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Schenectady Electrical Handbook
History of Schenectady

Go ahead to: General Electric

[This information is from pp. 7-8 of the Schenectady Electrical Handbook by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. (Schenectady, NY: General Electric Press, 1904). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 621.3 A51s.]

The history of Schenectady begins properly in 1621, when the Dutch West India Company was chartered by the States-General of Holland, following Henry Hudson's memorable voyage of discovery up the river that hears his name. It was not until 1661 that the first settlers purchased a tract of land in the lower valley of the Mohawk River, including the present site of Schenectady; the name being derived from the Iroquois Schau-naugh-tada, meaning "over the pine plains" (from Albany).

Its history from the earliest time is interwoven with that of the Indians, especially the warlike Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois nation. These Indians traded furs with the Dutch and English settlers in exchange for firewater, trinkets and firearms, and aided them against the French in the contest for possession of the country. European wars were here, as elsewhere in the New World, reflected by raids and reprisals in which the use of hostile Indians as allies meant cruelty and massacre. The most memorable of these occurred in 1690, when the expulsion of James II from England gave rise to an attack by French and Indians from Canada, in which the little town was surprised and burned and nearly a hundred of the inhabitants killed or made prisoners.

[Photo: monument to "Lawrence the Indian": 1x | 9x ]

But the importance of the site in transportation, situated as it was at the foot of navigation on the Mohawk River, insured the continuance of a garrison. notwithstanding discouraging wars; and this importance was later heightened by increasing immigration. Schenectady became the natural depot for the products of the great West, and was incorporated a city in 1798. The fire of 1819, the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the beginning of railroad communication in 1831 changed the face of the city and began its later history as a great railroad and general transportation center.

Schenectady claims the honor of the first steam passenger railroad in the country, a locomotive having made a trip on the railroad from Albany, August 3, 1831. By the beginning of 1832 the road was in regular running order.

The advantages of the city as a distributing center have always promoted its manufacturing interests and brought a steady increase in population and in real estate values. The great rise in the city's importance, however, began in 1886, with the coming of the Edison Machine Works, which eventually became the largest works of the General Electric Company. The Schenectady Works of the American Locomotive Company, established in 1848, has also grown into a large modern plant.

The present population of 57,000 supports 18 public schools, a savings bank having $4,300,000 deposits, three other banks having aggregate deposits of $3,500,000, and 50 churches and missions. Post-office receipts are $125,000 annually. There are well-equipped fire and police departments, and about 40 miles of paved streets, lighted entirely by enclosed arc lamps.

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