Why Is New York City Called the Big Apple?

New York City has meant many things to many people over its long history. “New Amsterdam” celebrated the city’s Dutch heritage until the English made it their own “New York”. While the official name has remained the same, its many nicknames say a lot about the city. “The Melting Pot” assimilates immigrants from all over the world. “The City That Never Sleeps” is awash with the light of theaters and nightclubs until the wee hours of the morning. “Gotham” is a city of darkness and crime that has also earned the title, “The Modern Gomorrah”. “The Center of the Universe” and “The Capital of the World” hyperbolize the city’s importance to the global economy. But there is one nickname whose origin and meaning are not so apparent. Visitors often wonder, “Why is New York City called the Big Apple?”

Horseracing and Harlem

There are many legends that claim to explain the origin of the city’s most popular moniker. Some say it stems from a famous brothel owned by Madame Eve, who called the tempting girls her “Big Apples”. Others say it alludes to the well-to-do who were forced to sell apples on the streets during the Great Depression. But the most likely source is a newspaperman who first heard the name in New Orleans in the early 1920s.
John Fitzgerald of the New York Morning Telegraph overheard stable hands at the horse race he was covering discuss their plans to compete for The Big Apple, alluding to the huge prizes up for grabs on the New York horseracing scene. Fitzgerald began using the name regularly in his column and it soon caught on in the horseracing world and beyond. Jazz singers in the 1930s and 40s sung about the Big Apple and making it in the Big Apple became synonymous with achieving musical success from Broadway to Harlem.

Tourism Campaign

As jazz gave way to rock and roll, the name fell out of use. It was revived in the 1970s as the center of a campaign to improve the city’s image, which had suffered due to economic decline and a high crime rate. The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau used the image of a bright red apple as the center of its promotional campaign, suggesting that the city was vibrant, sweet and juicy, and inviting visitors to take a bite.

Whether you aspire to big fame, big fortune or big fun, New York City has always been the place to be. “The City So Nice They Named It Twice” has had many names, but “The Big Apple” is a favorite because it describes what so many people have found there; a truly sweet prize.

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