Speed Reads

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam...

New York City is 350 years old today

On September 8, 1664, the modest trading post once inhabited by Native Americans calling themselves "Manhattoes," then known as the Dutch establishment of New Amsterdam, was transferred to British control. King Charles II promptly gave the land to his brother James, the Duke of York, and thus New York City was born.

But even three-and-a-half centuries later, the Dutch roots of America's most populous city are (arguably) still evident: As recounted by scholar Russell Shorto, New Amsterdam followed the Netherlands' traditions of tolerance and egalitarianism. While the 18 languages spoken among New Amsterdam's 500 residents would have given a colonial-era John Rocker apoplexy, a turn away from the feudal economic system that predominated in the 17-century world allowed for a level of upward mobility not seen in other societies. Even before conquering the territory, England moved its goods through New Amsterdam's bustling, hyper-efficient port.

Other quintessential Big Apple hallmarks aren't so old: Central Park wasn't staked out until 157 years ago; bagels didn't become a staple of the NYC diet until the late 1800s; and the dazzlingly (or infuriatingly) successful New York Yankees didn't bag their first World Series until 1923. Other New York City characteristics, such as the summertime "hot garbage smell," have probably existed from time immemorial.

Today, instead of humming a Happy Birthday tune for the city that never sleeps, croon a little Sinatra. --Mike Barry