Urban Milestones 1600 1700 1800 1900 2000






1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

JANUARY 21, 1801 Philadelphia Water Works opens, making Philadelphia the first major city in the U.S. to provide clean drinking water citywide.

AUGUST 17, 1807 Robert Fulton starts up the Hudson River from New York to Albany on the steamboat Clermont. Reliable upriver steam travel revolutionizes intercity trade and transportation.

APRIL 1811 Manhattan’s rectangular street grid, from 14th Street to Harlem, created by an act of the New York State legislature, helps New York establish itself as a commercial city.

JANUARY 1818 The Black Ball Line begins the first regularly scheduled trips between Liverpool and New York, whether full with cargo or not. By 1836, New York receives 62% of the nation’s imports.

1948 1951 1951
Bodega on New York City’s Lower East Side reflects the increase in the area’s Latino population, c. 1948. Children playing sandlot baseball on East 112th Street between First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, 1951. This is the future site of the Jefferson Houses, consisting of 18 buildings housing 3,279 residents. Neighborhood life on East 103rd Street in East Harlem, 1951. These tenements were razed to build the George Washington Carver Houses, which were completed in 1958.


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OCTOBER 26, 1825 The Erie Canal connects the port of New York to the Great Lakes via the Hudson River. By 1840, New York moves more freight than the ports of Boston, Baltimore, and New Orleans combined.

MARCH 1827 Jamaican-born John Russwurm and Rev. Samuel Cornish begin publishing in New York the first black-owned and operated newspaper in the U.S., Freedom’s Journal.

OCTOBER 31, 1829 The newly formed radical artisan Workingmen’s Party in New York issues the first copy of its newspaper, The Working Man’s Advocate.


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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

MAY 24, 1830 America’s first common carrier railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, travels 13 miles from Baltimore to Ellicott City, Maryland; the line is later extended to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1853.

APRIL 20, 1832 Buffalo, the western terminus for the Erie Canal, with a population of over 10,000, is incorporated; the city soon becomes the largest grain handling port in the world.

JULY 1832 Cholera strikes New York and cities along the eastern seaboard; New York suffers 3,513 deaths and begins planning to bring clean water to the city from a source upstate.

NOVEMBER 26, 1832 The first horse-drawn street railway line in the nation to run on iron rails is operated in New York by the New York and Harlem Railroad Company along Fourth Avenue.

1833 New York craft unions, led by John Commerford, form the General Trades Union of the City of New York (GTU); within three years, two-thirds of the city’s workingmen are organized, although the union bans women and blacks.

SEPTEMBER 3, 1833 The New York Sun charges one penny when other papers cost six cents and covers crime news; it becomes the world’s best-selling daily newspaper within two years.

DECEMBER 4, 1833 William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur and Lewis Tappan and others found the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia and soon move to New York.

APRIL 8, 1834 The City of Brooklyn receives its first charter; population totals 23,310.

DECEMBER 16–17, 1835 The Great Fire of New York destroys 674 buildings, mostly wooden; extremely cold weather and an inadequate supply of water hamper firefighting.

1836 Cleveland, the northern terminus of the canal system connecting the Ohio River with Lake Erie, incorporates. Its population grows from 6,071 in 1840 to 261,353 in 1890, becoming the nation’s 10th largest city.

1837 Atlanta, founded as Terminus, the southern end of a railroad built northward to Chattanooga, becomes the gateway through which overland traffic between the southern Atlantic seaboard and the interior west has to pass.

MARCH 4, 1837 Chicago incorporates, spurred by completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal linking the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Chicago becomes the leading trans-shipment point in the Midwest, where railroad tracks of competing companies start or end.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

OCTOBER 14, 1842 Croton Aqueduct provides New York with its first supply of clean water needed to combat disease, fight fires, and meet the demands of a rapidly growing city.

1847 The Irish Potato Famine, caused by potato blight and evictions by British landowners, leads more than 1,187,000 Irish to arrive in the U.S. between 1847 and 1854. In 1851, 221,000 Irish entered the country, 163,000 of them in New York.

MAY 7, 1847 The New York State Legislature passes a bill making the Free Academy (forerunner of The City College of New York) a reality. It becomes the first free institution of higher education in the nation.

1848 Supporters of the German revolution of 1848 emigrate to the U.S., concentrating in Midwestern cities including Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St Louis, and St. Paul.

JANUARY 24, 1848 California gold rush spurs Chinese immigration to the United States By 1851, more than 25,000 Chinese are living in California.

MAY 1849 A cholera epidemic sweeps across American cities: in St. Louis, 4,500 die (13% of the total population), New Orleans suffers 3,000 dead, Cincinnati 8, 000.

MAY 10–11, 1849 Astor Place riot reflects the bigotry and nativism in New York, as a feud between English actor William C. Macready and American actor Edwin Forrest erupts in violence.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

1956 1961
Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue from Eastern Parkway, 1954. A police officer directs a horse-drawn wagon through the automobile traffic. A fruit and vegetable store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, c. 1956. This store and many other buildings were razed to build the Samuel Gompers Houses. Honolulu, Hawaii, with Diamond Head in background, 1961.


APRIL 4, 1850 Los Angeles incorporates as a city prior to California achieving statehood; contains 1,610 residents, only 300 of American ancestry; and men outnumber women by a ratio of 3-1.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1851 The first issue of The New York Times is published; the newspaper would achieve success for the broad scope, depth and objectivity of its reporting.

JULY 14, 1853 The cast-iron and glass Crystal Palace, celebrating industry of all nations, opens as the first American World’s Fair in what is now Bryant Park in New York.

