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Why Is New York Called The Big Apple?

New York, the most famous city in the United States, has had many nicknames throughout the years. These include “The City That Never Sleeps”, “Gotham” and “Empire City”, but the name that got the most attention was “The Big Apple”. 

Do you ever wonder how the city that gave the world the luxury jewelry company Tiffany & Co, huge skyscrapers, the New York skyline, a sprawling central park, and the Statue of Liberty, received so many nicknames? 

You often see themed jewelry like apple pendants that depict the historic NY nickname in various jewelry and accessories, but why is New York called the Big Apple?

What is the Big Apple?

The 1909 novel “The Wayfarer in New York” was the first to refer to New York City as “The Big Apple.” Edward Martin used the apple as a metaphor to describe the relationship between the midwest and the city.

“New York is merely one of the fruits of that huge tree whose roots go deep into the Mississippi Valley and whose branches stretch from one ocean to the other, but the tree has little regard for its fruit. It’s natural to assume that the Big Apple receives a disproportionate amount of the national sap.” 

He went on to say that this city was so powerful that it drew in riches and people from the other centers of the nation, just as the Statue of Liberty drew in the huddle, forlorn masses.

Although Edward Martin first used the phrase, it gained popularity in the 1920s after sportswriter John Fitz Gerald created a column about horse racing titled “Around the Big Apple.” 

It was only in the 1970s that the phrase became synonymous with New York City and iconic sites like the Empire State Building due to increased tourism.


The phrase gained popularity in the music industry in the 1930s when jazz performers used the term “The Big Apple” to describe their desire to perform at prominent venues in “New York”, instead of smaller venues across the United States. 

Bad Reputation

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, New York City rapidly gained a reputation as a violent, bankrupt, and dark city. It hardly looked like an apple that would entice people outside the city to come and taste it.

To change this image, the city of New York began an advertising campaign in 1971 under the direction of Charles Gillet, the head of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Gillet’s article in The New York Times mentions a musician’s expression when they describe their desire to play in New York City: 

“There are many apples on the tree, but when you pick New York City, you pick the Big Apple.”

Fun fact: New York was known as New Orange before being called the Big Apple. In 1963, the Dutch named the City New Orange to honor the Netherlands’ Prince William of Orange. 

The Big Apple Today

After the campaign to rebuild New York’s image concluded, the city has been referred to as “The Big Apple”. This was popularly depicted in clothing, lapel pins, accessories and New York Jewelry. In 1997, Fitz Gerald’s former residence was renamed “Big Apple Corner” to honor his contribution. 

Over the years, the city has undergone a drastic transformation, but one thing has remained the same—the diverse people and the distinctive culture.

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