How Much Do You Know About the History of New York City?



By: Maria Trimarchi

7 Min Quiz

Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Popularly referred to as “The city that never sleeps,” New York City has long been one of the largest and busiest cities in the United States. Located in the state of New York, New York City consists of five boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.

First inhabited by the native Algonquin people, New York City was discovered in the 16th century by European travelers. The Dutch were the first to settle on Governors Island and named the new-found land “New Amsterdam.” The city fell under British power when they seized and renamed the area “New York City” in 1664.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the city faced many challenges. The most significant problem was the Revolutionary War that was won by the British. New York City was again under British control and was made a military base until 1783. 

After the war, the city grew steadily. It was one of the country’s major ports, and with development in infrastructure, New York City became the main trading point. A large number of immigrants began flowing in from Ireland, Germany, Southern Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America resulting in the diverse cultural pool present in New York City today.

We've given you quite a lot of clues to the answers of to the questions we'll be asking, so there's no reason why you shouldn't ace this quiz, especially if you're a native New Yorker. Let's see how well you do!

What's the proper name of New York City?

The proper name of New York City isn't New York City or even just the City. It's proper name is The City of New York, and it's been that since it was officially changed in 1898.


How many boroughs are part of New York City?

New York City is split into five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Each is a small government administration within New York City's system of government, and each has boundaries like a county of a state. For instance, Red Hook is a neighborhood in the borough of Brooklyn in the City of New York.


Which race goes through all five boroughs?

The New York City Marathon, which has been held since 1970, begins on Staten Island, in Fort Wadsworth, and ends at the finish line in Central Park. And, in between, it runs through all five boroughs of the City: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.


Before they were parks, Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Union Square Park and Washington Square Park were what?

Before these well-known NYC parks were parks, Bryant Park, Madison Square Park, Union Square Park and Washington Square Park were all cemeteries, mainly for the poor.


Which New York orchestra is the oldest in not just NY but in the U.S.?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra make up what's known as the Big Five orchestras. The New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842, is the oldest of them, the oldest in the state of New York and the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States.


While not the oldest American ballet company, which NYC company began in the 1940s as the Ballet Society?

Then called the Ballet Society, the company was formed in 1946 -- and presented by its founders at New York's City Center for Music and Drama in 1948. Today, about 90 dancers are with the ballet, now called New York City Ballet (or NYCB), and it has the largest repertoire of ballet companies in the U.S.


How many stations were along the first New York City subway line?

Stand clear of the closing doors, please. The New York City Subway's first underground line opened on October 27, 1904, was about 9 miles long with 28 stations, and cost 5 cents to ride. The system was expanded into the Bronx in 1905, into Brooklyn in 1908, and into Queens in 1915.


Which building became the tallest in NYC when it was completed in 1931?

This skyscraper can be visited at 350 Fifth Avenue, between between West 33rd and 34th Streets, in Manhattan. At 102 stories, visitors to the Empire State Building's Observatories on clear days are able to see New York as well as New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. When it was dedicated on May 1, 1931, it was the tallest building in New York.


The Rockettes and Radio City Music Hall go together like peanut butter and jelly. But it wasn't always that way. In what city were The Rockettes founded?

Today they perform at one of the most iconic venues in the country, Radio City Music Hall, which was developed in 1932 as part of Rockefeller Center. But the Rockettes weren't founded in NYC -- they originally formed in 1925 in St. Louis, and began performing at Radio City Music Hall in 1932.


Which is considered the first pizzeria in NYC?

Today Lombari's storefront is at 32 Spring Street., on the corner of Mott Street, in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan. But it first began in 1897 at 53 1/2 Spring Street -- as a grocery store. As of 1905, Lombardi's began operating their pizzeria, which is the first to open in NY as well as in the United States.


What does the neighborhood name "Tribeca" stand for?

Tribeca, or TriBeCa as it was originally written when it was coined in the early 1970s, is an abbreviation for Triangle Below Canal Street -- (Tri)angle (Be)low (Ca)nal. The neighborhood, which is Lower Manhattan, is really more of a trapezoid than triangle shape, to be accurate.


What was Times Square originally named?

Times Square has been named such since the turn of the 20th century, when the New York Times moved its headquarters to 1475 Broadway -- which we simply now know as Times Tower. But before 1904, the square was originally called Longacre Square.


What's under Bow Bridge, in Central Park?

Despite the longstanding rumor otherwise, there are no cannonballs under Bow Bridge -- and it was proven a myth in the 1970s during a bridge renovation project. What is under this bridge is The Lake (of The Ramble and Lake in Central Park).


What type of system might you have used to send a letter from Herald Square to East Harlem, and have it arrive in about 15 minutes?

Beginning in 1897 until it was shuttered in 1957, New York City had a system of pneumatic tubes that spanned 27 miles and connected 23 post offices in the city. At its peak it was traveling at speeds up to 35 mph, and handled 97,000 pieces of mail in a single day.


When was New York City the capital of the United States?

The inauguration ceremony for America's first president, George Washington, were held at Federal Hall in downtown Manhattan on April 30, 1789. NYC only remained the U.S. capital until 1790.


Nicknamed The Big Apple, what beloved and long-lasting slogan has promoted New York since 1977?

Stylized as I ❤ NY, the long-running state tourism slogan, I Love New York, is more than a slogan -- it's also beloved as a jingle and a logo. You can thank Gov. Hugh Carey with the New York Department of Commerce for it, back in 1977.


What are the names of the marble lions that sit guarding the New York City Public Library, at 42nd and 5th?

