Hartford is the capital city of the U.S. state of Connecticut. It was the seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960. It is the core city in the Greater Hartford metropolitan area. Census estimates since the 2010 United States Census have indicated that Hartford is the fourth-largest city in Connecticut, behind the coastal cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Stamford.
Hartford was founded in 1635 and is among the oldest cities in the United States. It is home to the country’s oldest public art museum (Wadsworth Atheneum), the oldest publicly funded park (Bushnell Park), the oldest continuously published newspaper (the Hartford Courant), and the second-oldest secondary school (Hartford Public High School). It is also home to the Mark Twain House, where the author wrote his most famous works and raised his family, among other historically significant sites. Mark Twain wrote in 1868, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief.”
Hartford was the richest city in the United States for several decades following the American Civil War. Today, it is one of the poorest cities in the U.S., with 3 out of every 10 families living below the poverty threshold. In sharp contrast, the Greater Hartford metropolitan statistical area was ranked 32nd of 318 metropolitan areas in total economic production and 8th out of 280 metropolitan statistical areas in per capita income in 2015.
Nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World”, Hartford holds high sufficiency as a global city, as home to the headquarters of many insurance companies, the region’s major industry. Other prominent industries include the services, education and healthcare industries. Hartford coordinates certain Hartford-Springfield regional development matters through the Knowledge Corridor Economic Partnership.
Various tribes lived in or around Hartford, all part of the Algonquin people. These included the Podunks, mostly east of the Connecticut River; the Poquonocks north and west of Hartford; the Massacoes in the Simsbury area; the Tunxis tribe in West Hartford and Farmington; the Wangunks to the south; and the Saukiog in Hartford itself.
The first Europeans known to have explored the area were the Dutch under Adriaen Block, who sailed up the Connecticut in 1614. Dutch fur traders from New Amsterdam returned in 1623 with a mission to establish a trading post and fortify the area for the Dutch West India Company. The original site was located on the south bank of the Park River in the present-day Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood. This fort was called Fort Hoop or the “House of Hope.” In 1633, Jacob Van Curler formally bought the land around Fort Hoop from the Pequot chief for a small sum. It was home to perhaps a couple families and a few dozen soldiers. The fort was abandoned by 1654, but the area is known today as Dutch Point; the name of the Dutch fort “House of Hope” is reflected in the name of Huyshope Avenue.
The Dutch outpost and the tiny contingent of Dutch soldiers who were stationed there did little to check the English migration, and the Dutch soon realized that they were vastly outnumbered. The House of Hope remained an outpost, but it was steadily swallowed up by waves of English settlers. In 1650, Peter Stuyvesant met with English representatives to negotiate a permanent boundary between the Dutch and English colonies; the line that they agreed on was more than 50 miles (80 km) west of the original settlement.
The English began to arrive in 1636, settling upstream from Fort Hoop near the present-day Downtown and Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhoods.Puritan pastors Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone, along with Governor John Haynes, led 100 settlers with 130 head of cattle in a trek from Newtown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now Cambridge) and started their settlement just north of the Dutch fort. The settlement was originally called Newtown, but it was changed to Hartford in 1637 in honor of Stone’s hometown of Hertford, England. Hooker also created the nearby town of Windsor in 1633. The etymology of Hartford is the ford where harts cross, or “deer crossing.”
The fledgling colony along the Connecticut River was outside of the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter and had to determine how it was to be governed. Therefore, Hooker delivered a sermon that inspired the writing of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, a document ratified January 14, 1639 which invested the people with the authority to govern, rather than ceding such authority to a higher power. Historians suggest that Hooker’s conception of self-rule embodied in the Fundamental Orders inspired the Connecticut Constitution, and ultimately the U.S. Constitution. Today, one of Connecticut’s nicknames is the “Constitution State”.
The original settlement area contained the site of the Charter Oak, an old white oak tree in which colonists hid Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 to protect it from confiscation by an English governor-general. The state adopted the oak tree as the emblem on the Connecticut state quarter. The Charter Oak Monument is located at the corner of Charter Oak Place, a historic street, and Charter Oak Avenue.
On December 15, 1814, delegates from the five New England states (Maine was still part of Massachusetts at that time) gathered at the Hartford Convention to discuss New England’s possible secession from the United States. During the early 19th century, the Hartford area was a center of abolitionist activity, and the most famous abolitionist family was the Beechers. The Reverend Lyman Beecher was an important Congregational minister known for his anti-slavery sermons. His daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin; her brother Henry Ward Beecher was a noted clergyman who vehemently opposed slavery and supported the temperance movement and women’s suffrage. The Stowes’ sister Isabella Beecher Hooker was a leading member of the women’s rights movement.
