New York, a city of staggering
contrasts, diversity and culture, ranks among history's great trade
and cultural centers. From Wall
Street to the United
Nations, the world's most powerful and influential men and
women prize success in New York above all other places. Its
population hails from every country on the globe, bringing a variety
of culture and viewpoints. However, above all else New York has
always been about money and ambition.
Europe's first contact with this area occurred in 1524, when Italian
explorer Giovanni de Verrazano viewed New York from the base of
Manhattan. The following year, a black Portuguese explorer named
Esteban Gomez reached the Hudson River. Despite these early
encounters, the Dutch settled New York first, after explorer Henry
Hudson lent his name to the world's largest tidal river. In 1625,
six farms called "bouweries" were started in Manhattan.
The next year, Governor Peter Minuet purchased Manhattan from the
native American Indians for USD24 worth of trinkets. By 1640, the
predominately Dutch New Amsterdam (as it was then called) was
teeming with the diversity of the New World, as the tolerant Dutch
Rapid expansion soon pitted early Dutch Manhattanites against
English Puritans who had moved to the colony. Less than tolerant,
the Puritans had banned bowling and even the celebration of
Christmas. While initially seen as outsiders, the prosperous and
hardworking Puritans soon had the political upper hand. After an
invasion by British troops in 1664, an Anglo-Dutch treaty handed the
city over to the English.
Under British rule, the renamed New York City saw its population
grow from 6,000 to 20,000 by the end of the 17th century. Events in
Europe also brought turmoil to the city. Wars between England and
France gave birth to privateering, or legalized piracy, that allowed
the likes of Wall Street resident William Kidd to go capture enemy
ships off the coast of New York. During this time, New York City
tolerated (and in some circles encouraged) the slave trade, and a
large and prosperous slave market was located on Wall Street.
As the 18th century wore on, England's passage of restrictive acts
of trade and imposition of tariffs on the American colonies brought
about protest and ultimately revolution. New York City was
strategically vital during the American Revolutionary War. Early on,
from Brooklyn to Harlem, General George Washington's army suffered a
series of defeats and barely escaped capture. The British took the
city and stationed itself there. At the end of the war, Washington
was sworn in as the first president on the steps of New York's Federal
New York's stint as the United States capital was short lived.
Political wrangling dictated the newly created District of Columbia
would be the new nation's capital. However, the 1792 founding of the
York Stock Exchange launched the city as a financial
The explosive expansion and revolutionary invention of the 19th
century forever transformed New York City. The Erie Canal, in its
day the world's greatest engineering feat, had New York's ports at
its terminus and strengthened the city's position as a national
trade center. Later, the city commissioned Central
Park, designed and planned to save breathing space as the
population boom moved uptown.
The American Civil war brought much sorrow and misery to New York,
but also great prosperity as war profits soared. Yet, New York's
status as a Union stronghold became threatened with the passage of
the nation's first conscription act. Poor immigrants, angered that
the wealthy could buy their way out of the draft, rioted violently.
As the century passed, New York displayed more technological
marvels. A workforce thousands strong constructed Brooklyn Bridge,
then the tallest and longest in the world. Thomas Edison invented
the light bulb, and soon electric streetlights illuminated lower
Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was erected near the
Battery. The present St.
Patrick's Cathedral was also built. At the end of the 19th
century, a string of palatial mansions rose along New York's Fifth
At the same time, economic conditions in Europe brought massive
immigration to New York City, primarily consisting of Irish, German,
Italian and Eastern Europeans. Immigrants worked long hours under
harsh conditions and lived in unhealthy tenements. Reformers,
galvanized by the success of the abolitionist movement as well as
the gaining momentum of the suffragist and temperance movements,
actively joined the fight to assist the immigrant poor.
By the 1920s, all of Manhattan was populated. Harlem, which had
started as a Dutch farm, now attracted New York blacks as well as
those migrating from the South. Jazz and blues and Prohibition-era
speakeasies made the neighborhood an entertainment mecca for all
races. Black musicians, artists and writers together formed a
movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. On Broadway, Richard
Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and George and Ira Gershwin led the
popular music industry. The hedonistic decade ended however with a
crash on Wall Street, leading to the Great Depression.
A backlash against corrupt politics ushered Fiorella LaGuardia into
the mayor's office, and the city began to work its way out of the
Depression. Robert Moses built parks and the Rockefellers erected Radio
City Music Hall and Rockefeller
New York emerged from the Depression and World War II with a new
fervor for industry and building. The United
Nations complex started the post-war Boom and was completed
in the 1950s.
In 1972, a major change to the lower Manhattan skyline took place
with the completion of the World
Trade Center, the 110-story structures commonly known as the
"twin towers." Tragically, on Sept. 11, 2001after
almost 30 years of enduring as a symbol of New York City both
buildings were destroyed by terrorists.
But at the dawn of the new millennium, New Yorkers know they will
survive this tragedy and come together to build a better city. Fifth
Avenue is still a bastion of the wealthy, and numerous other
neighborhoods are home to yet another wave of immigration from Latin
America, the Far East and Eastern Europe. New York still attracts
hordes of ambitious people historian Peter Quinn, commenting on
New York's nature, said the city that started with Peter Minuet's
$24 purchase is still the same, and if possible, even more so:
"Donald Trump would have tried to pay $22."