Hartford is the capital of the U.S. state of Connecticut and the historic seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960. As of the 2010 Census, Hartford's population was 124,775, making it Connecticut's fourth-largest city after the coastal cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Stamford.
Nicknamed the "Insurance Capital of the World", Hartford houses many insurance company headquarters, and insurance remains the region's major industry. Almost 400 years old, Hartford is among the oldest cities in the United States. Following the American Civil War, Hartford was the wealthiest city in the United States for several decades. In 1868, resident Mark Twain wrote before he died, "Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief." Today, Hartford is one of the poorest cities in the nation with 3 out of every 10 families living below the poverty line.
In 2004, the Hartford metropolitan area ranked second nationally in per capita economic activity, behind only San Francisco. Hartford is ranked 32nd of 318 metropolitan areas in total economic production. Hartford is home to the nation's oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum; the oldest public park, Bushnell Park; the oldest continuously published newspaper, The Hartford Courant; the second-oldest secondary school, Hartford Public, and the Mark Twain House where the author wrote his most famous works and raised his family, among other historically significant attractions.
After Dutch explorer Adriaen Block visited the area in 1614, fur traders from the New Netherland colony set up trade at Fort Goede Hoop (Good Hope) at the confluence of the Connecticut and Park Rivers as early as 1623, but abandoned their post by 1654. Today, the neighborhood near the site is still known as Dutch Point. The first English settlers arrived in 1635 and their settlement was originally called Newtown, but was renamed Hartford in 1637. The name "Hartford" was chosen to honor the English town of Hertford (pronounced "Hartford") in Hertfordshire, home of Samuel Stone, one of the settlers.
Before European colonization, the Hartford area was inhabited by a variety of American Indian tribes, most notably the Podunks, who had journeyed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1630s and attempted to attract colonists to their region so that they might assist them in conquering the Pequot Indians.. In search of better land and the opportunity to erect a truly protestant 'city on a hill', English colonists moved to the area a few years later, and an anti-Pequot alliance indeed quashed the Pequots by 1637. The leader of Hartford's original settlers, who had come from what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts, was Pastor Thomas Hooker. He delivered a sermon which inspired the writing of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, a document (ratified January 14, 1639) investing the people with the authority to govern, rather than ceding such authority to a higher power. Hooker's conception of self-rule embodied in the Fundamental Orders went on to inspire the Connecticut Constitution, and ultimately the U.S. Constitution. Today, one of Connecticut's nicknames is the "Constitution State."
On December 15, 1814, delegations from throughout New England gathered at the Hartford Convention to discuss possible secession from the United States. Later in the century, Hartford was a center of abolitionist activity. Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of Lyman Beecher and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, lived in Nook Farm, part of the Asylum Hill section of the city. In 1950, the Census Bureau reported Hartford's population as 7.1% black and 92.8% white. In 1987, Carrie Saxon Perry was elected mayor of Hartford, the first female African-American mayor of a major American city.
On the week of April 12, 1909, the Connecticut River reached a then-record flood stage of 24½ feet above the low water mark flooding the city and doing great damage.
On July 6, 1944, the Hartford Circus Fire destroyed the big top at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the deadliest circus fire in the history of the United States. Starting in the late 1950s the suburbs of Hartford grew while the capital city began a long decline. This decline may have been accelerated by construction of highways (including I-84 & I-91 which intersect in downtown Hartford). Many residents moved out of the city and into the suburbs, and this trend continues. During the 1980s, Hartford experienced an economic boom of sorts and by the late 1980s, almost a dozen new skyscrapers were proposed to be built in the city's downtown. For various reasons, including the economic recession that followed in the early 1990s, many of these buildings were never built. By the beginning of the 21st century, many workers in Hartford lived more than 20 minutes drive from the city—though according to the Census Bureau, the city's average commute time of 22 minutes is a full three minutes less than the US average.