of the city as well. Many gangsters such as Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel used this space for “business meetings.”[1] The gangsters preferred this speakeasy due to its multiple exits onto different streets. If there was a hit going on, or a raid, it was very easy for the gangsters to make a quick getaway through one of the many entrances.[2] Today, the Back Room is accessed the same way it was during the 1920s. A secret staircase behind a bookshelf brings customers down to the speakeasy and transports them to the 1920s. With vintage décor and cocktails served in teacups, just like they were during prohibition to secretly drink, one trip to this hidden bar will make you feel like you are partying at the peak of the jazz age.

Aside from parties and illegal alcohol, the jazz age was known quite obviously for its music. Jazz was making its way into the limelight and became the music of the 1920s and 30s. Jazz music was not new in America, but was becoming more and more popular at this time than it had ever been before. In the article “If Jazz Isn’t Music, Why Isn’t It,” from the June 13 th , 1926 edition of the New York Times, Paul Whiteman claims that “jazz came to America 300 years ago in chains.”[3] There is an undeniable truth that jazz is a major part of the African American culture and many of its roots lie within the slaves that came to America hundreds of years ago. As the years went on, jazz began to spread to mainstream American culture and gave African Americans the opportunity to be in the spotlight. Jazz music was mainly performed by African Americans during this age at the listening pleasure of wealthier white citizens. One place where this jazz music was heard was at the Cotton Club, one of the most famous jazz clubs in NYC during this era. It was located in Harlem and owned by the infamous gangster Owney Madden. This club was the go-to spot for illegal alcohol and entertainment from jazz musicians and dancers.[4] The acts that performed at the Cotton Club became world famous musicians, such as Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington led the Orchestra at the Cotton Club from 1927-1930, and sporadically after that for 8 years. Ellington and his orchestra gained national attention and praise through weekly radio broadcasts that were sometimes recorded and released on albums.[5]

Although the jazz music was played mostly by African Americans, the clubs they were performing in were not so racially friendly to customers and other workers. The club was created with the idea to make “a stylish plantation environment for its entirely white clientele.”[6] The Cotton Club originally excluded all but white customers, although the majority of the performers and staff were African American. The dancers were held to a very strict standard and were required to be under 21 years old, light skinned, and at least 5’6” tall. The music here was instructed to be played to give a jungle like atmosphere to portray the African American employees as plantation residents or exotic savages. Although the majority of the population in the Cotton Club was African American and the music would not be possible without them, the club was extremely segregated and oppressive. Jazz music was bringing together the races, only to segregate them when they got together. Carnegie Hall was another music hall that was popular for jazz music during this period. It was home to hundreds of jazz concerts by famous artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Early jazz was first heard here in 1912, becoming one of the first places in the city to go and listen to the newly emerging genre.[7] Carnegie Hall is still in use today and has withstood the test of time as a prestigious music venue.

The jazz age was also a time for new fashion, especially for women. The flapper style became very popular starting in the 1920s. Women began cutting their hair short into bobs, wearing shorter skirts that showed their legs, wearing more makeup, and high-heeled shoes. Being a flapper was not all about the clothes, but also their state of mind. In the April 16 th , 1922 issue of the New York Times, a flapper “dresses simply and sensibly, and looks life right straight in the eye she knows just what she wants and goes after it, whether it is a man, a career, a job, or a new hat.”[8] This new type of woman pushed the boundaries and challenged the sexual standards of the times. Women were no longer submissive to the men in their lives and were not afraid to have fun. Flappers would go to dance clubs and dance until the wee hours of the morning. They would spend their time with men drinking and socializing in speakeasies while listening to jazz. The changing times came with changing standards for women and gave them more freedom. If it wasn’t for the brave flappers who changed the rules, women would not be where they are today.

Overall, the Jazz Age in New York City was a time of change and advancement. The music scene was changing with the emergence of jazz into popular culture. This music was played by African American musicians in places such as the Cotton Club and Carnegie Hall. While the African American musicians were in the spotlight, their business was not welcomed as patrons. These jazz clubs were segregated and only white clientele were welcome to see the show. Besides the jazz clubs, New Yorkers also passed their time by going to speakeasies to drink illegal alcohol. Prohibition was in place during this time period, so the only way to get alcohol was to go to a secret club. These secret clubs were also hot beds of mob activity. The mob was very active during the jazz era and gangsters used prohibition to their advantage. For example, famous gangster Owney Madden was the owner of the Cotton Club and used the club to sell his “#1 Beer.” The Back Room was also used by many gangsters such as Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel used this space for “business meetings.”[9] The gangsters preferred this speakeasy due to its multiple exits onto different streets. If there was a hit going on, or a raid, it was very easy for the gangsters to make a quick getaway through one of the many entrances. From flappers, to gangsters, to jazz musicians, the jazz age in New York City has a colorful history. A tour around New York City with visits to the Backroom, The Cotton Club, and Carnegie Hall, will instantly transport you back to the opulent 1920s and early 1930s.

