New York City: A History Throughout the Centuries

The history of New York City began in 1524 with an Italian explorer named Giovanni da Verrazzano, and the first European settlement can be traced back to the early 1600s, when the Dutch West India Company sent out 30 families to settle there. It was first called New Amsterdam and was located on what is presently known as Governors Island. In 1629, Peter Minuit, the governor of New Amsterdam, purchased the larger Manhattan Island from the Native Americans. The population of New Amsterdam began to rapidly grow, ultimately becoming the New York City that we are familiar with today.

By the 18th century, New Amsterdam had been captured by the English and renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York. In 1700, the population was roughly 5,000, and it was growing quite quickly. By the close of the 18th century, the population had grown twelvefold, to around 60,000 residents.

During the Revolutionary War, New York City was a battleground for the rebel and British forces, and Gen. George Washington withdrew from New York temporarily as the British army invaded, making it their military base. The war led to losses for the city, including a fire in 1776 that destroyed about a quarter of the city. The British army continued to inhabit New York and use it as a military base from 1776 until the end of 1783, when George Washington took back control of the city.

After the war, New York City ended up serving as the nation's capital from 1785 until the so-called "Dinner Table Bargain" of 1790. With this compromise, brokered by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison would get his way in moving the capital closer to Virginia in exchange for allowing the federal Treasury, under Alexander Hamilton, to become stronger by assuming the states' debts.

After New York City lost its status as the capital, it would suffer another stinging blow before the century was out, this one in the form of a yellow fever epidemic, in which thousands would die.

New York became a very important port city in the early 19th century, especially in the 1820s, when the Erie Canal opened. This allowed goods to be imported at New York City and shipped to the Great Lakes swiftly and economically, and it helped Midwest farmers move their products to the coast for export. New York City quickly became the trading capital of the United States.

In addition to becoming the most important port city, in 1820, New York officially became the most populous American city, boasting more than 123,000 residents, a figure that quickly grew to 312,000 by 1840 and swelled to 813,000 by 1860.

This century also saw the founding of New York University, the beginning of the New York City police force, and the creation of a new grid system for the NYC streets.

By the end of the 1800s, New York City would also become the collection of five boroughs that it is today. Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island were all separate municipal units before they combined to form "Greater New York," or New York City. With this consolidation, the population grew to roughly 3.4 million people.

The makings of the subway system that the city is known for began with the opening of a single subway line in 1904. Over the coming century, this service would change and grow to become the massive underground transportation system we know today, making it easier for residents of different boroughs to get around.

The 20th century also saw the construction of many famous New York City landmarks, such as the the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center.

At the beginning of the 21st century, disaster would strike the city. On Sept. 11, 2001, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the United States occurred when two hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers were completely destroyed, and nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day. But once the dust had settled, New York City picked up the pieces and rebuilt. Today, the population of the city is more than 8.5 million, and New York City continues to be a popular tourist attraction due to the history and culture it contains.