Worcester: A History Lesson

On a series of hills overlooking the Blackstone River, Worcester was established as a town on June 14, 1722, chosen the shire town or county seat of Worcester County in 1731, and incorporated as a city on February 29, 1848.

The Nipmuc people were living in the region when the first European settlers arrived in the 1670s and created a community they called Quinsigamond Plantation. The community was renamed Worcester in 1684, possibly for Worcester, England, as an angry gesture at King Charles II of England, who had suffered defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Hostility from the Nipmuc twice forced the abandonment of the settlement; the first permanent colonization came in 1713. Incorporated as a town in 1722, major industrial development began after the opening of the Blackstone Canal in 1828, linking Worcester with Providence, Rhode Island. Worcester was incorporated as a city in 1848.

Worcester played an important role in the political development of the United States. During the American Revolution, the city was home to pamphleteer Isaiah Thomas, whose words helped unite opposition to the British. The city was active in Shays' Rebellion, a revolt against excessive land taxation that helped spur the creation of the Constitution of the United States. Residents were also early supporters of reform movements such as the abolition of slavery in the United States. The first national women's rights convention was held in Worcester in 1850.

Worcester was home to industrial innovation, including new methods of making wire, textiles, grinding wheels, and envelopes. In 1926 rocketry pioneer Robert H. Goddard, a professor at Clark University, fired his first liquid fuel rocket in nearby Auburn.

Since the late 1980s, biotechnological research has been important to the city's economy. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Park opened in 1987 and accommodates research facilities for numerous companies. CenTech Park was later developed nearby specifically for biotechnology-related manufacturing. Worcester is an inland port of entry for foreign commerce, and major interstate highways and rail lines traverse the city.

Worcester is noted for its fine educational and cultural facilities. In addition to the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester is home to many institutions of higher education, including Worcester State College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Assumption College, Clark University, the College of the Holy Cross, Becker College, Quinsigamond Community College and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Worcester Firsts

  • The Declaration of Independence was first publicly read in Massachusetts by Isaiah Thomas in Worcester in July 1776.
  • The monkey wrench was invented by Loring Coes of the Coes Knife Company in 1840.
  • The first national convention of women advocating women's suffrage was held in Worcester on October 23 and 24, 1850.
  • Elm Park became the first public park in the country when land was deeded to the city of Worcester in 1854.
  • J. Lee Richmond of the Worcesters pitched the first perfect game in major league baseball history on June 12, 1880.
  • Worcester resident Henry Perky became the first to mass produce shredded wheat in 1895.
  • Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) only visit to America was in 1909 to give lectures on the new science of psychoanalysis at Clark University and Clark was the only institution that ever gave him an honorary degree.
  • Dr. Robert H. Goddard of Clark University patented the first liquid fuel rocket in 1914.
  • Harvey Ball designed the world famous Smiley face in 1963.

For more information on the history of Worcester, please visit The Worcester Historical Museum Web site at http://www.worcesterhistory.org/ .