A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 12, 2019
New York’s Bravest (firefighters)

The departments of New York City have several famous superlative nicknames:

FINEST—Police Department (NYPD)
BRAVEST—Fire Department (FDNY)
STRONGEST—Sanitation Department (DSNY)
BOLDEST—Corrections Department (NYCD)
BEST—Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services (FDNY EMS)
PROUDEST—Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC)

The “finest” is probably the oldest. Most sources claim that it was coined by police chief George W. Matsell. “Finest” ("best" was also used) probably dates to at least July 1874, when Matsell said, “I intend, sir, to make of this the finest police force in the world.” The comedian Gus Williams starred in the play One of the Finest in the early 1880s. I believe that “the finest police in the world” is meant to be a similar phrase to Civil War General Joseph Hooker’s “finest army on the planet.”

The “bravest” term was inspired by “Brave des Braves” ("the bravest of the brave"), what Napoleon said of Michel Ney (1769-1815). “Capt. JOHN DOWNEY, ‘the bravest of the brave’” was cited in the New York (NY) Times in 1862. A play about firemen titled “One of the Bravest” was performed in 1886.

The “strongest” and “boldest” are much newer. The first New York Times citation for “boldest” is in 1996; the first hit for “strongest” is in 1981. 

The “best,” for the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services, represents the EMTs and paramedics and has been cited in print since at least 1993 and 1997.

The “proudest,” for the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s enforcement officers, was printed in the New York Times in 2000.

New York City’s teachers have infrequently been called “New York’s Brightest” since 2004.


FINEST
17 November 1865, New York (NY) Times, “THE POLICE PARADE,” pg. 4:
“Up town, they were better received; but whether better or worse, the display proved the gratifying fact that the Metropolitan Police force is the finest, best organized, best disciplined and most efficient body of men for similar duty in the world.”

7 August 1870, New York (NY) Times, pg. 4: 
When we consider that this great army of criminals is continually preying upon society, and as continually being hunted by a large body of the best-organized Police in the world, it is a little singular that the ranks are constantly swelling rather than diminishing.
(London - ed.)

10 July 1871, New York (NY) Herald, pg. 8:
WHAT SUPERINTENDENT KELSO SAYS.
The Police “Prepared for Anything That Comes.”
In order to ascertain what precautions the police had taken a representative of the HERALD called on Superintendent Kelso, at his office in Police Headquarters.
(...)
“I see you’re a persistent fellow. I’ll tell you candidly. I’ve got the best police force in the world. I’ve seen the London police and all the others, and I tell you the men I’ve got are way up head. Now, I couldn’t talk to every man in the force, but I’ve seen the representative man, and I know I can depend on every man.”

27 March 1874, The Daily Graphic (New York, NY), pg. 200:
“THE MODEL POLICEMAN.”
(Police brutality us shown. The phrase is not here in this cartoon—ed.)

6 April 1874, The Daily Graphic (New York, NY), pg. 272:
“OUR POLICE.”
(More police brutality is shown. Again, the phrase is not here, probably because it did not exist—ed.)

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
10 July 1874, The Sun (New York, NY), “The Municipal Muddle,” pg. 1, col. 2:
Mr. Commissioner Matsell:  Yes, sir. My ambition is to make the finest police force in the world right here in New York.

Chronicling America
11 July 1874. The Sun (New York, NY), pg. 1, col. 1:
Mr. President George W. Matsell reached the Central Office at an hour early yesterday morning, and assuming his old uniform as Superintendent of Police, inspected the returns of the Capt. Ins. Mr. Matsell, although elevated to the position of President of the Board, still works in the interest of the force con amore, and is willing to give all his time and energies to the task of making the New York police force the finest in the world.
Pg. 1, col. 2:
Mr. President-Superintendent Matsell—You need have no fear for the discipline of the department, sir. I have entered upon this work con amore. I intend, sir, to make of this the finest police force in the world.

13 July 1874, The Daily Graphic (New York, NY), pg. 86:
(Police Officer—ed.)
GIVE US OUR PAY
WE ARE THE BEST IN THE WORLD
(...)
President Matsell as he appeared airing his new office before Capt. Gunner.
Part of the “best force in the world.”

28 September 1874, New York (NY) Times, pg. 2:
To the Editor of the New-York Times:
Seeing that you have taken an interest in behalf of the rank and file of the Police Department, I venture to address this note to you. After the issuing of that tyrannical order of the President of the so-styled best Police force in the world, I will give you my first and last day’s experience, hoping you will published it for the benefit of the public, and let them know what we have got to contend with in case we go out with our families.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
6 October 1874, The Sun (New York, NY), “Life in the Metropolis,” pg. 3, col. 5:
President Matsell’s Mismanagement of “the Best Police in the world.”

