Episode 30 (formerly 1706): New York City


The original inhabitants of what is now New York City were the members of the Lenape native tribe. Early in the 16th century, European explorers began to arrive in North America and set up trading posts and forts. They founded their first permanent civilian settlement in 1624. Its name was New Amsterdam because the settlers were sent there by the Dutch West India Company, a trading company from the Netherlands.

In 1626, New Amsterdam’s governor purchased Manhattan Island from the Lenape for a small selection of tools, cloth, farming equipment and shell beads called wampum. Although not entirely accurate, this is where the saying that ‘Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of beads’ comes from. When the New Amsterdam settlement moved to Manhattan Island then, it numbered about 300 people.

In 1664, British forces seized New Amsterdam and renamed it New York City. Over the next hundred years or so, the city grew quickly. New York and the other trading posts and forts in the area would all eventually combine to form the colony of New York. It was one of the original 13 colonies that became the United States. The colony later became New York State in 1788.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, British forces quickly seized control of the city again despite the resistance. They used it as a military base until 1783, when the Revolutionary War ended. Then, in 1785, New York City became the capital city of the USA. It was the national seat of government until 1790 when it moved to Washington, DC. And, just so you know, the capital of New York State is Albany.

Throughout the 1800s, New York City grew quickly. Thousands of immigrants from all over the world poured into the city. The Statue of Liberty opened in 1886. The port continued to be very important to the new nation. City streets, a water system, subways and other infrastructure were built. Municipal agencies such as a police department were established, too.

Up til now, New York City was located just on the island of Manhattan. In 1898, four other surrounding cities, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn, combined with Manhattan into one giant New York City. Today, these five former cities are called the boroughs of New York City. At the time of combining, the city’s population was about 3.3 million. Today, its population is more than eight million people. About one-third of the city’s residents were born outside of the USA.

New York has always been a trade and culture capital of the world, with many diverse, ethnic neighborhoods, which are mainly the result of immigration. It is well known as a tourist destination for sights such as the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and the Empire State Building.

Here are some language and cultural notes about New York City:

  • New York City is also known as the Big Apple or abbreviated NYC. The borough of Manhattan is known as “the City”.

  • Only residents of New York City, not New York State, are known as “New Yorkers”.

  • American children often tell the story that a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building can kill someone on the sidewalk below or will embed itself in the sidewalk when it hits. However, this is not true.

  • Broadway is a New York City street famous for stage plays and musicals. Because of the lights of the theaters there, it is also known as the Great White Way.

  • Times Square is the commercial and tourist center at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. This is where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

  • The underground public transportation train in New York City is called the subway, not the metro or underground.

  • Because New York City is so high-energy, the phrase “in a New York minute” means very, very fast.

  • The area of Manhattan SOuth of HOuston Street is called SoHo. It is known for its trendy shops and galleries. And remember to pronounce the name of the street “HOW-ston”, not Houston, like the city in Texas.

  • A neighborhood in Manhattan called Greenwich Village (note the pronunciation) is also called just “the Village”. It’s famous for artistic trends, Bohemian lifestyle and many countercultural movements, as well as being the location of New York University.

  • The location of the former World Trade Center twin towers, destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is now a memorial to the people killed in those attacks. It’s known also as the Ground Zero Memorial.

  • Any place north of New York City is called upstate. For example, Albany is in upstate New York. No other state in the USA uses this word in the same way.

  • When giving directions within New York City, people use the word “uptown” instead of “north” and “downtown” instead of “south”.

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