Frequently Asked Questions
"Gotham" was first used in reference
to Manhattan by Washington Irving in the early 19th century.
The word itself is English in origin and dates from the Middle
Ages. Gotham, or "Gotam", was the name of a real
and often-ridiculed town in England, whose residents had a
reputation for madness.
A variant on this story was that Gothamites
were not truly mad but simply "wise enough to play the
fool" -- in a variety of ways they merely acted silly
to gain their ends. "It was doubtless this more beguiling-if
tricksterish-sense of Gotham that Manhattanistes assumed as
an acceptable nickname," writes Mike Wallace in Gotham:
A History of New York City to 1898.
According Gerald Leonard Cohen's Origin of New
York City's Nickname The Big Apple' (New York: Peter
Lang, 1991), while "apple" in American slang means
"fellow" and "big apple" means "big
shot," the first consistent use of the term to apply
to New York City came in the 1920s. John J. Fitz Gerald, a
horseracing reporter for the Morning Telegraph, used the term
(in columns from 1921-1927) for "New York City racetracks,"
and that sense of it the metropolitan thoroughbred
racing circuit entered general usage after 1928. Walter
Winchell used it in a 1927 column to refer to Broadway ("Broadway
is the Big Apple, the Main Stem, the goal of all ambition,
the pot of gold at the end of a drab and somewhat colorless
rainbow."). In the 1930s black jazz musicians applied
the terms "the apple" or, less often, "the
big apple" to Harlem or to the entire city, with overtones,
again, of the big time'. In 1937 a dance called "the
big apple" was launched in an African-American nightclub
called "Fat Sam's Big Apple," in Columbia, South
Carolina, and became a short lived national craze. In 1971,
Charles Gillett, then president of the New York Convention
& Visitors Bureau, used the term as a name for New York
City, in a marketing campaign, after which it won wide acceptance
as a synonym for Gotham.
This question cannot be answered simply. There
are almost as many historical resources in New York as there
are research topics and historical questions. Your specific
inquiry might call for a museum collection, an archive, an
old film, neighborhood records, or maybe just something like
a good NYC encyclopedia. We have tried to make this process
easier in the "Resources" section of this site.
There you can search in several ways for what you need --
whether that means a website or a very specialized collection.
Click to go there.
(As a side note, the Gotham Center itself
is not a research library or archives. Our mission is to make
it easier for curious history-lovers to find materials and
people that can enrich their interactions with the city's
You can find a full list (less Bloomberg) of
past NYC mayors in An Encyclopedia of New York City,
edited by Kenneth Jackson, who also heads the New-York Historical
Society. This book should be available in the reference section
of most libraries, is available at bookstores and can be ordered
from online outlets.
In 1626 the Dutch purchased Manhattan from the
Lenape Indians and the island was named New Amsterdam. In
1664 the colony was taken over by the English and re-named
New York. Find more date-related information on our TIMELINE.
1904 marked the innaugural run of the first
subway line, the IRT. The first section of subway completed
stretched from City Hall to the Bronx. Over 100,000 people
rode the subway the first day it opened.