In 1860, Hartford was the site of the first “Wide Awakes”, abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln. These supporters organized torch-light parades that were both political and social events, often including fireworks and music, in celebration of Lincoln’s visit to the city. This type of event caught on and eventually became a staple of mid-to-late 19th-century campaigning.
Industrialization and the Colt legacy
Industrialist and inventor Samuel Colt and his wife Elizabeth had a great influence on Hartford’s development in the 100 years after independence. Colt is often considered the father of the Connecticut River Valley industrial revolution, although there were a handful of small outfits already in operation by the time that he purchased a large tract of land in the area in the 1840s.
In 1836, Connecticut-born Colt received a U.S. patent for a revolver mechanism which enabled a gun to be fired multiple times without reloading. Sales were initially slow and his business ventures struggled. Then the U.S. government ordered 1,000 Colt revolvers in 1846, with the Mexican–American War under way. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new business of his own, and he converted it into a corporation in 1855 under the name of Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. The original factory is situated in the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood just south of downtown Hartford.
With business booming by 1855, Colt entered an aggressive expansionary phase and opened the Colt Armory, the world’s largest private armament factory. He employed advanced manufacturing techniques such as interchangeable parts and an organized production line. By 1856, the company could produce 150 weapons per day. The Civil War led to a surge in demand, and Colt supplied the Union Army. Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company operated at full capacity and employed over 1,000 people in its Hartford factory. By that time, Colt had become one of the wealthiest men in America. He was presiding over his enterprise from Armsmear, an ornate Italianate manor built near the armory in 1857. Upon his death in 1862, he was worth over $15 million ($380 million by 2015 standards).
Colt’s methods were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, and his successes secured Hartford’s place as a major 19th century manufacturing center. It is estimated that his company produced over 400,000 revolvers in its first 25 years of manufacturing. His use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to exploit the assembly line. Moreover, his innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing. His business practices were also innovative, involving a shrewd use of patents to protect his products, as well as new developments in marketing and business organization to create a highly successful business which long outlived him.
Elizabeth Colt inherited a controlling interest in her late husband’s manufacturing company following his death in 1862. At the time, Colt firearms were producing an estimated 1/996th of the entire gross national product of the United States. She steered the company until 1901 with her brother Richard Jarvis as president, becoming one of the most prominent female industrialists in America. Together they transitioned the company from the end of the American Civil War into the 20th century, seeing the evolution from percussion revolvers to cartridge revolvers to semiautomatic pistols and machineguns.
In addition, the Colts left an indelible imprint on Hartford’s architectural environment. Samuel Colt was inspired by what he had seen during a trip to London in 1851, and he embarked upon one of the boldest real estate development campaigns in Hartford’s history. His intention was to build an industrial community to house his workers adjacent to the Colt Armory. By 1856, it was a city within a city, where workers of many nationalities and religions worked and lived alongside one another. Coltsville was among the first of America’s 19th century company towns, and it was easily the most advanced of its time—though not the largest, the most prominent, or the most tightly controlled. Colt’s complex also included the largest armory in the world, as well as wharf and ferry facilities on the Connecticut River.
A major fire destroyed the original armory in 1864, but Elizabeth Colt had it rebuilt, including its most dramatic feature: the blue onion dome with gold starts, topped by a gold orb and a rampant colt, the original symbol of Colt Manufacturing Company. The Colt Armory is visible to commuters on I-91 and stands as a monument to Hartford’s first “celebrity industrialist” and the once mighty empire that he created.
Elizabeth Colt dedicated her final decades to philanthropy and public works. She commissioned the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1866 as a monument to her husband; the adjacent parish house was built in 1895 and is dedicated to the memory of her son. The ensemble is built in High Victorian Gothic style, and architectural features include a variety of gun parts, such as bullet molds, gun sights, and cylinders—likely the only church in the world with a gun motif.
With no remaining children, Elizabeth willed her extensive collection of rare art to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, one of the oldest art galleries in America. The Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt Memorial Wing was the first American museum wing to bear the name of a female patron.
When Elizabeth Colt died in 1904, she willed the majority of her estate Armsmear to the City of Hartford for use as a public park. Today the 105 acres (42 ha) Colt Park serves the community with a number of athletic fields, playgrounds, a swimming pool, skating rink, and Dillon Stadium.
Hartford was a major manufacturing city from the 19th century until the mid-20th century. During the Industrial Revolution into the mid-20th century, the Connecticut River Valley cities produced many major precision manufacturing innovations. Among these was Hartford’s pioneer bicycle and automobile maker Pope. Many factories have been closed or relocated, or have reduced operations, as in nearly all former Northern manufacturing cities.
Rise of a major manufacturing center
Around 1850, Hartford native Samuel Colt perfected the precision manufacturing process that enabled the mass production of thousands of his revolvers with interchangeable parts. A variety of industries adopted and adapted these techniques over the next several decades, and Hartford became the center of production for a wide array of products, including: Colt, Richard Gatling, and John Browning firearms; Weed sewing machines; Royal and Underwood typewriters; Columbia bicycles; and Pope automobiles.
