LONG ISLAND, located in the Atlantic Ocean, constitutes the easternmost point of New York State. The island is 118 miles long and 12 to 23 miles wide and splits into two peninsulas at its ends. The northern peninsula ends at Orient Point, and the southern peninsula ends at Montauk Point. At 1,723 square miles, it is the fourth largest island of the United States and the largest outside of Hawaii and Alaska.
Delaware and Montauk Indians inhabited Long Island. European settlement began with the Plymouth Company, and the title was conveyed to William Alexander of Great Britain in 1635. Nonetheless the island became a part of the Dutch West India Company, which established numerous settlements, including Bruekelen (now Brooklyn). English settlers continued to arrive and founded communities such as Southampton, Hempstead, and Flushing. In 1650 New Netherland and the New England Confederation entered into the Treaty of Hartford, which drew a demarcation line on Long Island, giving the Dutch the western end and the British the part east of Oyster Bay.
In this unsettled period of European colonization, control of Long Island continued to shift. In 1664 the island became part of the lands Charles II gave to James, duke of York, who later became King James II. The British militarily defeated the Dutch, who ceded New Amsterdam to the British. New Amsterdam became a part of Yorkshire, with the local administrative seat of the territory located in Hempstead. In 1683 Long Island was subdivided into administrative units called "counties," including Kings, Queens, and Suffolk Counties. The county-level politics and administration of New York and Long Island remained powerful into the twenty-first century.
Both the patriots and the Loyalists hotly contested Long Island during the American Revolution. The island's strategic location and its function as a wood and food supply point made it the target of frequent raids by both military units and privateers. Indeed the Battle of Long Island was the first battle of the 1776 Revolutionary War campaign.
The evolution of Long Island as a commercial center after independence centered on its proximity to New York City, which emerged as a major metropolitan area. In 1844 the Long Island Railroad was completed, giving New York efficient access to the industries of Long Island, including farming, whaling, oystering, and fishing. Bridges and highways, in particular the Long Island Expressway, accelerated the growth and transformation of Long Island.
The manufacture of electrical equipment and aircraft made Long Island an important industrial center. After World War II many of the communities close to New York City experienced rapid residential growth. At that time Long Island became the site of an experiment in suburban housing, identical, inexpensively constructed single-family, stand-alone homes. William J. Levitt started these developments and between 1947 and 1951 constructed 17,447 houses in Levittown. These inexpensive family homes, affordable to middle-class Americans, began a national trend that eventually became synonymous with suburban "sprawl."
As New York City grew, important infrastructures, such as La Guardia and Kennedy International Airports, were built on the western tip of Long Island. Coney Island, Jones Beach, and Fire Island near New York City became popular summer destinations. Fire Island was one of the first communities in the United States associated with homosexual community life. On the far east end the Hamptons (Southampton and East Hampton) became synonymous with wealth and summer mansions. Southampton is the venue of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (1925). Long Island achieved a significant place in American popular culture.
Bookbinder, Bernie, and Harvey Weber. Long Island: People and Places, Past and Present. New York: Abrams, 1998.
Newsday Staff. "Long Island Our Story." Newsday, 1998. http://www.lihistory.com/