The Port of Camden lies on the eastern shores of the Delaware River in New Jersey opposite the Port of Philadelphia. It is the seat of Camden County. Until the mid-1960s, the Port of Camden was a thriving city and business and commercial center. At its peak, it was the home of RCA Victor, New York Shipbuilding, and Campbell Soup.
However, during the 1960s, the city began to both residents and lose jobs, and it fell victim to urban decay and racial conflict. By the 1990s, nearly half of the Port of Camden's population was under 21 years of age, the unemployment rate was double that of the rest of the State, and nearly half of the city's residents lived below the "poverty line." In 2000, almost 80 thousand people lived in the Port of Camden.
The year the City of Philadelphia was founded in 1682, William Cooper built a house where the Cooper River entered the Delaware. Settlement of the area was slow, and most of the people who came there were Quakers.
The town site was planned by Jacob Cooper in 1773, and it was named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden, who had opposed British taxation on the American colonies. The American Revolution slowed development of the new village, and the British dominated the town when the occupied nearby Philadelphia.
Much of the Port of Camden's growth was tied to the growth of its neighbor, Philadelphia. In the early 19th Century, growth of the Port of Camden was encouraged by an increase in ferry services that could take people across the river to Philadelphia and the arrival of the railroad. The Port of Camden was incorporated as a city in 1828. For more than a century, the Port of Camden had played second fiddle to Philadelphia, but things began to change.
One of the first railroads in the United States was chartered in the Port of Camden in 1830, and it began to transport passengers between New York and Philadelphia via the ferries operating in South Amboy and Camden, where the railroad ended. What had been a suburb of Philadelphia grew into a city in its own right, and industries moved to town while the neighborhoods grew.
Through the early 20th Century, the Port of Camden was home to several major businesses. RCA Victor was the world's biggest maker of phonographs and records, and it maintained dozens of factories in the city as well as an early commercial recording studio that served luminaries like Enrico Caruso. The New York Shipbuilding corporation was a major employer, and Campbell Soup was headquartered in Port of Camden.
The New York Shipbuilding Corporation operated from the Port of Camden from 1899 until 1967, and it was the biggest and busiest shipyard in the world at its peak during World War II. It built the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, the famous aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, as well as the first commercial nuclear-powered ship.
Like many large urban centers in the United States, the Port of Camden began to decline in the 20th Century as manufacturers and residents moved away from the city center. After the 1960s, companies closed or moved to new locations, affluent residents escaped the aging city for the suburbs and greener pastures, and much of the city fell into decay. Today's main employers are government, education, and healthcare, but most workers commute to the city from the suburbs.
Revitalization efforts have improved the Port of Camden Waterfront and some neighborhoods with easy access to Philadelphia. Some of the old RCA Victor buildings have been converted into luxury apartments or condominiums or have been occupied by city government.With easy access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Delaware River, the Port of Camden handles domestic and international bulk and breakbulk cargoes at two terminals.