The Pratt & Whitney Company was founded in Hartford in 1860 by Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney. They built a substantial factory in which the company manufactured a wide range of machine tools, including tools for the makers of sewing machines, and gun-making machinery for use by the Union Army during the American Civil War. In 1925, the company expanded into aircraft engine design at its Hartford factory.
Just three years after Colt’s first factory opened, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company set up shop in 1852 at a nearby site along the now-buried Park River, located in the present-day neighborhood of Frog Hollow. Their factory heralded the beginning of the area’s transformation from marshy farmland into a major industrial zone. The road leading from town to the factory was called Rifle Lane; the name was later changed to College Street and then Capitol Avenue. A century earlier, mills had located along the Park River because of the water power, but by the 1850s water power was approaching obsolescence. Sharps located there specifically to take advantage of the railroad line that had been constructed alongside the river in 1838.
The Sharps Rifle Company failed in 1870, and the Weed Sewing Machine Company took over its factory. The invention of a new type of sewing machine led to a new application of mass production after the principles of interchangeability were applied to clocks and guns. The Weed Company played a major role in making Hartford one of three machine tool centers in New England and even outranked the Colt Armory in nearby Coltsville in size. Weed eventually became the birthplace of both the bicycle and automobile industries in Hartford.
Industrialist Albert Pope was inspired by a British-made, high-wheeled bicycle (called a velocipede) that he saw at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and he bought patent rights for bicycle production in the United States. He wanted to contract out his first order, however, so he approached George Fairfield of Weed Sewing Machine Company, who produced Pope’s first run of bicycles in 1878. Bicycles proved to be a huge commercial success, and production expanded in the Weed factory, with Weed making every part but the tires. Demand for bicycles overshadowed the failing sewing machine market by 1890, so Pope bought the Weed factory, took over as its president, and renamed it the Pope Manufacturing Company. The bicycle boom was short-lived, peaking near the turn of the century when more and more consumers craved individual automobile travel, and Pope’s company suffered financially from over-production amidst falling demand.
In an effort to save his business, Pope opened a motor carriage department and turned out electric carriages, beginning with the “Mark III” in 1897. His venture might have made Hartford the capital of the automobile industry were it not for the ascendancy of Henry Ford and a series of pitfalls and patent struggles that outlived Pope himself.
In 1876, Hartford Machine Screw was granted a charter “for the purpose of manufacturing screws, hardware and machinery of every variety.” The basis for its incorporation was the invention of the first single-spindle automatic screw machine. For its next four years, the new firm occupied one of Weed’s buildings, milling thousands of screws daily on over 50 machines. Its president was George Fairfield, who ran Weed, and its superintendent was Christopher Spencer, one of Connecticut’s most versatile inventors. Soon Hartford Machine Screw outgrew its quarters and built a new factory adjacent to Weed, where it remained until 1948.
On the week of April 12, 1909, the Connecticut River reached a record flood stage of 24.5 feet (7.47 meters) above the low water mark, flooding the city of Hartford and doing great damage. On July 6, 1944, Hartford was the scene of one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. Claiming the lives of 168 persons, mostly children and their mothers and injuring several hundred more. It occurred at a matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on Barbour Street in the city’s north end and became known tragically as the Hartford Circus Fire.
After World War II, many residents of Puerto Rico moved to Hartford. Starting in the late 1950s, the suburbs ringing Hartford began to grow and flourish and the capital city began a long decline. Insurance giant Connecticut General (now CIGNA) moved to a new, modern campus in the suburb of Bloomfield. Constitution Plaza had been hailed as a model of urban renewal, but it gradually became a concrete office park. Once-flourishing department stores shut down, such as Brown Thomson, Sage-Allen, and G. Fox & Co., as suburban malls grew in popularity, such as Westfarms and Buckland Hills.
In 1997, the city lost its professional hockey franchise, with the Hartford Whalers moving to Raleigh, North Carolina—despite an increase in season ticket sales and an offer from the state for a new arena. In 2005, a developer from Newton, Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to bring an NHL team back to Hartford and house them in a new, publicly funded stadium.
Hartford experienced problems as the population shrank 11 percent during the 1990s. Only Flint, Michigan, Gary, Indiana, St. Louis, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland experienced larger population losses during the decade. However, the population has increased since the 2000 Census.
In 1987, Carrie Saxon Perry was elected mayor of Hartford, the first female African-American mayor of a major American city. Riverfront Plaza was opened in 1999, connecting the riverfront and the downtown area for the first time since the 1960s.
