Worcester's population of 175,454 (2006) makes it the second largest city in New England, after Boston. Originally, the Pakachoag tribe of the Nipmuc nation of American Indians called Quinsigamond, now Worcester, home. For the Pakachoag, Worcester's Lake Quinsigamond offered fine hunting and fishing grounds a short distance from their main village on Pakachoag Hill in what is now Auburn. Mt. Wachusett was a sacred site for the people. Worcester was first settled by the English in 1673 and was incorporated in 1684. King Philip's War and other hardships forced settlers to abandon Worcester by 1703, but 10 years later the area was re-settled by Jonas Rice, whose farm was located atop Union Hill.
As social and political tensions rose in the months before the American Revolution, Worcester served as a center of revolutionary activity. On July 14, 1776, Isaiah Thomas performed the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Historically, Worcester's economic roots were tied to the Blackstone River. Textiles, shoes, finished clothing, along with wire and machinery were strengths of this economic cycle. Successive waves of immigrants formed ethnic enclaves, the remnants of which survive today. Swedes settled in Quinsigamond Village and Greendale, Italians settled along Shrewsbury Street, Irish settled around Kelly Square, and Jews built their first synagogue on Grafton Hill. The African-American community has existed since colonial times. Each group has integrated into the city's life with the help of settlement houses such as Friendly House, a community-based, human services organization that traces its roots to the settlement house movement of the late 19th century.
Today, Worcester has a diversified economy. The largest employer is the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The adjacent biotech park is host to many innovative companies, including Advanced Cell Technology and Abbott Laboratories. Other prominent companies include Morgan Construction, Wright Line, Saint-Gobain, and Polar Beverages. In the financial sector, Hanover Insurance, Paul Revere Life Insurance Company, and the Harleysville Worcester Insurance Company are based in the area. Women have also found economic opportunities in Worcester. An early female entrepreneur, Esther Howland designed and manufactured the first American valentine cards in 1847, and The Royal Worcester Corset Factory provided employment opportunities for 1,200 women and was the largest employer of women in the United States in 1908.
Worcester is home to 10 colleges and universities. The oldest, founded in 1843, is the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross, the oldest Roman Catholic college in New England and one of the oldest in the country. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1865) is an innovative leader in engineering education and partnering with local biotechnology industries. Others include Clark University, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Worcester, Assumption College, Worcester State College, Anna Maria College, Becker College, Salter, and Quinsigamond Community College.
Worcester also has several noteworthy libraries and museums, including the American Antiquarian Society, the Worcester Art Museum, the Higgins Armory Museum, the science-focused EcoTarium and the nation's only plumbing museum, the American Sanitary Plumbing Museum. Worcester's Union Station was recently renovated in the French Renaissance style. The station, once serving 10,000 passengers daily, is now home to an intermodal terminal, a restaurant, and the FDR American Heritage Center Museum and Special Collection Showcase. Performing arts centers and arenas in the city include Mechanics Hall and the DCU Center (formerly the Worcester Centrum).
Worcester has a long and distinguished literary history. Local authors include: George Bancroft, the author of the first comprehensive history of the United States; Esther Forbes, author of Johnny Tremaine; Robert Benchley; Stanley Kunitz, Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Laureate of the United States; Elizabeth Bishop; Billy Collins; Charles Olson; Nicholas Gage; Eleni Gage; and screenwriter Christos Gage. The Worcester County Poetry Association fosters the poetic tradition by sponsoring readings by national and local poets, celebrating Bloomsday, and holding conferences and literary tours of Worcester. Local poets have competed successfully in the National Poetry Slam.