The city of 50,000 packs a lot of history into its one square mile (which, if we're being technical, is actually 1.28 square miles of ground). Below, some highlights from Hoboken, New Jersey's 400-year history.
The land Hoboken was built on was once an island, surrounded on both sides by the Hudson River and the estuary that existed at the base of the New Jersey Palisades. The region’s Lenni Lenape people camped there seasonally, and called the land "Hopoghan Hackingh," meaning "Land of the Tobacco Pipe," as a nod to the area's abundant green serpentine rock, which they used to—you guessed it—carve tobacco pipes.
2. The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Peter Stuyvesant, per the Hoboken Historical Museum’s website, “bought all the land between the Hackensack and the Hudson Rivers from the Lenni Lenape for 80 fathoms of wampum, 20 fathoms of cloth, 12 kettles, 6 guns, 2 blankets, 1 double kettle and half a barrel of beer.” The Dutch who occupied the region in the 17th century referred to it as “Hoebuck,” meaning “high bluff.”
3. Continental army colonel John Stevens is the man responsible for changing the land’s tag to “Hoboken.” The attorney and inventor purchased what was then a massive estate at auction after its owner, a Loyalist named William Bayard, had been kicked out by the colonial government.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Life was good along the Hudson, except for one thing: the turtles. Stevens’ new estate was overrun with snapping turtles, which kept eating his chickens. So Stevens decided to turn his lemons into lemonade (or in this case, his reptiles into turtle soup), inviting his wealthy buddies from the island of Manhattan over for a turtle feast. The day was deemed a success, and the Hoboken Turtle Club was born. Early members included George Washington, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.
5. The tradition continued into the late 19th century, by which time the Hoboken Turtle Club—considered by some to be the country’s first real social club—had a tony new Manhattan address, where its members were better known for their drinking prowess than their affinity for reptile recipes.
6. The first steam-powered ferryboat began running between Hoboken and Manhattan’s Vesey Street in 1811. Behind the vessel: the aforementioned John Stevens, who focused much of his engineering career on figuring out the best ways to harness steam for transportation.
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Stevens was also the recipient of the United States’ first railroad charter in 1815, and built and operated the country’s first steam-powered locomotive in 1825. It traveled a total of half a mile around his estate in Hoboken.
8. The first trains to travel between Hoboken and New York City began running under the Hudson River in 1907. Today the PATH train—the Port Authority Trans Hudson—helps passengers make more than 72 million trips across the river annually.
During World War I, approximately two million U.S. soldiers were shipped off to Europe from Hoboken’s docks. “Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken” became a rallying cry for troops hoping to make it home in time for the holidays.
10. Hoboken’s historic train terminal—formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal—was itself the site of several firsts. Thomas Edison operated the first electric train from the station to Montclair, New Jersey, and the terminal was the first public space in the country to boast central air conditioning [PDF].
The stunning Beaux-Arts building, which was restored to its former glory in the mid aughts, has served as a shooting location for films such as Funny Girl (1968), The Station Agent (2003), Julie & Julia (2009), as well as Eric Clapton’s 1996 music video for “Change the World.”
12. Speaking of filmmaking, the 1954 drama On the Waterfront was shot almost entirely on location in Hoboken and featured appearances by real dockworkers and policemen. The film raked in eight Oscars, including a Best Actor prize for star Marlon Brando.
Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother,"Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Hoboken’s most famous son is Frank Sinatra, who was born in a tenement there on December 12, 1915 to Italian immigrants Natalie “Dolly” Della Garavente and Anthony “Marty” Martin Sinatra. Marty, a boxer, went by the name “Marty O’Brien” in order to gain access to the town’s Irish-only gyms.
15. America’s pastime was developed there in the 1840s. Alexander Cartwright, credited with inventing modern-day baseball, and his team, the New York Knickerbockers, held court on Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, going up against teams like the New York Nines.
16. So was the zipper. In the 1890s, a man by the name of Whitcomb Judson improved upon previous zipper-like clasps by introducing a sliding device. Together, he and an associate started the Universal Fastener Company and began producing the closures in Hoboken.
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One Hoboken resident, an Italian immigrant by the name of Italo Marchiony, developed and patented a waffle holder for ice cream in 1903—paving the way for the cone-shaped summertime staple we enjoy today.
18. Another important dessert milestone occurred there in 1912, when the NYC-based National Biscuit Company made its first sale of a brand-new cookie to a grocer on Washington Street. More than a century later, you can find Oreos in nearly 100 countries around the world.
19. In 1964, three young men from Jersey City decided to take a risk on a new sandwich craze they had first encountered down the shore: the submarine. Together, they opened the very first Blimpie sandwich shop on Washington Street.
20. Hoboken has its very own superhero. Marlon Rodriguez, a.k.a. Hoboken Batman, rides up and down Washington Street on his Bat Bike, and even helps direct traffic for emergency vehicles.
Hoboken’s boozy reputation goes all the way back to the 17th century, when in 1663, Dutch settlers opened up the country’s first brewery.
22. But it's not quite as brew-happy as people seem to think, despite the oft-cited stat that it has more bars per square mile than any other city in the U.S. Take a look at this table for proof.
24. In an unassuming building on 9th and Madison sits one of the country’s most prestigious recording studios, Water Music Recorders. The studio has played host to dozens of artists, including Beyonce, the Dave Matthews Band, U2, Blondie, Sonic Youth, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, and more. Lenny Kravitz, meanwhile, recorded multiple albums at Waterfront Studios on Washington Street. In the midst of a session there in 1991, he and guest musician Slash decided to go on a booze run. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, which meant liquor stores were closed. So the enterprising duo decided to go door-to-door, asking people for alcohol donations.
25. Sorry, Brooklynites: this past March, Hoboken was named the Hipster Capital of America by FindtheBest.com. To qualify for consideration, cities had to have populations of 50,000 or more, a significant number of people between the ages of 20 and 34, and a high proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees. The site determined final scores by multiplying the number of coffee shops for every 10,000 residents by the number of yoga studios for every 10,000 residents. No word yet on if any local hipsters have tried to ironically resurrect the Turtle Club.