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the largest city and chief manufacturing center of Delaware
Wilmington is the seat of New Castle County. It is located at the confluence of the Christina River and Brandywine Creek, has a land area of 10.8 square miles, and a population of approximately 70,850.
In 1638, a group of Swedes arrived in what is now the Wilmington area to establish a fur-trading and shipping center. The colonists chose the site because it had a natural wharf on what they named the Christina River. They built Fort Christina, the first permanent European settlement in Delaware, on the site, which became the headquarters for New Sweden, which consisted of most of the lower Delaware River region (now parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey). Although the Swedes claimed the entire Lower Delaware Valley and operated several fur-trading posts in the region, few Swedish settlers populated the area.
In 1655, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam (now New York City), seized Fort Christina and made it part of the Colony of New Netherland. Actual settlement of the region did not begin, however, until after it was captured by English forces in 1664. The town that eventually grew around the fort was originally known as Willington, after Thomas Willig, the first developer of the land. In 1739, the settlement was granted a burough charter by King George II, who also renamed it Wilmington in honor of the Earl of Wilmington, a close friend of his.
No major battles were fought in Delaware during the Revolutionary War, but the British occupied Wilmington shortly after the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, and remained in the city until vacating Philadelphia in 1778.
Wilmington became a major manufacturing center after Éleuthère Irénée du Pont built several gunpowder mills in the area in 1802. Those mills eventually grew into the Du Pont Company, which is today one of the largest chemical manufacturing companies in the world. The completion of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad line in 1837 furthered Wilmington's importance as a manufacturing center, and during the Civil War it was a major supplier of ships, railroad cars, gunpowder, shoes, and other war-related goods. By 1868, Wilmington was producing more iron ships than the rest of the country combined and it rated first in the production of gunpowder and second in carriages and leather. It was chartered as a full city by the Delaware State Legislature in 1832.
Wilmington is still a major manufacturing center today, with about one-third of the city's labor force employed in the chemical industry alone.
Thanks to Delaware's favorable corporation laws, over 60 percent of the world's Fortune 500 companies have offices in Wilmington, including Du Pont, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, the Dutch banking group ING, and the British banking giant HSBC.
Wilmington is served by the Port of Wilmington, a modern full-service deepwater port and marine terminal handling over 400 vessels per year. The closest major airport is Philadelphia International Airport, but regional air service is available at the New Castle County Airport, a few miles south of the metropolitan area. Amtrak operates regular passenger train service into and out of Wilmington, and two major rail lines operate freight facilities in the city.
The Wilmington City Council consists of thirteen members -- 8 elected from geographic districts, 4 elected at-large, and a City Council President elected by the entire city. The Mayor of Wilmington is also elected by the entire city.
Wilmington is served by the Brandywine, Colonial, Christina, and Red Clay school districts for elementary, junior high, and high school public education, as well as several private and charter schools. Institutions of higher learning with campuses in the city include Delaware College of Art and Design, Delaware State University, Drexel University, Goldey-Beacon College, Springfield College, University of Delaware, and Widener University.
Major Sites, Attractions and Events
Historic sites in Wilmington include Fort Christina State Park, Old Swedes Church, and Old Town Hall. The city is also home to the Business History & Technology Museum, Historical Society of Delaware, Arden Craft Shop Museum, and Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame. Legacies of the Du Pont family are located near Wilmington, including the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, which has a collection of Early American furniture, and Nemours Mansion and Garden.
The fine arts are represented in Wilmington by the Delaware Center for the Contemprary Arts, the Grand Opera House, and the Delaware Theater Company, the first professional theater group in Delaware. Annual music events include the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the Riverfront Blues Festival, and the Peoples' Festival, a tribute to one-time Wilmington resident Bob Marley.
Wilmington's diverse ethnic population contributes to several very popular ethnic festivals held every spring and summer -- Italian, Greek, Polish, African, and Indian, just to name a few.
The Wilmington Blue Rocks, an Advanced-A Minor League Baseball team, is the only professional sports team in the city.
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This page was last updated on June 09, 2017.