News, Culture & Society

Historian traces origin of New York City’s nickname The Big Apple back 100 years to 1920  

A historian has spent three decades delving into how New York City got its nickname, The Big Apple, and he has linked it to the horseracing industry a hundred years ago.

Barry Popik found a newspaper clipping from February 1924, where reporter John J. Fitz Gerald named his New York Morning Telegraph column Around the Big Apple, and credited two black men in Louisiana for the term.

‘Two dusky stablehands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the “cooling rings” of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans…’ he wrote.

Fitz Gerald said one man told the other: ‘From here we’re headin’ for the big apple,’ to which the second man responded: ‘Well you better fatten up them skinners, or all you’ll get from the apple will be the core.’

A historian has spent three decades delving into how New York City got its nickname, The Big Apple, and he has linked it to the horse-racing industry a hundred years ago

The first mention of The Big Apple as a reference for New York City was traced to January 1920. New York Morning Telegraph reporter John J. Fitz Gerald named his column Around the Big Apple, and credited two black stablehands in Louisiana for introducing him to the term

The first mention of The Big Apple as a reference for New York City was traced to January 1920. New York Morning Telegraph reporter John J. Fitz Gerald named his column Around the Big Apple, and credited two black stablehands in Louisiana for introducing him to the term

The historian traced the date of the conversation in the Big Easy back to 1920 but no one has been able to figure out the identities of the men.

Popik – who co-authored of a revised edition of Gerald Leonard Cohen’s ‘Origin of New York City’s Nickname “The Big Apple” in 2011 – notes that reference to the Big Apple were often used in the 19th Century to mean something desirable.

A combination of Vaudeville entertainment making the term ‘big time’ popular and the huge apple-growing industry meant that regions where the fruit was prevalent became known as the Land of the Big Red Apple.

Popik noted the bigger apples tended be at the top of the barrel.

But Fitz Gerald began his column: ‘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.’

In 1909 The Wayfarer New York book appeared to use it as a metaphor

It features the line: ¿It declines to think that the big apple gets less than its proportionate share of the national sap.¿

In 1909 The Wayfarer New York book appeared to use it as a metaphor in the line, ‘It declines to think that the big apple gets less than its proportionate share of the national sap’ but not as a nickname

Records show that the nickname was popular on the Harlem jazz scene in the 1930s with two clubs named The Big Apple. Pictured is the old sign outside the Big Apple jazz club on 135th Street but neither the jazz club nor the sign out front remains

Records show that the nickname was popular on the Harlem jazz scene in the 1930s with two clubs named The Big Apple. Pictured is the old sign outside the Big Apple jazz club on 135th Street but neither the jazz club nor the sign out front remains

A Manhattan historian claims the nickname fell out of popularity but made a comeback during the 1970s fiscal crisis thanks to an Oglivy & Mather advertising campaign that took inspiration from the newspaper 1920 column.

T-shirts then became popular

A Manhattan historian claims the nickname fell out of popularity but made a comeback during the 1970s fiscal crisis thanks to an Oglivy & Mather advertising campaign (left) that took inspiration from the newspaper 1920 column. T-shirts then became popular (right)

Pope John Paul II, center, receives gifts from youngsters as student Monica Johnson, 17, holds a t-shirt, presented to him at presentation of symbolic gifts to Pope at New York's Madison Square Garden Wednesday, October 3, 1979

Pope John Paul II, center, receives gifts from youngsters as student Monica Johnson, 17, holds a t-shirt, presented to him at presentation of symbolic gifts to Pope at New York’s Madison Square Garden Wednesday, October 3, 1979

In 1997, The columnist who helped make it popular was honored with a ‘Big Apple Corner’ street sign outside where he lived at West 54th Street and Broadway.

Popik has suggested a bigger dedication but says the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers hasn’t gotten back to him.

‘The Mayor’s Fund should pay for a proper grave stone for Fitz Gerald, who died in Manhattan,’ Popik told Gothamist/WNYC. ‘[He is] buried in Menands, New York. NYC could give him an iconic tombstone as a token of thanks, but nothing has been done.

‘I have suggested that there be a “Big Apple” in the pavement (like the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, or the books on the New York Public Library’s ‘Library Walk’). I have also suggested a high tech history hotspot, where tourists can point a smartphone and get the ‘Big Apple’ story in [different languages].’

Popik said his discovery is the furthest back reference to the nickname but in 1909 The Wayfarer New York book appeared to use it as a metaphor.

In 1997, the columnist who helped make it popular was honored with a 'Big Apple Corner' street sign outside where he lived at West 54th Street and Broadway

In 1997, the columnist who helped make it popular was honored with a ‘Big Apple Corner’ street sign outside where he lived at West 54th Street and Broadway

‘New York is 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 tree has no great degree of affection for its fruit,’ the book introduction reads.

‘It declines to think that the big apple gets less than its proportionate share of the national sap.’

Records show that the nickname was popular on the Harlem jazz scene in the 1930s with two clubs named The Big Apple.

Popik has suggested a bigger dedication to the columnist but says the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers hasn't gotten back to him

Popik has suggested a bigger dedication to the columnist but says the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers hasn’t gotten back to him

A Manhattan historian claims the nickname fell out of popularity but made a comeback during the 1970s fiscal crisis thanks to an Oglivy & Mather advertising campaign that took inspiration from the newspaper 1920 column.

‘You have to be a little crazy to live in New York but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else,’ was the tagline from April 1976.

‘People were looking around desperately and some of that seized that old phrase the Big Apple to remind people of when New York had been a strong and powerful city and might become that again,’ Snyder told the Gothamist.

From then on Big Apple t-shirts and sweatshirts were sold.

An old image even shows Pope John Paul II received one as a symbolic gift from student Monica Johnson, 17, at Madison Square Garden on October 3, 1979.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.