Empire State

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A dark painting of an older white man in a black cloak. The man has light skin with rosy cheeks and white, curled hair.
One theory credits George Washington with coining the term "Empire State".[1]

The Empire State is a nickname for the U.S. state of New York, adopted in the 1800s. It has been incorporated into the names of several state buildings and events.[1]

The source of the nickname is unknown and has puzzled many historians; as American writer Paul Eldridge put it, "Who was the merry wag who crowned the State ... [as the Empire State]? New York would certainly raise a monument to his memory, but he made his grandiose gesture and vanished forever."[1]


The source of the term "Empire State" has been attributed to the state's wealth and resources,[2] but there is some doubt regarding that. The 1940 Guide to the Empire State states that "it would gratify the people of New York if they could discover who first dared that spacious adjective."[1] Historian Milton M. Klein proposed that the name may have accompanied the success of the Black Ball Line in 1818 "because of the signal advantage the regularity of shipping gave to New York's merchants over those in other coastal cities." He claims that, by 1820, it was clear that "Empire State" was in wide use, though he is doubtful that a clear origin of the term will ever be determined.[citation needed]

George Washington in a 1785 letter to James Duane, New York City Mayor, called New York "the Seat of the Empire". Washington is said to have used the phrase "Pathway to Empire" when referring to the state in conversation with George Clinton, the New York Governor in the 1790s.[1] Historian Alexander Flick claimed that the title was used as early as 1819, coinciding with New York surpassing Virginia in population and was "universally acknowledged and accepted" by 1825.[1][3]

A tall, Art Deco building is shown in front of a cityscape at dusk. Lights aiming toward the top of the building glow red. The structure becomes slender as it grows taller, ending in a point at an antenna.
The Empire State Building (1931) is the best-known application of the nickname.
An aerial view of a granite plaza with multiple pools surrounded by four identical marble, steel, and glass buildings toward the bottom and one large steel and glass building near the top of the view. Surrounding these main buildings is a cityscape.
The Empire State Plaza (constructed 1959–1976) houses much of the New York State government.

Buildings and institutions inspired by the "Empire State" sobriquet include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g New York State Historical Association (2001). Milton M. Klein (ed.). The Empire State: A History of New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. pp. xix–xx. ISBN 978-0-8014-3866-0.
  2. ^ Shearer, Benjamin; Barbara S. Shearer (2002). State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-313-31534-3.
  3. ^ Anderson, John Jacob; Alexander Clarence Flick (1902). A Short History of the State of New York. New York, NY: Maynard, Merrill, & Co. p. 321. OCLC 6812818.
  4. ^ Cobb, James C. (2009-09-25). "Georgia History: Overview". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  5. ^ "About Us". Empire State College. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
  6. ^ "About the Games". Empire State Games. Archived from the original on 2010-09-12. Retrieved 2010-09-20.; Note that as of 2011, the games have been halted due to budget constraints.
  7. ^ Swearingen, Jacquelyn (2001-01-02). "Lady Liberty's License Plate Number Is Up". Times Union. Albany, NY: Hearst Newspapers. p. A1. Archived from the original on 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2011-04-18.