Whether you ask a native or a foreign traveller, the answer will probably be the same: if you get to visit one city in the US, it’s got to be New York. The Big Apple encompasses so much of what it means to be American and the US culture: the diversity of its people and its neighbourhoods, the intense contrast between the vibrant streets of Manhattan and the quiet life at the suburbs, the abundance of things to do and see both in terms of sightseeing and of culture.
Everyone who goes to New York tends to stay in Manhattan, and we think that is a big mistake. Other boroughs, like the hip, alternative and artistic Brooklyn have so much to offer – so today we decided to take a little historical tour around America’s first suburb and tell you about what it has to offer. For example, did you know that with a population of 2,629,150 it ranks as the most populous borough of New York? And more than 37% of its residents are foreign-born – now we are talking some serious multiculturalism here!
Breuckelen: The Origins of Brooklyn
How does Brooklyn do it? It started out as the home of the Canarsie Native American tribe, who were mostly fishermen and worked the land. Then, the settlers began coming in around the 1600s. All of them Dutch, they took over the land from the Canarsie and with each wave they founded their own little town, which was chartered by none other than the Dutch West India Company: six colonies were built on the soil that is modern-day Brooklyn, from 1645 to 1661. One of them, founded in 1646, was named “Breuckelen” – does that name ring a bell? Variations of the name floated around for nearly a century before it was established as “Brooklyn”.
In 1664, the English came and it was the conquerors’ turn to become the conquered: Brooklyn was incorporated into the colony of New York. The British would never yield in the area and defeated the Americans at the famous Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 – in fact, the still largely inexperienced army led by George Washington was nearly annihilated in that battle, but many soldiers managed to escape thanks to a fog that provided enough cover for them to allow them to cross the East River at night and safely reach Manhattan. Yet the city of New York was officially handed over to the American revolutionaries with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. It was Brooklyn’s time to begin flourishing!
Home to Twizzlers and the Original Teddy Bear
A lot more interesting and fun stuff happened in Brooklyn over the years; and it is the city of many firsts. Steeplechase Park held the first (so far) “Most Beautiful Grandmother Contest” annually from 1932 to 1970. The first slot machine was invented in Brooklyn in 1891, by two guys named Sittman and Pitt. Their gambling machine had five spinning drums holding a total of 50 card faces – if, when the spinning stopped, the five cards displayed a winning poker hand, the winner was rewarded in free beer or cigars by bar owners who saw the machine’s popularity soar across the city. Also, Twizzlers, a candy very popular in the USA as well as its neighbour Canada, were also first made in Brooklyn in 1845!
Speaking about candy, did you know that the first teddy bear hails from Brooklyn and was originally meant as a candy advertisement? A candy shop owner, Morris Michtom, and his wife, got inspiration from President Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting trip, on which he refused to shoot a wounded bear. They made two stuffed toy bears and placed them alongside their candy at the shop window – they named them “Teddy” after the President himself. The toy became so popular that Michtom decided to abandon candy and turn to toy making!
A Borough of Artists and Entertainers
Artists and people of culture always found a welcome home in Brooklyn. Renowned American poet Walt Whitman was the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle back in 1846. He convinced the city’s authorities to set aside land including the Fort Greene to make room for the city’s first park in 1847 – the Fort Greene Park. People like the famous composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Mae West were born here – and it is no secret that the borough continues to this day to be home to many aspiring and up-and-coming actors and artists.
It was in 1898 that Brooklyn was officially incorporated in New York – but in 1883, it was connected to Staten Island with one of the city’s most famous landmarks: the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily Roebling, the chief engineer’s wife, was the first person to travel across what was at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world. But the public was worried that the bridge would not stand, so P. T. Barnum, a famous circus owner of the time, offered to prove its safety: He marched 21 elephants, 10 dromedaries and 7 camels along the bridge, including his star, a seven-ton African elephant named Jumbo!
New York never ceases to amaze with its incredibly rich history, and Brooklyn is surely a huge part of its legend. Next time you are in town, make sure to pay a visit to this great borough!