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New York: A Documentary Film | Timeline

Timeline (1609-2001)

1609
Henry Hudson, a British explorer hired by the Dutch to find a faster route to the Orient, accidentally "stumbles" into one of the three greatest natural harbors in the world, an immense, sheltered bay off the Atlantic that provides an entrance to North America and a natural location for a great city.

1624
First Dutch colonists, primarily Belgian Huguenots, arrive to establish New Amsterdam.

1626
First African slaves arrive from Angola and are forced to build a fort and clear farmland for white settlers.

1643
Came to be known as the Year of the Blood because of battles between the Dutch and the local Lenape Indians.

1647
Peter Stuyvesant arrives as New Amsterdam's new Director General.

1654
Twenty-three Sephardic Jews, seeking sanctuary from the Spanish Inquisition, are admitted into New Amsterdam over Stuyvesant's objections. They would later establish Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest existing Jewish congregation in the New World.

1664
Without battle or protest from the local colonists, the British arrive, take over New Amsterdam, and rename it New York, beginning a rule that would last for 119 years.

1699
The old Dutch Wall in what is now lower Manhattan is pulled down to make way for new houses and a paved lane -- called Wall Street.

1741
The confluence of fears of a slave uprising, a rash of unexplained fires, and the lies of an indentured servant girl unleashes a reign of terror, violence, and brutality against enslaved and free blacks that rivals the Salem Witch Trials. Sixteen blacks are hanged, 13 burned at the stake, 70 deported, and many more beaten and unjustly tried.

1756
War between the British and the French brings an economic boom to New York. The peace that comes in 1763 leads to economic depression and undue taxation; unrest begins to ferment.

1765
Passage of the repressive Stamp Act leads to violent protests and a quick repeal by the British.

1773
Alexander Hamilton, soon to be a driving force in colonial politics and America's future, arrives in New York from his home in the West Indies.

1775
The American Revolution begins in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. In response, New York patriots seize the Customs House and City Hall.

1776
General George Washington arrives in New York to protect the city and its valuable harbor, which he believes will soon be prime targets for the British. He is correct. That summer, more than 100 British warships sail into New York Harbor and the battle for New York is soon lost. The Revolutionary War rages for seven years with New York as a primary British garrison.

1783
Washington reclaims New York.

1789
Washington is sworn in as America's first President on the balcony of the old City Hall. Thomas Jefferson is named Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton is named Secretary of the Treasury. New York is the nation's capital.

1790
As part of the resolution of a Revolutionary War debt crisis, Alexander Hamilton strikes a momentous deal with Thomas Jefferson. The new nation's capital will move from New York to the banks of the Potomac River, near Jefferson's home state of Virginia, and in return New York will consolidate its power as the country's financial capital.

1792
In response to the volume of business generated by Hamilton's issuance of $80 million in government bonds, the New York Stock Exchange is founded by two dozen stock brokers gathered beneath a Buttonwood tree on Wall Street.

1799
A gradual emancipation act is passed, leading to the abolition of slavery by 1824 in New York State -- the first state in the union to do so.

1804
Hamilton is killed in a duel with political rival Aaron Burr and is mourned by thousands in the largest funeral procession in the city's history.

1807
Inventor Robert Fulton launches the world's first practical steamboat off the West Side of Manhattan.

1809
Washington Irving's imaginative blend of fact and fiction, A HISTORY OF NEW YORK FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD TO THE END OF THE DUTCH DYNASTY becomes the city's first best seller, creates a New York mythology that persists to this day, and gives the city its first nickname: Gotham.

1810
Sixteen-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt of Staten Island buys a second-hand sailboat and starts a ferry service to Manhattan.

1811
De Witt Clinton, at various times New York's mayor and the state's governor, proposes two audacious plans. One will lead to the literal re-design of the city into its famous geometric "grid" of intersecting avenues and streets. The other will lead to the building of the Erie Canal, which would create a westward river from New York into the heartland of America.

1825
Under budget and three years ahead of schedule, the Erie Canal -- the greatest engineering feat of its day - is completed, bringing seaborne Atlantic trade into the center of the Great Plains, pulling the nation together economically, and making New York the economic epicenter of the nation.

Although a thriving port town, New York is a relatively small community on the tip of lower Manhattan with fewer than 170,000 people living without a regular police force or professional fire department. There are only primitive water and sewage systems and a handful of public schools. "Uptown" is comprised of farmlands and wilderness. But with the opening of the Erie Canal, New York will change swiftly and dramatically over the next 40 years -- faster and more profoundly than any other city in the nation.

