Archeological evidence suggests that people have lived in the Calcutta area for more than 2000 years. The Port of Kolkata is India's oldest major port. Its recorded history began when the British East India Company arrived there in 1690.
The British East India Company chose Calcutta as their operations center because it was nearer the sea than other European settlements. It was also near three local villages where Indian merchants had settled. When rebellion erupted in 1696, the trading post was fortified. The resulting mud and brick structure was called Fort William.
In 1717, the Mughal emperor gave the East India Company freedom of trade, stimulating growth in the Port of Kolkata. Many Indian merchants came to the Port of Kolkata, and the company operated duty-free private trade. The English received permission to further fortify the town when Maratha attacks began against the Mughals in 1742. The rebuilt Fort William signaled rising British military presence.
In 1870, the British Crown brought the Port of Kolkata's affairs under the administrative control of the government and appointed a Port Commission. Responsible for improving the port, the Commission included nine representatives of government and trade in old Calcutta.
The Port of Kolkata was initially conceived to promote and protect the British colonial interest. But with the advent of freedom in 1947, the Port was called upon to play the opposite role to champion the national cause. The Port took over the responsibility in the wake of the aftermath of Second World War and the partition of the country.
About 12 thousand people lived in the Port of Kolkata in 1706, and that number increased to 120 thousand by 1752 and 180 thousand by 1821. The names of city neighborhoods still reflect the occupational casts occupying the Port of Kolkata. By the end of the 1700s, the Port of Kolkata was clearly divided into British and Indian areas, and Calcutta was known for being an unhealthy place. In 1814, attempts to fund improvements began that to some extent succeeded. But cyclones between 1864 and 1870 all but destroyed the poorer low-lying districts.
As British power extended across the country, all of north India became an outlying region for the Port of Kolkata. In 1854, construction of railways started, and business and industry boomed. British financial and commercial interests thrived, and the Port of Kolkata was a growing busy center for commerce and trade. Calcutta also became the intellectual center of India.
During the 20th Century, the Port of Kolkata faced many difficulties. In 1912, British India's capital was moved to Dehli due to Calcutta's constant strife. As the Port of Kolkata grew, social problems and calls for independence increased. Riots occurred in 1926 and in 1930. More serious riots occurred in 1946 when Muslim-Hindu tensions increased and partitioning loomed.
The formal partitioning of Bengal between Indian and Pakistan in 1947 was a setback for the Port of Kolkata when it lost significant trade from much of its former hinterlands. Refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) flooded the Port of Kolkata, exacerbating its problems. By the middle 1960s, economic stagnation, social strife, and political instability drove many companies from Calcutta, and many others were taken over by the state.