Cleveland was named on July 22, 1796, when surveyors of the Connecticut Land Company laid out Connecticut's Western Reserve into townships and a capital city. They named it Cleaveland after their leader, General Moses Cleaveland. Cleaveland oversaw design of the plan for what would become the modern downtown area, centered on Public Square, before returning home, never again to visit Ohio. The first settler in Cleaveland was Lorenzo Carter, who built a cabin on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. The Village of Cleaveland was incorporated on December 23, 1814. In spite of the nearby swampy lowlands and harsh winters, its waterfront location proved to be an advantage, giving access to Great Lakes trade.
The area began rapid growth after the 1832 completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal. This key link between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes connected the city to the Atlantic Ocean via the Erie Canal and Hudson River, and later via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Its products could reach markets on the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. Growth continued with added railroad links. Cleveland incorporated as a city in 1836.
In 1836, the city, then located only on the eastern banks of the Cuyahoga River, nearly erupted into open warfare with neighboring Ohio City over a bridge connecting the two. Ohio City remained an independent municipality until its annexation by Cleveland in 1854.
The city's prime geographic location as a transportation hub on the Great Lakes has played an important role in its development as a commercial center. Cleveland serves as a destination for iron ore shipped from Minnesota, along with coal transported by rail. In 1870, John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in Cleveland. In 1885, he moved its headquarters to New York City, which had become a center of finance and business.
Cleveland emerged in the early 20th century as an important American manufacturing center. Its businesses included automotive companies such as Peerless, People's, Jordan, Chandler, and Winton, maker of the first car driven across the U.S. Other manufacturers located in Cleveland produced steam-powered cars, which included White and Gaeth, as well as the electric car company Baker. Because of its significant growth, Cleveland was known as the "Sixth City" of the US during this period.
By 1920, due in large part to the city's economic prosperity, Cleveland became the nation's fifth-largest city. The city counted Progressive Era politicians such as the populist Mayor Tom L. Johnson among its leaders. Its industrial jobs had attracted waves of European immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, as well as both black and white migrants from the rural South.
In commemoration of the centennial of Cleveland's incorporation as a city, the Great Lakes Exposition debuted in June 1936 along the Lake Erie shore north of downtown. Conceived as a way to energize the city after the Great Depression, it drew four million visitors in its first season, and seven million by the end of its second and final season in September 1937. The exposition was housed on grounds that are now used by the Great Lakes Science Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Burke Lakefront Airport, among others.
Following World War II, Cleveland continued to enjoy a prosperous economy. In sports, the Indians won the 1948 World Series, the hockey team, the Barons, became champions of the American Hockey League, and the Browns dominated professional in the 1950s. As a result, along with track and boxing champions produced, Cleveland was dubbed "City of Champions" in sports at this time.
Businesses proclaimed that Cleveland was the "best location in the nation". In 1940, non-Hispanic whites represented 90.2% of Cleveland's population. Wealthy patrons supported development of the city's cultural institutions, such as the art museum and orchestra. The city's population reached its peak of 914,808, and in 1949 Cleveland was named an All-America City for the first time. By the 1960s, the economy slowed, and residents sought new housing in the suburbs, reflecting the national trends of suburban growth following the subsidized highways.
In the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans worked in numerous cities to gain constitutional rights and relief from racial discrimination. As change lagged despite federal laws to enforce rights, social and racial unrest occurred in Cleveland and numerous other industrial cities. In Cleveland, the Hough Riots erupted from July 18 to 23, 1966. The Glenville Shootout took place from July 23 to 25, 1968. In November 1967, Cleveland became the first major American city to elect a black mayor, Carl Stokes (who served from 1968 to 1971).
Industrial restructuring, particularly in the railroad and steel industries, resulted in the loss of numerous jobs in Cleveland and the region, and the city suffered economically. In December 1978, Cleveland became the first major American city since the Great Depression to enter into a financial default on federal loans.
By the beginning of the 1980s, several factors, including changes in international free trade policies, inflation and the Savings and Loans Crisis, contributed to the recession that severely affected cities like Cleveland.
While unemployment during the period peaked in 1983, Cleveland's rate of 13.8% was higher than the national average due to the closure of several steel production centers.
In the later 20th century, the metropolitan area began a gradual economic recovery under mayors George Voinovich and Michael R. White. Redevelopment within the city limits has been strongest in the downtown area near the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex—consisting of Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena—and near North Coast Harbor, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, FirstEnergy Stadium, and the Great Lakes Science Center. Cleveland was hailed in 2007 by local media as the "Comeback City". Economic development of the inner-city neighborhoods and improvement of the school systems have been municipal priorities. In 1999, Cleveland was identified as an emerging global city.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the city has improved infrastructure, developed a more diversified economy, gained a national reputation in medical fields, and invested in the arts. Cleveland is generally considered to be an example of revitalization of an older industrial city. The city's goals include additional neighborhood revitalization and increased funding for public education. In 2009, Cleveland was chosen to host the 2014 Gay Games, the fourth city in the United States to host this international event. On July 8, 2014, Cleveland was chosen to be the host city of the 2016 Republican National Convention.