From the dawn of the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution to today, Essex County has been the starting point and arena for innovators, influential figures, monumental events, and more. So much history has happened here — some even the first of its kind in the state, country, or even world. It may be challenging to uncover what Essex County and its municipalities have done first. Whether buried in a century-old book or part of recent news, we have done our research to share with you what groundbreaking and leading things have occurred in Essex County, New Jersey. Read on to learn about Essex County’s famous firsts.
- Belleville was home to the first Chinatown on the American East Coast. This community would later populate Newark and Manhattan’s Chinatowns.
- Caldwell is the birthplace of Grover Cleveland, the first American president from New Jersey. Cleveland served as the 22nd and 24th president, the only one to serve non-consecutive terms.
- The first Carnegie library in New Jersey was granted in 1900. This library, the East Orange Main Library, was completed in 1903. In the 1970s, the structure became the East Orange Municipal Court.
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- Established in 1895, Essex County created the first public park system in the United States.
- In 1872, Stewart Hartshorn purchased 1552 acres of land in Millburn to create a community. This neighborhood would be known as Short Hills and it would become the first planned commuter suburb in America.
- In 1968, Matthew G. Carter became the first Black mayor of any New Jersey municipality — that being Montclair.
- In 2012, Montclair opened the state’s first marijuana dispensary.
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- Newark’s Military Park had the first ever public electric lamps in the United States.
- The first commercially successful Celluloid was produced in Newark.
- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey made the Port of Newark the first container port in the nation.
- The first radio broadcast of the World Series was transmitted live on radio station WIZ in Newark in 1921.
- G. Krueger Brewing Company of Newark was the first company to start selling beer in steel cans.
- Newark Liberty International Airport was the first municipal commercial airport in the country.
- Branch Brook Park, Newark’s largest park located in the Forest Hill and Roseville sections, was the first county park in the country.
- Newark is the birthplace of the first American Vice president from New Jersey. Aaron Burr was the third US Vice President, under President Thomas Jefferson.
- By act of the New Jersey Legislature, The Hospital of Saint Barnabas became the first incorporated hospital in the state on February 18th, 1867. The hospital would later move to its current location in Livingston.
- Kenneth Gibson became the first Black mayor of Newark in 1970. He was the first Black elected mayor of any major city in the Northeastern United States.
- ShopRite, the state’s largest food retailer, originated in 1946 in Newark. The business was initially formed as Wakefern Food Corp., and later became ShopRite in 1951.
- Around 1869, Newark established Newark City Cemetery. This appears to be the first potter’s field in the entire state. In 1954, the city began using the cemetery as a garbage dump until 1998 when a restoration project began.
- The First Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the state is believed to have started in Newark in 1936. Later, Frank O’Hara, one of the organizers, helped to form West Orange’s in 1941. Verona, Roseland, and Glen Ridge have sizable Irish-American populations.
- The first Statewide Haitian Heritage Parade was held in Newark in 2010. Orange, East Orange, and Irvington have a sizable Haitian-American population.
- South Orange’s Orange Lawn and Tennis Club hosted the first men’s doubles event of the US open, then called the US National Championships.
- South Orange was the first town in the US to have an affinity credit card.
- South Orange became the first New Jersey municipality to recognize civil unions for same sex couples.
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- Llewellyn Park, designed by Llewellyn Haskell and Alexander Jackson Davis, was the first planned community in the US.
- Black Maria, the world’s first film studio, was created by Thomas Edison in West Orange.
- Essex County Country Club, founded in 1887, is the oldest golf course in NJ and 6th oldest in the country. Thomas Edison was once a member.