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How NYC Got The Nickname ‘The Big Apple’

When exploring this great big city and doing some fun NYC sightseeing, you might come across the phrase “The Big Apple” everywhere you turn. It’s on t-shirts, stickers, hats, you name it, it’s on there. Have you ever wondered where that nickname came from, and why out all of the nicknames for New York City, this one is the most famous? Hint: It has nothing to do with the fruit.

Just A Saying

In the nineteenth century “big apple” meant “something regarded as the most significant of its kind; an object of desire and ambition”. If you heard the term “to bet a big apple” it meant “to state with supreme assurance; to be absolutely confident of” as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary. According to The Museum Of The City Of New York, the earliest mention of “the big apple” is cited in the 1909 book The Wayfarer in New York by Edward S Martin.

Gaining Popularity

John Fitz Gerald was a reporter who had a racing column for The Morning Telegraph back in the 1920’s. While down at a race in New Orleans he overheard stable hands say they were going to the “the big apple” which was, of course, in reference to New York City. New York City’s race tracks were considered big-time venues. After hearing this, Fitz Gerald soon started referring to the New York circuit as “The Big Apple”. In 1924 he wrote, “The Big Apple, the dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.” Soon after, the nickname wasn’t just for the racing circuits anymore, but for New York City in general. In the 1930’s jazz musicians adopted the nickname, referring to New York City’s jazz scene as “the big time”. They even had an expression for playing in New York, “There are many apples on the tree, but when you pick New York City, you pick the Big Apple.”

Becoming The Big Apple

For the next two decades the nickname faded. It wasn’t until the president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, Charles Gillett, ran a tourism campaign in the 1970’s that the nickname was revived. At the time, New York City was experiencing a lot of woes. Crime rate was high, people were leaving to move to the suburbs, and the economy was in dire straits.  He thought that moniker would spruce up the image of the oppressed city and revive tourism. In no time at all, t-shirts, pins, hats, and other promotional items were featuring big apples and this time around the nickname stuck. And that is how the nickname “The Big Apple” came to be. Learn more about NYC’s interesting past and head over to The Museum of The City Of New York for some historical NYC sightseeing.
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