Many attribute the term’s popularity and widespread use to a sports writer named John J. Fitz Gerald, who admitted he originally overheard the term spoken among Black stable hands at the New Orleans Fair Ground in 1920.
“The Big Apple, the dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York,” wrote Fitz Gerald in 1924.
But writer and artist Regi Taylor insists the official narrative overlooks the truth, and the crucial role Harlem played in not just creating, but disseminating the “Big Apple” term. Taylor’s on a mission to recognize the person identified from his research that he says truly deserves the honor.
According to Taylor’s findings, the first time the term was defined in print was in musician Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary, which published popular contemporary jive terminology of those times. The glossary characterizes “apple” as “the big town, the main stem, Harlem.”
“That was the very first time, in 1938, the very, very first time that the term Big Apple had ever been associated to mean New York City in print,” Taylor says. “There should be a signpost or some official recognition in Central Harlem, because that’s where it all happened.”
But at present, only Fitz Gerald has received recognition for popularizing the term. Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1997 designated the southwest corner of West 54th Street and Broadway, where Fitz Gerald had lived, “Big Apple Corner.” This is despite his office being in possession of Taylor’s research, which the Manhattan Borough Historian at the time reviewed and concurred with.
Additionally, Taylor says, Charles Gillette, president of the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau, created the Big Apple destination marketing campaign to bring in billions, if not trillions of dollars in economic activity to New York City, without historic attribution of the term’s origin.
“And very little of that economic activity made its way north of 110th Street to Harlem. That really unnerves me because they have to know what I know,” Taylor adds. But it doesn’t benefit them to promote it that way. The status quo is working well enough. Leave it alone.”
Taylor has had enough of the status quo. After three unanimous votes of support, Community Board 10 in Harlem has extended Taylor an official letter of support. Taylor has also reached out to Mayor Eric Adams’ office for response. He is seeking official recognition of the origin of the Big Apple as an international nickname for New York City.
“It’s just the unfairness of it all that should not be allowed to stand as the true history of why the world knows New York City is the Big Apple,” Taylor says. “It’s just a matter of the truth. The man who sold 2 million copies [of a book] worldwide defining New York as the Big Apple in print … he doesn’t even get mentioned.”