A Concise Overview of Brooklyn’s Past It gives me great pleasure to extend a heartfelt welcome to my new and longtime neighbors in Brooklyn from this proud longtime resident.
One in seven Americans has family roots in Brooklyn, according to some estimates. New immigrants to the United States today often call Brooklyn home, and its streets are filled with the sounds of a wide variety of beautiful languages. Creole, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean are all common street sounds. If Brooklyn were still independent, it would be the fourth largest city in the country. We Brooklynites will have to settle for being the largest of New York City’s five boroughs, with a population of 2.3 million, since this is not the case.
In 1794, Brooklyn was a small village made up “chiefly along the shore or scattered without a plan” of about a hundred dwellings. Brooklyn, just across the East River from Manhattan, served as a vital link in the distribution chain for agricultural products from Long Island. The development of Brooklyn paralleled that of New York City as a whole.
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At Wall about Bay, the United States Navy established its first shipyard in 1801. In 1814, Robert Fulton began operating steam ferries across the East River, making it possible for wealthy businessmen to live in Brooklyn Heights on their way to and from work. Around the same time, many Irish people decided to make Fort Greene their new home.
The factories that opened up along the waterfront and in the new Navy Yard provided employment for many of the borough’s newest immigrants. When the Erie Canal was finished in 1825, an additional wave of industrial and economic growth followed. Many New Englanders relocated to Brooklyn. The small town grew into a city over the course of the following 25 years, complete with gas lights along public streets and factories that smoked along the river. An impressive city hall and a public school system were two other notable firsts.
Brooklyn’s population doubled to nearly 80,000 people between 1840 and 1845. The first significant wave of immigrants from Europe was responsible for this increase. Nearly half of Brooklyn’s 205,000 inhabitants were immigrants in 1855; of these, half were Irish and the remaining 25 percent were evenly split between families from Britain and Germany. Brooklyn rose to become the third-largest city in the country by 1860. In the late 1880s, a second wave of immigrants arrived. Russian Jews, Italians, Poles, and a mix of Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, and Finns were among the borough’s newest residents, all of whom were originally from Eastern Europe. More than a million people called Brooklyn home by the end of the 19th century, and more than 30% of them were immigrants.
40% of Brooklyn’s wage earners in 1860 were employed in New York City. From Brooklyn Heights to lower Manhattan, ferries carry over 32 million passengers each year. The demand for transportation eventually became unsustainable. Plans to erect a bridge were put forth in an effort to reduce the pressure. To build the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Bridge Company was established in 1865. In 1883, this project was finished.
With the construction of a new bridge, Brooklyn saw a significant increase in visitors, including immigrants fleeing Manhattan’s high rents and cramped apartments. Brooklyn grew and eventually took over the entirety of Kings County before being annexed by New York City in 1898.
Brooklyn experienced a population explosion in the early 20th century. New bridges, trolleys, elevated railroads, and subway lines that connected to the borough’s outermost reaches were among the transportation innovations. The first subway line was inserted beneath the East River in 1908. The Manhattan Bridge opened in 1909, and the Williamsburg Bridge was finished in 1903. With each new expansion, Brooklyn experienced new opportunities for habitation and development. Brooklyn’s rural past was vanishing.
By 1880, Brooklyn was one of the nation’s top producers of processed goods. More than half of the sugar consumed in the US was produced by the borough’s largest industry, sugar refining. Additionally, there were dockyards, gas refineries, book publishers, ironworks, slaughterhouses, sweatshops, clock and pencil factories, glue factories, bakeries, beer, and cigar factories. Although there was always work available, there were some safety concerns.
Numerous African-Americans from the south moved into Brooklyn’s neighborhoods between World War I and the 1930s. During the “Great Migration,” they were among the hundreds of thousands who migrated to northern cities; by 1930, more than 60% of African-Americans in Brooklyn had been born outside the borough. Many people left Harlem in 1936 when the “A” train route from Harlem to Brooklyn was extended in search of better lives and more affordable housing. As Brooklyn became home to thousands of immigrants from Puerto Rico, For many, steamship travel to America took five days, but for many, the trip was well worth the inconvenience.
The 1929 stock market crash was one occasion that changed people’s lives. Several thousand employees lost their jobs. Salvation Army food stations and bread lines have become common sights. When the US entered World War II, the Depression was over. Their communities had already started to change when the soldiers came home from the war.
For many years, Brooklyn served as the nation’s primary industrial supplier. However, Brooklyn’s industrial energies began to wane by the 1950s. In search of less expensive locations, manufacturing facilities relocated to other cities. Due to the development of larger container ships that required deep harbors, Brooklyn Ports became less active. The middle class was drawn to the suburbs by economic upheaval and the availability of government-backed mortgages. They departed in large numbers for Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, and New Jersey. This led to a change within the borough as well. Jewish communities as a whole relocated to Flatbush, Borough Park, Eastern Parkway, and Brighton Beach from their previous neighborhoods. Many Italian families moved to Gravesend and Bensonhurst. That one “final” would be recorded by historians.
The 1977 blackout further exacerbated these difficulties. Due to the widespread looting and arson caused by the power outage, entire African-American-dominated neighborhoods were completely destroyed. The main Broadway shopping area in Bushwick was set on fire for a number of blocks. The remaining third of stores immediately went out of business. 40% of Brooklyn’s businesses, both commercial and retail, failed within a year.
Despite the difficulties of the 1970s and early 1980s, Brooklyn’s fortune would improve in the final decades of the 20th century. As a result of this change, neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hills emerged, and crime started to decline. Manhattan residents flocked to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Navy Yard started to transform into a sizable industrial park. In DUMBO, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, new communities have emerged as a result of Manhattan’s skyrocketing rents. Brooklyn continued to attract new immigrant waves. The stifled Brooklyn neighborhoods gained a new sense of excitement and complexity thanks to their wonderful accents and fascinating culture.
Brooklyn now has thriving immigrant communities from the former Soviet Union, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, China, and Korea. Brooklyn is still attracting people from all over the world to live there and contribute significantly to its energy.
Towns around Brooklyn