In July 1423 King Władysław II Jagiełło granted city rights to Łódź, at that time a village owned by the bishops of Kujawy. This small new city located in the Łęczyca Province remained a center of trade and crafts for the first four centuries of its existence. Following the second partition of Poland in 1793, Łódź became part of the territories annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia (South Prussia). The Prussian authorities took the town away from the bishops of Kujawy and attempted to deprive it of its town privileges. In 1807, following the Treaties of Tylża, Łódź became part of the Duchy of Warsaw (Warsaw department).
In 1815 the newly established Congress Poland offered new opportunities to the town. The town’s location on the Włocławek-Łęczyca-Piotrków trade route provided many opportunities for economic growth. The area’s first textile factories were founded in nearby Ozorków and Aleksandrów due to the arrival of German settlers. In 1820, Łódź still retained its rural character, but economic transformation was on its way.
Łódź was soon considered to be a factory settlement, and it was subjected to a decree on charter rights’ regulations, office jurisdiction, and scale of state loans. The decree was issued by Rajmund Rembeliński, the chair of the Mazovian Province Comission. Rembeliński visited over a dozen settlements and developed a sustained project of introducing textile manufacture to the region, which became the basis of the decree of September 1820. In accordance with the decree, a number of locations were transformed into manufacture towns, among them Łódź, Gostynin, Dąbie, Łęczyca, Zgierz, and Przedecz.
Due to the decree, a textile settlement called New Town was established south of the Old Town in 1820, and in 1823 a flax and cotton settlement named Łódka was established. Old Piotrków road, which connected all three settlements, was renamed Piotrkowska Street. Initially, Łódź developed rather slowly. Nearby Zgierz, located on the Warsaw-Kalisz trade route, developed much faster thanks to strong output of flax and wool products. Łódź soon became the center of cotton manufacture in the region. It was located on two rivers, the Łódka and Bałutka, which helped in the development of industry in the town. The 1830s and 1840s were a period of extensive growth. In the years 1835-37, the “White Factory” of Ludwik Geyer was opened in Piotrkowska Street. It was one of the first mechanical cotton mills in Łódź (today it houses the Textile Industry Museum).
Along with the increasing number of factories and workshops, the number of houses and residents also grew steadily during this period. Germans, Poles, Jews and Russians all settled in the area. In 1851 Russia abolished an important customs barrier and England lifted a ban on the export of spinning machines. In 1866 the first railroad line was opened in Łódź, which had significant impact on the city’s development. In 1898 the first tram line in Congress Poland was launched in Łódź. All of the factors listed above provided new opportunities for the city's textile industry. In the 1840s a number of large plants were constructed, Józef Richter’s cotton weaver and mechanical cotton mills owned by Dawid Lande, Ludwik Grohman, and Abram Prussak. In the 1850s, more factories were founded by Jakub Petters, Szaja Rosenblatt, Franciszek Kinderman, and the “cotton king” of Łódź, Karol Scheibler. The increase of industry brought an increase in population. The development of industrial manufacturing attracted craftsmen from smaller towns as well as manufacturers from all over Poland and even from abroad. “Industrial kingdoms” were springing up in the town—large industrial compounds with the owner’s residence and houses for the workers. The most impressive amongst them were residences of Karol Scheibler, Izrael K.Poznański, and Ludwik Grohman.
Łódź was full of contrasts; there were areas of abject poverty and unimaginable wealth. On one hand, the city was admirably open to all sorts of technological innovations, yet on the other gross negligence toward urban infrastructure was commonplace. There were few streets which conformed to the needs of a big city (the main one, Piotrkowska Street, was paved only in 1865). The majority of streets were covered with mud, and there were no water pipes or sewers. At the same time, in 1869, a gas plant was opened in Łódź and street lights were installed along the main streets. In 1873 the first telephone lines were activated, and in 1907 a power station was opened; as a result, electric light was installed in people’s houses. Owing to all these developments, Łódź was often referred to as the “Polish Manchester” even though it was also known as the “evil city.” During the 1905 revolution Łódź became the scene of the fiercest workers’ protests and riots in the whole of Congress Poland.
In 1915 German occupying forces annexed the largest suburbs, Bałuty and Chojny, to the city along with parts of Żabieniec, Radogoszcz, Widzew, Zarzew, Dąbrowa, and Rokicie. In 1918, 47% Łódź identified as Catholic, 40% as Jewish, and 11% as Protestant. The interwar period turned out to be rather difficult for the city. War damages as well as the loss of eastern markets appeared to threaten the city’s very existence. New manufacture was no longer centered on the textile industry. However, the enormous economic success of the city prior to World War I meant that despite both material and population losses, Łódź could still be perceived as the main center of the textile industry in independent Poland. In 1919 the city became a capital of the newly formed Łódź Province. Łódź Diocese was established in addition to the Polish Army garrison. The Free Polish University was opened; it would later become the University of Łódź.
The outbreak of World War II brought the city to a halt. Łódź was annexed to the Reichsgau Wartheland and became part of the Third Reich, and its name changed into Litzmannstadt (Karol von Litzmann was a German general, famed in the battle of Łódź during World War I). Thousands of Poles lost their lives in street executions; the majority of the remaining city residents were deported to the General Government. The population of the Łódź ghetto (c. 200 thousand Jews), the largest labor camp in the occupied Poland, was deported and murdered, primarily in Chełmno on the Ner river and in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The city was captured by the Red Army on 19 January 1945. It became the informal capital of Poland for a short period of time. The relatively good condition of the city’s urban core was an important factor. The area of the former ghetto was the most ruined part of the city. The war irrevocably altered the national-religious character of Łódź (genocide of the Jews, German exodus), which remained the second most populous city in Poland until the beginning of the 21st century (today it is ranked third). Łódź became a vital cultural and scholarly center in the postwar period (many schools were opened in the city, including the famous Łódź Film School commonly referred to as “Filmówka”). In the 1990s, most of the remaining texile manufacturing was ended. There were 848,000 residents in Łódź in 1990; the number fell to 715 thousand in 2013.
- G. Kobojek, Łódź – Kalendarium XX wieku, (2005);
- Łódź. Dzieje miasta, ed. R. Rosin, 1, (1980);
- M. Z. Wojalski, Działo się w Łodzi, (1996).