Why Is New York Called the Big Apple?

(Last Updated On: June 4, 2019)
Why Is New York Called the Big Apple?

“The Big Apple” is one of the world’s most well-known city nicknames. While few people know the origins of this rather odd moniker, no one can deny how commonly it is used among the masses. As one of the most famous cities in the world, New York has garnered its fair share of nicknames over the years–“The City That Never Sleeps,” “Gotham,” “The Melting Pot”–but it is most commonly associated with the Big Apple.

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Why Is New York Called the Big Apple?

So, where exactly did the “Big Apple” nickname come from? Well, who said it first, and whether or not they intended it to be a specific description of New York City or simply a figure of speech, remains up for debate to this day.

The first verifiable use of the term occurred in Edward S. Martin’s 1909 book, The Wayfarer in New York, in which Martin writes that “Kansas is apt to see in New York a greedy city… It inclines to think that the big apple gets a disproportionate share of the national sap.” While some considered this the start of the nickname, others believe that this was simply an analogy describing how the size of New York meant that it received more resources.

What is certain is that prior to the 1920s, when the term “Big Apple” really started taking off, many often referred to New York City as both the “Big Town” and the “Big Time.” Clearly, its size has remained a major theme throughout. From there it would not have been a big leap to “Big Apple,” a jump most agree can be attributed to sportswriter John J. Fitz Gerald.

What Does “Big Apple” Mean?

A track writer for the Morning Telegraph, Fitz Gerald evidently first heard the term used by African-American stable hands in New Orleans around 1920. At that time, there were many common expressions referring to “betting a big apple”. The idea here being that you were so sure of your position that you’d even be willing to risk a large amount. The stable hands in New Orleans likely referred to New York as “the Big Apple” because those were the tracks where you could win (and lose) the biggest sum of gambling cash.

Unfortunately, no one has ever managed to pinpoint the exact stable hand who first coined the phrase, but Fitz Gerald soon took a liking to it and began to use it regularly in his newspaper columns. By the 1930s, New York jazz musicians brought the phrase outside of horse racing contexts and started using it in songs and clubs.

Eventually, the name grew to encompass all of the various boroughs of the city. Popular writers, including Walter Winchell, continued to use the phrase throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s.

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Popularizing the Big Apple Nickname

Fast forward to the 1970s, when New York was a struggling, crime-ridden city. To rejuvenate the city and improve its image, Charles Gillett (then-president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau) devised a tourism campaign that focused on adopting “the Big Apple” as New York’s nickname.

In 1980, the New York Mets baseball team installed a 9-foot-tall “Home Run Apple” that further cemented the nickname in New York lore, although the actual plaster apple soon became misshapen due to the weather and often got stuck on its way out to celebrate. When the Mets moved to Citi Field in 2009, they retired the apple to a place of honor outside the new stadium and replaced it with a new, improved “Home Run Apple” which, in true New York fashion, is fully twice the size of the original.

Now that you know a little more about NYC, think you can name all these major New York City landmarks?