In 2004, Underground Coalition, a Connecticut hip hop promotion company, produced the First Annual Hartford Hip Hop Festival, which also took place at Adriaen’s Landing. The event drew over 5,000 fans.
A significant number of cultural events and performances take place every year at Mortensen Plaza (Riverfront Recapture Organization) by the banks of the Connecticut River. These events are held outdoors and include live music, festivals, dance, arts and crafts. Hartford also has a vibrant theater scene with major Broadway productions at the Bushnell Theater as well as performances at the Hartford Stage and Theaterworks (City Arts).
In July 2017, Hartford considering filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but a state bailout later that year kept the city from filing for bankruptcy.
Colleges and universities
Hartford houses several world-class institutions such as Trinity College. Other notable institutions include Capital Community College (located Downtown in the old G. Fox Department Store building on Main Street), the University of Connecticut’s Hartford campus (downtown in the old Hartford Times Building on Prospect Street), the University of Connecticut School of Business (also Downtown), the Hartford Seminary (in the West End), the University of Connecticut School of Law (also in the West End) and Rensselaer at Hartford (a Downtown branch campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). University of Saint Joseph opened its school of pharmacy in the downtown area in 2011.
The University of Hartford features several cultural institutions: the Joseloff Gallery, the Renee Samuels Center, and the Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts center. The “U of H” campus is co-located in the city’s Blue Hills neighborhood and in neighboring towns West Hartford and Bloomfield.
Primary and secondary education
Hartford is served by the Hartford Public Schools.Hartford Public High School, the nation’s second-oldest high school, is located in the Asylum Hill neighborhood of Hartford. The city is also home to Bulkeley High School on Wethersfield Avenue, Global Communications Academy on Greenfield Avenue, Weaver High School on Granby Street, and Sport Medical and Sciences Academy on Huyshope Avenue. In addition, Hartford contains The Learning Corridor, which is home to the Montessori Magnet School, Hartford Magnet Middle School, Greater Harford Academy of Math and Science, and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. One of the technical high schools in the Connecticut Technical High School System, A.I. Prince Technical High School, also calls the city home. The Classical Magnet School is one of the many Hartford magnet schools. Hartford is also home to Watkinson School, a private coeducational day school, and Grace S. Webb School, a special education school. Catholic schools are administered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford.
The city’s high school graduation rate reached 71 percent in 2013, according to the state Department of Education.
As of the census of 2010, there were 124,775 people, 44,986 households, and 27,171 families residing in the city. The population density was 7,025.5 people per square mile (2,711.8/km2). There were 50,644 housing units at an average density of 2,926.5 per square mile (1,129.6/km2).
The racial makeup of the city was 29.8% white, 38.7% African American or Black, 0.6% Native American, 2.8% Asian, 0% Pacific Islander, 23.9% from other races, and 4.2% from two or more races. 43.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino, chiefly of Puerto Rican origin, up from 32% in 1990.Whites not of Latino background were 15.8% of the population in 2010, down from 63.9% in 1970.
The Hispanic population is concentrated on the south side, while African Americans are concentrated in the north. The white population is in the majority in only two census tracts: the downtown area and the far northwest. Many areas in the middle of the city, in Asylum Hill, and in West End, have a significant white population. More than three-quarters (77%) of the Hispanic population was Puerto Rican (with more than half born on the island of Puerto Rico) and fully 33.7% of all Hartford residents claimed Puerto Rican heritage. This is the second-largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast, behind only Holyoke, Massachusetts, approximately 30 miles (48 km) to the north along the Connecticut River.
There are small but recognizable concentrations of persons with origins in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic as well. Among the non-Hispanic population, the largest ancestry group is people from Jamaica; in 2014, Hartford was home to an estimated 11,400 Jamaicans, as well as another 1,200 people who are simply identified as West Indian Americans.
There were 44,986 households, out of which 34.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 25.2% were married couples living together, 29.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.6% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.33.
In the city, the population distribution skews young: 30.1% under the age of 18, 12.6% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 18.0% from 45 to 64, and 9.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $20,820, and the median income for a family was $22,051. Males had a median income of $28,444 versus $26,131 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,428.
At the American Community Survey’s 2018 estimates, the population increased to 122,591. From 2014 to 2018 there were 53,890 housing units, 46,072 households, and 26,233 families within Hartford. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.35.
Hartford’s racial makeup was 12.7% non-Hispanic white, 36.1% Black or African American, 2.3% Asian, 0.4% from some other race, 2.9% from two or more races, and 45.4% Hispanic or Latino of any race. The city’s Hispanic and Latin American populace primarily consisted of Puerto Ricans (34.7%), Dominicans (2.6%), Mexicans (1.8%), Cubans (0.5%), and other Hispanic or Latinos at 5.1%.
The city of Hartford’s median household income was $30,444, and the mean income was $48,318.