New York is full of secret facts and surprising history. If you thought you knew NYC, think again. Here are 101 surprising facts, inventions and bits of forgotten NYC history.
The Lenape people named the island Manhatta, which means “island of many hills.” Most of the hills have since been flattened.
A Dutch settler supposedly bought Manhattan from the Native Americans in the 1620s for about $24 in beads, about $1,000 today.
The Europeans first name for New York was New Amsterdam.
In 1664 the British seized the land and named it after the Duke of York.
Some believe that New York’s nickname the “Empire State”, currently on the state’s license plates, was named after the Empire State Building but the nickname came first. It is still unclear who said it first, but it was likely a President, probably Washington who said his vision for the state was as “the seat of the empire.”
Apples are the official state fruit of New York.
NYC is nicknamed the “big apple” not because New York state is the second state in the U.S. for apple production, but because of horse racing. It was first described in the 1920’s as “The Big Apple” in John J. Fitz Gerald’s racing column “Around the Big Apple” in The Morning Telegraph. The nickname was brought back to popularity in a NYC tourism campaign in the 1970s!
New York City was the first capital of the U.S. before Washington D.C. and before Philadelphia. It only lasted for 5 years starting in 1785 and George Washington was sworn into office as the first President at Federal Hall. The original building was downtown at 26 Wall Street, on that same spot you can still see the remaining piece of the original balcony where Washington was inaugurated and the bronze statue of him. Also NYC is not the capital of New York State, the capital is Albany.
New York was a key battlefield during the revolutionary war and was the site of the Battle of Long Island, the largest battle of the war.
New York is a true melting pot, with about 1 out of 3 people living in NYC born outside the U.S.
More languages are spoken in just Queens, New York alone than any other city in the world with about 800 spoken languages.
The largest Chinese population outside of Asia is in New York City, not to be confused with the oldest Chinatown, which is in San Francisco.
Manhattan also has the second largest population outside of their native lands of Koreans, Greek, Jewish, Polish and Irish.
In the 1700s Ellis Island was used for pirate and criminal hangings before becoming the symbol of immigrants’ American dream. Criminals, pirates and sailors were hanged there until 1839. It was nicknamed Gibbet Island after the post from which people were hanged.
Ellis Island was then a military post for about 80 years before immigrants began traveling through it.
90% of Ellis Island is man-made, built up through landfill and from excavation for the construction of the subway.
In 1892, the first immigrants to travel through Ellis Island were minors. Annie Moore was 17 years old when she brought her two younger brothers from Ireland to reunite with their family.
Annie was rewarded $10 to be the first immigrant to travel through Ellis Island.
The Statue of Liberty’s full name is “Liberty Enlightening the World”, because of her torch.
Half of Ellis Island is in New York and half is in New Jersey. The lines have been contested for hundreds of years but in 1998 it was ruled that half of the island was in fact in New Jersey. It’s still complicated as NJ provides the electricity and water while New York delivers the mail.
The hospital on Ellis Island was one of the most advanced in the world at the time. Some rich patients even tried to seek treatment there before being turned back since it was for public not private patients.
You can tour the hospital which was abandoned in 1954 on a hard-hat tour.
The oldest operating hospital in America today Bellevue Hospital was founded in 1736 in Manhattan.
Bellevue had several firsts including the first ambulance service which at the time were horse-drawn carriages. It had the first mental ward for the “insane.” It had the first residency training program and first men’s nursing school.
After the White Star Line’s RMS Titanic sank in April of 1912, survivors were rescued by the nearby Cunard Line ship, which dropped off the empty lifeboats at the original final destination of Pier 59 before bringing the survivors to their Cunard pier 54.
NYC was the center of the film industry before Hollywood.
April 14, 1894 NYC showed the first commercially exhibited movies at the first Kinetoscope Parlor (at 1155 Broadway near 27th Street).
Sesame Street is the longest-running kids’ tv series and is still filmed in Astoria, Queens.
The Museum of the Moving image is the only museum in the country dedicated solely to the moving image.
The first roller coaster was invented in 1884 in Coney Island, but it wasn’t the Cyclone. It was a switchback railway that opened in 1884 traveling six miles per hour.
The first escalator was installed in Coney Island in 1896. Jesse W. Reno invented this incline elevator that only ascended seven feet but was an attraction itself on the Old Iron Pier. It only transported people for two weeks before being moved to the Brooklyn Bridge. Read the top things to do in Coney Island.
The first elevator shaft was included in the Cooper Union Foundation Building, before the elevator was invented, only issue is it was round, not square.
The first children’s museum was the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in 1899.
Central Park has been featured in more films than any other location in the world, with over 300 films shot there.
Central Park is the first public park to be landscaped in America and was designed to represent the diverse areas of New York state.
The designers of Central Park considered Prospect Park their greatest masterpiece.
Central Park is not the largest park in NYC. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is more than three times the size.
The Bronx has 3 of the largest parks in NYC and is the greenest borough with the highest percentage of land dedicated to parks.
