A Brief History of the City
Notes: The city of Metropolis in DC Comics has a long and honorable history of costumed heroes, super-heroes, and invasions from other worlds and dimensions. However, in the Metropolis of the Movieverse, it is apparent that Superman's appearance in costume in 1978 (or 1996 for Superman Returns) is the first document-able appearance of a costumed super-hero in Metropolis, or the world.
The cut-off year given for the source material used here was 1999. However, the history of Metropolis differs significantly between the current general DC Universe and the universe presented in the Superman Movieverse. This is reflected in the history below.
Material adapted from History of Metropolis by Perry White. Daily Planet Guide to Metropolis, from WEG
Additional material from the The Atlas of the DC Universe, from Mayfair Games
The area now known as Metropolis was originally discovered in 1540 by the Italian navigator Vincenzo Gnanatti working for the Dutch - although some say he was working for the Swedish. The area was initially settled in 1634 by a party lead by Paul De Vries, a Dutch fur trader and merchant captain who established Fort Hob (after purchasing the land fairly from the natives) on the southernmost point of the island. Over the next 40 years the settlement grew from a small fort to a village to a small city, thanks to its strategic location and abundant trade. In 1675, the Dutch sold the island and all land rights to the British who renamed the island New Troy.
While Dutch sought cooperation and peaceful coexistence with the native population, the British were far less amenable, leading to skirmishes with the local native tribes. Three major battles occurred within a fifty year period:
the Battle of Bakerline (1680)
the Battle of Hob (1730)
and the two year long 'Dark Indian' War during which the British managed to drive the native tribes off the land they formerly held.
Under British rule, New Troy became a city equal in size and influence to Boston, Philadelphia and Gotham. As the city grew, settlers moved across both rivers to colonize the areas north, south, and west of the city. In 1760, progressive citizens of New Troy and the surrounding settlements incorporated the entire area under the name: Metropolis. The city prospered around the area's natural harbor; by the Revolutionary War, it was large enough to serve as a major source of manpower for Washington's army. In 1783, P. Randall Jeffries' founded the First Metropolitan Bank, establishing Metropolis's preeminence in commerce and banking.
Metropolis grew rapidly during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, becoming one of the nation's busiest seaports and a center for immigration. At his time, Metropolis experienced its own intellectual renaissance, rivaling many of its sister cities in Europe. The reports from Lewis and Clark's expedition in the early 1800's helped to fuel the sense of destiny and discovery. These were reprinted in the Daily Planet having been forwarded to the paper by President Thomas Jefferson. The city rallied behind the expedition and quickly turned the Planet into the best-selling daily newspaper in the world. Metropolis also served as the terminus for many railroad lines to points west and boasted one of the largest points of entry for the waves of European immigration during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. As early as 1775, the city was home to a host of courageous book and newspaper publishers. Today, it remains a center for the media, rivaling New York City for East Coast dominance of the broadcasting and publishing worlds.
With the founding of the University of Metropolis in 1817 along the southern side of what is now Centennial Park (although it was not given that name until 1860), all citizens, even some of the holdfasts who still called the city New Troy, began to call it Metropolis.
By that time, many of the districts surrounding the New Troy island had incorporated into the proper boroughs of Queensland Park, Park Ridge, Bakerline, New Troy, St. Martin's Island, and Hell's Gate - each resembling its own city more than small townships. As the city continued to grow, her waterfront regions developed the fastest, followed by the main downtown region of Metropolis, located on New Troy. The arts and culture thrived in the growing mecca, with the city's orchestra being founded in 1825 and the New Troy Opera Company being established in 1834. At the Hellenic Music Academy, young students were taught the beauty of Mozart and Beethoven early in their education. As the recital hall was still being built when the school was founded, dozens of music students would practice their lessons in nearby St. Michael's Park. The students' practice sessions soon led to free concerts in the park, which continue to this day.
As the railroad opened the West to adventurers and settlers, many of the citizens of Metropolis heard the call and moved to the American frontier, making room for an influx of more immigration to the fair city. This pattern has repeated itself time and again in Metropolis's history, and it is credited by many historians as part of the reason why Metropolis is constantly reinventing itself and moving forward. From fresh minds come fresh ideas.
