51 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City

Audrey Fairbrother
July 31, 2014
51 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About New York City

New York City: the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, the city where “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Even if you have never been to New York City, you likely know a lot about it from culture and the popular media. But here are 51 things you might not know about NYC, even if you’ve lived there your whole life.

  1. New York City is the United States’ most culturally diverse city. The term “melting pot” was coined to describe the diverse population of Lower Manhattan.
  2. It also may be the most linguistically diverse city on Earth. It is estimated that New Yorkers collectively speak more than 800 languages, including some very rare ones.
  3. In 1626, the Dutch bought Manhattan Island for about $1,000. They called it “New Amsterdam.” In 1664, the English captured the city and renamed it “New York.”
  4. It didn’t take long for the new settlers to start brewing beer. The United States’ first brewery opened in a Lower Manhattan log cabin in 1633.
  5. In 1747, Long Island became the site of the country’s first cattle ranch.
  6. From 1789 to 1790, New York City served as the capital of the United States. The first Capitol Building was Federal Hall on Wall Street.
  7. More people live in New York City than in 39 of the 50 U.S. states. The city has been the country’s largest since its population surpassed that of Philadelphia in 1790.
  8. In 1807, The Clermont made the first successful steamboat voyage from New York City to Albany.
  9. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, which got its start in 1823 as a free library for youths, was the first museum specifically for kids.
  10. Established in 1848, Calvary Cemetery in Queens is the final resting place for more than 3 million people, more than any other cemetery in the country.
  11. World’s first elevator shaft was installed in the Cooper Union Foundation Building in the 1850s. At the time, elevators hadn’t even been invented.
  12. In 1857, NYC’s Joseph C. Gayetty invented toilet paper.
  13. The first Macy’s was a small dry goods store on the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue.
  14. In 1884, LaMarcus Adna Thompson created the first gravity roller coaster at Coney Island. It cost 5 cents to ride.
  15. Between 1892 and 1954, about 12 million people arrived by ship at Ellis Island.
  16. In 1895, Gennaro Lombardi opened America’s first pizzeria in New York City.
  17. In 1897, a pneumatic tube mail system was installed in Manhattan. At its height, this system covered 27 miles and connected 23 post offices. It moved 95,000 letters every day. The system existed until 1953.
  18. When New York’s Waldorf hotel (which opened in 1894) was expanded to include the Astoria in 1897, the famed result was the world’s largest hotel. The hotel is said to be the birthplace of both eggs benedict (1894) and of course the Waldorf salad (1896).
  19. Teddy bears are also New York originals. They were first created in 1902 by Brooklyn toy maker Morris Michtom.
  20. The early 1900s saw the emergence of the world’s favorite sandwich condiment: Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Visitors to Long Island City’s Hellmann’s Delicatessen were the first to taste the delicious spread.
  21. In 1915, New York audiences watched the first 3D movie in the Astor Theater. The film had no plot.
  22. Between 1917 and 1918, Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx was a naval training base to prepare soldiers to fight in World War I. Humphrey Bogart trained there.
  23. The original Yankee stadium was built in 284 working days. It opened on April 18, 1923, when the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1.
  24. In 1926, a law was passed stating that any place that serves food or drink must get an additional permit, called a “cabaret license,” to allow dancing.
  25. When the Empire State Building was completed in 1931, it was world’s tallest building. It even has its own zip code.
  26. The year 1931 also saw the invention of Scrabble by Alfred Mosher Butts of Queens.
  27. In 1946, the first bank-issued credit cards were released by Brooklyn’s Flatbush National Bank.
  28. Brooklyn has long been a hotbed of great ideas. In 1949, George Lerner started sticking plastic body parts into potatoes. Three years later, Mr. Potato Head became the first toy to get a television commercial.
  29. The borough’s fame got an even bigger boost in 1957, when Benjamin Eisenstadt invented Sweet ’N Low.
  30. The nickname “The Big Apple” was officially adopted in 1971 as part of a tourism campaign. Prior to that, the name had been unofficially used for decades by groups ranging from jockeys to jazz musicians.
  31. There is a secret walk of fame in the East Village. In 1971, Theater 80 opened to show films from the 1930s to 1950s. To commemorate the event, stars including Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, and Dom deLuise left their handprints and signatures in the cement outside.
  32. Motorola researcher Martin Cooper made the first public cell phone call in Manhattan in 1973. The phone he used was 10 inches long and weighed 2½ pounds.
  33. In 1974, Philippe Petit snuck into the World Trade Center, strung a steel cable between the Twin Towers, and walked across the cable for 45 minutes before turning himself into the police. It has been called “the artistic crime of the century.”
  34. Until 1975, the New York City Marathon took place entirely within Central Park.
  35. Pinball was illegal in New York City until 1976, when an industry lobby successfully convinced the City Council that pinball was a game of skill, not luck.
  36. In 1984, the United States’ first completely accessible playground, called “Playground for All Children,” opened in Queens’ Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
  37. More than 60% of New York City residents don’t have a car, which is a larger percentage than any other U.S. city.
  38. The New York City subway system is the world’s largest mass transit system. It operates 24/7, 365 days a year.
  39. The subway system, which runs 772 miles, is longer than the New York State thruway system, which reaches only 641 miles.
  40. New York City’s coastline stretches more than 500 miles—longer than coastlines of Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco combined.
  41. Central Park was the United States’ first public park to be landscaped. It is estimated that more gunpowder was used to blast through 30 feet of solid bedrock to create the park than was used in the Battle of Gettysburg.
  42. The park is bigger than both the Vatican and Monaco.
  43. About one-quarter of the world’s gold bullion is held in the vaults below the Federal Reserve Bank on Wall Street.
  44. Albert Einstein’s eyeballs are in a safety deposit box in NYC.
  45. The real Winnie the Pooh also lives in New York. It’s a teddy bear at the New York Public Library that was purchased in 1921 for A.A. Milne’s son Christopher. Winnie and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood have lived in the library since 1987.
  46. More than 40,000 shoots for commercials, TV shows, films, and so on take place in New York City every year.
  47. On a clear day, you can see parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts from the top of the Empire State Building. Of course, first you have to climb the 86 flights of stairs to get there (or you could be lazy and take the elevator).
  48. Every year, the city plays host to the Major League Dreidel contest, which is exactly what it sounds like.
  49. New Yorkers are nicer than they get credit for. In a psychology study, experimenters approached people on the subway and said: “Excuse me. May I please have your seat?” 56% of the passengers gave up their seats, and another 12% slid over to make more room.
  50. There are no Walmarts in New York City.
  51. There isn’t much land space left in Manhattan. Good thing you can purchase the air above buildings for future development.


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Audrey Fairbrother
Article written by
Audrey Fairbrother
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine's audience and cultivating the company's brand voice.
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