On May 4, 1626, Dutch colonist Peter Minuit arrived on the wooded island of Manhattan in present-day New York. Hired by the Dutch West India Company to oversee its trading and colonizing activities in the Hudson River region, Minuit is famous for purchasing Manhattan from resident Algonquin Indians for the equivalent of $24. The transaction was a mere formality, however, as the Dutch had already established the town of New Amsterdam at the southern end of the island.
Under the direction of Minuit, New Amsterdam became the principal settlement of the Dutch West India Company’s New Netherland territory. When the British seized the territory in 1664 and divided it into the colonies of New York and New Jersey, New Amsterdam was renamed New York City in honor of England’s Duke of York.
Except for a brief recapture by the Dutch in 1673, New York City was controlled by the British until the American Revolution. After New York ratified the Constitution in 1788, the thriving port city was named state capital, a title it held until 1797. In the late 1700s, New York City also served as capital of the United States (1789-90) and home to Congress (1785-90). By the close of the eighteenth century, it was America’s largest metropolis.
In the 1800s growth on Manhattan Island boomed, first with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which facilitated trading by linking New York with the Great Lakes region, and second, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Europe. In 1898, Manhattan merged with its neighbors Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island to form the five-borough metropolis we know today as New York City. A center for finance, commerce, and culture, New York rose out of a wooded island to become one of the world’s great cities, its Manhattan skyline an icon of the American Dream.
- View more photographs of Manhattan. Search on Manhattan in Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 and Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955, or, search on New York City in Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 Search on New York or Manhattan in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945.
- See more maps of Manhattan. Search across the Map Collections on New York City.
- Today in History contains a variety of features pertaining to the development of Manhattan landmarks. Search for example, on New York City to retrieve information about King’s College (now Columbia University), the New York Public Library, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Guggenheim Museum.
- Learn more about the forces that contributed to the growth of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Visit Immigration, a feature presentation of the Teachers Page.
- Don’t miss The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906, an American Memory collection with forty-five early films portraying the construction of skyscrapers, the busy waterfront, street parades, markets, horse-drawn carriages, and new automobiles and subways. To find these cinematic treasures, browse the collection’s Film Title List or Subject Index.
- Search loc.gov on the terms fireman, firemen, or New York fireman to find more about the individuals who help protect Manhattan from fire and fire-related emergencies. See, for example, “The Life of a New York Fireman” from an 1877 issue of Harper’s magazine, or the 1888 sheet music “Our Gallant Firemen,” which is “dedicated most respectfully to the Members of the New York Fire Department.”
- Visit The Atlantic World: America and the Netherlands, a collaborative effort between the Library of Congress and the National Library of the Netherlands which explores the history of the Dutch presence in America. Search across the interpretive texts and collections for more information on the early settlement of Manhattan.