21 November 1874, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, pg. 172:
A squad of Mr. Matsell’s “best police force in the world” would be required to prevent the gamins of the street practicing with the sparkling lumps the apple and banana game, which they probably adopted by seeing buckets of water passed along a line of farmers at a fire in the country.

19 December 1874, New York (NY) Times, pg. 5:
Hon. Thomas G. Alvord, member of Assembly from Onondaga County and Ex-Lieutenant Governor fo the State, lost his gold watch in a Broadway stage on Wednesday last. Capt. Irving, of the Detective Squad, was notified and began working around to recover his property. The watch was a present from the members of the Legislature of 1870, and was valued at $500. Yesterday afternoon a well-dressed young man called at the Metropolitan Hotel, and left a package for Mr. Alvord. The package contained the watch, which had the ring twisted out of it in the most approve fashion. Mr. Alvord last night said, “The New-York Police are the finest Police in the world.”

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
9 January 1875, New York (NY) Evening Express, “Amusements,” pg. 6, col. 3:
Gus Williams appears in a new musical sketch entitled “We’re the Finest Police in the World,” ...

14 January 1875, New York (NY) Herald, pg. 8:
POLICE TRIALS.
HOW EIGHTY-FIVE MEMBERS OF THE FINEST FORCE IN THE WORLD DO THEIR DUTY.

6 February 1875, The Evening Post (New York, NY), pg. 2, col. 2:
A DIVIDED POLICE BOARD AND THE RESULT.
It is a sorrowful thing to see the aspirations of great and good men defeated by adverse circumstances. George Washington Matsell, who has been connected with the police force since the early childhood of Mayor Havemayer, long ago announced his intention of providing New York with the “finest police in the world.”

21 February 1875, The Sunday Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), “New York Letter,” pg. 1, col. 4:
Tom Samson has thrown down his shield and retired from “the best police force in the world” in supreme disgust at the curious manner in which the Commissioners have of late been conducting matters.

22 June 1875, New Orleans (LA) Picayune, pg. 4:
There are two hundred gambling houses in New York and “the finest police force in the world.”

11 July 1875, New York (NY) Morning Telegraph, pg. 4:
THE “BEST POLICE IN THE WORLD.”

14 July 1875, New York (NY) Times, pg. 8: ..."the finest Police force in the World.”

31 August 1875, Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Georgia Journal & Messenger, pg. 1, col. 3:
We are informed that in the nineteen years ending with 1874 there were in New York 881 recorded homicides, of which 679 were committed by persons known, but not in every instance punished, and 202 were committed by persons unknown and never arrested. Yet New York claimed that she had the finest police in the country. The late exposures, however, killed that story.

OCLC WorldCat record
One of the finest
Author: Gus Williams; J P Skelly
Publisher: Boston (50 Bromfield Street, Boston) : W.A. Evans & Bro., ©1882.
Edition/Format: Musical score : English

BRAVEST
27 August 1862, New York (NY) Times, pg. 4:
“‘Our Guest,’ the fourth regular toast, brought a dozen rousing cheers for Capt. JOHN DOWNEY, ‘the bravest of the brave.’”
(John Decker, Chief Engineer of the New York Fire Department, is mentioned in this story, but “the bravest of the brave” here appears to be Downey—ed.)

14 July 1863, New York (NY) Times, “The Mob in New-York,” pg. 1, col. 3:
Here it was that Chief-Engineer DECKER showed himself one of the bravest among the brave.

6 June 1886, New York (NY) Herald, “Thespian Topics,” pg. 15, col. 6:
The fire laddies are to have their innings at the People’s this week.  Mr. Charles C, McCarthy as Larry Howard, “One of the Bravest,” is to don his red shirt and with trumpet in hand rescue fair female from tottering buildings amid flame and smoke. The object of the play is to show forth the trying life of a New York fireman in all its lurid glory. The various appliance of the Life Saving Corps are introduced in the piece. Mr. William Cronin has the comedy part. It is the first time that “One of the Bravest” has ever appeared on a New York stage. On Friday afternoon, a special matinee is to be given for the Volunteer, Exempt and Veteran Firemen’s Sons Association.

OCLC WorldCat record
One of the bravest songster. Chas. C. McCarthy as Larry Howard, one of
the bravest. Sing Kee, the celestial laundry man ... Produced with new
and original music by Prof. Allen ...
Author: Chas C McCarthy
Publisher: New York, New York Popular Pub. Co. [1886?]
Series: Casket of gems, 97
Edition/Format: Print book : English

4 December 1887, Detroit (MI) Free Press, “Private Divorces,” pg. 11, col. 3:
You know how proud New York is of its public schools. It boasts of them even more than of its police and its firemen, respectively the “finest” and the “bravest” in the world.

