Librarian Files

Big Apple - Origin of Name


Why New York is called the Big Apple:

"The phrase "The Big Apple" referring to New York City was first used in a 1909 book, The Wayfarer in New York edited by Edward S. Martin. In a metaphor explaining the sentiment in the Midwest that the city receives more than a fair share of the nation's wealth, he explains: " 'New York [was] merely one of the fruits of that great tree whose roots go down in the Mississippi Valley, and whose branches spread from one ocean to the other… [But] the big apple [New York] gets a disproportionate share of the national sap.' “(Irving Lewis Allen, city in Slang [Oxford University Press, 1995], Page 62)

"The Big Apple" took on a different connotation when it was made popular in the 1920's by the New York Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald. He heard it used by African-American stable hands at the racetrack in New Orleans when referring to New York's racing scene which they considered the "big time." Fitz Gerald liked the phrase so much he titled his racing column "Around the Big Apple." In the introduction to his column from the February 18, 1924 issue Fitz Gerald writes: "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."

The phrase was most widely used by jazz musicians during the 1930's and 40's. Again it was used as a metaphor for achieving success. Playing New York, in particular the theaters of Harlem and on Broadway was the ultimate aspiration. When playing away from home, they were out in the branches ("the sticks") but when they were in New York they were playing "The Big Apple."

The phrase fell out of favor during the 50's and 60's but was revived in the 1970's by the New York Convention and Visitor's Bureau's campaign to attract tourists to the city. Using a red apple as their symbol, they promoted New York as the Big Apple, and it is now an internationally known nickname.

In 1997, with the help of Big Apple advocate Barry Popik, the city Council acknowledged John J. Fitz Gerald's contribution to New York City lore by naming the southwest corner of W. 54th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, the corner where Fitz Gerald lived from 1934 to 1963, "Big Apple Corner." A plaque was placed on the building by the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center to commemorate him."


Museum of the City of New York (accessed 10/01/2003--web site is no longer available)


Article tagged with: big apple, new york

Last Update: 3-22-2014 4:27pm

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