Schenectady is a city in Schenectady County, New York, United States, of which it is the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 66,135. The name "Schenectady" is derived loosely from a Mohawk word for "on that side of the pinery," or "near the pines," or "place beyond the pine plains."
When first encountered by Europeans, the area that is now Schenectady was the land of the Mohawk nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. When Dutch settlers arrived in the Hudson Valley in the 17th century, the Mohawk called the settlement at Fort Orange (present day Albany, NY) Schau-naugh-ta-da, meaning "over the pine plains." Eventually, this word entered the lexicon of the Dutch settlers, but the meaning was reversed, and the name referred to the bend in the Mohawk River where the city lies today.
Schenectady was first settled by Europeans in 1661 when the area was part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Settlement was led by Arent van Curler, a prominent figure in the colony who had emigrated from Nijkerk in the Netherlands, after purchase from the Mohawk Nation. Some of the Dutch brought African slaves to the region as laborers, as did the later English. In 1664 the English seized the Dutch colony and renamed it New York. Settlers purchased additional land from the Mohawk in 1670 and 1672. Twenty years later (1684) Governor Thomas Dongan granted letters patent for Schenectady to five trustees.
On February 8, 1690, during King William's War, French forces and their Indian allies attacked Schenectady by surprise, leaving 62 dead. American history notes it as the Schenectady massacre. In 1748, during King George's War, the French and Indians attacked again.
In 1765, Schenectady was incorporated as a borough. Union College was founded in 1795. During the American Revolutionary War the local militia unit, the 2nd Albany County Militia Regiment, fought in the Battle of Saratoga and against Loyalist troops. Most of the warfare in the Mohawk Valley occurred farther west on the frontier.
The settlement was chartered as a city in 1798. In the 19th century, after completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Schenectady became an important transportation and trade center, as it was part of connecting the Hudson River to the Mohawk Valley and the Great Lakes. The Albany and Schenectady Turnpike (now State Street), established in 1797, connected Albany to the Mohawk Valley. The Erie Canal (now Erie Boulevard), opened in 1825, passed through here, as did the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, opened in 1831 as one of the first railway lines in the United States. Commodities and commercial products were shipped to the East and New York City through the Mohawk Valley and Schenectady.
In the antebellum years, Schenectady became a center of abolitionist activities. The last slaves in New York did not gain freedom until 1827, although the state had passed a gradual emancipation act in 1799, which first freed the children of slaves. Union College had established a school for black children in 1805, but discontinued it after two years. Parents had been unsuccessful in having their children admitted to public schools in the city. In 1836, Rev. Isaac Groot Duryea was a co-founder of the interracial Anti-Slavery Society at Union College. An Underground Railroad route ran through the area.
In 1837, Duryea helped found the First Free Church of Schenectady together with other free people of color; it provided space in the basement for a school for their children. The abolitionist Theodore Sedgwick Wright, who was based in New York City, spoke at the dedication of the church.
In 1887, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works to Schenectady. In 1892, Schenectady became the headquarters of the General Electric Company. It became a major economic force and helped establish the city and region as a manufacturing center. GE became important nationally as a creative company.
Schenectady is home to WGY-AM, the second commercial radio station in the United States, (after WBZ in Springfield, Massachusetts, which was named for Westinghouse.) The station was named for its owner, General Electric (the G), and the city of Schenectady (the Y). In 1928, General Electric produced the first regular television broadcasts in the United States, when the experimental station W2XB began regular broadcasts on Thursday and Friday afternoons. This television station is now WRGB; for years it was the Capital District's NBC affiliate, but is now the CBS affiliate.