Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is home to one of the country's most spectacular waterfalls—a 260-foot-wide, 77-foot drop that rushes through the Passaic River Gorge and is recognized as a National Natural Landmark. These astounding falls made Paterson the ideal site for one of America's earliest industrial parks—a thriving manufacturing district developed in part by founding father Alexander Hamilton and run for decades on the area's abundant hydropower.
Hamilton helped establish the city of Paterson in 1792 with the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers. The founders envisioned a center for industry in America that could provide jobs, independence, and wealth to the young nation, similar to the industrial revolution taking place in England at that time. Manufacturers built mills in the Great Falls business district and produced various kinds of goods, including cotton fabrics, railroad locomotives, textile machinery, jute, Colt revolvers, and aircraft engines. What Paterson became best known for, however, was its silk. The community attracted immigrant laborers with specialized skills in spinning, weaving, and dyeing. The town came to dominate the industry and Paterson itself became known as "Silk City."
Between 1880 and 1900, silk workers organized some 140 labor strikes against mill owners in pursuit of better working conditions and pay. In 1911, a government survey credited silk workers in Paterson for establishing a 55-hour work week as an industry standard, making 10-hour days and half-days on Saturdays the norm. In 1913, mill owners sparked an industry-wide strike when they introduced new looms with automated controls, expecting workers to tend three or four looms at once, instead of the usual two. Within a month, nearly 300 mills closed and 24,000 workers walked off the job. The strike lasted five months, gaining national attention. Although the workers did not get the shorter work days and higher pay they demanded, the industry did not immediately enact the more automated four-loom system of weaving.
Visitors to Paterson Great Falls can view historic mill buildings and learn about about the lives of mill workers who have been at the center of this diverse and vibrant community for decades.