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Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is the capital of and the largest city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States. It is the unofficial capital of the region known as New England. It is also one of the oldest and wealthiest cities in the United States, with an economy based on education, health care, finance, and high technology. Its nicknames include "Beantown", "The Hub" (shortened from Oliver Wendell Holmes' phrase The Hub of the Universe), and The Athens of America, due to its great influence on cultural, intellectual, and political matters.

As of the 2000 census, its population was 589,141. The Greater Boston metropolitan area, including nearby cities and towns such as Cambridge, Brookline, and Quincy as well as many suburban communities further from the city, has a population of approximately 5.8 million residents. Greater Boston is one of the top-ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the fifteenth in the Americas, and the one of the top-fifty largest in the world. Boston is the county seat of Suffolk County. It is located at 42°20'N, 71°W.

Boston, Massachusetts
City flag City seal
City nickname: "Beantown", "The Hub", "The Athens of America"

Location in the state of Massachusetts
Founded September 17, 1630
County Suffolk County
Mayor Thomas Menino (Dem)
 - Total
 - Water

232.1 km² (89.6 mi²)
106.7 km² (41.2 mi²) 45.98%
 - City (2000)
 - Metropolitan
 - Density

3 million
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5
42°20' N
71° W


Founded on September 17, 1630, on a peninsula called Shawmut by the Native Americans who lived there, Boston is named after Boston, England, a town in Lincolnshire from which several prominent colonists originated. The Puritans who were part of the Winthrop Fleet led by John Winthrop to Boston were not Separatists like the Pilgrim Fathers, but chartered colonists. Boston's deep harbor and advantageous geographic position helped it to become the busiest port in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, surpassing Plymouth, and Salem. From its founding until the 1760s, Boston was America's largest, wealthiest, and most influential city.

Early colonists believed that Boston was a community with a special covenant with God. Winthrop's sermon, "a City upon a Hill," captured this idea, which influenced every facet of Boston life, and made it imperative that colonists legislate morality, enforce marriage, enforce church attendance, enforce education in the Word of God, and enforce the persecution of sinners. These values molded an extremely stable and well-structured society in Boston. Puritan values of hard work, moral uprightness, and education remain a part of Boston's culture. The home of many noted educational institutions, both the first school in America, Boston Latin School (1635), and the first college in America, Harvard University (1636), were founded in the early days of Boston.

On June 1, 1660, Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for repeatedly defying a law banning Quakers from the colony. She is considered to be the last religious martyr in North America. (Now a statue of Mary Dyer stands in front of the Massachusetts State House.)

On March 20, 1760 the first "Great Fire" of Boston destroyed 349 buildings.

Boston played a key role in the American Revolutionary War. The Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and several of the early battles of the Revolution, (such as the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston) occurred near the city. During this period, Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride. Today Boston is sometimes called the Cradle of Liberty and its historic sites remain a popular tourist draw.

After the revolutionary war, the city became one of the world's wealthiest international trading ports, exporting products such as rum, fish, salt and tobacco. It was chartered as a city in 1822, and by the mid-1800s it was one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation, noted for its garment production, leather goods, and machinery industries.

In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison founded The Liberator, an abolitionist newsletter, in Boston. It advocated "immediate and complete emancipation of all slaves" in the United States, and established Boston as the center of the abolitionist movement.

A poem about Boston, attributed to various people, describes the city thus: "And here’s to good old Boston/The land of the bean and the cod/Where Lowells talk only to Cabots/And Cabots talk only to God." While wealthy colonial families like the Lowells and Cabots (often called the Boston Brahmins) ruled the city, the 1840s brought waves of new immigrants from Europe. These included large numbers of Irish, and Italians, giving the city a large Roman Catholic population. It is currently the third largest Catholic community in the United States (after Chicago and Los Angeles).

The first medical school for women, The Boston Female Medical School (which later merged with the Boston University School of Medicine), opened in Boston on November 1, 1848.

The Great Boston Fire of 1872 started at the corner of Summer Street and Kingston Street on November 9 and in two days destroyed about 65 acres (260,000 m²) of city, 776 buildings, much of the financial district and caused US$60 million in damage.

1888 German map of Boston
1888 German map of Boston

In 1879, Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston.

"As a literary centre Boston was long supreme in the United States and still disputes the palm with New York," says Baedeker's United States (1893). "A list of its distinguished literary men would be endless; but it may not be invidious to mention Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, Lowell, Everett, Agassiz, Whittier, Motley, Bancroft, Prescott, Parkman, Ticknor, Channing, Theodore Parker, Henry James, T. B. Aldrich and Howells among the names more or less closely associated with Boston." Most of the great publishing houses of Boston have been acquired or moved, leaving little but the magazine The Atlantic Monthly (founded 1857) and the publisher Houghton Mifflin to bear witness to Boston's former publishing glory. Despite this, many renowned authors continue to live and work in Boston.

