Wilmington was initially inhabited by the Lenape tribe during the 17th century. The area at the time was referred to as “Bear Place” after the Bear River. The first settlers to arrive were from Sweden. The region that is now Wilmington was the first Swedish settlement in the United States. The settlement was purchased by Peter Minuit and settlers and traders of the Swedish South Company in 1638 and was named Fort Christina. In the 1600s, a Dutch fleet arrived in the area and took control from the Swedes.
It was in 1664 when the British made their way to the area. The Dutch and English went to battle through several wars, but then the region went into the control of the British and the area stabilized. In the 18th century, the city was designated as a borough, and the name was changed from Willington as it was known to Wilmington.
In the 19th century, gunpowder was manufactured in the area and led to the development of a mill along the Brandywine River. This company became a supplier of gunpowder to the U.S. military and was annexed by Wilmington. It was during the Civil War when the city saw explosive growth. The economy was thriving as there was a high demand for products that were produced in Wilmington, including shoes, gunpowder and railroad cars.
By the end of the 1860s, the city’s boundaries expanded, making Wilmington even larger. The city was prosperous, primarily because it was ranked first in the nation in the production of gunpowder and was also a top producer of iron ships. During this period, the city also established a park system.
In the 20th century, the city continued to prosper as it continued to provide products for World War II, including steel, machinery, automobiles, and clothing. After World War II, the city’s boundaries expanded again. However, the population began to drop in 1950 when updated roads and highways made it possible for more people to live in the suburbs and commute to the city for work. In the 1960s, trouble struck Wilmington following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The National Guard was deployed because of the riots and civil unrest from 1968 through 1969.
The city’s population grew again in the 1980s when more banks and financial institutions came to Wilmington. These businesses still play an essential role in the city’s economy. However, in more recent years, the population has suffered, primarily because of high rates of crime, as Wilmington has consistently been ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation.