As a manufacturing centre Buffalo ranks next to New York among the cities of the state. The manufactures were valued in 1900 at $122,230,061 (of which $105,627,182 was the value of the factory product), an increase of 22.2% over 1890; value of factory product in 1905, $147,377,873. The value of the principal products in 1900 was as follows: slaughtering and meat packing, $9,631,187 (in 1905 slaughtering and meat-packing $12,216,433, and slaughtering, not including meat-packing, $3,919,940); foundry and machine shop products, $6,816,057 (1905, $11,402,855); linseed oil, $6,271,170; cars and shop construction, $4,513,333 (1905, $3,609,471); malt liquors, $4,269,973 (1905, $5,187,216); soap and candles, $3,818,571 (in 1905, soap $4,792,915); flour and grist mill products, $3,263,697 (1905, $9,807,906); lumber and planing mill products, $3,095,760 (1905, $4,186,668); clothing, $3,246,723 (1905, $4,231,126); iron and steel products, $2,624,547. Other industrial establishments of importance include petroleum refineries, ship-yards, brick, stone and lime works, saddlery and harness factories, lithographing establishments, patent medicine works, chemical works, and copper smelters and refineries.
Some of the plants are among the largest in existence, notably the Union and the Wagner Palace car works, the Union dry docks, the steel plants of the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company, and the Larkin soap factory.
The first white men to visit the site of Buffalo were undoubtedly the adventurous French trappers and various Jesuit missionaries. Near here, on the east bank of the Niagara river at the mouth of Cayuga Creek, La Salle in 1679 built his ship the "Griffin," and at the mouth of the river built Fort Conti, which, however, was burned in the same year. In 1687 marquis de Denonville built at the mouth of the river a fort which was named in his honour and was the predecessor of the fortifications on or near the same site successively called Fort Niagara; and the neighbourhood was the scene of military operations up to the close of the War of Independence. As early as 1784 the present site of the city of Buffalo came to be known as "the Buffalo Creek region" either from the herds of buffalo or bison which, according to Indian tradition, had frequented the salt licks of the creek, or more probably from an Indian chief. A little later, possibly in 1788-1789, Cornelius Winney, an Indian trader, built a cabin near the mouth of the creek and thus became the first permanent white resident. Slowly other settlers gathered.
The land was a part of the original Phelps-Gorham Purchase, and subsequently (about 1793) came into the possession of the Holland Land Company, being part of the tract known as the Holland Purchase. Joseph Ellicott, the agent of the company, who has been called the "Father of Buffalo," laid out a town in 1801-1802, calling it New Amsterdam, and by this name it was known on the company's books until about 1810. The name of Buffalo Creek or Buffalo, however, proved more popular; the village became the county-seat of Niagara county in 1808, and two years later the town of Buffalo was erected. Upon the outbreak of the second war with Great Britain, Buffalo and the region about Niagara Falls became a centre of active military operations; directly across the Niagara river was the British Fort Erie. It was from Buffalo that Lieutenant Jesse D. Elliott (1782-1845) made his brilliant capture of the "Detroit" and "Caledonia" in October 1812; and on the 30th and 31st of December 1813 the settlement was attacked, captured, sacked, and almost completely destroyed by a force of British, Canadians and Indians under General Sir Phineas Riall (c. 1769-1851). After the cessation of hostilities, however, Buffalo, which had been incorporated as a village in 1813, was rapidly rebuilt.
Its advantages as a commercial centre were early recognized, and its importance was enhanced on the opening up of the middle West to settlement, when Buffalo became the principal gateway for the lake routes. Here in 1818 was rebuilt the "Walk-in-the-Water," the first steamboat upon the Great Lakes, named in honour of a famous Wyandot Indian chief. In 1825 the completion of the Erie Canal with its western terminus at Buffalo greatly increased the importance of the place, which now rapidly outstripped and soon absorbed Black Rock, a village adjoining it on the N., which had at one time threatened to be a dangerous rival. In 1832 Buffalo obtained a city charter, and Dr Ebenezer Johnson (1786-1849) was chosen the first mayor. In that year, and again in 1834, a cholera epidemic caused considerable loss of life. At Buffalo in 1848 met the Free-Soil convention that nominated Martin van Buren for the presidency and Charles Francis Adams for the vice-presidency. Grover Cleveland lived in Buffalo from 1855 until 1884, when he was elected president, and was mayor of Buffalo in 1882, when he was elected governor of New York state.
The Pan-American Exposition, in celebration of the progress of the Western hemisphere in the nineteenth century, was held there (May 1-November 2, 1901). It was during a reception in the Temple of Music on the Exposition grounds that President McKinley was assassinated (September 6th); he died at the home of John G. Milburn, the president of the Exposition. In the house of Ansley Wilcox here Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as president. A marble shaft 80 ft. high, in memory of McKinley, has been erected in Niagara Square.
See William Ketchum, History of Buffalo (2 vols., Buffalo, 1864-1865); H.P. Smith, History of Buffalo and Erie County (Syracuse, 1884); Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society (Buffalo, 1879 et seq.); O. Turner, History of the Holland Purchase (Buffalo, 1850); T.H. Hotchkin, History of Western New York (New York, 1845); and the sketch in Lyman P. Powell's Historic Towns of the Middle States (New York, 1901).