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 August 07, 2018
There are many apples on the tree, but when you pick NYC, you pick the Big Apple (1975)

The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, led by president Charles Gillett (1915-1995), re-popularized the term “Big Apple” with its advertising campaign in the 1970s. In May 1975, Gillett explained:

“To jazz musicians, sports figures and show business people, there are many apples on the tree, but to play in New York City is to play The Big Apple.”

The term “big apple” began to be popularized in the 1800s. “Big apples” won prizes at country fairs. “Bet a big apple” was a popular saying. “Big apples are top of the barrel” was an established phrase. John J. Fitz Gerald’s horseracing columns in the New York (NY) Morning Telegraph popularized “Big Apple” in the 1920s.

However, this exact sentence construction, “there are many apples on the tree...,” does not appear cited in print before the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau used it in the 1970s.


11 May 1975, Honolulu (HI) Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, “Travel News Digest—Who planted the Big Apple?,” Travel sec., pg. 6, col. 6:
“The term, The Big Apple, has its roots going back many years, in the entertainment and sports worlds,” Gillett says. “To jazz musicians, sports figures and show business people, there are many apples on the tree, but to play in New York City is to play The Big Apple.”

6 August 1975, The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), “The Voice of Broadway: All About a Big Apple” by Jack O’Brian, pg. 23, col. 1:
(Spoken by Robert Preston Tisch, chairman of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.—ed.)
“Today, more than ever, this is where the action is...this is the Big Time...this is Number One to jazz musicians, sports figures, and show business people, there are many apples on the tree, but to play in New York is to play The Big Apple.

7 December 1975, Boston (MA) Sunday Globe, “Let’s open up a can of worms” by Joseph F. Dineen Jr., pg. E4, col. 1:
The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau explains that “the term, The Big Apple, has its roots going back many years, in the entertainment and sports worlds. To jazz musicians, sports figures and show business people, there are many apples on the tree but to play in New York City is to play ‘The Big Apple.’”

12 January 1978, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Action Line,” sec. 3, pg. 1, col. 1:
The Big Apple, as a term, has its roots in the jazz, the entertainment, the sports worlds. To musicians, sports figures, and show business people, the Big Apple meant that although there are many apples on the tree, to play New York City is to play the big time.

2 March 1978, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, L. M. Boyd column, pg. E6, col. 5:
THE BIG APPLE
Q. “How come New York City is called ‘The Big Apple’?”
A. That goes back to the 1930’s. Seasoned Citizens will recall “The Big Apple” dance craze. A New York nightclub was so named, too. Somebody in print—Walter Winchell or Damon Runyan probably, exactly who is unknown—wrote, “Many apples on the tree, but NYC’s the place to be.”

5 July 1978, New York (NY) Times, “How the Big Apple Got Its Name” by Enid Nemy, pg C8, col. 6:
Mr. Gillett says that the Big Apple originated some 50 years ago, when jazz musicians bounced around the country, playing one-night stands. They had, he says, a saying that “there are many apples on the tree, but to play New York City is the Big Time...The Big Apple.”

3 September 1988, Vancouver (BC) Sun, “Q & A,” pg. E3:
Could you tell me why New York is called the Big Apple? - Katherine Nicholls, North Vancouver

The familiar phrase dates back to the 1920s when entertainers - particularly jazz musicians - and people in the sports world started using it, says a spokesman with the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. According to one theory, the phrase was lifted from the name of a dance. “There are many apples on the tree, but when you pick New York, you pick the Big Apple,” says one of the bureau’s brochures.

New York (NY) Times
December 6, 1995
Charles Gillett, 80, the Creator Of the ‘Big Apple’ Ad Campaign
By JAMES BARRON
Charles Gillett, who was credited with creating the Big Apple tourism campaign when he was president of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, died on Monday at his home in Great Neck, L.I. He was 80 and also lived in Palm Beach, Fla.
(...)
But perhaps his greatest success came with turning the term “Big Apple” into a tourist draw. A jazz fan, he remembered that musicians in the 1920’s and 30’s had an expression for playing the big time after gigs in one-horse towns: “There are many apples on the tree, but when you pick New York City, you pick the Big Apple.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s-present: False Etymologies • Tuesday, August 07, 2018 • Permalink