The first vaudeville theater opened on February 28, 1883 in Boston. The last one, the Old Howard, (in Scollay Square,) which had evolved from opera to vaudeville to burlesque, closed in 1953.

On September 1, 1897 the Boston subway opened as the first underground metro in North America. Today it is affectionately known as "The T" and is run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Scollay Square, Boston, in the 1880s
Scollay Square, Boston, in the 1880s

From the late 19th century until the mid-20th century, the phrase "Banned in Boston" was used to describe a literary work, motion picture, play, or other work prohibited from distribution or exhibition. During this time, Boston city officials took it upon themselves to "ban" anything that they found to be salacious, immoral, or offensive; theatrical shows were run out of town, books confiscated, and motion pictures were prevented from being shown, sometimes stopped in mid-showing after an official had "seen enough". This movement had several effects. One was that Boston, arguably the cultural center of the United States since its founding, now came across as less sophisticated than many lesser cities without such stringent censorship practices. Another is that the phrase "banned in Boston" began to be associated in the popular mind with something sexy and lurid; many distributors of such works were happy when they were banned in Boston, as it gave them more appeal elsewhere; many distributors also advertised that their products had been banned in Boston when in fact they had not to increase their appeal.

On January 15, 1919, the Boston Molasses Disaster occurred in the North End. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as hot molasses crushed, asphyxiated, and cooked many of the victims to death. It took over six months to remove the molasses from the cobblestone streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes. Boston Harbor ran brown until summer.

On August 23, 1927, Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair after a seven year trial in Boston. Their execution sparked riots in London, Paris and Germany, and helped to reinforce the image of Boston as a hotbed of intolerance and discipline.

On November 28, 1942, Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the site of the deadliest nightclub fire in United States history, killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more.

By 1950, Boston was slumping. Few major buildings were being built anywhere in the city. Factories were closing up, and moving their operations south, where labor was cheaper. The assets that Boston had -- excellent banks, hospitals, universities and technical know-how -- were minimal parts of the U.S. economy. To combat this downturn, Boston's politicians enacted urban renewal policies, which resulted in the demolition of several neighborhoods, including the Old West End, a largely Jewish and Italian neighborhood, and Scollay Square. In their places went additions to Massachusetts General Hospital, and Government Center. These projects displaced thousands, closed hundreds of businesses, and provoked a furious backlash, which in turn ensured the survival of many historic neighborhoods.

Between June 14, 1962 and January 4, 1964 thirteen single women between the ages of 19 and 85 were murdered in Boston by the infamous Boston Strangler.

In the 1970s, after years of economic downturn, Boston boomed again. Financial institutions were granted more latitude, more people began to play the market, and Boston became a leader in the mutual fund industry. Health care became more extensive and expensive, and hospitals such as Massachusetts General, Beth Israel Deaconess, and Brigham and Women's led the nation in medical innovation and patient care. Higher education also became more expensive, and universities such as Harvard, MIT, BU and Tufts attracted hordes of students to the Boston area; many stayed and became citizens. MIT graduates, in particular, founded many successful high-tech companies, which made Boston second only to Silicon Valley as a high-tech center.

In 1974, the city dealt with a crisis when a federal district court judge, W. Arthur Garrity, ordered busing to integrate the city's public schools. Racially-motivated violence erupted in several neighborhoods -- many white parents resisted the busing plan. Public schools - particularly public high schools - became scenes of unrest and violence. Tension continued throughout the mid-1970s, reinforcing Boston's reputation for discrimination.

As of 2005, the city is in the final stages of the Central Artery/Tunnel project, nicknamed the Big Dig. Planned and approved in the 1980s under Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, with construction beginning in 1991, the Big Dig moved the jumble of elevated highway that made up Route 93 underground, produced the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, and will create over 70 acres (280,000 m²) of public parks in the heart of the city. The Big Dig should ease Boston's notorious traffic congestion; however, it is now the most expensive construction project in United States history, and currently the most expensive construction project in the world.

On March 18, 1990, the largest art theft in modern history occurred in Boston. 12 paintings, collectively worth over $100 million, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by two thieves posing as police officers. As of 2004 these paintings have not been recovered.

