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On Christmas Eve in 1741 Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony, Germany, leading a small group of Moravians, founded the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania along the banks of the Monocacy Creek by the Lehigh River. The prosperous village was incorporated into a free borough in the County of Northampton in 1845. In 1937, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, mindful of Bethlehem's first Christmas in 1741, declared Bethlehem to be henceforth nicknamed "Christmas City, USA."
Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade during the industrial revolution. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, founded in 1904, began producing the first wide-flange structural shapes to be made in America and was a major supplier of armor plate and ordnance products during World War I and World War II. After roughly 140 years of metal production at its Bethlehem plant, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations in Bethlehem in 1995.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 50.3 km² (19.4 mi²). 49.9 km² (19.3 mi²) of it is land and 0.4 km² (0.2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 0.88% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 71,329 people, 28,116 households, and 17,094 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,429.9/km² (3,704.4/mi²). There are 29,631 housing units at an average density of 594.0/km² (1,538.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 81.85% White, 3.64% African American, 0.26% Native American, 2.22% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.44% from other races, and 2.56% from two or more races. 18.23% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 28,116 households out of which 26.3% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.1% are married couples living together, 12.8% have a female householder with no husband present, and 39.2% are non-families. 32.3% of all households are made up of individuals and 14.4% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.34 and the average family size is 2.95.
In the city the population is spread out with 21.0% under the age of 18, 14.4% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 91.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 88.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $35,815, and the median income for a family is $45,354. Males have a median income of $35,190 versus $25,817 for females. The per capita income for the city is $18,987. 15.0% of the population and 11.1% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 20.7% are under the age of 18 and 8.8% are 65 or older.