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New York Travel Guide

New York — History and Culture

With its comparatively short history, New York’s rise to the pinnacle of alpha-world cities is almost entirely due to the energy, innovation and commitment of its people and leaders over the last four centuries. New Yorkers are fortunate to live in one of the most cultural cities in the world, and are immensely proud of it.

History

The first European settlers were Dutch fur merchants who established trading colonies in the early 17th century. Their main town, New Amsterdam, was founded on the site of present-day New York City. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, English forces captured the town, renaming it New York in 1664, and by the 18th century its harbor was prominent as a major colonial trading port.

The city was an important strategic player in the Revolutionary War, with the New York based Sons of Liberty a major influence is the drive for independence. A fleet of British ships containing 30,000 sailors and soldiers arrived off Staten Island in 1776, but were finally repelled at the crucial Battle of Saratoga in 1777. In 1785, New York was declared the new nation’s capital until 1790 when George Washington was inaugurated the first president of the USA.

By the early 19th century, the city became a transportation hub for its new steamboat line, and a turnpike network set up in 1810 made it the main stop for pioneer wagons heading to Michigan and Buffalo. The opening of the great Erie Canal in 1825 linked the Atlantic Ocean-based city with the Great Lakes, cementing its prominence and encouraging even more settlers. In 1831, New York welcomed America’s first railroad service.

A highly successful city by the time of the Civil War, New York saw hundreds of thousands of its young men fighting against slavery during the conflict. In the decades that followed, the city cemented its position in the banking and financial sectors and industry and immigration boomed. By the Great Depression in 1929, New York was recognized as a world leader.

WWII saw the end of the city’s last great industrial era, with the economic focus shifting to service industries post-war. The suburbs developed fast, aided by the car culture and affordable new housing. During the last several decades, New York has gained its place as a world hub for cultural entertainment and popular musical styles and is one of the greatest cities on earth.

Culture

New York’s incredibly multi-ethnic population defines the city’s culture as one of the most ecclectic anywhere. The city’s theater, dance, literature, music, art and cuisine are all reflections of the mix of traditions brought in by millions of immigrants. At the turn of the last millennium, 36 percent of New York’s population was foreign born, although no single ethnicity dominates and most are honored by official holidays denoting important milestones in their heritage.

Indian, Russian, Irish, Italian, Asian and Latin American districts exist, and the famous New York City parades celebrate the vast diversity. Respect that there will be lines, don't intentionally steal someone’s cab, avoid mentioning 9/11, and respect personal space and you'll fit right in.

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