Camden is a city in Camden County, New Jersey, United States. It is the county seat, located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. As of the 2010 United States Census the city had a total population of 77,344, representing a decline of 2,560 (3.2%) from the 79,904 residents enumerated during the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 7,588 (8.7%) from the 87,492 counted in the 1990 Census. Camden ranked as the 12th-most populous municipality in the state in 2010 after having been ranked 10th in 2000.
Camden was originally incorporated as a city on February 13, 1828, from portions of the now-defunct Newton Township, while the area was still part of Gloucester County. On March 13, 1844, Camden became part of the newly formed Camden County.
Although once a thriving center for manufacturing and industry, Camden is perhaps best known for its struggles with urban dysfunction. Three Camden mayors have been jailed for corruption, the most recent being Milton Milan in 2000. Since 2005 the school system and police department have been operated by the State of New Jersey; the takeover expired in 2012. In 2008, Camden had the highest crime rate in the U.S. with 2,333 violent crimes per 100,000 people while the national average was 455 per 100,000. Camden public schools spent $23,770 per student ($19,118 on a budgetary per-pupil basis) in the 2009–10 school year and two-thirds of the students graduate. Two out of every five residents are below the national poverty line.
Fort Nassau (located within the present boundaries of nearby Gloucester City, New Jersey), was built by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, and was the first European attempt to settle the area now occupied by Camden. Initial European activity in the vicinity of present-day Camden occurred along the banks of the Delaware River where the Dutch and the Swedish vied for control of the local fur trade. Europeans continued to settle in and improve the area throughout the 17th century. Much of the growth directly resulted from the success of another Quaker colony across the Delaware River known as Philadelphia, which was founded in 1682 and soon had enough population to attract a brisk trade from West Jersey and Camden. To accommodate the trade across the river, a string of ferries began operation.
For over 150 years, Camden served as a secondary economic and transportation hub for the Philadelphia area. But that status began to change in the early 19th century. One of the U.S.'s first railroads, the Camden and Amboy Railroad, was chartered in Camden in 1830. The Camden and Amboy Railroad allowed travelers to travel between New York City and Philadelphia via ferry terminals in South Amboy, New Jersey and Camden. The railroad terminated on the Camden waterfront, and passengers were ferried across the Delaware River to their final Philadelphia destination. The Camden and Amboy Railroad opened in 1834 and helped to spur an increase in population and commerce in Camden.
Originally a suburban town with ferry service to Philadelphia, Camden evolved into its own city, as industry and neighborhoods grew. Camden prospered during strong periods of manufacturing demand and faced distress during periods of economic dislocation.
Like most American cities, Camden suffered from decline in the 20th century as the manufacturing base and many residents moved out to other locations. Currently, government, education, and health care are the three biggest employers in Camden; however, most employees commute to Philadelphia and live in nearby suburbs such as Cherry Hill. Revitalization has occurred along the Camden Waterfront and in the neighborhoods of Cooper Grant, Cramer Hill, and Fairview, with direct access to Philadelphia.
From 1901 through 1929, Camden was headquarters of the Victor Talking Machine Company, and thereafter to its successor RCA Victor, the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs and phonograph records for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. RCA Victor contained one of the first commercial recording studios in the United States, where Enrico Caruso, among others, recorded. General Electric reacquired RCA in 1986.
In 1992, the state of New Jersey under the Florio Administration made an agreement with GE to ensure that GE would not close the Camden site. The state of New Jersey would build a new high tech facility on the site of the old Campbell Soup Company factory and trade these new buildings to GE for the existing old RCA Victor Buildings. Later, the new high tech buildings would be sold to Martin Marietta. In 1994, Martin Marietta merged with Lockheed to become Lockheed Martin. In 1997, Lockheed Martin divested the Camden Plant as part of the birth of L-3 Communications.
The famous "Nipper Building" depicting RCA's famous "His Master's Voice" trademark in its tower windows has since been renovated into a luxury apartment building called "The Victor." Building 8 is set to be rehabilitated into luxury condominiums called "Radio Lofts." Both projects are the work of Dranoff Properties, a well known Philadelphia development corporation that has specialized in these types of constructions. Another older building, Victor Building No. 2, is used to this day to house the Camden City Board of Education. Most of the other old RCA Victor buildings have long since been demolished.
From 1899 to 1967, Camden was the home of New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which at its World War II peak was the largest and most productive shipyard in the world. Notable naval vessels built at New York Ship include the ill-fated cruiser USS Indianapolis and the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. In 1962, the first commercial nuclear-powered ship, the NS Savannah, was launched in Camden. The Fairview Village section of Camden (initially Yorkship Village) was a planned European-style garden village built by the Federal government during World War I to house New York Shipbuilding Corporation workers.
At Camden's peak, 10,000 workers were employed at RCA, while another 40,000 worked at New York Shipbuilding. RCA had 23 out of 25 of its factories inside Camden. Campbell Soup was also a major employer. By 1969, Camden had been losing jobs and residents for a quarter century due in large part to urban decay, highway construction, and racial tensions.
In his book Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor, Jefferson Cowie mentions that Camden in the 1920s was known as "the Citadel of Republicanism".
On June 6, 1933, the city hosted the first drive-in movie.
Second half of the 20th century
After years of economic and industrial growth, the city of Camden faced years of rising crime and blight. On September 6, 1949, mass murderer Howard Unruh went on a killing spree in his Camden neighborhood in which he killed thirteen people. Unruh, who was convicted and subsequently confined to a state psychiatric facility, died on October 19, 2009.
Sections of downtown were looted and torched after racial riots occurred following the beating and death of a Puerto Rican motorist by city police in August 1971.
The Camden 28 were a group of "Catholic left" anti-Vietnam War activists who, in 1971, planned and executed a raid on the Camden draft board, resulting in a high-profile trial against the activists that was seen by many as a referendum on the Vietnam War in which 17 of the defendants were acquitted by a jury even though they admitted having participated in the break in.
In 1996, Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman frisked Sherron Rolax, a 16-year-old African-American youth, an event which was captured in an infamous photograph. Rolax alleged his civil rights were violated and sued the state of New Jersey.