Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent universities, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the 2010 United States Census, the city's population was 105,162. It is the fifth most populous city in the state, behind Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Lowell. Cambridge was one of the two county seats of Middlesex County prior to the abolition of county government in 1997; Lowell was the other.
The site for what would become Cambridge was chosen in December 1630, because it was located safely upriver from Boston Harbor, which made it easily defensible from attacks by enemy ships. Also, the water from the local spring was so good that the local Native Americans believed it had medicinal properties. Thomas Dudley, his daughter Anne Bradstreet and her husband Simon were among the first settlers of the town. The first houses were built in the spring of 1631. The settlement was initially referred to as "the newe towne". Official Massachusetts records show the name capitalized as Newe Towne by 1632. Located at the first convenient Charles River crossing west of Boston, Newe Towne was one of a number of towns (including Boston, Dorchester, Watertown, and Weymouth) founded by the 700 original Puritan colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under governor John Winthrop. The original village site is in the heart of today's Harvard Square. The marketplace where farmers brought in crops from surrounding towns to sell survives today as the small park at the corner of John F. Kennedy (J.F.K.) and Winthrop Streets, then at the edge of a salt marsh, since filled. The town included a much larger area than the present city, with various outlying parts becoming independent towns over the years: Newton (originally Cambridge Village, then Newtown) in 1688, Lexington (Cambridge Farms) in 1712, and both West Cambridge (originally Menotomy) and Brighton (Little Cambridge) in 1807. Part of West Cambridge joined the new town of Belmont in 1859, and the rest of West Cambridge was renamed Arlington in 1867; Brighton was annexed by Boston in 1874. In the late 19th century, various schemes for annexing Cambridge itself to the City of Boston were pursued and rejected.
In 1636, Harvard College was founded by the colony to train ministers and the new town was chosen for its site by Thomas Dudley. By 1638, the name "Newe Towne" had "compacted by usage into 'Newtowne'." In May 1638 the name was changed to Cambridge in honor of the university in Cambridge, England. The first president (Henry Dunster), the first benefactor (John Harvard), and the first schoolmaster (Nathaniel Eaton) of Harvard were all Cambridge University alumni, as was the then ruling (and first) governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. In 1629, Winthrop had led the signing of the founding document of the city of Boston, which was known as the Cambridge Agreement, after the university. It was Governor Thomas Dudley who, in 1650, signed the charter creating the corporation which still governs Harvard College.
Cambridge grew slowly as an agricultural village eight miles (13 km) by road from Boston, the capital of the colony. By the American Revolution, most residents lived near the Common and Harvard College, with farms and estates comprising most of the town. Most of the inhabitants were descendants of the original Puritan colonists, but there was also a small elite of Anglican "worthies" who were not involved in village life, who made their livings from estates, investments, and trade, and lived in mansions along "the Road to Watertown" (today's Brattle Street, still known as Tory Row). In 1775, George Washington came up from Virginia to take command of fledgling volunteer American soldiers camped on the Cambridge Common—today called the birthplace of the U.S. Army. (The name of today's nearby Sheraton Commander Hotel refers to that event.) Most of the Tory estates were confiscated after the Revolution. On January 24, 1776, Henry Knox arrived with artillery captured from Fort Ticonderoga, which enabled Washington to drive the British army out of Boston.
In the mid-19th century, Cambridge was the center of a literary revolution when it gave the country a new identity through poetry and literature. Cambridge was home to some of the famous Fireside Poets—so called because their poems would often be read aloud by families in front of their evening fires. In their day, the Fireside Poets—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes—were as popular and influential as rock stars are today.
Soon after, turnpikes were built: the Cambridge and Concord Turnpike (today's Broadway and Concord Ave.), the Middlesex Turnpike (Hampshire St. and Massachusetts Ave. northwest of Porter Square), and what are today's Cambridge, Main, and Harvard Streets were roads to connect various areas of Cambridge to the bridges. In addition, railroads crisscrossed the town during the same era, leading to the development of Porter Square as well as the creation of neighboring town Somerville from the formerly rural parts of Charlestown.
For many years, the city's largest employer was the New England Glass Company, founded in 1818. By the middle of the 19th century it was the largest and most modern glassworks in the world. In 1888, all production was moved, by Edward Drummond Libbey, to Toledo, Ohio, where it continues today under the name Owens Illinois. Flint glassware with heavy lead content, produced by that company, is prized by antique glass collectors. There is none on public display in Cambridge, but there is a large collection in the Toledo Museum of Art.
Among the largest businesses located in Cambridge was the firm of Carter's Ink Company, whose neon sign long adorned the Charles River and which was for many years the largest manufacturer of ink in the world.
By 1920, Cambridge was one of the main industrial cities of New England, with nearly 120,000 residents. As industry in New England began to decline during the Great Depression and after World War II, Cambridge lost much of its industrial base. It also began the transition to being an intellectual, rather than an industrial, center. Harvard University had always been important in the city (both as a landowner and as an institution), but it began to play a more dominant role in the city's life and culture. Also, the move of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from Boston in 1916 ensured Cambridge's status as an intellectual center of the United States.
After the 1950s, the city's population began to decline slowly, as families tended to be replaced by single people and young couples. The 1980s brought a wave of high-technology startups, creating software such as Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3, and advanced computers, but many of these companies fell into decline with the fall of the minicomputer and DOS-based systems. However, the city continues to be home to many startups as well as a thriving biotech industry. By the end of the 20th century, Cambridge had one of the most expensive housing markets in the Northeastern United States.
While maintaining much diversity in class, race, and age, it became harder and harder for those who grew up in the city to be able to afford to stay. The end of rent control in 1994 prompted many Cambridge renters to move to housing that was more affordable, in Somerville and other communities. In 2005, a reassessment of residential property values resulted in a disproportionate number of houses owned by non-affluent people jumping in value relative to other houses, with hundreds having their property tax increased by over 100%; this forced many homeowners in Cambridge to move elsewhere.
As of 2012, Cambridge's mix of amenities and proximity to Boston has kept housing prices relatively stable despite the bursting of the United States housing bubble.