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Big Apple

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Big Apple Corner at 54th Street and Broadway, in Manhattan's Theater District

"The Big Apple" is a nickname for New York City. It was first popularized in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a sportswriter for the New York Morning Telegraph. Its popularity since the 1970s is due in part to a promotional campaign by the New York tourist authorities.


Although the history of "Big Apple" was once thought a mystery,[1] a clearer picture of the term's history has emerged due to the work of historian Barry Popik,[2] and Gerald Cohen of the Missouri University of Science and Technology.[3] A number of false theories had previously existed,[4] including a claim that the term derived from a woman named Eve who ran a brothel in the city.[5] This was subsequently exposed as a hoax.[5][6]

The earliest known usage of "big apple" appears in the book The Wayfarer in New York (1909), in which Edward Sandford Martin writes:

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.[7][8]

William Safire considered this the coinage, but because the phrase is not quoted in the text, it is likely that it was used as a metaphor, and not as a nickname for the city.[9]

Horse racing origin[edit]

"The Big Apple" was popularized as a name for New York City by John J. Fitz Gerald in a number of horse-racing articles for the New York Morning Telegraph in the 1920s. The earliest of these was a casual reference on 3 May 1921:

J. P. Smith, with Tippity Witchet and others of the L. T. Bauer string, is scheduled to start for "the big apple" to-morrow after a most prosperous Spring campaign at Bowie and Havre de Grace.[10]

Fitz Gerald referred to the "big apple" frequently thereafter.[11] He explained his use in a column dated February 18, 1924, under the headline "Around the Big Apple":

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.[12][9]

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the New Orleans Fair Grounds.[13][9] Using racing records, Popik traced that conversation to January 1920.[9]

In recognition of Fitz Gerald's role in promulgating "The Big Apple" as a nickname for New York City, in 1997 Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation designating as "Big Apple Corner" the southwest corner of West 54th Street and Broadway, the corner on which John J. Fitz Gerald lived from 1934 to 1963.[14] The Hotel Ameritania also once had a plaque which was installed in 1996, according to Popik, but it was removed during renovations to the building and was lost.[9]

Evidence can also be found in the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper that had a national circulation. Writing for the Defender on September 16, 1922, "Ragtime" Billy Tucker used the name "big apple" to refer to New York in a non-horse-racing context:

I trust your trip to 'the big apple' (New York) was a huge success and only wish that I had been able to make it with you.[15]

Tucker had also earlier used "big apple" as a reference to Los Angeles. It is possible that he simply used "big apple" as a nickname for any large city:

Dear Pal, Tony: No, Ragtime Billy Tucker hasn't dropped completely out of existence, but is still in the 'Big Apple', Los Angeles.[15]


By the late 1920s, New York writers other than Fitz Gerald were starting to use "Big Apple", and were using it in contexts other than horse racing.[16] "The Big Apple" was a popular song[17] and dance[18][19] in the 1930s. Jazz musicians in the 1930s also contributed to the use of the phrase to refer to New York City,[20] specifically to the city and Harlem as the jazz capital of the world.[21] Beside the song and the dance, two nightclubs in the city used "Big Apple" in their names.[9]

Walter Winchell and other writers continued to use the term in the 1940s and early 1950s,[22] but by the late 1950s, if it was known at all,[21] it had come to be considered an outdated nickname for New York.[23]

In the early 1970s, however, during the city's fiscal crisis, "People were looking around desperately and some of them 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," according to the official Manhattan Borough Historian, Dr. Robert Snyder. It was then that the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau – now NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing and tourism organization) – with the help of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising firm,[9] began to promote the city's "Big Apple" nickname to tourists,[24] under the leadership of its president, Charles Gillett.[25][21] The campaign was a success,[9] and the nickname has remained popular since then.[26]

The New York Mets Home Run Apple located in Citi Field

Today, the name is used exclusively to refer to New York City, and is used with regularity by journalists and news headline writers across the English-speaking world.[27][28][29][30]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The term "big apple" was used by Frank Sinatra in conversation with opera singer Dorothy Kirsten on an episode of the NBC radio program Light Up Time on March 28, 1950.[31]
  • The Big Apple Circus was founded in Manhattan in 1977.[32]
  • The New York Mets of Major League Baseball[33] have featured a "Home Run Apple" that rises whenever a Mets player hits a home run. It has become a symbol of the Mets baseball team, recognized throughout Major League Baseball[34] as an iconic feature of the Mets' stadiums. It first appeared in Shea Stadium, and the original can still be seen on display at Citi Field, outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Citi Field now uses a new apple, one that is much larger than original.[35]
  • Uses of the term abound elsewhere in the names of cultural products and events in or concerning New York, including the Big Apple Anime Fest, the Big Apple Circus, the Big Apple Theater Festival, Jess Teong's The Kid from the Big Apple and Kajagoogoo's Big Apple, and playful uses of the nickname have been seen, such as Patrick Downey's 2008 historical study of New York City's criminal underworld, entitled Bad Seeds in the Big Apple.
  • Following his election as President of the United States in 2016, Donald Trump hosted a party named "The Big Apple Ball", which featured themed decorations and cut-outs of New York landmarks in honor of his home city.[36]
  • In his 1982 song "Human Nature", Michael Jackson refers to New York City by singing, "If this town is just an apple, then let me take a bite".[37][38]
  • In Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, when asked why New York is called 'The Big Apple', Ron Burgundy says, "Because, there's an apple tree on every corner!"
  • In Blue's Big City Adventure, Josh calls New York "The Big Apple".
  • In the 2017 video game Super Mario Odyssey, the location New Donk City, which is based on New York City, is referred to by one if its inhabitants as "the Big Banana".


