James G. C. Hamilton's 1888 statue of Gen. Moses Cleaveland.
Cleveland was established on July 22, 1796 by surveyors of the Connecticut Land Company when they laid out Connecticut's Western Reserve into townships and a capital city. They named the new settlement "Cleaveland" after their leader, General Moses Cleaveland. Cleaveland oversaw the New England-style 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 permanent 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, the town's waterfront location proved to be an advantage, giving it access to Great Lakes trade. It grew rapidly after the 1832 completion of the Ohio and Erie Canal. This key link between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes connected it 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. The town's growth continued with added railroad links.
In 1831, the spelling of the town's name was altered by The Cleveland Advertiser newspaper. In order to fit the name on the newspaper's masthead, the editors dropped the first "a", reducing the city's name to Cleveland, which eventually became the official spelling. In 1836, Cleveland was officially incorporated as a city. That same year, Cleveland, then only on the eastern banks of the Cuyahoga River, nearly erupted into open warfare with neighboring Ohio City over a bridge connecting the two communities. Ohio City remained an independent municipality until its annexation by Cleveland in 1854.
Growth and expansion
Cleveland witnessed rapid growth after the American Civil War. The city's prime geographic location as a transportation hub between the East Coast and the Midwest played an important role in its development as a commercial center. Cleveland served 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.
By the early 20th century, Cleveland had emerged as a major 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 in Cleveland produced steam-powered cars, which included White and Gaeth, as well as the electric car company Baker.
Known as the "Sixth City" due to its position as the sixth largest U.S. city at the time, Cleveland counted major Progressive Era politicians among its leaders, most prominently the populist Mayor Tom L. Johnson, who was responsible for the development of the Cleveland Mall Plan. The era of the City Beautiful movement in Cleveland architecture, this period also saw wealthy patrons support the establishment of the city's major cultural institutions. The most prominent among them were the Cleveland Museum of Art, which opened in 1916, and the Cleveland Orchestra, established in 1918.
Cleveland's economic growth and industrial jobs attracted large waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe as well as Ireland. African American migrants from the rural South also arrived in Cleveland (among other Northeastern and Midwestern cities) as part of the Great Migration for jobs, constitutional rights, and relief from racial discrimination. By 1920, the year in which the Cleveland Indians won their first World Series championship, Cleveland's population reached 796,841 with a foreign-born population of 30%, making it the fifth largest city in the nation. At this time, Cleveland saw the rise of radical labor movements in response to the conditions of the largely immigrant and migrant workers. In 1919, the city attracted national attention amid the First Red Scare for the Cleveland May Day Riots, in which socialist demonstrators clashed with anti-socialists.
Despite the immigration restrictions of 1921 and 1924, the city's population continued to grow throughout the 1920s. Prohibition first took effect in Ohio in May 1919 (although it was not well-enforced in Cleveland), became law with the Volstead Act in 1920, and was eventually repealed nationally by Congress in 1933. The ban on alcohol led to the rise of speakeasies throughout the city and organized crime gangs, such as the Mayfield Road Mob, who smuggled bootleg liquor across Lake Erie from Canada into Cleveland. The Roaring Twenties also saw the establishment of Cleveland's Playhouse Square and the rise of the risqué Short Vincent entertainment district. The Bal-Masque balls of the avant-garde Kokoon Arts Club scandalized the city. Jazz came to prominence in Cleveland during this period.
In 1929, the city hosted the first of many National Air Races. Construction of the Terminal Tower skyscraper commenced in 1926 and, by the time it was dedicated in 1930, Cleveland had a population of over 900,000. The era of the flapper also marked the beginning of the golden age in Downtown Cleveland retail, centered on major department stores Higbee's, Bailey's, the May Company, Taylor's, Halle's, and Sterling Lindner Davis, which collectively represented one of the largest and most fashionable shopping districts in the country, often compared to New York's Fifth Avenue.
Cleveland was hit hard by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. A center of union activity, the city was aided by major federal works projects sponsored by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. In commemoration of the centennial of Cleveland's incorporation as a city, the Great Lakes Exposition debuted in June 1936 at the city's North Coast Harbor, along the Lake Erie shore north of downtown. Conceived by Cleveland's business leaders as a way to revitalize the city during the 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.
On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States. One of the victims of the attack was a Cleveland native, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. The attack signaled America's entry into World War II. A major hub of the "Arsenal of Democracy", Cleveland under Mayor Frank Lausche contributed massively to the U.S. war effort as the fifth largest manufacturing center in the nation. During his tenure, Lausche also oversaw the establishment of the Cleveland Transit System, the predecessor to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
Late 20th and early 21st centuries
After the war, Cleveland initially experienced an economic boom, and businesses declared the city to be the "best location in the nation." In 1949, the city was named an All-America City for the first time and, in 1950, its population reached 914,808. 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 declared the "City of Champions" in sports at this time. The 1950s also saw the rising popularity of a new music genre that local WJW (AM) disc jockey Alan Freed dubbed "rock and roll."
However, by the 1960s, Cleveland's economy began to slow down, and residents increasingly sought new housing in the suburbs, reflecting the national trends of suburban growth following federally subsidized highways. 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. The burning of the Cuyahoga River in June 1969 brought national attention to the issue of industrial pollution in Cleveland and served as a catalyst for the American environmental movement.
Housing discrimination and redlining against African Americans led to racial unrest in Cleveland and numerous other Northern U.S. cities. In Cleveland, the Hough riots erupted from July 18 to 23, 1966 and the Glenville Shootout took place from July 23 to 25, 1968. In November 1967, Cleveland became the first major American city to elect an African American mayor, Carl B. Stokes, who served from 1968 to 1971.
In December 1978, during the turbulent tenure of Dennis Kucinich as mayor, 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.
The city began a gradual economic recovery under mayor George V. Voinovich in the 1980s. The downtown area saw the construction of the Key Tower and 200 Public Square skyscrapers, as well as the development of the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex—consisting of Progressive Field and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse—and the North Coast Harbor, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, FirstEnergy Stadium, and the Great Lakes Science Center. The city emerged from default in 1987.
By the turn of the 21st century, Cleveland succeeded in developing a more diversified economy and gained a national reputation as a center for healthcare and the arts. Additionally, it has become a national leader in environmental protection, with its successful cleanup of the Cuyahoga River. The city's downtown has experienced dramatic economic and population growth since 2010. In 2018, the population of Cleveland began to flatten after decades of decline. However, challenges still remain for the city, with economic development of neighborhoods, improvement of city schools, and continued encouragement of new immigration to Cleveland being top municipal priorities. Despite such challenges, Cleveland has become increasingly recognized by national media as a city on the upswing. This trend has been accompanied by major victories in sports, most prominently the victory of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, the first major professional sports championship won by a Cleveland team since 1964.