History -  Exploring the Past
  • Founded in 1665, Elizabeth was the first English-speaking community in New Jersey and served as the first state capital. During the latter part of the 19th Century, Elizabeth was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Major companies such as Singer Sewing Machine Company, Bethlehem Steel, and countless others.

    Although a number of industrial and manufacturing companies are still based in Elizabeth, a good deal of the city’s commerce now revolves around transportation. Elizabeth is located in the heart of the metropolitan area and only about 12 miles from New York City.  Port Newark/Elizabeth is one of the busiest ports in the world. Portions of Newark International Airport are actually sited in Elizabeth and the airport and related industries also employ many area residents.shipbuilding, automobile, ironworks, breweries, machine manufacturers, and oil refining companies built huge factories in Elizabeth and employed tens of thousands of workers.  The city’s population was made up primarily of immigrants from various European countries and the city’s neighborhoods reflected the traditions, languages, and cultures of the residents’ homelands.

    Today, Elizabeth is the fourth largest city in New Jersey. Its population is extremely diverse with residents representing more than 50 countries and 37 language groups. It is a proud community that faces many of the challenges common to urban environments including: poverty, unemployment, a higher than average crime rate, and a transient population. The city operates under the mayor and city council system of municipal government; elections are held every four years for mayor and three “at-large” council seats, ward-specific council seats are elected the following year for four-year terms of office.  The Board of Education is composed of nine-seats, with elections for three seats held every year.  Board Trustees hold their seat for three years.  They operate independently from the city government.

    City Demographics

    Elizabeth's population averages 125,000 residents (2010 Census)
    Of this population, the majority of residents are Hispanic (59.5%), Non-Hispanic White (18.2%) and Non-Hispanic Black (21.1%) 
    46.4% of the city's population was born outside the United States.
    Approximately 71.7% of Elizabeth residents five years of age and over speak a language other than English with Spanish the primary language for almost 50% of the population.
    The median household income in Elizabeth is $43,590
    28.9% of Elizabeth households have a female as the head of household.
    72% of the population lives in rented apartments, houses, rooms, etc.
    72.8% of Elizabeth's residents over the age of 25 have a high school diploma and about 12% have a bachelor's degree or higher.
    Elizabeth residents who are employed work in production, transportation, and material-moving occupations (12.25%), sales and office occupations (11%), and service occupations (10.6%).

    Elizabeth is one of New Jersey's most historical and influential cities. The City served as an important battleground and focal point during the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States. It has since grown into one of the leading economic centers and transportation hubs of the United States. Elizabeth is home to the one of the nation's great shipping ports and the nation's largest Foreign Trade Zone. It shares one of the nation's great airports with Newark, and it offers the greatest shopping attractions along the East Coast.  

    EARLY DAYS: On October 28, 1664, the Indians of Staten Island sold to John Bailey, Daniel Denton and Luke Watson, a tract of land lying between the Raritan River and the Passaic River, extending westward from Newark Bay. The tract extended about 34 miles between the two rivers and about 17 miles westward from Newark Bay, comprising 500,000 acres. It included what is now the City of Elizabeth.

    First known as Elizabethtown, Governor Sir Philip Carteret made it the capital of New Jersey and the first legislature met here on May 30, 1668.

    Home to influential early Americans such as Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, Elizabethtown was the scene of many key revolutionary battles and the hub of colonial political activity during the 1700s. The City was also the site of the first Princeton University (1745).

    Elizabeth's earliest industries centered around the Port, and major roadways started from here, spreading throughout the area. In the 19th century, the Central Railroad helped to transform Elizabeth from essentially a country town to an industrial center.

    INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: During the later part of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Elizabeth was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and companies like the Singer Manufacturing Company (sewing machines) built huge factories here and employed tens of thousands of workers. Industries at the time included shipbuilding, automobile plants, iron works, breweries, machinery manufacturers and oil refining.

    In the mid part of the 20th century, the City was able to transform itself into even more of a transportation hub with the development of Newark Airport, the Goethals Bridge, and the New Jersey Turnpike. Its seaport evolved into one of the world's largest shipping concerns with the development of containerization. Meanwhile, because of its location, Elizabeth grew into a major retail destination. It remains the County seat for Union and home to County government, as well as the state's fourth largest city.

