Pawtucket (pətəkˈət) [key], city (1990 pop. 72,644), Providence co., NE R.I., on the Blackstone River at Pawtucket Falls; settled 1671, inc. 1885 after the eastern section (which was part of Massachusetts until 1862) was merged with the western section into a Rhode Island town. Pawtucket has been a textile center since Samuel Slater built the nation's first successful water-powered cotton mill there in 1793. A dam built along the river in 1790 provides the electric power for the city. Among the city's manufactures are jewelry and silverware, metals, and specialty textiles.
The area, deeded to Roger Williams in 1638, was a haven for religious freedom in New England. Pawtucket's first settler was an ironworker who established (1671) a forge at the falls. Metalworks and sawmills sprang up, and after Slater erected his cotton mill on the banks of the river, the textile industry boomed. After World War II, when much of the textile manufacturing moved south, Pawtucket shared the decline of many New England towns. The city has since regained its small industrial status. Of principal interest is the 1793 Slater mill, now a museum. Some two dozen former textile mills now form an arts district. Many tourist and recreational sites are in the area.