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Two years after the founding of the settlement, Arthur St. Clair, the governor of the Northwest Territory, changed its name to "Cincinnati", possibly at the suggestion of the surveyor Israel Ludlow, in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati. St. Clair was at the time president of the Society, made up of Continental Army officers of the Revolutionary War who named their club for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a dictator in the early Roman Republic who saved Rome from a crisis, and then retired to farming because he did not want to remain in power.
Cincinnati began in 1788 when Mathias Denman, Colonel Robert Patterson, and Israel Ludlow landed at a spot at the northern bank of the Ohio opposite the mouth of the Licking and decided to settle there. The original surveyor, John Filson, named it "Losantiville". On January 4, 1790, St. Clair changed the name of the settlement to honor the Society of the Cincinnati.
In 1811, the introduction of steamboats on the Ohio River opened up the city's trade to more rapid shipping, and the city established commercial ties with St. Louis, Missouri, and New Orleans downriver. Cincinnati was incorporated as a city on March 1, 1819. Exporting pork products and hay, it became a center of pork processing in the region. From 1810 to 1830, the city's population nearly tripled, from 9,642 to 24,831.
Construction on the Miami and Erie Canal began on July 21, 1825, when it was called the Miami Canal, related to its origin at the Great Miami River. The first section of the canal was opened for business in 1827. In 1827, the canal connected Cincinnati to nearby Middletown; by 1840, it had reached Toledo.
Railroads were the next major form of commercial transportation to come to Cincinnati. In 1836, the Little Miami Railroad was chartered. Construction began soon after, to connect Cincinnati with the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, and provide access to the ports of the Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie.
During the time, employers struggled to hire enough people to fill positions. The city had a labor shortage until large waves of immigration by Irish and Germans in the late 1840s. The city grew rapidly over the next two decades, reaching 115,000 people by 1850.
During this period of rapid expansion and prominence, residents of Cincinnati began referring to the city as the Queen City.
Cincinnati's location, on the border between the free state of Ohio and the slave state of Kentucky, made it a prominent location for slaves to escape the slave-owning south. Many prominent abolitionists also called Cincinnati their home during this period, and made it a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. In 2004, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was completed along Freedom Way in Downtown, honoring the city's involvement in the Underground Railroad.
In 1859, Cincinnati laid out six streetcar lines; the cars were pulled by horses and the lines made it easier for people to get around the city. By 1872, Cincinnatians could travel on the streetcars within the city and transfer to rail cars for travel to the hill communities. The Cincinnati Inclined Plane Company began transporting people to the top of Mount Auburn that year. In 1889, the Cincinnati streetcar system began converting its horse-drawn cars to electric streetcars.
In 1880 the city government completed the Cincinnati Southern Railway to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is the only municipally owned interstate railway in the United States.
In 1884 outrage over a manslaughter verdict in what many observers thought was a clear case of murder triggered the Courthouse riots, one of the most destructive riots in American history. Over the course of three days, 56 people were killed and over 300 were injured. The riots ended the regime of political bosses John Roll McLean and Thomas C. Campbell in Cincinnati.
An early rejuvenation of downtown began in the 1920s and continued into the next decade with the construction of Union Terminal, the post office, and the large Cincinnati and Suburban Telephone Company Building. Cincinnati weathered the Great Depression better than most American cities of its size, largely due to a resurgence in river trade, which was less expensive than transporting goods by rail. The flood in 1937 was one of the worst in the nation's history and destroyed many areas along the Ohio valley. Afterward the city built protective flood walls.
Cincinnati has many nicknames, including Cincy, The 'Nati, The Queen City, The Queen of the West, The Blue Chip City, and The City of Seven Hills. These are more typically associated with professional, academic, and public relations references to the city, including restaurant names such as Blue Chip Cookies, and are not commonly used by locals in casual conversation.
The seven hills are fully described in the June 1853 edition of the West American Review, "Article III--Cincinnati: Its Relations to the West and South". The hills form a crescent from the east bank of the Ohio River to the west bank: Mount Adams, Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, Vine Street Hill, College Hill, Fairmount, and Mount Harrison.
The classic nickname "Queen City" is taken from an 1819 newspaper article and further immortalized by the 1854 poem "Catawba Wine". In it, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of the city:
And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver,
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.
For many years, Cincinnati was known as "Porkopolis"; this less desirable nickname came from the city's large pork interests.
Newer nicknames such as "The 'Nati" are emerging and are attempted to be used in different cultural contexts. For example, a local litter-prevention campaign uses the slogan "Don't Trash the 'Nati.
"The City of Seven Hills" is another name for the city. When the city was younger and smaller, the June 1853 edition of the West American Review, "Article III—Cincinnati: Its Relations to the West and South" described and named seven specific hills. The hills form a crescent around the city: Mount Adams, Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, Vine Street Hill, College Hill, Fairmont (now rendered Fairmount), and Mount Harrison (now known as Price Hill). The name refers to ancient Rome, reputed to be built on seven hills.
In 1950 Cincinnati reached its peak population of 504,000; it has lost population in every census-count since that time. In the late-20th century industrial restructuring caused a loss of jobs. More recently, the population has recovered slightly: the Census Bureau estimated the population to be 303,940 in 2019, representing a small increase from 296,945 in 2010.
At the 2010 census, there were 296,943 people, 133,420 households, and 62,319 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,809.9 inhabitants per square mile (1,471.0/km2). There were 161,095 housing units at an average density of 2,066.9 per square mile (798.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 49.3% White, 45.0% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.8% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.2% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population.
