Boston, capital of the state of Massachusetts, with 575,000 inhabitants. (urban area: approx. 4 million inhabitants). The city is located at the mouth of the Charles River in Massachusetts Bay. The natural harbor is protected by an archipelago of drumlin-like islets.
Boston is primarily a port city. The important port function has exerted a great attraction on the industry; especially heavy industry developed in the vicinity of the port. The once most important industries (including shoes, leather, textiles) have undergone a decline in recent decades. Other industries, such as in the field of so-called high technology, have taken their place. There is also the food, chemical and metal industry, and the manufacture of electronic devices. Boston is also a center of publishing and printing. The city is also an important research and medical center. There has been a silversmith’s shop since the 17th century, which reached a peak in the 18th century, especially through the work of Paul Revere (1735-1818). The banking and insurance sector is also of great importance.
Boston grew rapidly in the 19th century due to an enormous influx of immigrants from the Old World (Irish, Norwegians, Jews, Italians). Thanks in part to immigrants, Boston was for a long time the most important cultural center of the United States, although it no longer has a monopoly in this area. The population declined steadily after a peak in the 1950s. Attempts to halt this trend have had limited success.
Of the many educational institutions, the most important are the world-renowned Harvard University (1636) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the suburb of Cambridge. Also located in Boston are the Northeastern, Boston and Suffolk Universities, as well as parts of the University of Massachusetts and Tufts University. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, one of the most important American museums, has a renowned collection of East Asian art; the Athenaeum Library (500,000 volumes) founded in 1807 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1780) also house important collections of works of art. There are numerous theaters and concert halls (including the famous shell-shaped Hatch Memorial Shell); the city has its own orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The oldest part of Boston is on the right bank of the Charles River and has a ‘European’ impression due to the partly narrow and winding streets; Partly in the context of the bicentenary of the United States (1976), extensive remediation and renovation work was carried out in this section. The Boston Common (19 ha) is the oldest public park (1634) in the United States. At the northeast corner of the Common is the 18th-century State House, with 46 m high gilded cupola.
In the east of this part of the city are the most interesting old buildings of Boston: Park Street Church (1809), King’s Chapel (1754), the (restored) so-called Old Corner Book Store from 1712, Old South Meeting House (1729; now history museum), Old State House (originally 1713; rebuilt several times), Faneuil Hall (1742), Paul Revere’s House (c. 1677, timber-framed) and Old North Church (1723).
Northwest of this old town, on the site of a former slum area, is the new government center, a complex of buildings completed in 1971, including the more than 90 m high State Service Center. Located in southern Boston, the JF Kennedy Library (also a museum) is housed in a remarkable building designed by architect Ieoh Ming Pei.
Boston was established as an official settlement by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1630, and its convenient location soon became the center of the new New England colony. Initially a theocracy, governed by powerful leaders such as John Cotton and John Winthrop, this Puritan rule ended in 1684 when the company’s charter was revoked.
Boston played a leading role in the uprising against the tyrannical governor Edmund Andros in 1689, and became a center of freedom movements in the 18th century as a trading city. For example, riots broke out in the city when the English measures became stricter after 1763.
In 1770 the Boston massacre took place, a riot in which English soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five people, in 1773 the Boston tea party (see American Revolutionary War).
In the 19th century, the city was the center of New England’s cultural and religious life, where new ideas and movements such as abolitionism and transcendentalism arose. In 1919 a police strike took place, which was suppressed by the Massachusetts state militia.