Named by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Patience and Fortitude are the marble lions that sit in front of the New York City Public Library, at 42nd and 5th. The names, picked during the Great Depression, were selected as inspirational character traits for city residents.


British troops withdrew from Boston on March 17, 1776, which was George Washington's first victory in the Revolutionary War. When did British troops evacuate NYC?

The last British troops to withdraw from New York City, which they had occupied since late 1776, did so on November 25, 1783.


The Statue of Liberty was a gift from what European country?

In celebration of the alliance -- and friendship -- between the countries during the American Revolutionary War, France gifted the new country of the United States with the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, on Bedloe's Island, which has since been renamed to Liberty Island.


The New York City Subway system connects 472 stations, over how many miles of track?

The New York City Subway system connects 472 subway stations across all of its boroughs, over a total of roughly 660 miles of track. Each car travels, on average, just about 112,200 miles. And the busiest station? That's Times Square - 42nd Street.


New York City hosted the World's Fair in each of these years except which?

While it's true New York City was supposed to host the World's Fair in 1883, it was never actually held. After a lot of planning, things didn't work out due to poor organization and a lack of overall support. The New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940 showed visitors the World of Tomorrow. And the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair's theme was Peace through Understanding.


Where were the Polo Grounds?

In 1876, newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennet Jr. decided America needed polo, and opened the Polo Grounds just north of Central Park (between Fifth Ave. and Sixth Ave.). It's notable that while the grounds were used for various events, they never were used to host a game of polo.


Who was the youngest mayor of New York City?

Hugh J. Grant was the youngest mayor of New York City, in office from 1889 to 1892. When he was inaugurated, he was just 31 years old. The second-youngest mayor, John Purroy Mitchel, nicknamed the "Boy Mayor of New York," was inaugurated in 1917 at the age of 34.


When was Manhattan Island purchased from indigenous peoples living in the region?

Originally inhabited by the Wappingers, the sale of the island didn't actually involve them. As legend goes, it went down in 1626 between an associate of the Dutch East India Company, Peter Minuit, and the Canarsie tribe, for the sum of 60 guilders, which is roughly $24.


Which of these skyscrapers was the first built in New York City?

Technically, it was an 11-story building called the Tower Building, built in 1889, that was the first skyscraper erected in NYC -- and it's given that classification because it was the first to be built with a steel skeleton. It was razed, and the first true NYC skyscraper was built -- the 21-story Flatiron Building, originally called the Fuller Building. And since 2014, there's also a model of the building in the Lego Architecture series.


In which part of Brooklyn would you find the wooden roller coaster called the Cyclone?

The Cyclone is a wooden roller coaster found in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn -- and it's been running since it opened in June 1927.


When they opened in 1971, what did the World Trade Center towers have that was exclusive to their address?

Because the World Trade Centers were so large, they shared their own exclusive ZIP code -- 10048 -- when towers opened in 1971. Since 2013, 1 World Trade Center, along with other buildings at the rebuilt World Trade Center site, are assigned a non-exclusive zip, 10007.


When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, who demonstrated its strength with a parade of 21 elephants across it?

The Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge when it opened in 1883. To demonstrate how safe and study it was, P.T. Barnum, known as the showman behind the Greatest Show on Earth, led 21 elephants back and forth across the structure.


Who was the first African American mayor of New York City?

Before he entered the political arena, David Dinkins was among the first African American United States Marines. He trained among the Montford Point Marines between 1942-1949, served from 1945-1946, and was discharged as a private first class (E-2). Dinkins succeeded Ed Koch in office, and served as the 106th mayor of NYC from 1990 through 1993. To date, he's not only the first, but he's also the only African American to hold the office.


What was the Hippodrome?

When the Hippodrome opened in 1905, it was the largest theater in the world -- its stage was at least 12 times bigger than anything you'd find on Broadway at the time, and it could seat 5,300 people. It was was eventually demolished in 1939, and the site is now occupied by an office building nicknamed the Hippodrome Center.


Which was the exhibition building for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, an 1853 expo held in Manhattan?

A cast-iron and glass structure, the New York Crystal Palace was built as exhibition space for the 1853 expo, Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, on what's now Bryant Park. Although it was a marvel, you can't visit it today -- it burned to the ground in 1858.


When did the terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, occur at the World Trade Center?

Four flights — American 11, United 175, American 77 and United 93 -- were hijacked the morning of September, 11, 2001. One, Flight 77, would be crashed into the Pentagon. Another, Flight 93, would be crashed into a field before it could hit its target. But Flight 11 and Flight 175 were flown into NYC's Twin Towers: Flight 11 into the North Tower and Flight 175 into the South Tower at the World Trade Center.


What are the official estimates for the number of speakeasies in NYC during prohibition?

Although the real answer can never be known, it's estimated between 20,000 and 100,000 speakeasies dotted the NYC landscape after alcohol was outlawed across the United States. During Prohibition it became illegal to manufacture, sell or transport, "intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes."


The New York Yankees weren't always called the Yankees. What was the baseball team's original name?

The New York Highlanders, who'd recently relocated from Baltimore as the Orioles, joined the American League in March 1903. The team underwent another name change in 1913, when it became the Yankees -- who then won their first AL pennant in 1921, and swept the World Series in 1927.


The borough of Manhattan includes a small neighborhood not on the island of Manhattan -- what's the name of that neighborhood?

In the 19th century, Marble Hill was turned into an island during the construction of the Harlem Ship Canal. But about 20 years later when part of the Harlem River was filled in to the north of Marble Hill, Marble Hill became part of the mainland, and although it is designated part of Manhattan, it physically shares a boundary with the Bronx.


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