15 little-known facts about New York City

Finding fascinating facts about New York City is not difficult, when you think this city has a history spanning over centuries and a population of 8.4 million people living in five large boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. There are plenty of sources of New York facts, from the different personality of each borough to defining moments in its history, such as the creation of the subway or the tragic events on September 11, 2001. Not to mention the nickname Big Apple – by the way, do you know where it comes from? Keep on reading to enrich your knowledge of New York!

  1. The New York City Subway, a true ecosystem

Opened in 1904, the New York City Subway has 472 stations in operation, offers service 24 hours a day, and is also home to 15,152 forms of life (including insects and bacteria).


  1. The first capital of the US

New York has been the first capital of the United States, until 1790, when Washington D.C. became the capital. New York was the last capital of the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation and also the place where the first President of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated.

  1. New York was once the center of the American film industry

Until Hollywood was born in the early 30s, New York was the heart of the American film industry. Important cinema companies like Paramount Pictures has their operations based in New York, and the first sound film with Sherlock Holmes was shot at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

  1. Island of the Dead

Unclaimed bodies from New York are housed on a small island called Hart Island – around one million bodies have been collected and laid at rest on this island off the coast of Bronx since 1869.

east coast map

  1. May 1st used to be moving day in New York City

Who likes moving – you lose or break things, your life is turned upside down, and you spend extra money. Imagine you had to do this at the same time with 1 million fellow New Yorkers! Yet this is how things had worked in New York City from colonial times to World War II. Tenants enjoyed little protection, and in February each year landlords established new rent prices. If you couldn’t afford the raise, you had to find a new rent by May 1, when a large number of people changed their homes in the middle of a huge confusion.

  1. Big Apple – a nickname given in the 20th century

The first reference to Big Apple appears in the book The Wayfarer in New York by Edward S. Martin, from 1909: “Kansas is apt to see in New York a greedy city…. It inclines to think that the big apple gets a disproportionate share of the national sap”. There are multiple theories regarding the origin of the nickname, but it is generally considered that Big Apple appeared in the context of horseracing. It was used multiple times by New York City newspaper reporter John Fitz Gerald, who heard African-American stable hands in New Orleans saying that they were going “to the Big Apple”.

  1. Honking your car horn is illegal in New York City

This action is allowed only in case of emergency, but as we all know, drivers do it anyway.

times square

  1. There is a sky-scraper without any windows in New York

At 33 Thomas Street is located the former AT&T Long Lines Building, 550 feet tall and an example of Brutalist architecture. Don’t worry about people working there in artificial light – the building is actually a telephone exchange center containing switches used for long distance telephony. The Long Lines Building was completed in 1974.

  1. Manhattan was a cheap purchase

The Dutch purchased the island of Manhattan from the native people in 1626 for the modern equivalent of US$1000. The word Manhattan comes from a Lenape word (the tribe that once owned the place), which means “island of many hills”.

  1. New Yorkers are more likely to die of suicide than of murder

The main causes of suicide in New York are mental illness, conflicts with intimate partner, recent life crisis, health issues, problems at work, and financial problems.


  1. Empire State Building has a wedding cake shape for a surprising reason

One of the first skyscrapers (the 38-story Equitable Building inaugurated in 1915) bothered New York residents who feared that the city will turn into a network of dark alleys created by skyscrapers. Pressure from citizens led to a new zoning law to be passed, which required skyscrapers to allow more sun to pass through – and this was only possible by using a “wedding cake” pattern like the one seen in the Empire State Building.

  1. There are no Wal-Mart stores in New York

In spite of endless battles to open the first store in New York, Wal-Mart didn’t manage to gain a foothold in the nation’s largest city. It looks like people in the City Council are not willing to accept the world’s largest retail company in New York because of its behavior.

  1. The Grand Central Terminal was almost demolished in 1954

The decline of railway transport in the 1940s led to plans to demolish the famous station in order to replace it with an office tower that should have been taller than the Empire State Building. The station was saved after much protest and gaining its Historic Landmark status.

  1. Diaspora plays a major role in New York

New York hosts the largest population of Jewish people outside of Israel compared to any other city, and the same thing applies to Chinese people and Polish people.

  1. New York is not just about concrete and skyscrapers

The city hosts the world’s highest concentration of peregrine falcons, which set up their nests on bridges and tall buildings; many animal species live in the city’s parks, such as birds, deer, rabbits, and snapping turtles.

peregrine falcon

Expand this list by researching more stuff about New York City on our website or by actually visiting the Big Apple!