3. The Life of the Fulton Ferry: the ferryboat that forged a city before bridges and tunnels

Brooklyn Heights

The Fulton Ferry was essential to the development of Brooklyn Heights, often called America’s first suburb. Shortly after inaugurating the new service, Robert Fulton secured a long-term lease on the ferry, which helped Brooklyn obtain its village charter in 1816. In the next four decades, the area became a commercial and industrial epicenter to rival Wall Street. At one point, the annual ridership of Brooklyn ferries exceeded the total population of the United States.

By the 1860s, the East River was overcrowded with boats, which led to serious collisions, and catalyzed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. When the Bridge opened in 1883, Brooklyn ferries lost a substantial portion of their ridership, and many small companies went out of business. As the most successful interborough ferry service, the Fulton Ferry continued into the 20th century, despite competition from bridges and tunnels. It was formally terminated in 1924.