Carnegie Hall
Duke Ellington
Jazz Age Annotated Source List

Caelynn Robinson Professor Fieldston History of NYC October 5th, 2016 Virtual Guidebook Assignment: Jazz Age New York My topic for the virtual guidebook assignment is the jazz age in New York City. New York City is one of the entertainment capitals of the world, and much of that entertainment is from music. Music is not new to the city, and .

Jazz Age New York

The jazz age in New York is one of the most infamous times throughout the history of New York. From the booming music scene, to the changing social and sexual norms, New York became the hub for enjoying the newly emerging American culture. New York City is one of the entertainment capitals of the world, .

A Brief History of New York Transportation

1693 - First Bridge
The first bridge in the city, King's Bridge connects Manhattan and what is now the Bronx. It is demolished in 1917.

1811 - Ferry Service
The Juliana, the world's first commercially operated steam ferry, begins running between New Jersey and Vesey Street.

1811 - Street Plan
The New York State Legislature introduces the Grid Plan for New York City, dividing its streets into a rectangular pattern. The design has been the basis for transportation planning in the city ever since.

1825 - Link to the West
The Erie Canal is finished, making New York City America's premier port.

1832 - First Railroad
The first railroad system in New York, owned by the New York and Harlem Railroad company, begins operating approximately nine blocks between Union Square and 23rd Street.

1870 - Above Ground
The city's first elevated railway begins running regularly along Greenwich Street and 9th Avenue. It would be driven out of business by the subway 50 years later.

1871 - New Station
Grand Central Depot, now known as Grand Central Terminal, is constructed in 1871 to handle New York City's railroad traffic.

1874 - Link to New Jersey
Colonel Dewitt Haskins breaks ground for the first tunnel under the Hudson, designed to connect Hoboken and Lower Manhattan. It is completed almost 30 years later. Parts of it are still used in the PATH rail system.

Contsruction on the Brooklyn Bridge.
1883 - Across the East River
On May 24, the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River opens, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn.

1890 - Street Transit
The first cable cars appear, replacing animal-powered streetcars.

1903 - East River Crossing
The Williamsburg Bridge, the largest of the bridges across the East River, is completed.

1904 - First Subway
The first official subway system in Manhattan opens. The Interborough Rapid Transit initially covers 9.1 miles of track and 28 stations between City Hall and 145th street.

1905 - Buses Start
The first gasoline-powered buses in America begin running along Fifth Avenue.

1905 - East and West
The Manhattan Bridge is completed, connecting Canal Street in Manhattan and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn over the East River.

1907 - Bye, Bye Battery
Slow moving battery taxis are replaced with faster, gas-powered vehicles.

1913 - Creating a City System
New York City approves the expansion of subway lines owned by both the Independent Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. The $302 million project adds 123 miles of track to the subway system.

1916 - Help from Washington
The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 establishes a regular system of federal funding for state road projects. It is the basis for all future federal transportation laws that provide funding to states, including New York, for highway construction.

1919 - Red Light, Green Light
New York City installs its first traffic signal light at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

1921 - Joint Project
New York and New Jersey form the Port of New York Authority to improve the city's mass transportation facilities.

1924 - Bronx River Parkway
The Bronx River Parkway, the city's first modern parkway, is completed.

1925 - Another Subway
Mayor John F. Hylan wins approval to create the city-owned Independent Subway System.

1927 - Under the River
The Holland Tunnel opens, becoming the city's first underwater tunnel for motor vehicles. A construction project shared by New York and New Jersey, the tunnel connects lower Manhattan at Canal Street and Jersey City.

1930 - Air Travel
Bennett Airport on Barren Island in Brooklyn is finished, accommodating the first regular plane service in the city.

The George Washington Bridge.
1931 - Over the River
The George Washington Bridge opens, connecting upper Manhattan and New Jersey over the Hudson River. It is the first bridge in New York to be constructed completely out of steel.

