Paterson is a city in and the county seat of Passaic County, New Jersey, United States, in the New York City Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 United States Census, its population was 146,199, rendering it New Jersey's third-most-populous city reflecting a decline of 3,023 (-2.0%) from the 149,222 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 8,331 (+5.9%) from the 140,891 counted in the 1990 Census. The Census Bureau estimated a 2012 population of 145,219, a decrease of 980 (-0.7%) since 2010. Detailed analysis of 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that Paterson continues to carry the second-highest density of any U.S. city with over 100,000 people, behind only New York City. Paterson is known as the "Silk City" for its dominant role in silk production during the latter half of the 19th century but has since evolved into a major destination for Hispanic emigrants as well as for immigrants from the Arab and Muslim world.
In 1791, Alexander Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM), which helped encourage the harnessing of energy from the Great Falls of the Passaic River, to secure economic independence from British manufacturers. Paterson, which was founded by the society, became the cradle of the industrial revolution in America. Paterson was named for William Paterson, statesman, signer of the Constitution and Governor of New Jersey who signed the 1792 charter that established the Town of Paterson.
Architect, engineer, and city planner Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant, who had earlier developed the initial plans for Washington, D.C., was the first planner for the SUM project. His plan proposed to harness the power of the Great Falls through a channel in the rock and an aqueduct. However, the society's directors felt he was taking too long and was over budget, and he was replaced by Peter Colt, who used a less-complicated reservoir system to get the water flowing to factories in 1794. Eventually, Colt's system developed some problems and a scheme resembling L'Enfant's original plan was used after 1846.
Paterson was originally formed as a township from portions of Acquackanonk Township on April 11, 1831, while the area was still part of Essex County. Paterson became part of the newly created Passaic County on February 7, 1837. Paterson was incorporated as a city on April 14, 1851, based on the results of a referendum held that day. The city was reincorporated on March 14, 1861.
The industries developed in Paterson were powered by the 77-foot high Great Falls, and a system of water raceways that harnessed the power of the falls, providing the power for the mills in the area until 1914 and fostering the growth of the city around the mills. The district originally included dozens of mill buildings and other manufacturing structures associated with the textile industry and later, the firearms, silk, and railroad locomotive manufacturing industries. In the latter half of the 19th century, silk production became the dominant industry and formed the basis of Paterson's most prosperous period, earning it the nickname "Silk City." In 1835, Samuel Colt began producing firearms in Paterson, although within a few years he moved his business to Hartford, Connecticut. Later in the 19th century, Paterson was the site of early experiments with submarines by Irish-American inventor John Philip Holland. Two of Holland's early models — one found at the bottom of the Passaic River — are on display in the Paterson Museum, housed in the former Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works near the Passaic Falls.
The city was a mecca for immigrant laborers who worked in its factories. Paterson was the site of historic labor unrest that focused on anti-child labor legislation, and the six-month long Paterson silk strike of 1913 that demanded the eight-hour day and better working conditions, but was defeated by the employers with workers forced to return under pre-strike conditions. Factory workers labored long hours for low wages under dangerous conditions, and lived in crowded tenement buildings around the mills. The factories then moved south where there were no labor unions, and later moved overseas.
In 1919, Paterson was one of eight locations bombed by self-identified anarchists.
In 1932, Paterson opened Hinchliffe Stadium, a 10,000-seat stadium named in honor of John V. Hinchliffe, the city's mayor at the time. Hinchliffe originally served as the site for high school and professional athletic events. From 1933 to 1937 and 1939 to 1945, Hinchliffe was the home of the New York Black Yankees and from 1935 to 1936 the home of the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. The historic ballpark was also a venue for many professional football games, track and field events, boxing matches and auto and motorcycle racing.
Abbott and Costello performed at Hinchliffe prior to boxing matches. Hinchliffe is one of only three Negro League stadiums left standing in the United States, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1963, the Paterson Public Schools acquired the stadium and used it for public school events until 1997, but it is currently in a state of disrepair, while the schools have been taken over by the state.
Post-World War II era
During World War II Paterson played an important part in the aircraft engine industry. By the end of WWII, however, there was a decline in urban areas and Paterson was no exception, and since the late 1960s the city has suffered high unemployment rates and white flight.
Once a premier shopping and leisure destination of northern New Jersey, competition from the malls in upscale neighboring towns like Wayne and Paramus have forced the big-chain stores out of Paterson's downtown. The biggest industries are now small businesses, with the decline of the city's industrial base. However, the city still, as always, attracts many immigrants, who have revived the city's economy, especially through small businesses.
The downtown area was struck by massive fires several times, most recently January 17, 1991. In this fire, a near full city block (bordered on the north and south by Main and Washington Street and on the east and west by Ellison Street and College Boulevard, a stretch of Van Houten Street that is dominated by Passaic County Community College) was engulfed in flames due to an electrical fire in the basement of a bar at 161 Main Street and spread to other buildings. Firefighter John A. Nicosia, 28, of Engine 4, went missing in the fire, having gotten lost in the basement. His body was located two days later. A plaque honoring his memory was later placed on a wall near the area. The area was so badly damaged that most of the burned buildings were demolished, with an outdoor mall standing in their place. The most notable of the destroyed buildings was the Meyer Brothers department store, which closed in 1987 and since had been parceled out.
Paterson boasts numerous locations on the National Register of Historic Places, including museums, civic buildings such as City Hall, Hinchliffe Stadium, Public School Number Two and the Danforth Memorial Library, churches (Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church) individual residences and districts of the city, such as the Paterson Downtown Commercial Historic District, the Great Falls/Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures Historic District and the Eastside Park Historic District.
In August 2011, Paterson was severely affected in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, particularly by flooding of the Passaic River, which led to the displacement of thousands and the closure of bridges over the river. Touring the area with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared, "This is as bad as I’ve seen, and I’ve been in eight states that have been impacted by Irene." The president the same day declared New Jersey a disaster area, and announced that he would visit the city.