9. The first commercial steamboat was built in Alphabet City
As Alphabet City developed into a commercial center, it quickly attracted the attention of shipbuilders and iron workers. Alphabet City, at the time known as the “dry dock district,” became a home for shipyards, and by the 1840s, 20 or so blocks by Avenue C produced more ships than anywhere else in the country. Around what would become Alphabet City, shipbuilders constructed Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat, often considered the first commercial steamboat, in 1807. The boat was owned by Fulton and politician Robert Livingston, who obtained the exclusive right of steam navigation on the Hudson River. The boat measured 142 feet in length with a maximum width of 18 feet, and its first voyage went to Albany and back.
After plans were rejected for a food market between 7th and 10th Street, shipowners and builders helped construct more repair and construction facilities along the East River. Despite major debate about negative environmental impacts, this boosted the local economy, especially with the success of shipbuilders including Smith & Dimon, William H. Webb, and Jacob Westervelt. Ironworking firms like Novelty Iron Works employed well over 1,000 people, which led to rapid housing development along Avenues D and C. Contrary to many other industries in antebellum New York City, shipbuilding paid workers a fair wage and kept work days to a maximum of 10 hours, meaning workers could afford nicer homes in the area.