In 1785, the assembly of the Congress of the Confederation made New York City the national capital shortly after the war. New York was the last capital of the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation and the first capital under the Constitution of the United States. In 1789, the first President of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated; the first United States Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States each assembled for the first time, and the United States Bill of Rights was drafted, all at Federal Hall on Wall Street. By 1790, New York had surpassed Philadelphia to become the largest city in the United States, but by the end of that year, pursuant to the Residence Act, the national capital was moved to Philadelphia.
In the 19th century, the city was transformed by development relating to its status as a trading center, as well as by European immigration. The city adopted the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan. The 1825 completion of the Erie Canal through central New York connected the Atlantic port to the agricultural markets and commodities of the North American interior via the Hudson River and the Great Lakes. Local politics became dominated by Tammany Hall, a political machine supported by Irish and German immigrants.
Public-minded members of the contemporaneous business elite lobbied for the establishment of Central Park, which in 1857 became the first landscaped park in an American city.
The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, of whom over 200,000 were living in New York by 1860, upwards of a quarter of the city’s population. There was also extensive immigration from the German provinces, where revolutions had disrupted societies, and Germans comprised another 25% of New York’s population by 1860.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then a separate city), the County of New York (which then included parts of the Bronx), the County of Richmond, and the western portion of the County of Queens. The opening of the subway in 1904, first built as separate private systems, helped bind the new city together. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication.
The larger economic boom generated construction of skyscrapers competing in height and creating an identifiable skyline.
New York became the most populous urbanized area in the world in the early 1920s, overtaking London. The metropolitan area surpassed the 10 million mark in the early 1930s, becoming the first megacity in human history. The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.
Returning World War II veterans created a post-war economic boom and the development of large housing tracts in eastern Queens and Nassau County as well as similar suburban areas in New Jersey. New York emerged from the war unscathed as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America’s place as the world’s dominant economic power.