Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paterson's Great Falls History

Distant view of Passaic Falls.
Distant view of Passaic Falls. by New York Public Library, on Flickr
It was founding father Alexander Hamilton - the current subject of a hip-hop Broadway musical bearing his name - who first imagined how the Great Falls could power industrial development. Hamilton visited the falls in 1778, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, and shared his vision with George Washington and General Lafayette.

After the war, as U.S. treasury secretary, Hamilton selected Paterson to become the nation's first planned industrial city. The water-powered mills produced silk, locomotives and guns, including the first Colt .45 pistols.

Paterson enjoys a distinguished history as one of this nation's earliest industrial centers. It owes its existence to the far reaching vision of one of America's most important founders, and a shaper of our modern governmental and financial institutions, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton envisioned Paterson, with its water power provided by the Great Falls of the Passaic River, as America's counterpart and response to the industrial revolution occurring in England during the same period.

The history of the City of Paterson includes its beginnings as the ambitious project of Hamilton and the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers (S.U.M.) in 1792 at the Great Falls, the early development of water power systems for industrial use, and the various types of manufacturing that occurred in the District's mills into the 20th Century. These included cotton fabrics, railroad locomotives, textile machinery, jute, and silk spinning, weaving, and dyeing, among many others.

The Great Falls also represents compelling stories of the lives of immigrants who labored in the mills, those who owned and operated manufacturing concerns and became wealthy, and the quest of laborers and the labor movement for better working conditions and pay. Immigrants still settle today in Paterson to pursue their versions of Hamilton's vision, creating a diverse and vibrant culture.


Samuel Colt was an early Paterson business owner? From 1836 until 1842, his gun mill produced about 5,000 guns. A lack of government contracts was a major factor in his failure in Paterson. He later achieved success in his hometown of Hartford, Conn., with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War.

Waterfalls and ancient geology, engineering landmarks and the economic birth of a new nation - these are just a few of the things you will discover on your visit to the City of Paterson and the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park.


Interesting slideshow of vintage Paterson postcards and audio about preserving the city's heritage from The New York Times.

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