1835
James Gordon Bennett launches modern journalism when he founds the NEW-YORK HERALD, the most popular of a new breed of tawdry tabloid newspapers that specialize in stories of crime, vice, sex, and disaster.

1841
Walt Whitman arrives in New York and works as a reporter for THE AURORA, one of the city's many penny newspapers. As he covers fires and scandals, he soaks up the ambiance and energy that will later be revealed in his seminal writings about New York.

Connecticut showman Phineas Taylor Barnum lays the foundation for quintessential New York ballyhoo when he opens the American Museum, which features an eclectic potpourri of sensational attractions, oddball curiosities, and refined events. It's a huge success for the next 27 years.

1853
The Reverend Charles Loring Brace founds the Children's Aid Society primarily to serve the suffering Irish and authors THE DANGEROUS CLASSES OF NEW YORK about the plight of suffering children -- and the social dangers they pose if left unaided.

1855
Walt Whitman publishes a book entitled LEAVES OF GRASS, the first collection of lyrical odes to the streets, sensibilities, and varied human spirits of New York.

1857
Fernando Wood, the first of the "Tammany Hall" mayors, is nearly driven from office by Republican opponents and a police war between Wood's municipal force and state-run policemen, leading to a riot on the steps of City Hall.

A late-summer economic panic precipitates a Wall Street crash and the most severe economic crisis in U.S. history. By autumn, banks close, businesses fail, and thousands are jobless and homeless.

1857-58
The design of Central Park by architect Calvert Vaux and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and its subsequent construction creates a much-needed oasis in the middle of New York's ever-expanding urban boom. Conceived as a symbol of American metropolitan democracy, Central Park is intended to "translate democratic ideas into trees and dirt" and give all social classes a place to intermingle. It also provides low-paid employment for a virtual army of skilled and unskilled workers.

1860
An essentially unknown candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln, arrives in New York to speak against slavery in the Great Hall of Cooper Union. After stirring the crowd with his oratory, attracting much-needed press attention, and having his picture taken at Mathew Brady's Studio, Lincoln's campaign takes off.

1861
Mayor Fernando Wood proposes that New York City secede from the Union and declare itself the "Empire City of the South."

Confederate rebels fire on Fort Sumpter, signaling the beginning of the Civil War. In New York, a crowd of 250,000 jams Union Square in support of the Northern cause.

1863
The passage of America's first federal Conscription Act leads to the week-long Draft Riot in July, during which more than 15,000 infuriated men, largely Irish immigrants, ransack the city in the largest incident of civil disorder in U.S. history. The targeted destruction of property and life demonstrates a visceral hatred of the rich and powerful, as well as blacks, who are viewed as the "cause" of the Civil War troubles. The Union Army eventually occupies the city. In the end, at least 119 people are killed.

1865
After President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, thousands of grieving New Yorkers line the streets of Manhattan to view his funeral procession, which stopped in New York en route to Illinois. His death momentarily unifies the city's people, but large, troubling questions remain about New York's and America's ability to make the Union an enduring reality.

1867
The last living connection to the old Dutch settlement is pulled down: the venerable pear tree that Peter Stuyvesant planted on the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street 200 years before succumbs to the ravages of time and weather.

1869
In summer, work begins on the Brooklyn Bridge, a structure far larger than anything ever before attempted. Its central span will be substantially longer than any bridge in existence, and its towers will be seven times higher than the four-story skyline of Manhattan.

As Wall Street explodes in a frenzy of reckless, unregulated speculation, financier Jay Gould and his partner Jim Fisk try to corner the market in gold -- using money they had personally embezzled from the stockholders of the Erie Railroad.

A German-born artist named Thomas Nast begins publishing a series of political cartoons in HARPERS WEEKLY. He depicts the notoriously corrupt politician Boss Tweed as a licentious, balding, overfed monster literally devouring the city.

1871
On July 8th, the NEW YORK TIMES publishes the exorbitant sums paid for the construction of the County Courthouse. Boss Tweed is accused of siphoning off millions of dollars from the project to pay for his lavish lifestyle.

On December 15th, Boss Tweed is indicted on three counts of fraud and grand larceny, and, two months later, 220 misdemeanor charges. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. The convictions are later overturned, but a civil suit strips him of his assets and forces him into prison.

