New Jersey's earliest industries were glassmaking and iron working. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton proposed the development of a planned industrial town at the Passaic Falls. The Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, an agency charged with developing the town, tried but failed to set up a cotton mill at the site, called Paterson, in 1797. By the early 1800s, however, Paterson had become the country's largest silk manufacturing center; by 1850, it was producing locomotives as well. On the eve of the Civil War, industry already had a strong foothold in the state. Newark had breweries, hat factories, and paper plants; Trenton, iron and paper; Jersey City, steel and soap; and Middlesex, clays and ceramics. The late 1800s saw the birth of the electrical industry, the growth of oil refineries on Bayonne's shores, and emerging chemical, drug, paint, and telephone manufacturing centers. All these products retain their places among the state's diverse manufactures.
In 1997, the value of shipments for manufactured goods totaled $101 billion. Nearly every major US corporation has facilities in the state. As of 1997, there were 23 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in New Jersey.
Earnings of persons employed in New Jersey increased from $179,371,115,000 in 1997 to $190,545,721,000 in 1998, an increase of 6.2%. The largest industries in 1998 were services, 30.7% of earnings; state and local government, 11.8%; and nondurable goods manufacturing, 10.0%. Of the industries that accounted for at least 5% of earnings in 1998, the slowest growing from 1997 to 1998 was durable goods manufacturing (5.6% of earnings in 1998), which increased 2.9%; the fastest was finance, insurance, and real estate (8.9% of earnings in 1998), which increased 7.3%.