A Look at Paterson Silk City

It's a point of pride for many Northern New Jerseyans that their part of the state was home to some of the most compelling chapters in American history, industry, and social change. Of the many small cities with a deep connection to that history and heritage, Paterson, on the banks of the Passaic River, is not one to be overlooked.

Revolution and Industry

Before Paterson became the nation's first planned industrial city, the soon-to-be town and its surrounding countryside— including the 77-foot-high Great Falls of the Passaic, the nation's third-largest waterfall—was called Acquachonounk, and was the homeland of the Lenape Indians. Later, the land played host to Dutch settlers, warring Revolutionary armies, and a budding Industrial Revolution.

Before the town's founding in 1791 and its official incorporation in 1831, Paterson's namesake, William Paterson, was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. There, he had a hand in writing the Constitution, and put forth the New Jersey Plan, which spelled out states' rights and advocated a democratic system based on one presidential and legislative vote per state. Eventually, Paterson's New Jersey Plan was combined with others and morphed into the bicameral system in place today, with a Senate and House of Representatives—and Paterson himself became New Jersey's second governor.

The township of Paterson was first founded shortly thereafter in 1791 by the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers, a trade group sponsored by not-yet-president Alexander Hamilton and charged with making use of the vast natural resources in the northern reaches of New Jersey. Hamilton had a vision for the area surrounding the Passaic Falls that included factories, mills, and shipping facilities that would supply the state and region with both raw materials and manufactured goods for sale and trade. His intention was to turn the area around the falls into a "National Manufactory" for the fledgling republic.

After a couple of false starts and a series of political and logistical setbacks, Hamilton's National Manufactory finally began operating in earnest by the dawn of the 18th century. Thanks in large part to the power generated by the falls, Paterson found itself becoming a magnet for merchants, engineers, inventors, craftspeople, and budding capitalists of all stripes, and in a few short decades evolved into the region's chief center for industry and technological innovation.

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