1873
Al Smith is born, later to become one of the most beloved and powerful figures in the history of New York politics.

In the fall, the worst financial crisis of the 19th century strikes New York City. The Northern Pacific Railroad goes under, taking with it the largest private bank in the nation. Panic grows on Wall Street, sending the entire market into a free fall. On September 20th, the New York Stock Exchange closes its trading floor for the first time in its 81-year history. The panic devolves into a four-year depression.

1878
Boss Tweed dies of pneumonia in jail, penniless and broken.

1882
In summer, a team of workers led by an inventor named Thomas Alva Edison labors around the clock to finish assembling the first permanent electrical power plant in the world at 257 Pearl Street. On September 4th, an electrician throws a master switch and 3,000 incandescent lamps in lower Manhattan begin to burn. With J. P. Morgan as the project's principal financial backer, the era of the gaslight is coming to an end.

1883
On May 24th, the Brooklyn Bridge opens to speeches, crowds, and the biggest fireworks display in the city's history. It has taken three times as long and cost nearly twice as much as its designer, John Roebling, had estimated.

1886
On October 28th, the gift from the French, The Statue of Liberty, is unveiled.

1888
The construction of the 11-story Tower Building (called the Idiotic Building by New Yorkers skeptical of its ability to remain upright) more than doubles New York's four-story skyline.

1890
Nearly half the millionaires in America -- 1,800 in all -- have flocked to the city and its suburbs, bringing with them a scale of extravagance startling even by the standards of New York. Along Fifth Avenue opulent mansions shoot up.

In October, HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES by Jacob Riis goes on sale in New York bookstores. With it, Riis exposes the gruesome underbelly of one of the wealthiest cities in the world - unspeakable filth and unfathomable living and working conditions are a heartbreaking reality for the more than one million overworked and undernourished poor. The book awakens wealthier New Yorkers to these conditions, and spurs some to action.

1892
In January, Walt Whitman, now the most celebrated poet in the country, sends an announcement to the NEW YORK HERALD that LEAVES OF GRASS, the book of poems he has been rewriting for 40 years, is now complete. Two months later, the visionary poet dies.

1890s
In little more than 10 years, an astonishing array of cultural institutions are either brought into existence or vastly expanded, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The New York Public Library.

1896
A photographer named William Heise captures the speed and vitality of urban life for the first time when he focuses a movie camera on Herald Square. At first terrified by the moving images, New Yorkers are soon mesmerized.

1898
At the stroke of midnight on January 1st, New York annexes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx to become Greater New York, the largest city in America and the second-largest city in the world.

1900
Ellis Island, a former munitions dump in the middle of New York Harbor, became an immigrant receiving station in 1890, was destroyed in a fire in 1897, and rebuilt into a massive new structure of stone and steel, which opens in 1900.

Work begins on the New York City subway system. In the next four years, 7,700 men will cut more than 20 miles of subway tunnel.

1903
A bronze plaque with Emma Lazarus's stirring words is affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . "

The 22-story Fuller Building goes up at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street and is soon known as the Flatiron Building for its unusual shape.

1904
Al Smith is sworn in for his first term in the New York State Legislature.

New York opens the world's most extensive subway system and introduces a breathtaking concept -- the express train. As worried engineers look on, Mayor George B. McClellan rockets a train from City Hall all the way to 103rd Street for its first official run.

1907
One million two hundred thousand immigrants arrive in New York City, primarily from Europe. In June, Ellis Island experiences the busiest single day in its history, admitting 11,747 immigrants to the country in less than 12 hours. By now, 40% of the city's population is foreign-born.

1908
The Singer Building leaps up, twice as tall as the Flatiron Building. It is surpassed 18 months later by the 50-story Metropolitan Life Building. By now there are 550 structures over 10 stories tall.

1910
Pennsylvania Station opens at Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street.

20,000 shirtwaist workers, mostly teenaged girls, go on strike to protest abysmal working conditions. Three months later, 60,000 members of the cloakmakers union go on strike, marking the genesis of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union.

1911
146 people -- mostly young, immigrant girls -- are killed in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. A crowd of helpless bystanders watches in horror as some of the victims jump to their deaths in a vain effort to escape the heat and flames. The owners are tried for manslaughter for having locked their employees in the building but are acquitted.

1913
A flood of progressive legislation affecting every aspect of factory life is passed thanks to the efforts of Al Smith, who becomes a weapon of reform in New York.

