Early 20th Century
early years of the 20th century saw a vast expansion
in the population and urbanization of Brooklyn.
Innovations in transportation, funded by tax
dollars from New York City, brought new bridges,
trolley lines, elevated railroads, and subway
lines that extended farther and farther into
the heart of the borough. Trolleys began to
traverse the streets of Brooklyn in 1890, the
Williamsburg Bridge was completed in 1903, the
first subway line was thrust under the East
River in 1908, and the Manhattan Bridge opened
in 1909. Each expansion opened new areas for
settlement and development. The rural character
of Brooklyn was quickly vanishing.
By 1880, Brooklyn had evolved into one of the
leading producers of manufactured goods in the
nation. Brooklyn's largest industry, sugar refining,
produced more than half the sugar consumed in
the United States. There were also dockyards,
gas refineries, ironworks, slaughterhouses,
book publishers, sweatshops, and
factories producing everything from clocks,
pencils, and glue, to cakes, beer, and cigars.
Work, though not always safe or healthy, was
Between World War I and the 1930s, thousands
of southern Blacks filtered into Brooklyn's
neighborhoods. They were among the hundreds
of thousands who moved to northern cities during
the "Great Migration," and by 1930, more than
60% of the African Americans in Brooklyn had
been born outside the borough. When the A train
was extended from Harlem to Brooklyn in 1936,
thousands of African Americans left Harlem in
search of better lives and less expensive housing.
Thousands of Puerto Rican immigrants also settled
in Brooklyn. The trip from Puerto Rico took
five days by steamship, but offered an alternative
to the poverty and limitations of the tiny island.
Puerto Ricans settled in Red Hook, downtown
Brooklyn, and Greenpoint, and many found jobs
in the needle trades and cigar factories.
The stock market crash in 1929 dashed hopes
for a prosperous life for many of the new immigrants.
of workers lost their jobs, and breadlines and
Salvation Army food stations became familiar
sights. The Depression ended with the entry
of the United States into World War II, and
by the time the soldiers returned, their communities
had again begun to change.