The area which includes the Town of Harrison was originally part of a land grant given to Captain William Sandford of the Barbados Islands. The 30,000 acre grant was situated between the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers, and extended from Newark Bay to what is present day Rutherford. Sandford named the region “New Barbados Neck”, after his home. He sent his nephew. Major Nathanial Kingsland to enter into an agreement for the purchase the land from Unami Indians, a branch of the Leni Lenapi Indians, the original inhabitants of the area.
In 1825, the New Jersey Legislature, whose attention was chiefly occupied in cutting up territories into townships and counties, changed the names of New Barbados Neck into the Township of Lodi, in the County of Bergen. Since Lodi was part of Bergen County, matters dealing with county government and courts had to be taken to Hackensack.
In 1840 the inhabitants of the Township of Lodi joined with present day Secaucus, Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken and Union City, and petitioned for the creation of a new county due to the great distance which the petitioners had to travel to reach the count seat in Hackensack. This appeal resulted in the creation of Hudson County and the first mention of Harrison occurs in the law which was passed February 22, 1840. The Township of Harrison was thereby established.
The first Harrison Town Committee Meeting was held April 16 at the Lodi Hotel. Legend has it that Harrison was named after William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, who was elected in 1840.
At that time, the present town of Kearny, was included in the town of Harrison. The people residing in that territory were by a large majority Republican in politics, but their vote was regularly overcome by the large Democratic vote in Harrison. They, therefore, sought to bring about the division, that they might secure independence and a greater influence in local affairs.
General N. N. Halstead succeeded in getting the necessary laws passed in Trenton, and in March 1867, Kearny became a separate Town, which included East Newark at that time.
The Borough of East Newark was established by a vote of the citizens of the lower end of Kearny lying between the Erie Railroad and Harrison. Being dissatisfied with the existing town government, they voted on July 3, 1895, to separate following the example set by Kearny in separating from Harrison almost thirty years before.
Harrison quickly gained a reputation as the “Beehive of Industry”. Even before the Township was originated, the area was alive with industrial growth. The first steam engine in North America was set up in the Schuyler Copper mines, to help drain water from the mines. It was in 1912 that President William Howard Taft, stumping for re-election in New Jersey, coined the Town’s motto. After Harrison officials successfully lobbied to have the President include Harrison on his tour, they arranged a reception which drew over 6,000 people, who braved pouring rain to see the President. Taft, addressing the residents, told them “You have reason to be proud of this Hive of Industry”. The slogan was quickly picked up for the town’s use.