This was never more true than in the mid-1800s as the Industrial Revolution came into full swing. Nearly all the buildings in Metropolis's downtown area were demolished and rebuilt utilizing modern designs and innovations within a 30-year period, up until 1860 and the beginning of the Civil War.
Metropolis passed through the great war relatively unscathed, despite the fact that, as the Athens of her time, Metropolis's street corners and lecture halls played host to a variety of speakers and great minds, including Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, and Abraham Lincoln. Persuasive arguments were made throughout Metropolis's streets, both pro and con, regarding states' rights and the issue of slavery.
Perhaps Metropolis's most magnificent claim to fame in those days was the fact it was the final stop for many escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. Plaques in the basement of the Tivoli Theater show where escaped slaves would gather and wait for sympathetic ship captains, such as the legendary Captain Black and Josiah Burgess.
Following the Civil War, Metropolis's population nearly doubled in six years. By 1870, the entire island of New Troy was densely populated, and many surrounding boroughs were faced with overcrowding. Again, technology paved the way, and many older buildings were torn down and replaced with clean, efficient new ones. In addition, thanks to the charter of 1869, one acre of parkland was reserved for every 100 citizens, guaranteeing that the city would always have greenery.
The end of the nineteenth century was also marked by turbulence. It was during this period that the city fathers constructed Stryker's Island penitentiary. For the first time in its history, Metropolis had a problem with crime, but it was dealt with quickly - Stryker's put a fear of punishment into the hearts of many criminals. Today it remains one of the nation's oldest working prisons.
As the Industrial Revolution continued to push progress and technological know-how to new levels, Metropolis apparently began attracting attention from inhabitants of other worlds and/or dimensions. Some scholars believe that in the 1800s and early 1900s, Earth and New Troy played host to a number of beings not native to Earth, including the Hob's Bay Horror of 1884-1887, 'Green Men of Old Town' reportedly seen in the early subway tunnels), intelligent gorillas, as well as apparent demons and hellspawn.
Perhaps the best known account of these early adventures within the city was the appearance of the hairless, red-skinned being who dropped from the sky in 1889. The creature exposed and destroyed what appeared to be a demonic stronghold on Hell's Gate, lighting up the midnight sky over the harbor with iridescent green bursts. The visitor only fell once in his attack against the stronghold and was aided by a hastily assembled militia made up of Metropolis's four fire companies and 47 Civil War veterans. While the being defeated the majority of the demons, Major (ret.) John Merriman led the soldiers under his command to a decisive victory over the demonic invasion force.1
A second event that nearly cost the city its life occurred shortly after the Hell's Gate occurrence, when the "Wild West" came to town. Together, in pursuit of the creature simply known as the Demon, Matt Savage and the Western hero known as Jonah Hex came into New Troy and foiled whatever plans the creature had. While the definitive account of this tale has yet to be discovered, citizens near St. Christopher's church, where the final battle took place, reported that portions of the neighborhood were briefly transformed into a hellish landscape. Both Hex and Savage left that same night, each by his own route, never speaking to anyone else about the events of that night again.
During the 1900s, the city became the first major city in America to boast 100 percent electric homes within its borders. Shortly before this, Metropolis had set a record by being the first American city to have over 1,000 telephones - 300 of which were public telephone booths, an innovation developed in Metropolis.
In addition, during the early 1900s, Metropolis's reputation as a city of philanthropy grew, as many naturalists were funded by grants from either the Daily Planet or wealthy individuals.
Great people of the time visited Metropolis upon the invitation of the Metropolis Club (a leading gentleman's club made up of scholars and businessmen or similar groups) or by their own accord. During the vibrant years of the early twentieth century, Metropolis played host to dignitaries such as Karl Marx, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain (who marveled at the city's modern conveniences), Henry Ford (who had a summer residence on Carl Lane in Bakerline), and even England's King George V.
During the 1910s a period of expansion on the city's western riverfront began and eventually turned that waterfront into a travel destination, while indirectly redirecting all commerce shipping to the northern end of New Troy island. The riverfront along Hob's River and the area around Hob's Bay became known as the city's most dangerous district, a dark contrast to the prosperity of the southern end of New Troy and the surrounding boroughs.