Grand Central Terminal opens its doors for the first time at 42nd Street and Park Avenue.

President Woodrow Wilson presses an electric switch at the White House and 200 miles to the north the 80,000 electric lights of the brand-new Woolworth Building blaze out across New York City. Sixty stories high, it is the tallest building in the world -- by far.

1918
Al Smith is elected the first Irish Catholic governor of New York. In taking the oath of office, he represents the triumph of immigrants in America. In years to come, no politician in New York history will do more than Al Smith to make government answerable to the needs of all the people.

1919
The 19th Amendment takes effect. After decades of passionate struggle, American women have won the right to vote.

On February 17th, the first regiment to be honored with a victory parade returns from the battlefields of Europe. As they march up Fifth Avenue to Harlem, enthusiastic crowds cheer on the all-black 369th regiment, that the French have awarded their highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre.

A 23-year-old Minnesotan named F. Scott Fitzgerald arrives in New York with the dream of becoming the greatest novelist in the world.

At the main branch of the U.S. Post Office on 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, a night clerk becomes suspicious of 16 identical packages. Each is addressed with the name of a prominent politician or businessman, and, it is soon discovered, each contains enough nitroglycerin to blow off a man's head. The incident sets in motion a wave of political reaction and xenophobia called the Red Scare.

1920
For the first time in history, more people in America live in cities than in the countryside.

In the spring, F. Scott Fitzgerald's first book, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE, is published. The novel captures the postwar mood of disillusionment with the past and the reckless spirit of a generation determined to throw itself into the future. Almost overnight, Fitzgerald becomes a national celebrity.

On September 16th, a horse-drawn carriage pulls to a stop in front of the Morgan Bank, in the heart of the financial district. A few minutes before noon, the wagon, which is filled with dynamite, blows up. Forty people are killed.

1920s
Black jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, stream into Harlem to play some of the most exciting, innovative music the country had ever produced.

1921
In the fall, a 19-year-old poet named Langston Hughes arrives in Harlem. "I exulted at the sight of so many fellow Negroes," he says later. "I wanted to shake hands with them all."

1924
Harlem's black artists are the rage of New York's all-white publishing establishment. The Harlem Renaissance has begun.

1925
The dashingly handsome and debonair ex-vaudevillian Jimmy Walker is swept into the post of New York City Mayor on a tide of more than half a million votes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, THE GREAT GATSBY, is published to critical acclaim but to indifferent sales. With it, Fitzgerald captures the romance, wonder, and heartbreaking tragedy of the metropolis.

1926
The first national radio network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), is created.

1927
New York has become a meeting place for the most extraordinary generation of composers and lyricists in American musical history. Musicians including Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter, and George and Ira Gershwin are inspired by the promise and possibilities of New York.

The center of the city has shifted from the manufacturing districts downtown to midtown where the heart of a new economy includes finance, insurance, law, advertising, and publishing. New York has become the center of culture and economy in the United States.

1928
In summer, New York Governor Al Smith embarks on an historic race for the presidency. The campaign soon descends into one of the darkest episodes in American political history. Smith is vilified for his strong New York accent, his opposition to Prohibition, his liberal views, and his Catholicism in what amounts to a national attack on New York City.

On November 6th, Herbert Hoover wins the presidency over Al Smith in one of the biggest landslides in American history.

1929
In the first nine months of the year, plans are filed for 709 new buildings in New York City at a total cost of $472 million. By spring, there are 15 buildings over 500 feet tall in New York.

A frenzied competition between the Chrysler Corporation and the Bank of Manhattan Company to build the tallest structure in Manhattan ensues. After the Manhattan Bank Building is completed, an enormous, secretly assembled silvery spike is raised on top of the Chrysler building, making it exactly 119 feet taller than its downtown rival -- and indisputably the tallest structure in the world.

October 29th becomes known as Black Tuesday, the worst single day in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. It will take months for the reality of what has happened to set in, and over a decade for the economy to fully recover.

1931
The Empire State Building is completed. Al Smith had unveiled plans for the structure just two days after the stock market crash, and its construction becomes a symbol of hope in the darkest of times. The building's final height is a mind-boggling 1,250 feet -- 202 feet higher than the Chrysler Building. The mooring mast, originally designed as a docking point for dirigibles, soon embraces its real vocation as a broadcasting wand for radio and, later, television signals.

