Which State Is Known as the Empire State?

The Empire State Building in New York, New York.
The Empire State Building in New York, New York.

New York is known as the “The Empire State”. The exact origin of the term is yet to be established by historians and scholars. Nonetheless, numerous theories have been brought forward which attempt to explain the origin of the name. The most popular theories have it that President George Washington was responsible for giving New York this nickname. However, the name is believed to have been coined in the late 18th Century and had grown in usage all over the country by the early 19th Century.

Origin of the Name

Two popular theories behind the origin of the name revolve around President George Washington. The first theory claims that the president referred to the city as the “the Seat of the Empire” in a letter that he wrote to the city’s mayor, James Duane in April 1785. Other sources have it that the president coined the term in a conversation he had with George Clinton, a governor in the late 18th Century in which he said of the state as the “Pathway to Empire.” However, no documented evidence to support this explanation of the origin of the name exists.

Other theories about the origin of the term are independent of President George Washington. One historian, Alexander Flick, stated in his publication that the history of the “Empire State” phrase goes back to 1819 in a period when New York’s population exceeded that of Virginia. The historian also claimed that the term had grown in popularity and had widespread use by 1825. Alexander stated that the term was in reference to the liberty of New York’s inhabitants and was in no way an indication of the city’s affluence. Another historian, Milton M Klein supports Alexander Flick’s statement concerning the widespread use of the “Empire State” phrase by the 1820s. However, Milton states that the origin of the term might have been inspired by the success of New York shipping company, the Black Ball Line.

Namesakes in New York

The Empire State Building, a towering skyscraper that defines New York skyline is the best-known namesake of the Empire State. Opened in 1931, the skyscraper was the city’s tallest building between 1931 and 1970 when the skyscraper was exceeded in height by the World Trade Center. The skyscraper was once again the tallest building in the city after the collapse of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a title it held briefly until the opening of the One World Trade Center in 2012. Another structure which shares the name with New York is the Empire State Plaza, a complex which houses many government offices.

In the Media

Vehicle license plates featured the term “Empire State” between 1951 and 1963 in reference to the nickname. The city reintroduced the license plates in 2001. The popularity of the term “Empire State” was furthered in 2009 after the release of the “Empire State of Mind,” a song which was made in honor of the city and its culture. Performed by Alicia Keys and Jay Z, the song was a chart-topper, and its video garnered one Grammy Award.


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