Binghamton is a city in and the county seat of Broome County, New York, United States. It lies in the state's Southern Tier region near the Pennsylvania border, in a bowl-shaped valley at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. Binghamton is the principal city and cultural center of the Binghamton metropolitan area (also known as Greater Binghamton, or historically the Triple Cities), home to a quarter million people. The population of the city itself, according to the 2010 census, is 47,376.
From the days of the railroad, Binghamton was a transportation crossroads and a manufacturing center, and has been known at different times for the production of cigars, shoes, and computers. IBM was founded nearby, and the flight simulator was invented in the city, leading to a notable concentration of electronics- and defense-oriented firms. This sustained economic prosperity earned Binghamton the moniker of the Valley of Opportunity. However, following cuts made by defense firms after the end of the Cold War, the region has lost a significant portion of its manufacturing industry.
Today, while there is a continued concentration of high-tech firms, Binghamton is emerging as a healthcare- and education-focused city, with the presence of Binghamton University acting as much of the driving force behind this revitalization.
The first known people of European descent to come to the area were the troops of the Sullivan Expedition in 1779, during the American Revolutionary War, who destroyed local villages of the Onondaga and Oneida tribes. The city was named after William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphian who bought the 10,000 acre patent for the land in 1786, then consisting of portions of the towns of Union and Chenango. Joshua Whitney, Jr., Bingham's land agent, chose land at the junction of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers to develop a settlement, then named Chenango Point, and helped build its roads and erect the first bridge. Significant agricultural growth led to the incorporation of the village of Binghamton in 1834.
The Chenango Canal, completed in 1837, connected Binghamton to the Erie Canal, and was the impetus for the initial industrial development of the area. This growth accelerated with the completion of the Erie Railroad between Binghamton and New York City in 1849. With the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad arriving soon after, the village became an important regional transportation center. Several buildings of importance were built at this time, including the New York State Inebriate Asylum, opened in 1858 as the first center in the United States to treat alcoholism as a disease.
Valley of Opportunity: Growth as a manufacturing hub
Binghamton incorporated as a city in 1867, and due to the presence of several stately homes, was nicknamed the Parlor City. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many immigrants moved to the area, finding an abundance of jobs. During the 1880s, Binghamton grew to become the second-largest manufacturer of cigars in the United States. However, by the early 1920s, the major employer of the region became Endicott Johnson, a shoe manufacturer whose development of welfare capitalism resulted in many amenities for local residents. An even larger influx of Europeans immigrated to Binghamton, and the working class prosperity resulted in the area being called the Valley of Opportunity.
In 1913, 31 people perished in the Binghamton Clothing Company fire, which resulted in numerous reforms to the New York fire code. Major floods in 1935 and 1936 resulted in a number of deaths, and washed out the Ferry Street Bridge (now the Clinton Street Bridge). The floods were devastating, and resulted in the construction of flood walls along the length of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers.
During the Second World War, growth and corporate generosity continued as IBM, which was founded in Greater Binghamton, emerged as a global technology leader. Along with Edwin Link's invention of the flight simulator in Binghamton, IBM transitioned the region to a high-tech economy. Other major manufacturers included Ansco and General Electric. Until the Cold War ended, the area never experienced an economic downfall, due in part to its defense-oriented industries. The population of the city of Binghamton peaked at around 85,000 in the mid-1950s.
Decline and recovery
Post-war suburban development led to a decline in the city population, as the towns of Vestal and Union experienced rapid growth. As seen in many other Rust Belt cities, traditional manufacturers saw steep declines, though Binghamton's technology industry limited this impact. In an effort to reverse these trends, urban renewal dominated much of the construction during the 1960s and early 1970s, with many ornate city buildings torn down during this period. The construction included the creation of Government Plaza, the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, and North Shore Dr. (NY 363). As was typical of urban renewal, these projects ultimately failed to stem most of the losses, though they did establish Binghamton as the government and cultural center of the region.
As the Cold War came to a close in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the defense-related industries in Greater Binghamton began to falter, resulting in several closures and widespread layoffs These were most notable at IBM, which sold its Federal Systems division and laid off several thousands of workers. The local economy went into a deep recession, and the long-prevalent manufacturing jobs dropped by 64% from 1990 to 2013.
In the 21st century, the city has attempted to diversify its economic base in order to spur revitalization. The local economy has slowly transitioned towards a focus on services and healthcare. Major emphasis has been placed on Binghamton University, which built a downtown campus in 2007, and several student housing complexes have been created downtown. Further student housing projects are planned, and the increased downtown residential population has spurred development of supporting businesses, along with a renewed focus on the riverfront. Unfortunately, the recovery has been stymied by two severe floods. While the majority of the impact of the Mid-Atlantic United States flood of 2006 was in the surrounding metropolitan area, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee topped city flood walls in September 2011, causing $1 billion of damage in Greater Binghamton.