The Hob's Bay area offered affordable housing to the yard workers and their families, but due to unscrupulous landlords who lived in the more affluent sections of the city, these residents remained stuck in the working class, owing nearly all of their monthly paycheck in rent and unable to move to more affordable housing across the river due to the abominable public transportation of the era. The crowding and transportation were so poor that a working man who lived in either Racine or New Town would have to leave his house at 4:00 A.M. to get to work at the bay by 8:00.
"Suicide Days" - one of the city's darker episodes occurred in the late 1920s in Hob's Bay, thanks to the unscrupulous businessman Henry Black, a contemporary of the Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts. Black convinced hundreds of Hob's Bay residents to invest more than they were able into unreliable stocks just as the market crashed and the country entered the Great Depression. Fueled by hopeless desperation and the prospect of not being able to provide for their families, many Hob's Bay men committed suicide. The practice of taking one's own life became so prevalent in Hob's Bay that police patrolman Jacob Van Meter, after reporting a record 45 suicides in one day in October of 1930, commented to a reporter for the Daily Planet "This whole place has gone to hell. It's not a part of any decent city anymore; it's a suicide slum." Unfortunately for the area, that nickname stuck.
As a result of the numerous suicides, as well as the fact that several households had lost their menfolk to World War I, many families were left with only one parent, pushing many women into the workforce for the first times in their lives, and putting children on the street. Crime, homelessness, and poverty rates shot up uncontrollably. It is a legacy the city still battles today.
Because of the virtual financial and social destruction of Hob's Bay in part due to the Depression and its effects on the populace, then Mayor William Mertz instituted sweeping reforms for nearly all of Metropolis. First was the establishment of several social work programs designed to aid those in need within the city. Secondly, a public transportation system, consisting of buses, suspended trolleys, elevated trains, and modern subways, was constructed (using laborers who were in desperate need of work), making it possible to travel between any two points in the city in under an hour. Finally, a citywide revitalization program was instituted that once again sought to replace older buildings with modern, more technologically advanced models.
Because of Mertz's programs, Metropolis was well on its way to economic recovery by the time President Roosevelt instituted his "New Deal" policies. Many historians argue that FDR's ideas for the nation were modeled after those Mertz used in Metropolis.
Metropolis boomed during the years of World War II. It was a time of pride - pride in one's city, and pride in one's country.
Following World War II, Metropolis saw growth like never before. A solid economy, combined with the euphoria of the war being over, pushed nearly every citizen of Metropolis towards more: greater strides in science were made, greater social reforms took place, and Metropolis's wealth and respect outstripped that of New York, Gotham, Midway, and all its other contemporaries.
While advances were made in both the arts and education during the postwar era (with four more trade schools and two technical colleges founded between 1953 and 1957 alone), science and technology once again took the lead in the city, propelling Metropolis decades ahead of its sister cities in terms of technology offered to its citizenry. For a short time in the postwar era, the hero named Captain Comet called Metropolis his home, unofficially (and most likely, unknowingly) acting as a rallying point for Metropolis's colleges and universities to continue to pump out invention after invention, innovation after innovation. Comet, ever bashful in those early days of his career, actually dug the first shovelful of dirt when ground for the expanded campus of the Metropolis Institute of Technology (which later included the country's first active robotics department under the head of Dr. William Magnus) was broken in 1952.
While the postwar era is unfortunately best known in Metropolis for the fire of 1957 that nearly destroyed all of Bakerline, many citizens recall it as a wonderful, prosperous time. From the Baby Boom period that followed the war, Metropolis can boast eight Congressmen, a dozen hall of fame professional athletes, two Federal Court judges, and eight billionaires. As an example of the spirit of many citizens of Metropolis, both judges and three of the Congressmen all came from Suicide Slum. Their desire to better themselves motivated them out of their circumstances.
While the city enjoyed a glorious few years, change was coming. Not change that would alter the skyline, as Metropolis's skyline changes day by day. No, this change would affect the citizens of Metropolis like none other.
