A Changing Population

Immigration boosted the small city’s population, part of the larger movement of people coming to the New York area in the mid-nineteenth century. Fleeing famine, Irish immigrants first flocked to Hoboken. And even before the Hamburg-America Packet Company built a pier in 1857 at the foot of First and Newark Streets, Germans were also settling in Hoboken. The construction of a pier at Third Street in 1864 by the North German Lloyd Steamship Company spurred even greater numbers to relocate. Hoboken became known as “Little Bremen,” full of German beer gardens, German-language theatres, and numerous athletic clubs devoted to boating, rowing, and marksmanship, many of which met in halls on Washington Street.

Italians, too, arrived via ocean liner in great numbers, increasing the city’s Italian-born residents from 280 to 6,555 between Hoboken’s boom years from 1880 to 1910, when Italians became Hoboken’s second-largest immigrant group. Transplanted Eastern European Jews arrived in the city during the same period, some of whom (or their descendants) became Washington Street shopkeepers. By the 1910 census, when Hoboken’s population peaked at 70,324, 39% of its residents were foreign born.

In the 1940s and 50s, and into the 60s and 70s, families from the American South, from Yugoslavia, Cuba, South America, and especially Puerto Rico, moved to the city, looking for work — on the docks, in garment factories, and at various manufacturing plants, including the companies that produced Maxwell House Coffee and Tootsie Rolls. Like those who settled here before them, these new residents added to the mix of cultures along Washington Street, to its street life and vitality — opening businesses, marching in parades, and establishing centers for socializing and the well-being of their communities.