While the city was formerly occupied by Native Americans, Europeans who migrated to the Niagara Falls in the mid-17th century began to open businesses and develop infrastructure. Later in the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists and businessmen began harnessing the power of the Niagara River for electricity and the city began to attract manufacturers and other businesses drawn by the promise of inexpensive hydroelectric power. After the 1960s, however, the city and region witnessed an economic decline, following an attempt at urban renewal under then Mayor Lackey. Consistent with the rest of the Rust Belt as industries left the city, old line affluent families relocated to nearby suburbs and out of town.
Despite the decline in heavy industry, Niagara Falls State Park and the downtown area closest to the falls continue to thrive as a result of tourism.
Niagara Falls’ main industry is tourism. Almost ten million people visit the city and falls each year, and the waterfall is considered one of the United States’ top ten tourist destinations. However, the city struggles to compete with Niagara Falls, Ontario, which has a much more vibrant tourism industry and stronger economy.
The city is home to the Niagara Falls State Park. The park has several attractions, including Cave of the Winds behind the Bridal Veil Falls, Maid of the Mist, a popular boat tour which operates at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge, Prospect Point and its observation tower, Niagara Discovery Center, and the Aquarium of Niagara.
Several other attractions also near the river, including Whirlpool State Park, De Veaux Woods State Park, Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park in nearby Lewiston, New York, and Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, New York.
Attractions in the downtown include the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel. Pine Avenue was historically home to a large Italian American population.