Downtown Boston as seen from
Downtown Boston as seen from Cambridge

Recently, Boston has experienced a loss of regional institutions and traditions, which once gave it a very distinct social character, as it has become part of the more homogenized BosWash megalopolis. Examples include: the acquisition of the Boston Globe by The New York Times; the loss of Boston-headquartered publishing houses (noted above), the acquisition of the century-old Jordan Marsh department store by Macy's; the increasing rarity of ice-cream shops using cone-shaped scoops; the financial crisis currently being experienced by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; and the loss, to mergers, failures, and acquisitions of once-prominent financial institutions such as Shawmut Bank, BayBank, Bank of New England, and Bank of Boston. In 2004, this trend continued as Charlotte-based Bank of America acquired FleetBoston Financial and P&G has announced plans to acquire Gillette.

Despite these losses, Boston's ambiance remains unique among world cities, and in many ways, has improved in recent years -- racial tensions have eased dramatically; city streets bustle with a vitality not seen since the 1920s; crime and poverty remain remarkably low for an American city; and once again, Boston has become a hub of intellectual, technological, and political ideas.


A simulated-color satellite image of the Boston area taken on 's .
A simulated-color satellite image of the Boston area taken on NASA's Landsat 3.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 232.1 km² (89.6 mi²). 125.4 km² (48.4 mi²) of it is land and 106.7 km² (41.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 45.98% water.

Much of the Back Bay, and South End are built on reclaimed land -- two and a half of Boston's three original hills were used as a source of material for the landfill. (Only Beacon Hill, the smallest of the three original hills, remains partially intact.)

The city is divided into many neighborhoods, including: Allston/Brighton, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Charlestown, Dorchester, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, the North End, Hyde Park, Roslindale, Roxbury, South Boston, the South End, and West Roxbury. Each of the neighborhoods has a distinct character. Allston/Brighton, for example, is populated mostly by students from nearby Boston University and recent graduates. The Back Bay, west of the Public Garden, is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States -- it includes the shops and restaurants on Newbury Street, and the two tallest skyscrapers in Boston. The South End, south of the Back Bay, is populated by gays, artists, yuppies, African Americans, and Hispanics -- it is noted for its restaurant scene and bohemian atmosphere. Roxbury and Dorchester, located south of downtown, are populated largely by African Americans and Hispanics, as well as middle-class families priced out of more expensive neighborhoods. Boston is notable for having one of the most attractive and livable urban cores in the country; rents and housing prices are correspondingly high.

Boston is bordered by the cities of Revere, Chelsea, Everett, Somerville, Cambridge, Watertown, Newton, and Quincy, and the towns of Winthrop, Brookline, Needham, Dedham, Canton, and Milton.

The Charles River separates Boston from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Charlestown. To the east lies Boston Harbor and the Boston Harbor Islands, many of which are open to the public.


The weather in Boston, like much of New England, changes rapidly. The summers are usually warm and somewhat humid while the winters are cold and windy. It has been known to snow in October and get quite warm in February. Anything can happen climate-wise in Boston. The hottest month of the year is August with a high of 80°F (27°C) and a low of 64°F (18°C). The coldest month of the year is January with a high of 35.6°F (2°C) and a low of 21.5°F (-6°C). The city averages 42 in (1,100 mm) of rainfall a year. It also coincidentally averages 42 in (1,100 mm) of snowfall a year, though this average increases dramatically as one goes inland away from the city.

Law and government

Boston has a "strong mayor" system in which the mayor, Thomas Menino is the dominant force in city government. The mayor is elected to a four-year term by plurality voting (see List of Mayors of Boston, Massachusetts). The City Council is elected every two years. There are nine ward, or neighborhood, seats, each elected by plurality voting by the residents of that ward. There are four at-large seats. Each voter casts up to four votes for at-large councillors, no more than one vote per candidate. The top four vote-getters are elected. The President of the City Council is elected by the Councillors from within themselves. The School Committee is appointed by the mayor, as are city department heads.

In addition to city government, numerous state authorities and commissions play a role in the life of Bostonians, including the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (water and sewer) and the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation, formerly known as the Metropolitan District Commission (some parks and most beaches). The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority runs the "T", Boston's public transport system. The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) runs Boston's Logan International Airport. (See the article on Boston transportation for more information.)

Boston is also the United States federal government center for New England. Properties include the John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building and the Thomas P. O'Neil Federal Building. The National Archives has a regional center in nearby Waltham.


Boston is known as a cultured city. Boston is home to a wide range of musical talent, from bands like Powerman 5000, Godsmack, Dropkick Murphys and Boston to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players , the Boston Philharmonic , and the Boston Lyric Opera Company . The "Theater District" on the south side of Boston Common hosts a number of theatres, including the Emerson Majestic, and the Wang Center. The city's top classical dance company is the Boston Ballet , which performs at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts . The Boston Globe Jazz and Blues Festival occurs in June; the Boston Early Music Festival takes place during odd-numbered years; and Boston Film Festival is held in early September. Newbury Street is closed during the weekend after Labor Day, as thirty galleries allow unlimited access to Art Newbury Street .


