New York City adopted the first zoning regulations to apply city-wide in 1916 as a reaction to construction of The Equitable Building (which still stands at 120 Broadway). The building towered over the neighboring residences and cast long shadows that diminished the quality of life for the people in the affected area. These laws written by a commission headed by Edward Basset and signed by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel became the blueprint for the rest of the country (partly because Edward Basset headed the group of planning laws that wrote The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, which was accepted almost without change by most states) and by the late 1920s most of the nation would have developed a set of zoning regulations that met the needs of the locality. New York went on to develop ever more complex set of zoning regulations, including floor area ratio regulations, air rights and others according to the density-specific needs of the neighborhoods (http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/).
Among large cities in the United States, Houston, Texas is unique in having no zoning ordinance. Houston voters have rejected efforts to implement zoning in 1948, 1962 and 1993. Thus Houston continues to be the largest city in the U.S. with no zoning.
Specific zoning laws have been overturned in some other U.S. cases where the laws were not applied evenly (violating equal protection) or were considered to violate free speech.