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Stuyvesant Town is named after Peter Stuyvesant, the last Director-General of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, whose farm occupied the site in the 17th century. Peter Cooper Village is named after the 19th century industrialist, inventor, and philanthropist Peter Cooper, who founded Cooper Union.

PCVST was originally planned as a post-war housing development during the early 1940's in anticipation of the returning World War II veterans. The complex was developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and was based on earlier developments; Parkchester, in The Bronx, completed in 1942, and Riverton in Harlem. Former Metropolitan Life president Frederick Ecker said of PCVST that it would make it possible for generations of New Yorkers "to live in a park - to live in the country in the heart of New York."

Construction of PCVST took place between 1945-1947, encompassing 110 buildings and 11,250 apartments. On the first day of its initial offering, the property received 7,000 applications; it would collect 100,000 applications by the time of first occupancy. The complex's first tenants, two World War II veterans and their families, moved into the first completed building on August 1, 1947.

In October 2006, MetLife sold Peter Cooper Village Stuyvesant Town to Tishman Speyer. The new ownership implemented major capital projects on the property. Tishman Speyer relinquished control of the property in 2010. Today, the property is controlled by CW Capital, which has retained CompassRock Real Estate as Peter Cooper Village Stuyvesant Town's property manager. PCVST is now home to over 30,000 residents.