Massachusetts (abbr.: MA or Mass.), state of the United States of America, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, 21,408 km2, with 6 million inhabitants; capital city: Boston. The name Massachusetts is taken from a Native American name and probably means ‘by the great hills’.
The eastern plain offers many natural harbors in deep coves. To the west, the lowland gradually increases in height. The Connecticut Valley forms the Midwest of the state. East of the valley rise the Green Mountains. Known as the Berkshire Hills, this northwestern section reaches its highest point at Mount Greylock (1,075 m). In the far west rises the Taconic Mountains. Off the south coast are the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. The state’s main river, the Connecticut, flows south through Massachusetts. Of the more than 1,100 lakes, Lake Webster and Lake Quinsigamond are the largest. Artificial lakes such as the Quabbin Reservoir and the Wachusett Reservoir have been created for power generation. The winters are severe, with a lot of snowfall, summers are hot and often dry. Under the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the climate on the coast is slightly milder. The annual amount of precipitation is distributed fairly evenly across the state (Boston 1036 mm per year).
The average population density is 220 inhabitants. per km2. Approximately 84% of the population lives in cities. The largest cities are Boston, Worcester and Springfield. Cambridge is home to Harvard University (1636), the oldest university in the United States, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; 1861), one of the largest and most important institutions for scientific and technical research and training in the world. Massachusetts occupies a leading position in the United States in education. There are also some important institutes in the field of medical science. See top cities in Massachusetts.
Industry is the main economic activity in the state (manufacturing of electrical appliances and advanced electronics, machinery, metal, textile and leather goods, chemicals), followed by trade and services. Boston in particular is a center of scientific research into new applications in the field of atomic physics, computer techniques, etc. Agriculture is less important (dairy products, poultry, greenhouse flowers and plants and fruit, including cranberries; also potatoes, vegetables and tobacco). Sea fishing and processing of fish are also significant. The main sea fishing ports are Boston, Gloucester and New Bedford. The mineral production mainly consists of sand, gravel and clay.
Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island are sought-after vacation spots with beautiful nature and quaint towns. The Berkshire Hills are also popular, with the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox in the summer. Locations with a rich history include Boston, Plymouth, Salem and New Bedford.
The coasts of Massachusetts were visited by English explorers in the early 17th century. The first settlement in this area was that of the Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth in 1620. Salem became the center of a second colonization in 1626. In 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company was given a royal charter, beginning the great migration of the Puritans to this area. A very strict orthodox Protestant society of high cultural quality developed. The first university (Harvard) was founded in 1636. The democracy of the Puritans was on the one hand tied to the ecclesiastical organization, but on the other it took root locally in the so-called town meetings. The strict theocracy led to the expulsion of all dissenters, such as Roger Williams. The colony was severely ravaged by the war with the Indians in 1675–1676. In 1684, the colony’s charter was revoked, and a new charter of 1691 no longer made Church membership a condition of voting rights. From then on a royal governor was placed at the head of the colony, but otherwise it maintained a large degree of self-government. A black page in the colony’s history was the witch trials held in Salem in 1691–1692. In the 18th century, Massachusetts experienced a tremendous economic boom and was the first state to oppose the English taxes, introduced after the war with France, 1756–1763.
In April 1775, the American Revolution began with a clash of British and American peasants at Lexington and Concord. Massachusetts joined the union in 1788 as the sixth state. After the revolution, Massachusetts became one of the most important states of the Union; it was the main center of the American merchant navy and experienced a cultural “golden age” about 1840, when America’s most important writers and scholars lived and worked there. It was also the center of all kinds of reform movements, such as abolitionism and other social reforms. In the Civil War, Massachusetts was the first state to heed Lincoln’s call to defend the Union, and no other state took part in the battle with such enthusiasm. In the last half of the 19th century, the character of the state changed greatly due to the immigration of many Irish and Italians and the strong industrialization and urbanization. The dominant position of the Republican party was thereby broken.