10 Historical Figures That Put NYC on the Map!
10 Historical Figures in NYC!
What is a city without its people? New York City has long been an epicenter of talent, poise, and pride with a long history of remarkable people who have contributed to making it one of the most iconic places on earth. This concrete jungle of art, fashion, food, historic bars, and theater is a cultural melting pot brimming with a lengthy history and fun things to do in NYC that attract people to visit year after year.
Famous New York City Historical Figures
Throughout its history, NYC has always been its own iconic trendsetter, challenging the world by being a beacon of possibilities “where dreams are made of” and “There’s nothing you can’t do…” Keep reading as we explore 10 historical figures that put NYC on the map!
1 | Edith Wharton (1862-1937) | Rather than living out her life as a high-society wife, Edith Wharton chose a different path. Instead of surrendering to what society expected of her, she pushed herself to become one of the foremost English writers of the early 20th century.
Her first-hand knowledge of the upper class fueled her scathing depictions of the manners and morals of the Gilded Age. The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920) are two stunning examples of her talent, with the latter of the two earning her a Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
2 | Billie Holiday (1915-1959) | One of the greatest jazz and blues singers of the 1930s and 1940s, Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia but moved to New York at age 14.
Initially finding work as a cleaner, it wasn’t long before she was auditioning for the stage. Getting her start in clubs, she made her first recording in 1933, and from there, the sky was the limit. Honing her intimate, improvisatory style, she shot to stardom and was soon one of the best jazz and blues acts in the Big Apple.
3 | Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Bouvier (1929-1994) | This famous historical figure was a born-and-bred New Yorker working as a photographer-reporter at the Washington Times-Herald when she met and married then-congressman John F Kennedy. 1961 rolled around and suddenly Jackie Kennedy was first lady.
While she was a popular figure already, it wasn’t until JFK’s assassination in Dallas in 1963 that the American people sat up and took proper notice of her. Four days after the president’s funeral, Mrs. Kennedy was interviewed by Theodore H White of Life magazine. In the interview, she quoted: “Don’t let it be forgot that for one brief shining moment there was Camelot.” With those few words, she saw the Kennedy presidency gilded in the nation’s eye.
4 | Nellie Bly (1864-1922) | Born Elizabeth Cochran in Pennsylvania, she was a ground-breaking investigative journalist who she acquired her famous byline working at the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1885.
Her career was a turbulent one. Early in her work, she was sent to Mexico where she filed articles on corruption and hardship that saw her expelled from the country. In 1887, she joined Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World where an early assignment saw her feign mental illness to be admitted to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum. After her release ten days later, she wrote a six-part exposé which uncovered the operations and conditions of the asylum that led to improvements in patient care.
By 1889 Nellie Bly was America’s most famous female journalist.
5 | Herman Melville | Born in a boarding house in what is now the financial district of Lower Manhattan, Herman Melville (1819-1891) is now regarded as one of America’s greatest novelists.
As a young sailor, Melville sailed on two whalers and a harpooner. His escapades, which included a capture and a mutiny, inspired his early novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847). But of course, we can’t mention Melville without mentioning his magnum opus: Moby-Dick (1851). Regarded as one of the great American novels, Moby-dick was unsuccessful in Melville’s lifetime but will go down in history nonetheless.
6 | Michael Jordan | Yes, that MJ! The greatest basketball player of all time was born on February 17, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York! The only living historical figure on our list, Michael Jeffery Jordan popularized basketball and took it center stage in the 1980s and 90s while becoming a cultural icon and basketball legend loved and respected even today. At 6 ft. 6 in, the shooting guard played 15 seasons in the NBA and won six championships playing for the Chicago Bulls. His ability to leap in the air for slam dunks from the free throw line earned him the nickname “Air Jordan” and cemented his place in history.
Today the living legend is owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA and 23XI Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
7 | Theodore Roosevelt | Born in a Manhattan townhouse in 1858, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Jr (1858-1919) was a sickly child who went on to become a figurehead for American outdoorsmanship and masculinity.
In his late 20s, Roosevelt moved to the Dakota Territory where he cut his teeth as a cowboy and bison hunter. Not long later, he heroically led the Rough Riders, the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, in the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt took office as vice-president in March 1901. Six months later he became the 26th president after the assassination of President William McKinley. Roosevelt served until 1909 while carving out a piece of American history.
8 | Shirley Chisholm | Born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) was a political trailblazer. At just 40 years old, she became the first African American woman from Brooklyn to be elected to the New York State Assembly. Her most famous piece of legislation saw the introduction of the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge program – a program that enabled low-income students to pursue further education.
1968 saw Chisholm become the first African American woman elected to congress. She served from 1969 to 1983, championing women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
9 | Norman Rockwell | A painter and illustrator, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is known for his nostalgic depictions of small-town American life. Ironic, then, that he was born on West 103rd Street in Manhattan.
At just 19 he was appointed art editor for Boys’ Life magazine, a title that later got him in the door at the Saturday Evening Post. By 1963 he had created 323 covers for the weekly.
By 1943, Rockwell was a well-known artist in his own right. His idealized Four Freedoms paintings toured the country, raising $132 million in war bonds. His final job, as an illustrator for Look magazine from 1963 to 1973, saw him contribute memorable paintings about racism including The Problem We All Live With, Southern Justice, and New Kids in the Neighborhood.
10 | George Gershwin | One of America’s greatest classical composers and writers, George Gershwin (1898-1937) was born in East New York, Brooklyn. At just 15 he began his career as a song plugger and piano player on Tin Pan Alley. It wasn’t long before he was collaborating with William Daly, an orchestrator and musical director on Broadway musicals.
1924 saw him write his magnum opus, the jazz-influenced Rhapsody in Blue. Porgy and Bess (1935) came next – a hybrid opera and African American musical that’s renowned as his most ambitious work.
Gershwin died after surgery on a brain tumor in 1937 but his legacy lives on.
Last Thoughts About These Historical Figures in NYC
There’s no place like New York City! The richest city in the world is the birthplace of American pizza, home of the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom, and bedrock of history. This vibrant city bustling with talent and brimming with dreams was and is still home to many sons and daughters who have carved out a piece of history for themselves and made it into one of the most famous cities in the world. Looking for hotels near Grand Central Station, interested in reading about historical places in NYC ? Keep reading our Travel Blog for tips, tricks and vacation ideas in NYC and other amazing destinations.
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