The land on which the city is built was once part of a 24,000 acre (97 kmē) land grant that ran from the current Manhattan/Bronx border at Marble Hill northwards for 12 miles (19 km), and from the Hudson River eastwards to the Bronx River. This grant was given in July of 1645 by New Netherlands Director-General Willem Kieft to Adriaen van der Donck, originally named Colen Donck. Van der Donck was known locally as the Jonkheer (etymologically, "young gentleman"; in effect, "Squire"), a word from which the name "Yonkers" is directly derived. Van der Donck built a saw mill near where the Nepperhan Creek met the Hudson; the Nepperhan is now also known as the Saw Mill River.
Philipse Manor Hall.
Philipse Manor Hall.
Near the site of van der Donck's mill is Philipse Manor Hall, a Colonial-era manor house which today serves as a museum and archive, offering many glimpses into life before the American Revolution. The original structure (later enlarged) was built ca. 1682 by Frederick Philipse, a wealthy Dutchman who, by the time of his death, had amassed an enormous estate which encompassed the entire modern City of Yonkers, as well as several other Hudson River towns. Philipse's great-grandson, Frederick Philipse III, was a prominent Loyalist during the American Revolution, who, because of his political leanings, was forced to flee to England.
For its first two hundred years, Yonkers was a small farming town with an active waterfront. Yonkers's later growth rested largely on developing industry. In 1853, the Otis Elevator Company, opened the first elevator factory in the world on the banks of the Hudson. Around the same time, the Alexander Smith Carpet factory (in the Saw Mill River Valley) expanded to 45 buildings, 800 looms, and over 4,000 workers and was known as one of the premier carpet producing centers in the world. In 1892, Smith carpets were sent to Moscow for the czar's coronation. Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic, was invented in Yonkers circa 1906, and manufactured there until the late 1920s. Yonkers was also the headquarters of the Waring Hat Company, at the time the nation's largest hat manufacturer. World War II saw the city's factories manufacture such items as tents and blankets in the Alexander Smith Carpet Factory and tanks in the Otis Elevator factory.
After World War II, however, with increased competition from less expensive imports and the appeal of foreign labor, Yonkers lost much of its manufacturing activity. The Alexander Smith Carpet mill fell on hard times and ceased operation on June 24, 1954. In 1983, the Otis Elevator Factory finally closed its doors. With the loss of jobs in the city itself, Yonkers followed the trend of many suburban cities after World War II, becoming primarily a commuter city. Yonkers's excellent transportation infrastructure, including three commuter railroad lines (now two) and five parkways and freeways, as well as its 30-minute drive from Manhattan, made it a desirable city to live in. Yonkers's manufacturing sector, however, has recently shown a resurgence. A Kawasaki railroad cars assembly plant opened in 1986 in the former Otis plant, producing the new R142A and R160B cars for the New York City Subway, and the PA4 and upcoming PA5 series for PATH.
Aside from being a manufacturing center, Yonkers also played a key role in the development of entertainment in the United States. In 1888, Scottish immigrant John Reid founded the first golf course in the United States, St. Andrew's Golf Club, in Yonkers. On January 4, 1940, Yonkers resident Edwin Howard Armstrong transmitted the first FM radio broadcast (on station W2XCR) from the Yonkers home of C.R. Runyon, a co-experimenter. Yonkers also had the longest running pirate radio station, owned by Allan Weiner during the 70s through the 80s. In spite of this historic broadcast, Yonkers has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the United States to not have a broadcast station licensed to it. One of the main reasons for this is its central location in the New York City market, with many nearby stations crowding the airwaves.
The Irish-American community plays a prominent role in Yonkers, and the city hosts one of the oldest St. Patrick's Day parades in the country.
The city is also home to a large Italian-American community, many of whom moved to the city after originally settling in the Bronx and in Brooklyn. The city hosts a large Columbus Day festival with a Miss Italian-American pageant.
