New York: The City of Five Boroughs
Following the creation of the greater city of New York in 1898 all of the elements necessary for population expansion came into place. These included a large land area (three hundred square miles), a massive cheap labor supply which could man new industries and construct new housing, and the rapid-transit facilities to move the labor force from home to place of work and back again, a substantial rate of natural increase, and a seemingly unlimited free flow of immigrants from abroad. The latter was perhaps the critical factor for it was Europe and not America that was the principal supplier of newcomers to the city.
The growth of American cities during the nineteenth century was very largely due to migration from the Old World, and as a general rule, the greater the size of the city the greater the relative contribution of foreign blood. New York was not atypical of other large American cities. In 1900 84 percent of the city's white heads of families were of foreign birth or the children of immigrants; for all American cities of 500,000 or more residents combined the proportion was 78 percent.
Immigration from abroad during the first three decades of the twentieth century did not follow quite the same pattern of the earlier era. Certain cities, particularly those located in the Northeast or those experiencing a dynamic period of industrial expansion (such as Detroit), irrespective of their size attracted relatively greater numbers of newcomers than did others.
New York was one of the major cities that came to absorb a substantially greater proportion of the incoming tide than previously. In 1900, when 57.5 percent of the white families of the nation were headed by native-born Americans of native parentage, among the fifteen largest cities in only two (Baltimore and Philadelphia) did as many as 30 percent of the white family heads fall into this category. In 1930, however, when exactly the same proportion (57.5 percent) of all white family heads were of native stock as in 1900, in no fewer than nine of the fifteen largest cities at least 30 percent of the white family heads were of native origin.
Thus the absence of a significant increase in the proportion of New York City households headed by native whites of native parentage between the years 1900 and 1930 contrasts with the "experience in most other American cities. In 1900, 16 percent of New York City's white household heads had native-born parents; in 1930, 18 percent. By and large, the cities that failed to experience relatively strong influxes of Italian or Jewish immigrants during this period had relatively large gains in their native-stock population sector. In Milwaukee, for example, where in 1900 only 9 percent of the white family heads--the smallest proportion of any major city--were not of foreign birth or parentage, the proportion had increased to 25 percent by 1930.
Points of Interest