Buffalo is governed under an amended city charter of 1896 by which the government is vested in a bicameral city council, and a mayor elected for a term of four years. The mayor appoints the heads of the principal executive departments (health, civil service, parks, police and fire). The city clerk is elected by the city council. The municipality maintains several well-equipped public baths, and owns its water-supply system, the water being obtained from Lake Erie. The city is lighted by electricity generated by the water power of Niagara Falls, and by manufactured gas. Gas, obtained by pipe lines from the Ohio-Pennsylvania and the Canadian (Welland) natural gas fields, is also used extensively for lighting and heating purposes.
From the first census enumeration in 1820 the population has steadily and rapidly increased from about 2000 till it reached 352,387 inhabitants in 1900, and 423,715 (20% increase) in 1910. In 1900 there were 248,135 native-born and 104,252 foreign-born; 350,586 were white and only 1801 coloured, of whom 1698 were negroes. Of the native-born whites, 155,716 had either one or both parents foreign-born; and of the total population 93,256 were of unmixed German parentage. Of the foreign-born population 36,720 were German, the other large elements in their order of importance being Polish, Canadian, Irish, the British (other than Irish). Various sections of the poorer part of the city are occupied almost exclusively by the immigrants from Poland, Hungary and Italy.
Situated almost equidistant from Chicago, Boston and New York, Buffalo, by reason of its favourable location in respect to lake transportation and its position on the principal northern trade route between the East and West, has become one of the most important commercial and industrial centres in the Union. Some fourteen trunk lines have terminals at, or pass through, Buffalo. Tracks of a belt line transfer company encircle the city, and altogether there are more than 500 m. of track within the limits of Buffalo. Of great importance also is the lake commerce. Almost all the great steamship transportation lines of the Great Lakes have an eastern terminus at Buffalo, which thus has direct passenger and freight connexion with Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and the "Head of the Lakes" (Duluth-Superior). With the latter port it is connected by the Great Northern Steamship Company, a subsidiary line of the Great Northern railway, the passenger service of which is carried on by what are probably the largest and finest inland passenger steamships in existence. The tonnage of the port of Buffalo is considerably more than 5,000,000 tons annually.
With a water front of approximately 20 m. and with 8 to 10 m. of wharfs, the shipping facilities have been greatly increased by the extensive harbour improvements undertaken by the Federal government. These improvements comprise a series of inner breakwaters and piers and an outer breakwater of stone and cement, 4 m. in length, constructed at a cost of more than $2,000,000. Another artery of trade of great importance is the Erie Canal, which here has its western terminus, and whose completion (1825) gave the first impetus to Buffalo's commercial growth. With the Canadian shore Buffalo is connected by ferry, and by the International bridge (from Squaw Island), which cost $1,500,000 and was completed in 1873.
It is as a distributing centre for the manufactured products of the East to the West, and for the raw products of the West to the East, and for the trans-shipment from lake to rail and vice versa, that Buffalo occupies a position of greatest importance. It is one of the principal grain and flour markets in the world. Here in 1843 Joseph Dart erected the first grain elevator ever constructed. In 1906 the grain elevators had a capacity of between twenty and thirty millions of bushels, and annual receipts of more than 200,000,000 bushels. The receipts of flour approximate 10,000,000 barrels yearly. More than 10,000,000 head of live stock are handled in a year in extensive stock-yards (75 acres) at East Buffalo; and the horse market is the largest in America. Other important articles of commerce are lumber, the receipts of which average 200,000,000 ft. per annum; fish (15,000,000 lb annually); and iron ore and coal, part of which, however, is handled at Tonawanda, really a part of the port of Buffalo. Buffalo is the port of entry of Buffalo Creek customs district; in 1908 its imports were valued at $6,708,919, and its exports at $26,192,563.