Bridgeport is the most populous city in Connecticut. Located in Fairfield County on the Pequonnock River and Long Island Sound, the city had an estimated population of 144,229 at the 2010 United States Census and is the core of the Greater Bridgeport area. The city is part of the Greater New York City Combined Statistical Area. It is the fifth-largest city in New England (behind Boston, Worcester, Providence and Springfield.) Bridgeport is the center of the 48th-largest urban area in the United States, just behind Hartford (47th). Most of Bridgeport was originally a part of the township of Stratford.
English colonists began settling along the Pequonnock River after 1639, quickly buying land from the Paugussett tribe or otherwise divesting them of it. The settlement became a center of trade, shipbuilding, and whaling. In the mid-19th century, the village rapidly industrialized, attracting immigrants to the growing number of factory jobs. Industry stayed strong until after World War II. Industrial restructuring and suburbanization caused the loss of many jobs and affluent residents, leaving Bridgeport struggling with problems of poverty. In the 21st century, conversion of office buildings to residential, and other redevelopment is attracting new residents.
The circus-promoter and former mayor, P.T. Barnum, was a famous resident of the city. Barnum built three houses there, and housed his circus in town during winters. The first Subway restaurant opened in the North End section of the city in 1965. The Frisbie Pie Company was located here, and Bridgeport is credited as the birthplace of the Frisbee.
The first English settlement on the west bank of the mouth of the Pequonnock River was made somewhere between 1639 and 1665 and was called Pequonnock, after the name of the Native American people, a sub-tribe of the Paugussett, who had historically occupied this area. One of their sacred sites was Golden Hill, the center of springs and planting fields, now within downtown Bridgeport. The village was renamed Newfield sometime before 1777.
More people settled further inland and to the West and the area officially became known as Stratfield in 1701, likely due to its location between the already existing towns of Stratford and Fairfield. During the American Revolution, Bridgeport and its harbor were a center of privateering. In 1800, Newfield village was chartered as the borough of Bridgeport, and in 1821 the township of Bridgeport, including more of Stratfield, was incorporated. Bridgeport was chartered as a city in 1836.
Bridgeport's early years were marked by residents' reliance on fishing and farming, similar to the society of the Native American Paugassett. They had cultivated corn, beans and squash, and fished from both the river and sound. The city's location on the deep Newfield Harbor fostered a boom in shipbuilding and whaling in the mid-19th century, especially after the opening of a railroad to the city in 1840.
The city rapidly industrialized in the late 19th century, when it became a manufacturing center. It produced such goods as the famous Bridgeport milling machine, brass fittings, carriages, sewing machines, brassieres, saddles, and ammunition. Bridgeport annexed the village of Black Rock and its busy harbor in 1870.
On Saturday, March 10, 1860, Abraham Lincoln spoke in the city's Washington Hall, an auditorium at the old Bridgeport City Hall (now McLevy Hall), at the corner of State and Broad streets. The largest room in the city was packed, and a crowd formed outside as well. Lincoln received a standing ovation before taking the 9:07 p.m. train that night back to Manhattan. A plaque marks the site where Lincoln spoke; later that year, he was elected president. Other notables who have given speeches in Bridgeport include the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke three times at the Klein Auditorium during the 1960s; President George W. Bush spoke before a small group of Connecticut business people and officials at the Playhouse on the Green in 2006; and President Barack Obama spoke at the Harbor Yard arena in 2010 to gain support for the campaign of Democratic Governor Dan Malloy.
Industrialization and labor history
Industrialization was underway by the mid-19th century. Famous factories included Wheeler & Wilson, which produced sewing machines and exported them throughout the world, and the Locomobile Company of America, builder of one of the premier automobiles in the early years of the century.
In the summer of 1915, amid increased labor demand as men were drafted for World War I, workers in Bridgeport called a series of strikes demanding the eight-hour day. They were so successful that the strikes and the eight-hour day spread throughout the Northeast.
By 1930, Bridgeport was a thriving industrial center with more than 500 factories. Since the late 19th century, its industrial jobs had attracted the most recent immigrants: Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans. The build-up to World War II further helped its industries.
Restructuring of heavy industry starting after the mid-20th century caused the loss of thousands of jobs and residents. Like other urban centers in Connecticut, Bridgeport suffered during the deindustrialization of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Continued development of new suburban housing attracted middle and upper-class residents, leaving the city with a higher proportion of poor. The city suffered from overall mismanagement, for which several city officials were convicted, contributing to the economic and social decline.
In September 1978, Bridgeport teachers went on a 19-day strike due to deadlocked contract negotiations. A court order, as well as a state law that made strikes by public workers illegal in Connecticut, resulted in 274 teachers being arrested and jailed.
In the early 21st century, Bridgeport has taken steps toward redevelopment of its downtown and other neighborhoods. In 2004, artists' lofts were developed in the former Read's Department Store on Broad Street. Several other rental conversions have been completed, including the 117-unit Citytrust bank building on Main Street. The recession has halted, at least temporarily, two major mixed-use projects including a $1 billion waterfront development at Steel Point, but other redevelopment projects have proceeded, such as the condominium conversion project in Bijou Square. In 2009, the City Council approved a new master plan for development, designed both to promote redevelopment in selected areas and to protect existing residential neighborhoods. In 2010, the Bridgeport Housing Authority and a local health center announced plans to build a $20 million medical and housing complex at Albion Street, making use of federal stimulus funds and designed to replace some of the housing lost with the demolition of Father Panik Village.