How We Got Here

by : Gea Elika

The history of New York City is one of the most fascinating stories of the modern world. In many ways, the city's past reflects America's past, but with higher highs and lower lows. The full story is too complex to detail in anything smaller than a volume or two of large books, but here's a highlight of how we got to where we are now.

About thirty-two years after the Americas discovered white people, an Italian explorer in the service of the French happened upon the island of Manhattan. The first European settlement came in the form of a Dutch fur trading outpost in 1614.

Legend has it that the island of Manhattan was purchased from the Lenape native Americans for $24 dollars worth of glass beads. Scholars are skeptical of the specific numbers in this tail, as dollars had not yet come into existence at the time of the transaction.

At any rate, those glass beads only got the Dutch another fifty years or so, because the English conquered Manhattan in 1664, renaming the place New York. The English were around long enough to found Columbia University in 1754 and build the city up to one of the major new world cities. After the brutal struggles during the revolutionary war known as The New York Campaigns,

New York City was actually the capital of the United States until 1790. In what has become a painfully appropriate metaphor, George Washington was actually inaugurated as the first President of the United States on Wall Street in 1789.

During the first sixty years of the republic, New York City grew steadily, surpassing first Boston and then Philadelphia to become the largest city in the country. One of the more important items in the history of the city was the Commissioner's

Plan of 1811, which extended the grid layout of the lower portion of Manhattan to the rest of the island, thus laying the groundwork for some of the most important urban development to ever occur.
Throughout the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, the city was a major destination both for African Americans and immigrants. The different ethnic enclaves of the city combined with the general corruption in all levels of government to make New York City the epicenter for organized crime, which at its peak held considerably more sway over most New Yorkers' lives than did their elected officials.

This mix of fantastic corruption and power, though largely abated during the populist and New Deal eras, slowly crept back into the center of the political landscape of the city during the latter half of the twentieth century. Combined with the economic duress of the nineteen seventies and eighties, it brought the city close to a feeling of general chaos throughout many of those years.

An improving economy and political situation in the 1990s brought the city back to where it stands today, as one of the most important, vibrant and safe major cities in the world. Today, its role as one of the world leaders in entertainment, the arts, government, finances and general services makes it seem like the harsher days of yesteryear are gone forever.