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Why Is New York Called The Big Apple?

Posted by admin on August 9, 2017

New York has a few alternative titles. It’s known as the ‘city that never sleeps’, and ‘the city so nice they named it twice’, - but chief among its monikers is the ‘Big Apple’ title. So, where did it get this name? 

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There are a few theories. However, the title can be linked back to a journalist by the name of John J Fitz Gerald who was a sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph in the 1920s. The story goes that he heard two stable hands in New Orleans refer to New York’s racetracks as the Big Apple. Back then; the term was closely linked to the meaning of ‘ambition’ ‘confidence’ and ‘desire’. For instance, ‘to bet a big apple’ meant to place a bet with assurance and full confidence of the outcome. Similarly, it was also linked to the trend and fashion for growing the best and biggest fruit and vegetables. Anyway, the phrase really stuck on Fitz Gerald  - and he then took that term and used it in his column. 

From then on, he started each of his columns with the header: ‘The Big Apple’. It became inextricably linked to the big prize money that jockeys and trainers wanted to win at horse races in the New York area. The term took hold and started to find its way into every day language and genres outside of horse racing. 

After Fitz Gerald adopted it, it also became popular amongst Jazz musicians in New York. They frequently referred to their hometown as the ‘Big Apple’, and this meant the title became popular outside of New York. The term also found its way into films and was used as slang when referring to New York. In the 1930s, a new nightclub called ‘The Big Apple’ opened up in the city and at one stage there was even a dance craze called ‘The Big Apple’.  So, it was a term that found its way into everyday speech in New York and beyond. 

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An aerial view of the Manhattan skyline, New York City, at Dusk.

However, in the 1950s and 60s, the title slowly began to fade, until it was brought to prominence in a New York advertising campaign in the 1970s. At that point the city was experiencing some issues with its economy and even its reputation for crime. Charles Gillet – head of the city’s Visitor Bureau – and a jazz fan, knew of the ‘Big Apple’ nickname and used the title to underpin a marketing campaign to improve the image of New York and encourage people to visit New York City. He got celebrities to endorse the title – asking them to wear pins and T-shirts with the slogan prominently displayed. The marketing campaign was a success and the name stuck. So, here we are, Gray Line New York, 40 years later, explaining to you, our readers and our many visitors, why New York is known as ‘The Big Apple’. 

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 'The Big Apple' was used to front a marketing campaign encouraging visitors to New York City

Back in the late 90s, the then New York Mayor Giuliani officially recognized the role Fitz Gerald had on introducing the ‘Big Apple’ name to the city, and he named the corner where he and his family once lived, ‘Big Apple Corner’. You can find it at West 54th Street and Broadway. 

Interestingly, New York once had another fruit related moniker – New Orange. In the 1600s, when the Dutch took New York from the Brits, they initially called it ‘New Orange’ - named after William of Orange – their King. Shortly after this, the city was re-taken by the Brits - and so it soon dropped its ‘New Orange’ title. Thankfully – as it doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it, does it?!

So – there you have it – that’s how we got our ‘Big Apple’ title. If you’re coming to visit ‘The Big Apple’, then we’d be delighted to help show you around. Hop over to our website to find out information about our Hop On Hop Off bus tours and boat tours – one of the most cost effective ways to tour NYC.  Check out graylinenewyork.com for more information. 

The Big Apple awaits - see you soon!

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