Although most know that Hip Hop was born in the Bronx, many do not realize that salsa was also born here in NYC.
The Bronx is the only NYC borough which is located on the mainland. Manhattan and Staten Island are separate islands and Queens and Brooklyn are on Long Island.
Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course is the nation’s oldest public golf course from 1895 in the Bronx.
The New York Yankees were originally called the New York Highlanders, but sportswriters changed that by calling the American League team by the “Yanks” or “Yankees”.
The New York Yankees and New York Giants were the first teams to retire players’ numbers ever in the MLB and NFL. First in Baseball was Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth then in Football Ray Flaherty in 1935.
Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees to help pay for a Broadway Production. Harry Frazee, owner of the Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth for about $1.5MM today to the Yankees to support the musical, No, No, Nanette. Red Sox fans blamed him for this “curse of the Bambino” lack of championships from 1918 to 2004.
The New York Mets played 3 of the longest games in Major League history. The longest game took 8 hours and 15 minutes including rain delays.
The Mets full legal name is the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club.
The New York Knicks legal name is the Knickerbockers, which was once a nickname for New Yorkers.
NBA’s Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn New York, though his family moved away when he was just a toddler.
Brooklyn originally fought against consolidating with Manhattan.
If Brooklyn was still a city and not a borough, it would be the 4th most populous city in the US.
Many of NYC’s parks and squares were potters’ fields. Washington Square Park rests above one of the largest burial grounds of an estimated 20,000 people.
The largest mass graveyard in the United States is the private Hart Island near the Bronx where there are believed to be about one million unclaimed bodies have been buried since the late 1860s.
New York was once the Oyster capital of the world. New York Harbor once contained half of the world’s oysters until unfortunately over-harvesting and pollution destroyed the oyster beds.
The New York bagel dates back to the 1800s when Eastern European Jewish immigrants started bakeries. There was even a monopoly on bagel production in 1907 when the International Beigel Bakers’ Union was founded.
The American hot dog was invented in Coney Island, but did you know the original isn’t from Nathan’s but Feltman’s, which started as an 1867 cart. It was Feltman’s former employee, Nathan who opened his own stand in 1916.
The hamburger we know today was rumored to have been invented in NYC by immigrants from Hamburg, Germany.
The Reuben sandwich was invented by Arnold Reuben at Reuben’s Deli in 1914 when he combined leftover ingredients into a sandwich.
Italian immigrants to Little Italy invented spaghetti with meatballs which Italians consider non-Italian, but really an American dish.
General Tso’s Chicken was first popularized in NYC.
Chicken and Waffles were not invented in the South, but in Harlem at Wells Supper Club.
Did you know the Waldorf Astoria invented at least 3 popular dishes? Eggs Benedict was invented by a hungover guest at the Waldorf Astoria and maître d then added it to the menu.
The Waldorf Astoria also invented the Waldorf salad.
Red Velvet Cake was invented in 1959 at the Waldorf Astoria. One guest asked for the recipe and later saw she was charged for it $100 on her bill. She sent the recipe to hundreds of people spreading the dessert’s popularity.
The original Thomas “Nooks & Crannies” English Muffins were invented here in 1880.
Charles Ranhofer invented the first Baked Alaska at Delmonico’s in 1867.
Cronuts were invented in NYC by Dominique Ansel in 2013 and still draw lines.
New Yorkers supposedly drink seven times more coffee than other cities in the U.S..
The Manhattan was of course invented in NYC in the Manhattan Club in the 1870s.
The Cosmo was invented in 1987 at the Odeon bar.
The Bloody Mary or Red Snapper was invented in 1934 in King Cole Bar after his own similar concoction in the New York Bar in Paris in 1921.
The Tom Collins cocktail was invented in 1874 to stop a joke where people would go to bars and ask if “Have you seen my friend Tom Collins”? The joke spread and eventally one NYC bartender would give anyone asking for Tom his new Tom Collins cocktail.
The Longest-running Broadway show isn’t the highest earning show. The longest running show is The Phantom of the Opera from 1988 till today. It is the second highest earning show after Lion King and before Wicked. This is because of different theater’s seating arrangements, which shows are likely to sell-out and inflation rates. Read more about Broadway.
All four members of the Beatles have performed in Madison Square Garden but never all together.
It is known as the “Jazz Capital of the World” and still hosts the Winter Jazzfest, voted the #1 Jazz Festival in North America.
Jay-Z chose his name for a few reasons: because of his nickname “Jazzy, to pay homage to his mentor Jaz-O and as a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.
Before the subway system we know today, there was a prototype subway run on Pneumatic power, like the kind Elon Musk is working on, called the Hyperloop. In 1870, Alfred Ely Beach launched Beach Pneumatic Transit, the city’s first underground transportation. It ran only one city block but used compressed air and water pressure to propel a single train car forward. Beach built the track in secret as a demonstration of how it could work. Though it only ran for 3 years, this is the system that is used to push mail through tubes today. Read more subway secrets.
There are more subway stations in NYC than any other city. NYC currently has 472 subway stations.