New Jersey 1st District
The closely built streets of the little city of Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, have seen a fair amount of history. This was where the poet Walt Whitman lived when he wrote some of the versions of his Leaves of Grass. It was an immigrant-jammed industrial city then, with tinkerers and inventors. In 1894, a Camden machinist named Eldridge Johnson produced the Victor Talking Machine, the birth of the recorded music industry and a company that became RCA Victor in 1929. A few years later, the new Campbell Soup Company began producing condensed soups. Camden remained for years afterward a major industrial locus on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, not the broadest and certainly not the most picturesque of Atlantic estuaries, but probably the East Coast’s premier industrial waterway, with a concentration of steel factories, chemical plants, and oil tank farms equal to any in the country. The flatlands all around, mostly ignored in the 19th century, had easy access to cheap water transport and plenty of skilled labor from the Philadelphia area. For a quarter-century starting in the 1940s, this was one of the country’s fastest-growing industrial areas.
2008 Presidential Vote
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In the 1980s and 1990s, Camden emptied out. Many of its factories had closed, and fewer than 10,000 manufacturing jobs remained. Its neighborhoods were beset by crime, its mostly minority residents were heavily dependent on public assistance, and its mayor was convicted for doing favors for Philadelphia’s organized crime leaders. Camden, ranked among the poorest cities in America, continues to struggle today. The median family income in 2006 was $24,612, compared with $65,026 for New Jersey as a whole. The state underwrites much of the budget of the nearly bankrupt city, and national crime data place Camden in the top five most crime-ridden cities. The bright spots are a newly-developed riverfront park, the New Jersey Aquarium, and the Sony Music/Pace amphitheater. There are plans for a new Campbell’s world headquarters. The port of Camden has rebounded, spurred by Del Monte’s large fruit-processing plant, plus large imports of foreign steel and exports of scrap metal.
The 1st Congressional District is, more or less, greater Camden, the Delaware riverfront from Riverton south to a point across from the Delaware state line, and the suburbs running southeast to the flat vegetable fields of South Jersey. The district is traversed by Black Horse Pike and White Horse Pike. Both routes date back two centuries; today, they connect Philadelphia to its middle-class South Jersey suburbs. Many of these boroughs and townships developed over the past half-century as a result of flight from Camden. The district includes a growing number of Hispanics, who now make up more than 40% of Camden’s population. Politically, this area has a Democratic heritage.