Erie is Pennsylvania's only significant city on the Great Lakes and the third largest city in that state. Before the arrival of white settlers, Eriez Indians occupied the site. Both the lake and the city are named for them. The first recorded expedition was in 1615, when French missionaries visited. The French built Fort Presque Isle in 1753. Later the British occupied it, but Seneca Indians burned it in 1763.
No permanent settlement occurred until 1795 when the town was first laid out. Erie, which means raccoon, was given the status of a city in 1851. The city is located in the Erie Triangle, the only place where Pennsylvania projects above its otherwise straight northern border with New York. The territory had come under American control following a 1784 treaty with the Iroquois, but its allocation to one of the states was not settled. Both New York and Pennsylvania wanted these lands, and even Massachusetts and Connecticut had claims based on their original grants.
The federal government exerted pressure on all parties to cede their rights to it, upon which they sold the land back to Pennsylvania for about $150,000. Minimal compensation was provided to the natives who had lived there.
Most of the ships of Commodore Oliver H. Perry's fleet, which defeated the British during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Lake Erie, were built in Erie. Perry's flagship, the Niagara, was scuttled in Misery Bay within Erie Harbor. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial stands today commemorating the commodore’s brave effort against the British. The Niagara was raised in 1913 and repaired sufficiently that by 1943, it was put on permanent display. Four decades later, it deteriorated to the point that the exhibit was closed. Another reconstruction was made, following the specifications of the original ship and using a few of the timbers recovered in 1913. The Niagara is now on display at the Erie Maritime Museum and makes scheduled sailings on the lake.
Erie contains two lighthouses. One, called the Erie Land Lighthouse, is the oldest land lighthouse on the Great Lakes and was built in 1818. The other light, built in 1872, is located on Presque Isle — which is not an island, but a sand spit peninsula in Lake Erie.
Erie is a city with 25 percent of its jobs in manufacturing and contains four of the nation’s top plastics companies. The city’s largest employer is General Electric Transportation Company, a manufacturer of trains.