There were 133,420 households, of which 25.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 23.2% were married couples living together, 19.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 53.3% were non-families. 43.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.12 and the average family size was 3.00.
The median age in the city was 32.5 years. 22.1% of residents were under the age of 18; 14.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 28.4% were from 25 to 44; 24.1% were from 45 to 64; and 10.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.0% male and 52.0% female.
At the 2000 census, the Cincinnati-Middletown−Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 2,155,137, making it the 24th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the country. It includes the Ohio counties of Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Clinton and Brown, as well as the Kentucky counties of Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, and Pendleton, and the Indiana counties of Dearborn, Franklin, and Ohio.
The city is undergoing significant changes due to new development and private investment. This includes buildings of the long-stalled Banks project that includes apartments, retail, restaurants, and offices, which will stretch from Great American Ball Park to Paul Brown Stadium. Phase 1A is already complete and 100 percent occupied as of early 2013. Smale Riverfront Park is being developed along with The Banks, and is Cincinnati's newest park. Nearly $3.5 billion have been invested in the urban core of Cincinnati (including Northern Kentucky). Much of this development has been undertaken by 3CDC. The Cincinnati Bell Connector began in September 2016.
Cincinnati is midway by river between the cities of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Cairo, Illinois. The downtown lies near the mouth of the Licking, a confluence where the first settlement occurred. Greater Cincinnati spans southern Ohio and Indiana, and northern Kentucky; the census bureau has measured the city proper at 79.54 square miles (206.01 km2), of which 77.94 square miles (201.86 km2) are land and 1.60 square miles (4.14 km2) are water. The city spreads over a number of hills, bluffs, and low ridges overlooking the Ohio in the Bluegrass region of the country. The tristate is geographically located within the Midwest and is on the far northern of the Upland South.
Three municipalities are enveloped by the city: Norwood, Elmwood Place, and Saint Bernard. Norwood is a business and industrial city, while Elmwood Place and Saint Bernard are small, primarily residential, villages. Cincinnati does not have an exclave, but the city government does own several properties outside the corporation limits: French Park in Amberley Village, the disused runway at the former Blue Ash Airport in Blue Ash, and the 337-mile-long (542 km) Cincinnati Southern Railway, which runs between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Cincinnati is home to numerous embankments that are noteworthy due to their architectural characteristics or historic associations, as well as the Carew Tower, the Scripps Center, the Ingalls Building, Cincinnati Union Terminal, and the Isaac M. Wise Temple. Notable historic public parks and landscapes include the 19th-century Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Eden Park, and Mount Storm Park, all designed by Prussian émigré landscape architect Adolph Strauch.
Queen City Square opened in January 2011. The building is the tallest in Cincinnati (surpassing the Carew Tower), and is the third tallest in Ohio, reaching a height of 665 feet.
The mile-long Cincinnati Skywalk, completed in 1997, was shortened to bring more commerce, yet remains the viable way to walk downtown during poor weather. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Avondale is the second oldest zoo in the United States.
The Purple People Bridge serves as an instrumental pedestrian link between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Downtown Cincinnati towers about Fountain Square, the public square and event locale. Fountain Square was renovated in 2006. Cincinnati rests along 22 miles (35 km) of riverfront about northern banks of the Ohio, stretching from California to Sayler Park, giving the mighty Ohio and its movements a prominent place in the life of the city. Frequent flooding has hampered the growth of Cincinnati's municipal airport at Lunken Field and the Coney Island amusement park. Downtown Cincinnati is protected from flooding by the Serpentine Wall at Yeatman's Cove and another flood wall built into Fort Washington Way.Parts of Cincinnati also experience flooding from the Little Miami River and Mill Creek.
Since April 1, 1922, the Ohio flood stage at Cincinnati has officially been set at 52 feet (16 m), as measured from the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. At this depth, the pumping station at the mouth of Mill Creek is activated. From 1873 to 1898, the flood stage was 45 feet (14 m). From 1899 to March 31, 1922, it was 50 feet (15 m). The Ohio reached its lowest level, less than 2 feet (0.61 m), in 1881; conversely, its all-time high water mark is 79 feet 11 7⁄8 inches (24.381 m), having crested January 26, 1937. Various parts of Cincinnati flood at different points: Riverbend Music Center in the California neighborhood floods at 42 feet (13 m), while Sayler Park floods at 71 feet (22 m) and the Freeman Avenue flood gate closes at 75 feet (23 m).
Cincinnati is at the southern limit (considering the 0 °C or 32 °F isotherm) of the humid continental climate zone (Köppen: Dfa), bordering the humid subtropical climate zone (Cfa). Summers are hot and humid, with significant rainfall in each month and highs reaching 90 °F (32 °C) or above on 21 days per year, often with high dew points and humidity. July is the warmest month, with a daily average temperature of 75.9 °F (24.4 °C).
Winters tend to be cold and snowy, with January, the coldest month, averaging at 30.8 °F (−0.7 °C). Lows reach 0 °F (−18 °C) on an average 2.6 nights yearly. An average winter will see around 22.1 inches (56 cm) of snowfall, contributing to the yearly 42.5 inches (1,080 mm) of precipitation, with rainfall peaking in spring. Extremes range from −25 °F (−32 °C) on January 18, 1977, up to 108 °F (42 °C) on July 21 and 22, 1934. Severe thunderstorms are common in the warmer months, and tornadoes, while infrequent, are not unknown, with such events striking the Greater Cincinnati area most recently in 1974, 1999, 2012, and 2017.