The history of the Atlantic City region extends far beyond the beginning of its casino era in the late 1970s and the burgeoning popularity of the city in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lenni-Lenape Indians originally roamed Absecon Island—the island on which Atlantic City is located—traveling over the Old Indian Trail from the mainland during the summertime to take advantage of the island’s natural resources.
An Englishman by the name of Thomas Budd was the first recorded owner of Absecon Island, arriving to the area in the late 1670s. More than a century later, in 1785, Jeremiah Leeds became known as the first European to establish a permanent structure on Absecon Island, and ultimately he and his family were recognized as Atlantic City’s first official residents. Leeds’ second wife opened a tavern, Aunt Millie’s Boarding House, after his death in 1838, initiating Atlantic City’s first business venture.
Seven permanent dwellings, with all but one of these residences owned by descendants of Leeds, were established by 1850. The one resident not linked to Leeds was Dr. Jonathan Pitney, a well-known physician who hoped to transform the obscure island into a health resort. Knowing that transportation into the island must be enhanced, Pitney, in collaboration with Richard Osborne, a Philadelphia native and civil engineer, put together a plan to bring the railroad to Absecon Island. The first train of the Camden-Atlantic City Railroad arrived in July of 1854. In May of the same year, Atlantic City was officially incorporated as a city of New Jersey.
Osborne was credited with instituting the city’s name, while Pitney determined the plans and names of the city’s streets—all of which still remain to this day.
By 1860, the city was home to 700 permanent residents. Transportation continued to improve, with the first authorized roadway connecting the mainland to the island completed in 1870, followed by the establishment of the Narrow Gauge rail line to Philadelphia in 1878. The boost in accessibility to Atlantic City was a boon for new business. Luxurious hotels and urbane dining establishments began sprouting up in the city, establishing Atlantic City as a growing tourist destination.
Atlantic City was officially opened on June 16, 1880, and by 1900, the population of the area had reached more than 27,000. During the next 25 years, the city welcomed many additions, such as the first use of electricity, the first school, trolley service, the opening of the Atlantic City Hospital, the establishment of the first public library and the arrival of the famous Jitney service. At the same time, more houses were being constructed and popular amusement piers began to emerge. Everything from peculiar exhibits, promotions and extraordinary festivals to family-friendly fun on the sand could be found here.
Atlantic City became a summer hot spot. Keeping tourists coming after the warm summer months was an issue until the creation of the famous Miss America pageant, which still remains a strong aspect of Atlantic City history today.
Atlantic City remained prosperous until the coming of World War II, when the city lost some of its sparkle and appeal to national and international air travel. The city remained this way until the advent of the Casino Gambling Referendum in 1976, which signaled a new era and a rebirth of Atlantic City as a destination resort. With the development of modern, upscale casino hotels, tourism in Atlantic City sprung back to life.
The Atlantic City of today has grown by leaps and bounds, incorporating much more than just gaming. Its high-quality real estate developments, continually expanding economic climate and natural resources are complemented by a wealth of cultural avenues, world-class restaurants, entertainment and shopping. People of all ages take pleasure in the vast offerings of Atlantic City, and that enjoyment is sure to continue into the future.