“The Big Apple” was the catchphrase of New York Morning Telegraph track writer John J. Fitz Gerald in the 1920s. He admitted this twice and it was the name of three of his columns. He picked up the term from African-American ("dusky" he called them) stable hands at the Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans, probably on January 14, 1920.
Fitz Gerald’s first New York Morning Telegraph “Around the Big Apple” column, on February 18, 1924, proudly declared:
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.
The “Big Apple” racing circuit had meant “the big time,” the place where the big money was to be won. Horses love apples, and apples were widely regarded as the mythical king of fruit. In contrast, the smaller, poorer tracks were called the “leaky roof circuit” or “bull ring” tracks.
“The Big Apple” became the name of a club in Harlem in 1934, and Harlem itself was referred to as “the Apple” at this time. A club in Columbia, South Carolina also took the “Big Apple” name, and it was here that 1937’s short-lived national “Big Apple” dance craze began.
“The Big Apple” was revived in the 1970s by Charles Gillett, president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The origins of “the Big Apple” were solved in the 1990s by Gerald Cohen and Barry Popik. A “Big Apple Corner” street sign was dedicated in 1997 at West 54th Street and Broadway, where Fitz Gerald last lived.
“THE BIG APPLE” WEBSITE INTRODUCTION (July 2004):
The African-American stablehand who first called New York City “the Big Apple” at the Fair Grounds Race Track in New Orleans has never been honored. Not by New York City. Not by New Orleans. This information is not even on the Fair Grounds web site. The stablehand doesn’t even have a name, mostly because almost no one has helped look for him.
The New York track writer who popularized “the Big Apple” in the 1920s is buried in an unmarked grave in Menands, New York. The “Big Apple” plaque that I put on the building at Broadway and West 54th Street in 1996 was quickly removed during renovations and has never been replaced. The historic “Big Apple” columns are nowhere on web.
If you search the web looking for an answer about New York City’s nickname, you’ll probably be told that “the Big Apple” comes from whores.
It is now the summer of 2004. “Big Apple” sculptures are about to be placed in front of NYC buildings. The Republicans will soon have their convention here. Thanks for reading this. If you want the stablehands honored at last, please write to the mayor. I doubt that he has any knowledge of the information on this site.
“BIG APPLE” ARTICLES:
Apples and Horses
Bet a Big Apple
Big Apples Are Top of the Barrel
Big Time and Big Town
Lands of the Big Red Apple
1920s: JOHN J. FITZ GERALD AND THE NEW YORK MORNING TELEGRAPH
1920s Vaudeville/Ragtime “Big Apple” Citations
1920s Non-Horseracing “Big Apple” Citations
Numerous 1920s ‘Big Apple” Citations in the New York Morning Telegraph
“Big Apple” date?: January 15, 1920
First “Big Apple” citation: May 3, 1921
First “Big Apple” explanation: February 18, 1924
Second “Big Apple explanation: December 1, 1926
1928: “On the Big Apple” column
1931: “Around the Big Apple” column
1963: J. J. Fitz Gerald obituaries
Witness (1998): Washington Post writer Shirley Povich
Witness (2006): Joe Zito
1930s: JAZZING THE BIG APPLE
“Big Apple” in the 1930s (Two clubs, plus song and dance)
“Big Apple” song by Bob Emmerich
1940s-1950s: ASSORTED BIG APPLE CITATIONS
“Big Apple” in the 1940s-1950s
1960s: FUN CITY
“Fun City” Nickname (1966)
“Big Apple” in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
1970s-PRESENT: FALSE ETYMOLOGIES
Governor Stuyvesant’s Tree (pear, not apple)
Big Apple Whore Hoax (1800s)
Chelsea Apple Orchard (1820s)
Slave Codes (1850s)
Edward Martin metaphor (1909)
Damon Runyon (who never used “Big Apple")
Depression Apple Sellers (1930s)
Harlem’s jazz musicians (1930s)
Fletcher Henderson popularization of “the Big Apple” in the 1930s
Big Apple dance craze (1937)
Big Apple Dance Hall (formerly at Wathena, Kansas)
Big A (1959)
Manzana Principal (suggested in 1966)
Big Apple on New Year’s Eve Ball at One Times Square (1981-1988)
1970s: BIG APPLE REVIVAL
Big Apple 1970s Revival: Charlie Gillett and Lew Rudin
2005: Statement from a co-worker of Charles Gillett
Off Topic: Charles Gillett on Conventions
1980s-PRESENT: BIG APPLE WORK BY GERALD COHEN, BARRY POPIK
Big Apple bet (1988, 2003) between mayors of New York City and Columbia, South Carolina
Big Apple Corner (1992-1997)
Big Apple plaque (1996)
Big Apple Corner (1997 Law & Today)
Big Apple Fest (2004)
Big Apple Fest (2005)
Harlem Big Apple Club plaque removed (2006)
Infinity Apple (GreeNYC symbol, 2007)
Apple—New York State Symbol (2007)
Oxford English Dictionary “Big Apple” definition (September 2008)
New York City’s Official Apple Proposal—Newtown Pippin (2009)
“Big Apple” Cohen-Popik Work on Television (?)
Big Apple Fame and Fortune