    A PLACE WHERE HISTORY LIVES: Spend a day in Elizabeth and see the history of the United States come to life. There are numerous historic markers, locations and buildings that are registered with the state and federal governments. Historic Midtown and Elizabeth Avenue districts offer a startling array of historical sites that bring the Colonial history of the City to life.

    Among the most impressive is Boxwood Hall (C.1760), home of Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress and later of Jonathan Dayton, the youngest signer of the Constitution. A few doors down the block on East Jersey Street is the Bonnell House, built in 1682, and Elizabeth's oldest house. Directly across the street is the Georgian-style Belcher Ogden Mansion (1680), residence of the Royal Governor Jonathan Belcher (1751).

    The First Presbyterian Church on Broad Street was the site of important colonial activities, and the site of the City's first church, built in 1668, and also the site of the first Princeton University. Adjoining the church on Broad Street is the startling Union County Courthouse (1903) and then the Elizabeth Public Library, built in 1912, a gift from Andrew Carnegie.

    Nearby, the dark, towering masterpiece, St. John's Episcopal Church (current structure) opened in 1860. A church has stood at the site since 1706. Down the block on Elizabeth Avenue in the Union Square area, the Minute Man Statue stands in tribute to another important colonial battle. The Liberty Hall Museum shares a border between Elizabeth and Union, across from Kean University. It is where generations of the Livingston and Kean families lived for 225 years until 1995!


    • The first English speaking community in New Jersey
    • The first Capital of New Jersey
    • The first home of Princeton University
    • The first ice cream soda
    • The first submarine
    • The first assembly line automobile producer in the state
    • The home of New Jersey's first governor, Philip Carteret
    • The home of the first Colonial Assembly and Council meeting
    • The home of the first Governor of the State after the Declaration of
    Independence, William Livingston
    • It was here, at the foot of Elizabeth Avenue that the first British ship was sunk by Americans after the Declaration of Independence.
    • It was the home of the first President of Congress after the Peace Treaty with the English, Elias Boudinot.
    • The Singer sewing machine
    • Elizabeth has given us one of the country's great military leaders, Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey.
    • It has given us James P. Mitchell, the Secretary of Labor under President Eisenhower.
    • It has given us the creator of "Tom Swift" and the "Bobsey Twins" and it has given us "Mickey" Spillane.
    • It was in Elizabeth that Dianetics was born.
    • It has given us statesmen, United States senators, governors, political leaders, church dignitaries, inventors, scientists, actors, musicians, composers, and hundreds of other renowned professionals. 


    1664 - First English speaking community in New Jersey
    1665 - First capital of New Jersey
    1665 - Home of first Governor of New Jersey (Philip Carteret)
    1667 - First English speaking school
    1668 - First assembly meeting
    1668 - February 15 - First whale industry in New Jersey (John Ogden and partners)
    1746 - First charter in New Jersey granted to a college (now Princeton University) led by Reverend Jonathan Dickenson
    1776 - Home of first Governor of State after Declaration of Independence (William Livingston)
    1776 - July 4 - First British ship sunk by Americans after official date of Declaration of Independence (Captain David Neil's artillery) at foot of Elizabeth Avenue
    1776 - Abraham Clark of Elizabethtown, signer of Declaration of Independence1782 - First ice cream soda - Phillip Mohr (Fulton and First streets)
    1783 - Home of President of Congress receiving Treaty of Peace with British (Elias Boudinot)
    1794 - First anatomy lessons in medicine (Dr. Paul Micheu)
    1819 - First steam driven ship to cross Atlantic. Boiler made by Daniel Dodd. Foundry was located at present site of Jefferson House of Elizabeth High School
    1842 - First Mayor of Jewish faith of any major community in the United States (David Naar)
    1873 - First major sewing machine company - Singer Sewing Machine
    1906 - First submarine to be accepted by US Navy built at Moore's Shipyards at Port Elizabeth
    1920 - First assembly line automobile production in the state (Durant Corporation)
    1926 - Elizabeth's Historic Ritz Theatre opens in Midtown, remains to this day as a Performing Arts Center
    1928 - 1.) Goethals Bridge opens, connecting Elizabeth with Staten Island in New York. 
              2.) Newark International Airport, the metropolitan region's first major airport, was built by the City of Newark on 68 acres of marsh land.