General History: Settlement to 1960

Native American Land
The area that is now Schenectady was originally the land of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Nation. When Dutch settlers arrived in the Hudson Valley in the middle of the 17th century, the Mohawk called the settlement at Fort Orange "Schau-naugh-ta-da", meaning "over the pine plains." Eventually, this word entered the lexicon of the Dutch settlers, but the meaning was reversed, and the name referred to the bend in the Mohawk River where the city lies today.

Contrary to popular belief, the areas consisting of Schenectady and nearby Niskayuna were not actually inhabited by the Mohawk - at most there were "lean-to's" scattered throughout the area, enabling weary travelers and hunting parties the opportunity to stop and rest before heading to the settlements near present-day Fonda. If there were indeed settlements in the immediate area of Schenectady and Niskayuna, they most likely belonged to the Mohican, who by 1634 had been forced east of the Hudson River.

Schenectady was first settled in 1661 when the area was part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Settlement was led by Arent Van Curler of Nijkerk in the Netherlands, who was granted letters patent to Schenectady in 1684.

On February 8, 1690, the town was attacked and overrun by forces of France and their Indian allies, who burned the town and killed all but 60 of the inhabitants. This event is known as The Schenectady Massacre

In 1765, Schenectady was incorporated as a borough. It was chartered as a city in 1798.

During the American Revolutionary War the local militia unit the 2nd Albany County Militia Regiment was active during the Battle of Saratoga and in fights against Loyalist troops.

Founding Companies
Union College was founded here in 1795. In 1887, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works to Schenectady. In 1892, Schenectady became the headquarters of the General Electric Company.

Schenectady is home to WGY-AM, one of the first commercial radio stations in the United States. The station was named after its owner, General Electric (the G), and the city of Schenectady (the Y). General Electric also generated the first regular television broadcasts in the United States in 1928, when experimental station W2XB began regular broadcasts on Thursday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. This television station is now WRGB, for years, the Capital District's NBC affiliate, but more recently, its CBS affiliate. (see: 1928 in television).

Historic population of Schenectady: 13,655 in 1880; 31,682 in 1900; 92,061 in 1950.

The city was once known as "The City that Lights and Hauls the World"-a dual reference to two prominent businesses located in the city, the Edison Electric Company (now known as General Electric), and the American Locomotive Company (ALCO). GE has retained its administrative core in Schenectady, but many of the manufacturing jobs have been relocated to the Sun Belt and abroad. ALCO's operations slowly fizzled out as the company went through a series of acquisitions and restructuring in the late 1960s. In the early 21st century, the city is experiencing difficult financial times, as are many upstate New York cities. The profound loss of employment opportunities has led to Schenectady's population decline by nearly a third since 1950.