  1. ^ Adams, Cecil (February 18, 1977) "Why is New York called the Big Apple?", The Straight Dope
  2. ^ Popik, Barry "The Big Apple". Research by Barry Popik and others with the text of contemporary examples.
  3. ^ Cohen, Gerald (1991) Origin of New York City's Nickname "The Big Apple". Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang. ISBN 3-631-43787-0
  4. ^ ""False Etymologies"".
  5. ^ a b Salwen, Peter. "Why Is New York City Called "The Big Apple"?". Archived from the original on October 10, 1997.
  6. ^ ""Big Apple Whore Hoax (1800s!)"".
  7. ^ Safire, William (September 17, 2000). "Big Applesource". The New York Times Magazine.
  8. ^ Safire, William (2004), The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time, Simon & Schuster, p. 23, ISBN 9780743242448
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Hamilton, Alex (January 21, 2020) "Where Did The Nickname 'The Big Apple' Come From?" Archived January 22, 2020, at the Wayback Machine Gothamist
  10. ^ "First 'Big Apple': May 3, 1921".
  11. ^ Numerous 1920s “Big Apple” citations in the New York Morning Telegraph.
  12. ^ First “Big Apple” explanation: February 18, 1924. See also the original article image.
  13. ^ Hutchinson, Sean (May 8, 2018). "Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?". Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  14. ^ Mayor's Press Office, Release No. 082-97, Mayor Giuliani Signs Legislation Creating "Big Apple Corner" in Manhattan (Feb. 12, 1997).
  15. ^ a b "Big Apple" antedating Archived February 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine; 1920s Vaudeville/Ragtime “Big Apple” Citations.
  16. ^ ""1920s Non-Horseracing 'Big Apple' Citations"".
  17. ^ ""'Big Apple""song by Bob Emmerich"".
  18. ^ ""'Big Apple' in the 1930s (Two clubs, plus song and dance)"".
  19. ^ The dance was mentioned by name by Mickey Rooney in the 1938 movie Love Finds Andy Hardy.
  20. ^ Zimmer, Ben (January 2, 2020) "'The Big Apple': New York’s Nickname, via New Orleans and the 'Red Delicious'" The Wall Street Journal
  21. ^ a b c Cohen, Gerald Leonard "Big Apple" in Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (2010). The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2.
  22. ^ ""'Big Apple' in the 1940s-1950s"".
  23. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt (1969) Slaughterhouse-Five New York: Dell Publishing. p.207. Quote: "New York." / "The Big Apple." / "Hm?" / "That's what they used to call New York." / "Oh."
  24. ^ About NYC and Company Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ ""Big Apple 1970s Revival: Charlie Gillett and Lew Rudin"".
  26. ^ Staff (February 23, 2010). "Words and Their Stories: Nicknames for New York City". Voice of America. Archived from the original on April 13, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  27. ^ McGeough, Paul (May 5, 2017). "Malcolm Turnbull's big day out in the Big Apple ahead of Donald Trump meeting". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  28. ^ Trejos, Nancy (April 28, 2017). "Big Apple picnics: Enjoy New York like a local". USA Today.
  29. ^ McDowell, Rhiannon (May 1, 2017). "Taking a bite out of the Big Apple". Manchester Evening News.
  30. ^ Zen, Summer (August 4, 2016). "Big Apple benefits from falling overseas interest in London commercial real estate". South China Morning Post.
  31. ^ "@22:50".
  32. ^ "Big Apple Circus". Circuses and side shows. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  33. ^ "Official New York Mets Site". MLB.com.
  34. ^ "Official Major League Baseball Site".
  35. ^ Gagne, Matt; McCarron, Anthony. "A new Home Run Apple grows at Citi Field". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 3, 2017.
  36. ^ Edelman, Adam (January 5, 2017). "Donald Trump to hold an NYC-themed inauguration party dubbed the 'Big Apple Ball'". New York Daily News.
  37. ^ Vogel, Joseph (2011). Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson. Sterling. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-4027-7938-1.
  38. ^ Roberts, Randall (August 29, 2012). "Michael Jackson's 'Human Nature': An NYC classic on his birthday". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 3, 2021.

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