Paterson, New Jersey lies within the New York City metropolitan area. This diverse, densely settled city is known as “Silk City” for its historic role in silk production during the late nineteenth century. As of the United States 2000 Census, the city population was 149,222. Census population projections indicate a population of 148,708 as of 2006, making it New Jersey’s third largest city. It is the county seat of Passaic County. Paterson is known as the “Silk City” for its dominant role in silk production during the later 19th century.
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 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 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, particularly Italian weavers from the Naples region. 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. It 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 to the South, where there were no labor unions, and still later moved overseas.
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