25 Commanding Facts About New York, the Empire State
Home to both the largest protected natural area and the largest city in the United States, the Empire State has been the birthplace of some of the country's greatest inventors, innovators, and politicians. Here are 25 facts you'll love about New York State.1.
New York and its capital are named after James Stuart, the Duke of York and Albany, who later became King James II of England.
2. New York was the first state to require cars to have license plates. The law was passed in 1901, but instead of issuing official government plates, automobile owners simply made their own with their initials on them.
3. The first railroad chartered in the state ran between Albany and Schenectady. Called the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad, it opened in 1831. Before the railroad's completion, the Erie Canal was used to transport goods between the two towns. The train reduced the day long, 40-mile journey along the meandering canal to a 17-mile trip that took less than an hour.
The first documented chess tournament in America was played in New York in 1843. Historians also believe that New York City native Reverend Lewis Rou was likely the first American to write about chess. His article, published in London in 1733, debated points made in another chess enthusiast’s earlier article, and was called “Critical Remarks Upon the Letter to The Craftsman on the Game of Chess Occasioned by His Paper on the 15th of Sept. 1733, and dated from Slaughter’s Coffee-House, Sept, 21.”
5. Commercial toilet paper was invented in New York City by Joseph Gayetty in 1857. Though the general concept of toilet paper wasn’t new (the use of newspapers and magazines was relatively common), Gayetty was the first person to mass-produce the commodity. He marketed his as a medical aid for people suffering from hemorrhoids.
6. At just .84 square miles, Mechanicville is the smallest city in terms of total area in New York State. Its population is slightly over 5,000.
7. Unsurprisingly, New York City is the biggest city in New York State in terms of area. At 302.64 square miles, it’s roughly 360 times the size of Mechanicville, and 14 times the size of Albany.
The first golf club in the United States was built in a cow pasture in Yonkers in 1888.
9. If you went to elementary school in New York State, there’s a good chance you learned the song “Low Bridge” (also known as “15 Miles on The Erie Canal”) [PDF]. And you probably vaguely remember that the song commemorates a trip from Albany to Buffalo with a mule named Sal (who’s a good old worker and a good old pal). But you might not know “Low Bridge” was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen, and quickly became a folk classic, covered by the likes of The Weavers, Pete Seeger, and even Bruce Springsteen. The song looks back with nostalgia on a time before the railroad made transportation of goods on mule barges along the Eerie Canal obsolete.
10. One of America’s favorite snacks, Buffalo wings, were invented by Teressa Bellisimo at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York in 1964. Buffalo locals simply call them “wings.”
11. The average annual snowfall in Buffalo is 93.4 inches, making it the city with the ninth highest snowfall in America. But even with all that snow, it’s illegal to throw snowballs in Buffalo—except in designated areas.
12. As of 2010, the city with the highest annual snowfall in America was none other than Syracuse, New York. Syracuse gets an average of nearly 120 inches a year.
Rochester has been nicknamed both “the Flour City” and “the Flower City.” In the nineteenth century, it was one of the largest flour-producing cities in the United States. Then, when the wheat-producing industry started to move west, Rochester locals began building flower nurseries. To this day, the city is home to the Rochester Lilac Festival, which dates back to 1898, and celebrates Rochester’s heritage as the “Flour-Flower City.”
Rochester has an impressively patriotic history: Not only was the Pledge of Allegiance written by Rochester area native Francis Bellamy, but comic book hero Captain America was the invention of Rochester native Joe Simon.
15. The famed Niagara Falls waterfalls straddle the border between Ontario and New York. They’re part of the Niagara State Park, the oldest state park in the United States, and an amazing 3160 tons of water flows over them every second. The jaw-dropping waterfalls have become such a popular honeymoon destination, the city of Niagara Falls is often called the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.”
But Niagara Falls isn’t just a natural wonder (and popular honeymoon location): It has also played an important role in film history. The iconic waterfalls have been appearing in movies since at least 1912, when they were featured prominently in the film A Niagara Honeymoon. They’ve also appeared in such films as Superman II (1980), Bruce Almighty (2003), and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007). An audio recording of the falls was even used in the animated film Wall-E (2008) to evoke the wind-swept, ruined world the eponymous Wall-E inhabits at the start of the film.
17. Ithaca has its own form of paper currency, called the Ithaca HOUR. Established in 1991, it’s the largest local currency system in the United States. A single Ithaca HOUR bill is worth $10, to approximate the average hourly wage in Tompkins County; the bills are accepted by many of the major business in Ithaca, from restaurants and grocery stores to bowling alleys and even the local hospital.
18. Vladimir Nabokov wrote his classic novel Lolita while living in Ithaca and teaching at Cornell. Nabokov would eavesdrop on conversations between Ithaca natives on the street, or on public transportation, in order to perfect the dialects of the characters in his book.
19. Adirondack State Park was established in 1892 to preserve the forests and waterways of the region. To this day, it stretches out across 6 million acres, making it the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. To put that in perspective, the Adirondack Park is larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. It’s even larger than several states in New England, including Massachusetts.
The Shawangunk Mountains, also known as The Gunks, are one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the United States. They’ve been called “the climbing equivalent of skiing Jackson Hole,” and climbers have been testing their skills there since the 1930s.
21. Fort Ticonderoga in Ticonderoga, New York—after which the classic #2 pencils you used in elementary school are named—was built by the French in 1755, and captured by the British in 1758. In 1775, the American army captured the fort in what many historians consider to be one of the first major victories of the Revolutionary War. Today, Fort Ticonderoga is a historic landmark and military history museum.
Four United States presidents were born in New York: Martin Van Buren (Kinderhook, born 1782), Millard Fillmore (Locke Township, born 1800), Theodore Roosevelt (New York City, born 1858), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Hyde Park, born 1882). Chester A. Arthur, best known for his glorious mutton-chops, was technically born in Vermont, but raised in New York, and was a prominent New York politician before he was elected president. Grover Cleveland, born in New Jersey, also spent much of his childhood in New York, where he'd launch his political career.
23. Syracuse, New York, was once known as “the cradle of industry,” and was home to an impressive number of manufacturers and inventors. The following inventions got their start in Syracuse: the Brannock Device (that metal ruler you put your foot on when you get your shoe size measured), the serrated bread knife, the traffic signal, the dentist chair, and the first synthetic penicillin.
24. Before Hollywood took over film production, New York State played a big role in the early film industry. Not only was the Mutoscope, one of the earliest motion picture devices, invented in Syracuse in 1894, but one of the most popular early film franchises, The Exploits of Elaine, was produced in Ithaca in the 1910s. The term “cliff-hanger,” which describes pausing the plot of a story at a suspenseful moment, may have been inspired by the films on which Elaine was based,The Perils of Pauline. Both serials sometimes ended with their protagonist literally hanging from the edge of a cliff.
25. The official New York State motto is “Excelsior,” which in this context likely means “ever upward,” though the term has also been used to describe the small wood shavings used for stuffing or packaging. Meanwhile, the state's popular slogan, "I Love New York," which appears on most of its promotional materials, has been in use since the 1970s.