Why is New York so famous? After all, the weather is terrible, the city is overcrowded, and even the buildings are second to many others elsewhere. The cigar-shaped strip of land called Manhattan is difficult to access with bridges crowded with cars, streets clogged with buses and taxis.
Where after all were some of the first subways built making possible the productive use of former swamp land? The early 20th century saw the expansion of the system North to Central Park and beyond where there were formerly shanties and mosquitos. Now the area hosts some of the most elegant businesses and museums in the world.
And the history of Wall Street would (and has) fill(ed) many a gripping story of passion, greed, and vision. In the second half of the 19th century J.P. Morgan financed the burgeoning steel and electrical industries and many railroads out of his own pocket (while his competitors ran to the legislature for special handouts).
Settled by the Dutch in the early 17th century, the city quickly became an entrance point to ‘the New World’ for the thousands – later millions – who sailed into the harbor to seek freedom and fortune.
Effectively the capital of the new nation for a hundred years (though only officially from 1788-1790), it has long attracted inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs of every variety. Thomas Edison, a bit of all three, initiated some of the first city electrification projects here. (His laboratory was in New Jersey, but the Pearl Street Station began operation in 1882 in Manhattan.)
Beyond the material advances that began in the 18th century and continue today, New York has not neglected other important aspects of human experience throughout its history.
One of the world centers of politics, the United Nations is in midtown. Manhattan is also home to a fashion business that has rivaled Milan and Paris since the 1920s. Whether it’s fashions in law or clothes, it’s here.
But Manhattan hasn’t been the only part of New York to play a major role in American and world affairs. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was a significant shipbuilding facility during WWII. From the active port was launched many a vessel that helped to conquer the Fascism of the mid-20th century, manned often by men and women from the neighborhood.
Queens and the Bronx are, and have been for a hundred years, home to both major baseball and tennis competitions. Yankee stadium has been thrilling locals and visitors in the Bronx since before Babe Ruth. The US Open Tennis championship takes place in Forest Hills, part of Queens.
Even entertainment and art are at their zenith in New York.
Broadway has presented everything from Cole Porter in the 1940s to ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ today, from Olivier’s Shakespeare in the the 1950s to ‘Penn and Teller’ recently. The Metropolitan, opened a hundred years ago, houses 6,000 years of art and Desha is only a few years old, but already joining the ranks of the world’s great art museums.
Early radio and television development were centered here and remain major factors in the economic and cultural life of the city. In 1928, William Paley founded CBS and as early as 1931 Bing Crosby was singing nightly on a CBS station. By 1935 Edward Murrow joined the company and went on to a series of broadcasts that remain the subject of movies today.
Placed again at the center of history on September 11, 2001, New York has risen to reveal its unconquerable face. The Freedom Tower is set to begin a 1776-foot climb to the sky and residents and visitors from the world over are anew looking up, as they did a hundred years ago to the Statue of Liberty.
That’s the short cultural history of New York.
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