The New York and New Jersey region has a rich maritime heritage. Since the nation’s formation, the area’s growth has been propelled by the vitality of its seaport and the volume of cargo and passengers that flow through it. Today we continue to reap the benefits of that dynamic.
It began in 1659 when the first pier was constructed on the East. By 1770, New York was the breadbasket of the Atlantic, shipping wheat to Europe, the West Indies and down the coast and by the end of the American Revolution, the New York port was fourth in terms of cargo tonnage. It soon became the marketplace for a variety of goods, especially cotton. Seaman’s wages were the highest in the country ($24 a month.) and in 1818 the first scheduled vessel service ‘The Black Ball Line’ was created.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 turned this port into a national economic dynamo and by 1870, New York Harbor was the busiest in the Western Hemisphere. With growth, deeper channels were needed. In 1899, federal funding was provided for the dredging of Ambrose Channel to the depth of 40 feet. In 1900 the City of Newark opened a port on filled swamp. A compact between the states of New York and New Jersey in 1921created the Port Authority and officially established the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Growth has continued through the years. In 1935 the Ambrose Channel was dredged to 45 feet. Activity is now under way to deepen the channel to 50 feet to accommodate today’s larger ships. There are marine facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and northern New Jersey. In addition to those who provide direct services related to the ships and cargo, there are brokers, freight forwarders, financiers, underwriters, and thousands of people who are the heart of the region’s commercial maritime community.
Times have changed. Today, one container ship can handle the volume of 700 ships of a century ago. Wooden ship’s wheels have been replaced by computers and joysticks. Cargo hooks have been replaced by gantry cranes. The sailing ships masts are gone, but the financial impact remains. Today, the port is the underpinning of all the other industries and commercial activity in the region.