1855 The first model tenement is built in Manhattan by the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor on most of six city lots between Mott and Elizabeth Streets. The six-story building is restricted to African-American families and is later known as
The Big Flat.

MARCH 23, 1857 The first safety elevator for passengers in America, designed by Elisha Otis, is installed at 488 Broadway in New York in E.V. Haughwout’s porcelain and glassware import shop.

OCTOBER 28, 1858 Macy’s Department store opens in New York.

NOVEMBER 12, 1859
Central Park in New York opens to carriages and equestrians. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s “Greensward” plan transforms urban recreational space.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

JULY 13–16, 1863 New York Draft Riots erupt over federal conscription during the Civil War, racial fury against the city’s blacks and class hatred of the rich. Whites set fire to black institutions, attack military and government buildings, and loot property belonging to the white elite.

SEPTEMBER 2, 1864 General William T. Sherman’s Union Army captures Atlanta and then burns the city to the ground.

MARCH 1, 1866
The Metropolitan Board of Health for New York becomes the first administrative body in the nation created to address a city’s health issues.

MAY 1–3, 1866 Memphis massacre sees orchestrated groups of mostly Irish rioters attack black residents and black Union soldiers. Black population in Memphis had grown from 4,000 to 20,000 since 1860.

JULY 30, 1866 Police massacre of African-Americans in New Orleans kills more than 40 during Louisiana constitutional convention that was considering enfranchising blacks.

JULY 1, 1867 New York passes the first tenement house statute, requiring fire escapes and minimum standards of sanitation for any house occupied by more than three families.

1869 Philadelphia tailors found the Knights of Labor; the union accepts women and, after 1878, blacks, although southern branches are segregated.

MAY 10, 1869 The transcontinental railroad opens train travel between the eastern U.S. and California.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

OCTOBER 8–10, 1871 Great Fire of Chicago kills hundreds and destroys four square miles of the city. Nonetheless, the city rapidly rebuilds, buoyed by a spirit of unbridled optimism.

JANUARY 28, 1878 First commercial telephone exchange is opened in New Haven, Connecticut, attracting 21 subscribers.

1879 New York City legislation required interior windows, so new construction allowed for small air shafts. These “dumbbell” tenements” (the buildings’ footprint resembled a dumbbell) became notorious for poor living conditions, due to poor ventilation,
light, and space.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

1880 Sicilians begin immigrating to New Orleans due to economic and political changes in Italy and quickly replace the Irish as the menial labor force of the city.

DECEMBER 20, 1880
New York’s Broadway receives its first electric lights between 14th and 34th Streets. The Broadway theater district would gradually move north and become known as the Great White Way, for its blazing illumination.

MAY 6, 1882
The first Chinese Exclusion Act bars Chinese laborers from entering the United States and restricts Chinese immigrants not in those categories.

Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in New York City begins the first successful commercial production of electricity in America. Edison signs up 203 customers in four months; The New York Times building is lit up on this first night.

MAY 24, 1883
The Brooklyn Bridge is opened, connecting the nation’s largest and third largest cities, New York and Brooklyn. Its towers were the tallest structures in America.

Chicago’s 10-story Home Life Insurance Building, America’s first skyscraper, utilizes a lightweight fireproof steel structure made possible by Bessemer steel and by the invention of the elevator.

MAY 1–4, 1886
May Day and the Haymarket Riot mark Chicago as the nation’s focal point for an eight-hour work day. During a massive protest at Chicago’s West Randolph Street Haymarket on May 4, someone throws a bomb at the police. In the ensuing melee, seven police officers and several demonstrators are killed.

Stanton Coit organizes America’s first settlement house, the Neighborhood Guild, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It continues today as the University Settlement.

OCTOBER 28, 1886
The Statue of Liberty opens in Upper New York Bay, as a gift of friendship from France. Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” is inscribed on the pedestal, and the statue becomes America’s leading symbol of freedom to people around the world.

FEBRUARY 2, 1888
The nation’s first electric streetcar system opens in Richmond, Va. Frank Sprague and the Richmond Union Passenger Railway Company operate 10 streetcars in its nascent network.

SEPTEMBER 18, 1889
Hull House, a settlement house, is opened in Chicago’s Near West Side by Jane Addams, offering social, educational, and artistic programs for the neighborhood poor.

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1810 - 1820 - 1830 - 1840 - 1850 - 1860 - 1870 - 1880 - 1890

1890 Publication of “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis focuses attention on the need for housing reform.

MAY 5, 1891
Carnegie Hall opens in New York. The Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky conducts several of his works on opening night.

JANUARY 1, 1892

Ellis Island in New York harbor opens as the gateway to America for immigrants. Three quarters of all newcomers from 1892 to 1932 are processed here.

MAY 1, 1893
The World’s Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, opens in Chicago. The Fair combines Beaux Arts classical design, which would be a part of the City Beautiful movement, with the commercialized amusements of the Midway Plaisance, which signaled the arrival of mass urban entertainment.

JULY 11, 1893
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African-American surgeon, performs the first successful open heart surgery at Provident Hospital in Chicago.

APRIL 15, 1896
Tycoon Henry M. Flagler, partner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, extends his Florida East Coast Railway to the newly created city of Miami.
APRIL 23, 1896 Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, a vaudeville house in New York’s Herald Square, exhibits the first moving picture show in America.

JANUARY 1, 1898
The City of Greater New York is formed as Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island combine. The city’s population is now more than 3.4 million, or double that of Chicago, the nation’s second largest city, which has 1.7 million residents.

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