The area around Harrisburg is thought to have been inhabited by Native Americans as early as 3000 B.C. They call this area “Peixtin” or “Paxtang”. It was an important place and crossroads for Native American traders. The first European to arrive here was the Englishman Captain John Smith, who traveled up the Susquehanna to visit with the Susquehanna tribe in 1608. John Harris, Sr. an English trader settled here in 1719. He helped lay out a town he called Harrisburg and it became the capital of Pennsylvania in 1812.
The city became an important stopping point along the Underground Railroad with slaves being transported across the Susquehanna River. The first national convention of the Whig Party of the U.S. was held in Harrisburg. In the 1830s the city became part of the Pennsylvania canal system and an important railroad center. The Pennsylvania Steel Company opened its plant in nearby Steelton in 1866 and it was the first such plant in the country.
Harrisburg became a significant training center for the Union Army during the Civil War. Since this was a major rail center for the Union it became a target for General Robert E. Lee, who attempted to capture the city.
On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, along the Susquehanna River located south of Harrisburg suffered a partial meltdown. Within days of the accident, 140,000 people had fled the area. For some time Harrisburg suffered economically. Soon economic improvements were being made and many office buildings and residences were built.
Today tourists visit the capital to see the National Civil War Museum, the State Museum of Pennsylvania and Hersheypark, just east of the city, which is a chocolate-themed park with many different rides.