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Why is New York called the Empire State? Exploring the Origins and Uses of the Nickname

New York State is called the Empire State, and this name has found its way to buildings, Empire State Building for one, and New York State license plates.  As a New Yorker, I am often asked why New York is called the Empire State given its wide usage for all things New York.

The Empire State nickname for New York has its origins in 1785, where it is said to have been first used by George Washington in reference to the state’s important role in the American Revolution. The nickname stuck, and was later popularized by New York’s governor, George Clinton, who used it in his speeches and official correspondence. The term “empire” was a reflection of New York’s size, wealth, and influence, as well as its status as a center of commerce, culture, and innovation.

Today, the Empire State nickname is a proud symbol of New York’s history and identity.

New York as the Empire State

Empire State is said to have originated from a letter written by George Washington in 1785 to James Duane, the Mayor of New York, in which he praised New York for its resilience during the Revolutionary War and referred to it as the “Seat of the Empire.”

Over time, the term “empire” became a popular nickname for New York, and it was used by a number of prominent figures, including Governor George Clinton, who helped to popularize the Empire State nickname in the early 19th century.

Today, Empire State is widely used by and in reference to New York State.

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, which is a famous skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, was built during the Great Depression in the 1930s and named after the Empire State itself.  At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, a title that it held until 1971.

There are numerous fun facts about the Empire State Building, such as –

  • Empire State Building has its origins in the race to create the world’s tallest building, a title that it held from 1931 to 1971.
  • The building has its own zip code, which is 10118.
  • It was built in a record period of 20 months, or 410 days, by 3,400 workers.
  • Its art deco lobby is a historic landmark.
  • The building’s spire was originally designed to be a mooring mast for airships, but this was also abandoned due to safety concerns.
  • The Empire State Building is hit by lightning an estimated 100 times per year, and it has a lightning rod at the top to protect it from damage.
  • The building’s elevators are some of the fastest in the world, traveling at speeds of up to 1,200 feet per minute.
  • It is well known for its role in numerous films, including King Kong and Sleepless in Seattle.
  •  In 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into the building, causing significant damage.

The lights of the Empire State Building have become an iconic feature of the New York City skyline since 1976.

Empire State Plaza

The Empire State Plaza, built in 1960s, is a complex of government buildings located in Albany, which is the capital city of New York State. It consists of several buildings arranged around a central plaza, including the New York State Capitol, the Legislative Office Building, the Corning Tower, and the Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice. The plaza also features a reflecting pool, a convention center, and several outdoor sculptures and artworks.

The plaza is the administrative center of New York State government, housing the offices of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and various state agencies and departments. It is also a popular tourist destination, with its unique architecture and public artworks drawing visitors from around the world.

Empire State Motto

The state motto of New York is “Excelsior,” which is Latin for “ever upward.” The motto was officially adopted in 1778.

In 2020, a secondary motto E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “Out of Many, One” was adopted by New York on its coat of arms.

Empire State License Plates

From 1951 through 1963, and more recently from 2001 to 2020, New York license plates had Empire State written on the plate. 

From mid 2020 onwards, Empire State has been replaced by the state’s motto, Excelsior.

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Hi, I'm Hanit Gyani, a full time professional by day and a blogger by night and weekend. Welcome to my blog, aka my passion project, Gotta Love New York.

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