1934 - Along the River
The East River Drive, now known as the FDR Drive, is completed, running from the Battery to the Triborough Bridge along the eastern edge of Manhattan.

1934 - Order on the Buses
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia sets out a coherent policy for surface transit, doing away with some streetcar lines and granting franchises to private bus companies.

1935 - Major Construction
Construction begins on the Major Deegan Expressway, cutting a path from the Bronx to upstate New York.

1937 - Taxi Medallions
La Guardia signs the Haas Act, establishing a system of medallions, or official licenses, for the city's taxi cabs. Medallions are limited to 13,566 and cost $10 each.

1937 - Another Link
The Lincoln Tunnel opens, connecting midtown Manhattan and New Jersey under the Hudson River.

1938 - Belt Parkway
One of the many roads masterminded by Robert Moses, this highway around Brooklyn and Queens opens.

1939 - La Guardia Airfield
La Guardia Airfield opens in Queens, handling 250 flights a day in its first year.

1940 - Subway Takeover
The city takes over the subway system as it purchases the financially ailing Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT) and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT).

1941 - Bus Protest
After a four-week, citywide boycott led by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., bus companies in New York agree to hire black drivers.

1948 - Cars Not People
Construction begins on the Cross-Bronx Expressway. To make way for it, 159 apartment buildings were destroyed in East Tremont and Morris Heights and 1,530 families had to move.

1948 - End of an Era
The subway fare rises to 10 cents, the first fare hike since the system began operation 44 years earlier.

"Fliteseer" tram in front of a pair of Alitalia DC-7s at Idlewild Airport.
1948 - New Airport
Idlewild International Airport, later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport, opens in Queens. It goes on to become the busiest cargo airport in the world.

1950 - Bus Station
The Port Authority Bus Terminal opens to the public. It was expanded in 1963 and again in 1979.

1950 - Department of Traffic
The city creates a Department of Traffic to take over responsibility for traffic control from the police departments. It soon institutes a number of programs, including alternate side of the street parking.

1953 - Running the Subways
The New York State Legislature creates the New York City Transit Authority to manage and operate the city's subway and bus systems.

1953 - That and a Token
Subway tokens debut on July 25 as the subway fare rises from 10 to 15 cents.

1956 - New Highways
The Federal Interstate Highway Act authorizes construction of a 41,000-mile interstate highway system, with the federal government paying 90 percent of the cost. New York City would use this legislation for projects such as completion of the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

1957 - End of an Era
The last city streetcar line is eliminated.

1962 - Commuter Rail

PATH Train Exiting Journal Square Transportation Center.
The PATH rail system connects Hoboken, New Jersey to Manhattan.

1964 - Staten Island
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opens, linking Manhattan and Staten Island. The Staten Island Expressway, connected to the bridge?s upper deck, is also finished. It required the demolition of 400 buildings and the displacement of 3,500 residents.

1967 - Yellow Cabs
The city orders all medallion cabs to be painted yellow.

1968 - State Control
The New York State Legislature creates the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which becomes New York City Transit's parent organization.

1971 - Fare Policy
The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is created to license and regulate the city's yellow cabs.

1977 - Shifting Control
The city Department of Transportation takes over street operations, including traffic control and parking regulations.

1980 - Easier Access
The first wheelchair lifts for passengers with disabilities appear on city-owned buses.

1989 - End of Westway
After years of controversy, Greenwich Village residents, environmentalists and others finally defeat a plan to build Westway, a highway along the Hudson River in Manhattan.

1990 - Accessible City
Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law, requiring that public transportation be accessible to people with disabilities. Activists use the legislation to make all city curbs accessible in 2002.

1993 - Candid Camera
The city launches the Red Light Program, automatically taking pictures of the license plates of vehicles that run red lights.

1994 - Swipe and Go
The MTA introduces MetroCards, installing turnstiles that accept them at the Wall Street and Whitehall Street subway stations.

1997 - The Rise of the MetroCard
All New York City buses and subway stations now accept MetroCards.

2001 - September 11
A terrorist attack destroys the World Trade Center on September 11. There is a partial collapse of the Cortlandt Street Station underneath the complex. IRT Broadway 1/9 service is shut down between Chambers Street and South Ferry. PATH lines adjacent to the site are ruined.

2002 - MTA Splits
MTA New York City Transit is officially separated into two separate companies called MTA Subways and MTA Buses.