19 November 1892, New York (NY) Times, pg. 5:
“THE TIMES in describing those scenes said: ‘Chief Engineer Decker showed himself one of the bravest of the brave.’”
(The article is “FIRE CHIEF DECKER DEAD.” The scenes are the New York Draft Riots—ed.)

25 May 1902, New York (NY) Times, pg. 28 headline:
“HONOR FOR FIRE HEROES: MEDALS FOR CONSPICUOUS BRAVERY BESTOWED BY MAYOR.”
(The article uses the phrase that the firemen are “the bravest of the brave.” It’s said here that this is what Napoleon called Marshal Ney. So it appears that both “Finest” and “Bravest” have military echoes—ed.)

25 January 1910, St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, pg. 1, col. 2:
“BRAVEST” AND
“FINEST” AT ODDS
ON HERO WORK
Firemen Declare Policemen Take Undue Credit for Rescues.

28 September 1914, New York (NY) Times, pg. 10 headline:
“FINEST BEAT BRAVEST.”
(The Finest are also called “Coppers” and the Bravest are also called “Smoke Eaters"—ed.)

5 October 1914, New York (NY) Times, pg. 5:
“The annual series between the bravest and the finest started ten years ago.”
(A police vs. fire baseball game—ed.)

STRONGEST
6 July 1981, New York (NY) Times, “Salute To Sanitationmen Aims To Counter Morale Problems” by Colin Campbell, pg. B3, col. 3:
Since 1978, the department has helped finance a sanitationmen’s football team.

It hopes to popularize the phrase “New York’s strongest” to honor its men the way “New York’s finest” honors the police. Harry Nespoli, a sanitationman, coined the term for the department’s football players.

BOLDEST
28 June 1996, New York (NY) Times, “Strolling the Avenue of Renaming” by Clyde Haberman, pg. B1, col. 1:
But the stretch of that thoroughfare between Broadway and Centre Street was designated Avenue of the Strongest by the City Council this week.

The Strongest are New York’s garbage collectors and the Council decided they should be honored with a new name for the street in lower Manhattan where Sanitation Department plenipotentiaries preside. Other uniformed city workers are already acknowledged in superlatives. An Avenue of the Finest crosses Police Headquarters and there is Avenue of the Bravest in Brooklyn, home to the Fire Department. (...) An Avenue of the Boldest, for beleaguered correction officers, has been mentioned.

BEST
8 June 1993, Newsday (Long Island, NY), “Anything Goes Fix U.S. immigration practices,” pg. 52:
Hundreds of cops, fire fighters and EMS workers - collectively New York’s Best - performed with courage and professionalism Sunday when they rescued some 330 illegal Chinese immigrants from the freighter that ran On the beach aground off the Rockaway peninsula. Within minutes of learning of the predawn accident, New York’s Best pulled hundreds from the rough surf, treated some for hypothermia and provided on-the-spot English-Chinese translations.

3 February 1997, Daily News (New York, NY), “Voice of the People,” pg.26, col. 4:
The police are New York’s Finest, the firefighters are New York’s Bravest and the paramedics and EMT are New York’s Best! God bless, and thank you all.
John Dunderman (From Dumont, NJ.—ed.)

Straight Dope Message Board
New Yorks’s Finest, Bravest . . . what else is on the list?
x-ray vision
03-03-2004, 10:22 AM
Corrections Officers : “New York’s Boldest”
TLC Enforcement Officers : “New York’s Proudest”
EMS drivers and paramedics : simply “New York’s Best”.

PROUDEST
11 June 2000, New York (NY) Times, “F.Y.I.” by Daniel B. Schneider, City sec., pg. 2:
Cliches in Superlative
Q.: If New York City police are nicknamed ‘’New York’s finest,’’ city firefighters are known as ‘’New York’s bravest’’ and city sanitation workers call themselves ‘’New York’s strongest,’’ who are ‘’New York’s proudest’’?
A.: Taxi and Limousine Commission inspectors. The expression itself could be called ‘’New York’s stalest.’’

Twitter
Ari Paparo
@aripap
Did you know that the taxi and limousine police are “new york’s proudest”!
7:04 AM - 17 Jul 2007

Twitter
jody melissa
@jodymeliss
The tagline for the TLC (taxi & limo commission of nyc) is new york’s proudest - really? No seriously, proud of what? NO for real, for real?
6:15 PM - 15 Sep 2011

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • Saturday, January 12, 2019 • Permalink