Beacon Hill and the Longfellow Bridge seen from Cambridge.
Beacon Hill and the Longfellow Bridge seen from Cambridge.

As of the census of 2000, there are 589,141 people, 239,528 households, and 115,212 families residing in the city. The population density is 4,696.9/km² (12,165.8/mi²). There are 251,935 housing units at an average density of 2,008.5/km² (5,202.5/mi²). The Irish are the largest ethnic group in the city of Boston. Boston is the capital of 'Irish America'. The racial makeup of the city is 54.48% White, 25.33% Black or African American, 0.40% Native American, 7.52% Asian American, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 7.83% from other races, and 4.39% from two or more races. 14.44% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race. These figures become less reliable due to the large undocumented Brazilian population, estimated by some studies to approach 250,000 in Massachusetts. Census data does not account for this significant segment of the community because of confusing terminology, as Brazilians speak Portuguese and often do not consider themselves Hispanic or Latino.

There are 239,528 households out of which 22.7% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 27.4% are married couples living together, 16.4% have a female householder with no husband present, and 51.9% are non-families. 37.1% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.31 and the average family size is 3.17.

In the city the population is spread out with 19.8% under the age of 18, 16.2% from 18 to 24, 35.8% from 25 to 44, 17.8% from 45 to 64, and 10.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 92.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $39,629, and the median income for a family is $44,151. Males have a median income of $37,435 versus $32,421 for females. The per capita income for the city is $23,353. 19.5% of the population and 15.3% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 25.6% of those under the age of 18 and 18.2% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Colleges and universities

See also the list of colleges and universities in Massachusetts.

The Boston area is well-known for its colleges and universities.

Boston College was the first institution of higher education to be founded in Boston, though it moved from the city's South End to then-rural Chestnut Hill to escape Boston's rapid urbanization in the late nineteenth century.

Harvard University, the nation's oldest university, was founded in Cambridge, where it maintains its main campus, though the bulk of its current land holdings lie in Boston.

The greater Boston area is home to over 100 colleges. In addition to schools in Boston proper, including Berklee College of Music, the Longy School of Music, Boston Conservatory, the Boston Architectural Center , Boston University, Emerson College, Emmanuel College, Fisher College, the Massachusetts College of Art , the New England Conservatory of Music, Northeastern University, Simmons College, and Suffolk University, surrounding cities host Babson College, Bentley College, Brandeis University, Hellenic College , Lesley University , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Merrimack College, Pine Manor College, Regis College , Tufts University and Wellesley College, among others.


Boston's colleges and universities have drawn high-tech industries to the city, including computer hardware and software companies like EMC Corporation (headquartered in Hopkinton) and Akamai (headquartered in nearby Cambridge), as well as biotechnology companies like Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Biogen Idec. Other important industries include financial services, especially mutual funds and insurance. Boston headquartered Fidelity Investments helped popularize the mutual fund in the 1980s, and has made Boston one of the top financial cities in the United States.

Shoe and athletic apparel-maker Reebok is headquartered in nearby Canton. Raytheon has its global headquarters in nearby Waltham, while Novell also has its corporate headquarters there. Boston Scientific is located in Natick, and Gillette is headquartered in Boston. Teradyne, one of the world's leading manufacturer of semiconductors and other electronic equipment, has its corporate headquarters located in Boston.



The Boston Globe, owned by the New York Times Company, and The Boston Herald are Boston's two major daily newspapers. A local edition of The Metro, a free paper, is also available. The Boston Phoenix, The Improper Bostonian, and the Weekly Dig are weekly newspapers. As of October 2004, the Weekly Dig is owned by Boston Magazine. Spare Change is a bi-weekly paper. Just Rentals and Just Property are exclusive to Real Estate and are bi-weekly.


The following television stations broadcast in the Boston market.

Channel Call Sign Network
27 WUNI Univision
32 WTMU Telemundo/ind. home shopping
46 WWDP ind. home shopping
48 WYDN DayStar
62 WMFP Shop At Home
66 WUTF TeleFutura

Boston in film, television, opera, and theatre

See also: List of television shows set in Boston

Boston in fiction

See also An annotated bibliography of fiction set in Boston (external weblink)

Notable Bostonians

Professional sports franchises

Nearby Foxboro has the New England Patriots (National Football League), Super Bowl Winners in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons; and the New England Revolution (Major League Soccer).

Sites of interest

Major yearly events

The 100th running of the , 1996
The 100th running of the Boston Marathon, 1996



Intercity trains

Sister cities

Boston is a sister city (aka twinned town) of these municipalities:

External links

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