2003 - Death of an Icon
New York City subways and buses stop accepting tokens, as MTA New York City Transit hikes fares on its buses and subways by 33 percent from a $1.50 to $2.00. It is the largest fair increase in city history.

2003 - Transit Center
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and other agencies begin planning a new transportation hub at the World Trace Center site.


Best known as the setting of the Superman comics, Metropolis isn’t a confirmed representation of New York City. That doesn’t stop fans from making connections between the fictional and real-world locations, however, though some find it difficult to reconcile this relationship with the other link between Gotham and New York City. Comics legend Frank Miller clarified this concern, and in doing so endorsed the nickname, by explaining: “Metropolis is New York in the daytime Gotham City is New York at night.”

Canal Corporation

The New York State Canal System is not only rich in history, but also culture. Many immigrants worked long and hard on "Clinton&rsquos Ditch" to create this magnificent waterway. Folklore, songs and speech lingo emerged from those individuals working along the Canal. As the population grew and the Canal prospered, it became not only a transportation waterway, but also a vacation area for the well-to-do.

At one time, more than 50,000 people depended on the Erie Canal for their livelihood. From its inception, the Erie Canal helped form a whole new culture revolving around canal life. For many, canal boats became floating houses, traveling from town to town. The father would serve as captain, while the mother cooked for the family and crew and the children, if old enough, would serve as "hoggees" and would walk alongside the mules to lead them along at a steady pace.

For those who traveled along the Canal in packet boats or passenger vessels, the Canal was an exciting place. Gambling and entertainment were frequent pastimes on the Canal and often, families would meet each year at the same locations to share stories and adventures.

Today, the Canal has returned to its former glory and is filled with pleasure boats, fishermen and cyclists riding the former towpaths where mules once trod. The excitement of the past is alive and well.

The Erie Canal: A Brief History

Begun in 1817 and opened in its entirety 1825, the Erie Canal is considered the engineering marvel of the 19th Century. When the federal government concluded that the project was too ambitious to undertake, the State of New York took on the task of carving 363 miles of canal through the wilderness with nothing but the muscle power of men and horses.

Once derided as &ldquoClinton&rsquos Folly&rdquo for the Governor who lent his vision and political muscle to the project, the Erie Canal experienced unparalleled success almost overnight. The iconic waterway established settlement patterns for most of the United States during the 19th century, made New York the financial capital of the world, provided a critical supply line which helped the North win the Civil War, and precipitated a series of social and economic changes throughout a young America.

Explorers had long searched for a water route to the west. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the lack of an efficient, safe transportation network kept populations - and trade - largely confined to coastal areas. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Allegheny Mountains were the Western Frontier. The Northwest Territories that would later become Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio were rich in timber, minerals, and fertile land for farming. It took weeks to reach these precious resources. Travelers were faced with rutted turnpike roads that baked to hardness in the summer sun. In the winter, the roads dissolved in a sea of mud.

An imprisoned flour merchant named Jesse Hawley envisioned a better way: a Canal from Buffalo on the eastern shore of Lake Erie to Albany on the upper Hudson River, a distance of almost 400 miles. Long a proponent of efficient water transportation, Hawley had gone bankrupt trying to get his product to market from what is now Rochester. Sent to debtor&rsquos prison as a result, Hawley wrote a series of essays which were published in the Genesee Messenger beginning in 1807, describing in great detail the route, costs, and benefits of what would become the Erie Canal.

Hawley&rsquos essays caught the eye of Assemblyman Joshua Forman, who submitted the first State legislation related to the Erie Canal in 1808, calling for a series of surveys to be made examining the practicality of a water route between Lake Erie and the Hudson River. Forman even traveled to Washington to make a case for federal support for the Canal, at which point Thomas Jefferson described the proposal as &ldquoa little short of madness.&rdquo

In 1810, Thomas Eddy, Treasurer of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company and State Senator Jonas Platt, hoping to get plans for the Canal moving forward, approached influential Senator De Witt Clinton -- former mayor of New York City and a rising political star -- to enlist his support. On March 13th, a measure was introduced in the State Senate naming a Canal Commission and directing the commissioners to survey a route for the Canal which would connect the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. With Clinton&rsquos support, the measure passed, and the Erie Canal era had begun.