Many historians claim that the entire country lost its innocence when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and it was certainly true for Metropolis. But the actions by the House Un-American Committee members did more to undermine the confidence in government than the assassination of JFK and others after him both around the world and in Metropolis.
Young people expressed their unease most vehemently. For the first time in anyone's memories, students from the University of Metropolis and Nordham took to the streets to protest against the government, the city, or life in general. As the country entered the Vietnam War, the tensions among the citizens only escalated. For months at a time, students took over Centennial Park and refused to allow the authorities to enter. It was a difficult time for the city, and the scars from this period can still be seen and felt throughout Metropolis.
Despite the troubles of the time, Metropolis continued to grow, adding centers of global communications to its growing list of honors and titles, with WGBS, WGMC, WJAB, and WMET all launching their networks from Metropolis at this time, as well as the Metropolis Daily News and the Metro Eagle commencing publication, giving the Daily Planet some competition.
It was also during this period that Metropolis's radio station count passed the 200 mark. Again, it was as if the city was recreating itself as a living organism, and information was its lifeblood. In addition, resorts, beachfront properties, and amusement parks were built in Senreville on Hell's Gate due to the expiration of a 200-year-old treaty with the Native Americans who once populated the island.
This was the time that crime - the likes of which Metropolis had never seen - gained a foothold in the city. "Boss" Moxie and his gang of thugs, many of whom were most active in the 1930s and the war years, returned with a vengeance and took control of some of Metropolis's seedier districts. Many current residents of Hob's Bay remember the hot Friday night in July when it took 60 Metropolis police officers to take down Frank Sixty and Professor Thursday.
After that battle, which saw the deaths of 15 officers, the city council began plans that were responsible for the later formation of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit, the nation's first police division trained to deal with 'super' criminals. As apprehension settled in, building in Metropolis slowed and after a period reaching back for more than 50 years in which three new major companies opened or moved to Metropolis every year, no new industry came to the city. For some intangible reason, the City of Tomorrow was slowly sinking into a financial and social depression.
Lex Luthor and Metropolis
In the current DC Universe, Lex Luthor has several incarnations including: a version close in age to (and formerly friends with) Clark Kent (Earth-One [also Smallville]); a much older version from a well-connected and well respected family who is also a power hungry industrialist. This version made a bid for the U.S. Presidency and was overthrown by the efforts of investigative reporter, Clark Kent (New Earth).
Other versions of Luthor include power-hungry super-genius scientists. (This was the version that was used in the Superman movies.) In this scenario, Luthor may, or may not, have had a history as a power hungry industrialist who fell into paranoia and crime.
Superman and Metropolis
It is the same around the world. Everyone remembers where they were when they first heard the name "Superman" and saw the pictures of the Man of Tomorrow gently lifting the disabled helicopter in one hand while holding onto Lois Lane with the other.
The city went Superman-crazy after that, with his picture (or at least his outline in the sky) appearing on the front page of every Metropolis newspaper for nearly a month. When the groundbreaking exclusive first interview with Superman was published in the Daily Planet, the city came alive with joy, welcoming the visitor. Shown in the interview to be a kind, gentle man with tremendous powers and unshakable morals the city realized that it - and the world - had a new hero. Under Superman's protection, Metropolis has continued to thrive and prosper.
Life in Metropolis, even with the addition of Superman, continued as it had for years, with merges, acquisitions, and new ideas responsible for the ever-changing skyline. After Superman made Metropolis his home, the city's population increased by nearly 20 percent, attributed by many as being a case of "Superman fever." Despite the increase, Metropolis's jobless rate remains at 2.3 percent, beating out all its contemporaries and national jobless rates.
While Metropolis has always been a city of the fantastic - the real Emerald city of the fairy tales - Superman's arrival seemed to bring about the best in most people and the worst in the city's criminal element which included Lex Luthor, mad genius and self-proclaimed opponent to Superman's presence in the city.
Only the future will tell what other challenges the city will face in the next century.
The Mythos of Superman Links
Material adapted from History of Metropolis by Perry White.
Daily Planet Guide to Metropolis, from WEG
Additional material from the The Atlas of the DC Universe, from Mayfair Games
Superman: The Ultimate Guide to the Man of Steel (Hardcover) by Scott Beatty (Author)