1932
Following the crash on Wall Street, the nation slumps into an economic crisis known as the Great Depression. Many families lose their livelihoods, their homes, and even their lives due to starvation. Few cities are harder hit than New York.

Fiorello La Guardia is elected as mayor of New York City. He immediately begins the task of clearing the entire city of crime and corruption. He also reduces the city's budget and cleans out many of the Tammany appointees.

1933
President Franklin D. Roosevelt creates a domestic reform program called the "New Deal". It's purpose is to use federal monies to provide jobs for the unemployed, and to pump much-needed funds into the ailing economy.

1934
Robert Moses, having revived all of the city's parks, begins the West Side Improvement project that will transform the West Side of Manhattan from an urban wasteland into a scenic wonderland view of nature along the Hudson River's edge.

1935
Riots break out in Harlem, underscoring the discontent of the city's largest minority group. Black New Yorkers during the Great Depression faced greater employment discrimination than did their white counterparts.

1936
Construction of the Triborough Bridge, considered one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind, is finally completed under the guidance of Robert Moses.

1939
The New York World's Fair, featuring such spectacles as General Motor's Futurama, demonstrate models of the future to an enamored public, and highlight the drive of industry to reinvent Americas cities to accommodate new comsumer marvels.
Germany invades Poland on September 1, 1939, an act of aggression that starts World War II.

1945
United States President Harry Truman announces the end of the second World War, and the people of New York throw the celebration of their lives in Times Square.

1947
William J. Levitt pioneers the assembly-line techniques for house construction. He builds the largest private housing project in American history, called Levittown, in a four-thousand acre potato field on Long Island.

1949
Title 1 of the 1949 Housing Act creates the Urban Renewal or Slum Clearance Program, in order to relieve the post-war housing crisis, and to provide affordable housing for the poor.

1952
Robert Moses begins construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Everyone who is in the path of the soon to be built expressway is sent a letter telling them that they have 90 days to get out of their homes. The project would eventually destroy 21 neighborhoods and upends more than 250,000 people.

1959
Title 1, a boon for developers and real estate agents, destroys the hearts of many poor neighborhoods. More than a hundred thousand black New Yorkers are uprooted and forced by red-lining into Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem.

1965
The Landmarks Preservation Commision is established in the wake of Jane Jacobs victory over Robert Moses and the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which, if built, would have destroyed Greenwhich Village as it cut across the island.

The Hart-Cellar Act, an immigration law that favored opening up immigration to skilled immigrants, was passed. The new act would ensure that new York continued to thrive with a constant influx of languages, cultures, and traditions.

1966
John Lindsay becomes Mayor of New York amidst riots, strikes, fires, and a terrible economic crisis that literally saw thousands of city blocks turned into rubble. Corporations and citizens fled the city looking for better lives in the suburbs, taking their tax dollars with them. To continue paying the city's bills, Mayor Lindsay had to borrow heavily from banks.

1975
The banks that had lent New York money cut off its ability to borrow. They asked that the city repay them six billion dollars before they would lend it money again. The city government turned to the federal government to ask for 2.3 billion dollars in loan guarantees, but President Gerald Ford said he would not agree to guarantee New York's loans. Less than a month later, however, he changed his mind and agreed to help New York.

1981
With time to put its finances in order, city officials moved with startling dispatch -- cutting services, repaying its outstanding loans, and balancing the city budget by 1981 -- a full year ahead of schedule.

1980s
With the advent of electronic fund transfers, unimaginably huge sums of money began circulating around the globe -- 24 hours a day. By the mid-1980s, 40 percent or more of those electronic transactions were passing through New York. The influx of money and financial institutions triggers a phase of dramatic growth in employment and new construction for New York.

1990s
After a brief recession in the early '90s, New York's boom begun in the '80s continued, and waves of immigrants from virtually every country in the world poured into the city. By the end of the decade, more than a third of all New Yorkers had been born abroad, and nearly 180 languages could be overheard on the streets.

2000
For the first time in its history, New York's population grows to more than eight million, with whites constituting the largest racial group, nearly 3.6 million, and the Hispanic population swelling to nearly 2.2 million. The city's black population rises to more than 2.1 million and the Asian population peaked at a bit less than 800,000. 393,959 New Yorkers identify themselves as multiracial.

2001
On September 11, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed in the most devastating terrorist attack in the history of the United States. Two jetliners were crashed into the towers, causing both to collapse. New York City suffered a loss of over 6,000 people.

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