Though Clinton had been recruited to the Canal effort by Eddy and Platt, he quickly became one of the Canal&rsquos most active supporters, and went on to tie his very political fate to the success of the Canal. Today, De Witt Clinton and the story of the Erie Canal are inextricably linked, and there is no doubt that Governor Clinton grasped at the time the revolutionary impact the Canal would have once it opened:

Though the War of 1812 created a lengthy interruption in the project&rsquos progress, Clinton and his fellow Canal proponents continued to work to build support for the waterway. In 1816, as a sitting Canal Commissioner, DeWitt Clinton submitted a formal petition to a joint committee of the New York State Senate and Assembly to create a canal system between the Hudson River and Lake Erie. This document, known as the "New York Memorial", generated a series of public meetings in support of the Canal&rsquos construction and effectively began the movement in the state to build the waterway. Ultimately, over one hundred thousand New Yorkers would sign the petition, helping to build a ground swell of public support for the project.

On April 15th, 1817, the New York State Legislature finally approved construction of the Erie Canal, which Jesse Hawley had written so compellingly about just a decade earlier. The bill authorized $7 million for construction of the 363-mile long waterway, which was to be 40 feet wide and four feet deep. Construction would begin on July 4th, in Rome, NY and would take eight years. Also in 1817, Clinton would leverage his success championing the Canal&rsquos construction into the Governor&rsquos office, his election culminating his meteoric political rise over the years.

The completion of the Erie Canal spurred the first great westward movement of American settlers, gave access to the rich land and resources west of the Appalachians and made New York the preeminent commercial city in the United States.

&ldquoThe Marriage of the Waters&rdquo
A mural decoration in the DeWitt Clinton High School, New York City, showing a scene connected with the ceremony of opening the Erie Canal in 1825. - Copyright 1905, C.Y. Turner

In 1825, Governor Dewitt Clinton officially opened the Erie Canal as he sailed the packet boat Seneca Chief along the Canal from Buffalo to Albany. After traveling from the mouth of the Erie to New York City, he emptied two casks of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean, celebrating the first connection of waters from East to West in the ceremonial "Wedding of the Waters".

The effect of the Canal was both immediate and dramatic, and settlers poured west. The explosion of trade prophesied by Governor Clinton began, spurred by freight rates from Buffalo to New York of $10 per ton by Canal, compared with $100 per ton by road. In 1829, there were 3,640 bushels of wheat transported down the Canal from Buffalo. By 1837 this figure had increased to 500,000 bushels four years later it reached one million. In nine years, Canal tolls more than recouped the entire cost of construction.

Within 15 years of the Canal's opening, New York was the busiest port in America, moving tonnages greater than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined.

The impact on the rest of the State can be seen by looking at a modern map. With the exception of Binghamton and Elmira, every major city in New York falls along the trade route established by the Erie Canal, from New York City to Albany, through Schenectady, Utica and Syracuse, to Rochester and Buffalo. Nearly 80% of upstate New York's population lives within 25 miles of the Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal's success was part of a Canal-building boom in New York in the 1820s. Between 1823 and 1828, several lateral Canals opened including the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca.

Between 1835 and the turn of the century, this network of Canals was enlarged twice to accommodate heavier traffic. Between 1905 and 1918, the Canals were enlarged again. This time, in order to accommodate much larger barges, the engineers decided to abandon much of the original man-made channel and use new techniques to &ldquoCanalize&rdquo the rivers that the canal had been constructed to avoid the Mohawk, Oswego, Seneca, Clyde and Oneida Lake. A uniform channel was dredged dams were built to create long, navigable pools, and locks were built adjacent to the dams to allow the barges to pass from one pool to the next.

With growing competition from railroads and highways, and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, commercial traffic on the Canal System declined dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century.

Today, the waterway network has been renamed again. As the New York State Canal System, it is enjoying a rebirth as a recreational and historic resource. The Erie Canal played an integral role in the transformation of New York City into the nation's leading port, a national identity that continues to be reflected in many songs, legends and artwork today.

The Story of the New York State Canals

The account of the history of the Erie Canal and the &ldquolateral&rdquo canals, as referenced by Roy Finch, was written in 1925 in celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Erie Canal. Mr. Finch was employed with the New York State Engineer and Surveyor, a defunct governmental agency that managed the Canal System from the 1850&rsquos to the mid-1900&rsquos. He was intrigued by the canals and, in celebration of the birth of the canal, thought it useful to share his knowledge and experience with all.

  • The Story of the New York State Canals (1 page per sheet) | (Booklet format, 2 pages per sheet)


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