Passaic, New Jersey, 1855-1912 : city-building in post-Civil War America

Ebner, Michael H, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Harbaugh, William H., Department of History, University of Virginia
Bloomberg, Susan Hirsch, University of Virginia

This study analyzes the social implications of the city-building process in Passaic: New Jersey, a small, specialized manufacturing center that flourished immediately after the Civil War. Methodologically it necessarily integrates the economic, cultural., and political dimensions of urban growth, utilizing techniques widely associated with the emergent “new” social history.

Passaic was not incorporated as an independent civil entity until 1869. Between 1870 and 1910, nevertheless, it experienced rapid growth, largely stemming from the textile-related operations that began to situate there in the early 186os, and continued to do so over
the ensuing half-century. By the early twentieth-century the city ranked nationally as the fourth leading producer of worsteds. In 1910 its population contained the largest proportion of foreign-born whites, 52 percent of its 54,773 inhabitants, of any city in the nation; four of
Around this point in time, in fact, the immigrant city of Passaic was attracting national attention as a sociological phenomenon.

The objective of this study is an examination of city-building over time. The introductory section focuses on Passaic's evolution down through the mid-nineteenth-century, when it served the older, established city of Paterson, five miles to the north on the Passaic River, as a transportation node. The next chapter deals with a debate within the community, beginning about 1855 and carrying over into the 1870s, as to the positive and negative affects of urbanization. It is followed by an overview of the industrialization of Passaic, beginning with the establishment of a woolen mill in 1862. Next an extended demographic analysis is presented, demonstrating the altered population structure of the community as it evolved, then comes an examination of its ethnic communities, both from a socio-cultural and economic perspective. The subsequent chapter covers the quest of the industrial labor force for social and economic security, devoting special attention as to how its actions were viewed by the larger community. Two chapters are devoted to the political fulcrum, pointing to the changing status of the ethnic population in the process of civil decision-making. An epilogue, written from the perspective of the 1970s, relates the contemporary urban crisis being endured by Passaic to its historical development.

Central to this study is the community’s ongoing perception of its past, present, and future as a civil entity desirable for both residence and industry. Down through the 1890s Passaic was touted as an ideal urban setting, both for the laboring and non-laboring classes. Its boosters and opinion-makers frequently alluded to the relative absence of civil conflict, unlike the situation in neighboring cities, especially Paterson. Although this tranquility abated by the early twentieth-century, resulting from economic as well as political challenges to the existing social order, as late as 1912 the image of peaceability continued to be advanced. Moreover, as Passaic became a national focal point for labor unrest between 1912 and 1926, as well as an urban crisis center in the post-Second World War period, there has been virtually no attempt to comprehend the causal factors which contribute to this reversal.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Passaic (N.J.) -- History
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