Origins of New York City’s Most Iconic Symbols
New York is a city of a thousand names. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. And for about 65 million people every year, it bears the name of the ultimate travel destination. From Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, there is no end to the ways the Empire City captures visitors’ imagination. But all these icons came from somewhere, and whether you’re visiting for the first time or have lived there all your life, knowing the origins of New York City’s most iconic symbols will make you appreciate them even more.
Statue of Liberty
This 304-foot-tall “New Colossus” was first dedicated on October 28, 1886. However, the origin of New York’s most iconic symbol began about twenty years before at the conclusion of the Civil War. Moved by the American ideal of liberty embodied by the recent abolition of the slaves, French historian Édouard René de Laboulaye proposed creating a statue to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Work on the statue began officially in 1875 by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. His final design was based on the Roman goddess of liberty, Libertas. In her left hand is a stone tablet (not a book, as many believe) with the date July 4, 1776, written in Roman numerals. In her right hand is a torch that symbolizes enlightenment. The crown on her head with its seven points represents the seven seas and the seven continents of the world.
The Empire State Building
As America’s eyes turned fretfully to their finances in the wake of the Great Depression, two competing car companies had their sights set on the sky. Walter Chrysler of Chrysler Corporation and John J. Raskob of General Motors began a competition to create the world’s tallest skyscraper. On May 27, 1930, Chrysler Co. completed work on the Chrysler Building—a 1,046-foot tall structure of brick that remained the tallest building in the world for a whole eleven months.
On May 1, 1931, the 103-story Empire State Building was completed. This Art Deco titan rose to a staggering 1,454 feet tall.
The Yellow Taxi
There were a variety of cab services available in 1907, none of which were very reliable. From dangerous and unreliable steam-powered cabs to the drivers of the horse-drawn hansom cabs, who were known to have cut-throat pricing. The history of New York’s taxi begins with one such cab driver who charged businessman Harry N. Allen the extravagant price of five dollars for a less-than-one-mile cab ride. Disgusted, Allen made plans to create his own cab service.
His gas-powered automobiles were manned by courteous, uniformed drivers that charged a fixed per-mile rate to passengers, avoiding the exorbitant prices of the hansom cab drivers. The service became wildly popular. And although Allen’s business tanked a year later because of labor disputes, his model was the foundation for the New York taxi service as we know it today.