There also once was a significant Jewish population (the Broadway plays Hello Dolly! and Lost in Yonkers both take place within the Yonkers Jewish community). However, its size has dwindled (but not vanished) as the older generation dies off and the younger generation moves to the Sunbelt or to other (usually more affluent) parts of metropolitan New York City, with the trend accelerating after the housing integration court battles (see below). However, in recent years, some areas bordering similar neighborhoods in Riverdale are seeing an influx of Orthodox Jews.
There was a years-long battle over housing integration in the 1980s and 1990s, which ended only after a court ruling nearly bankrupted the city government, by imposing exponentially increasing contempt of court penalties after the then-mayor refused to build public housing outside of the traditionally black and Latino neighborhoods downtown. Read more
THE BIG APPLE:
The "Big Apple" is a nickname or moniker for New York City used by New Yorkers. Its popularity since the 1970s is due to a promotional campaign by the New York Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Its earlier origins are less clear.
One explanation cited by the New-York Historical Society and others is that it was first popularized by John Fitz Gerald, who first used it in his horse racing column in the New York Morning Telegraph in 1921, then further explaining its origins in his February 18, 1924 column. Fitz Gerald credited African-American stable-hands working at horseracing tracks in New Orleans: "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.''
Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbred around the "cooling rings" of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation.
"Where y'all goin' from here?" queried one.
"From here we're headin' for The Big Apple", proudly replied the other.
"Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core", was the quick rejoinder.
In the 1920s the New York race tracks were the cream of the crop, so going to the New York races was a big treat, the prize, allegorically a Big Apple.
In 1997, as part of an official designation of "Big Apple Corner" in Manhattan, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani summarizes the rest of the story:
Eleven years later, many jazz musicians began calling the City "The Big Apple" to refer to New York City (especially Harlem) as the jazz capital of the world. Soon the nickname became synonymous with New York City and its cultural diversity. In the early 1970s the name played an important role in reviving New York's tourist economy through a campaign led by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau. Today the nickname "The Big Apple," which replaced "Fun City," is the international description of the city and is synonymous with the cultural and tourist attractions of New York City.
Therefore, it is only fitting that the southwest corner of West 54th Street and Broadway, the corner on which John J. Fitz Gerald resided from 1934 to 1963, be designated "Big Apple Corner".
According to PBS's Broadway: The American Musical miniseries, Walter Winchell used the term "Big Apple" to refer to the New York cultural scene, especially Harlem and Broadway, helping to spread the use of this nickname.
A documented earlier use comes from the 1909 book The Wayfarer in New York by Edward S. Martin. He wrote (regarding New York) that the rest of the United States "inclines to think the big apple gets a disproportionate share of the national sap." Etymologists have been unable to trace any influence that this use had on the nickname's popularity.
Swing Musician Harry Gibson remembers in his autobiography that the phrase was used in the 1940's specifically in regard to Swing Street, which was a nickname for 52nd Street west of Broadway. If this is true, then Giuliani, in the above dedication ceremony, missed it by two blocks.
An apocryphal account comes from Jazz slang: Since many musicians in the 1920's and 1930's often lived a hand-to-mouth existence, music gigs were often called "apples". To play in New York City was considered the "Big Time", and hence called "The Big Apple".
There are also two Apple Stores in the New York City area, which may literalize the name. However Los Angeles has more.
Manhattan, Kansas, refers to itself as "The Little Apple" in its promotional literature.
Minneapolis, Minnesota has called itself "The Mini-Apple".
Toronto, Ontario is often called "The Big Apple of Canada" mainly for its size.
In his book, Brain Droppings, comedian George Carlin crosses the readers up by saying the real term is "The Apple" or just "Apple". Any historical reference to that is not brought up by him.
In Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales, when Bugs reads the story about a singing frog and the movie segues into the cartoon short One Froggy Evening, he refers to the city the skit takes place in as "The Big Apple" without noting whether or not it's New York City. (The actual short mentions nothing about the city's name.) Read more Read more Read more