25 Things You Should Know About Hoboken


The city of 50,000 packs a lot of history into its one square mile (which, if we're being technical, is actually 1.28 square miles of ground). Below, some highlights from Hoboken, New Jersey's 400-year history.

1. The land Hoboken was built on was once an island, surrounded on both sides by the Hudson River and the estuary that existed at the base of the New Jersey Palisades. The region’s Lenni Lenape people camped there seasonally, and called the land "Hopoghan Hackingh," meaning "Land of the Tobacco Pipe," as a nod to the area's abundant green serpentine rock, which they used to—you guessed it—carve tobacco pipes.

2. The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Peter Stuyvesant, per the Hoboken Historical Museum’s website, “bought all the land between the Hackensack and the Hudson Rivers from the Lenni Lenape for 80 fathoms of wampum, 20 fathoms of cloth, 12 kettles, 6 guns, 2 blankets, 1 double kettle and half a barrel of beer.” The Dutch who occupied the region in the 17th century referred to it as “Hoebuck,” meaning “high bluff.”

3. Continental army colonel John Stevens is the man responsible for changing the land’s tag to “Hoboken.” The attorney and inventor purchased what was then a massive estate at auction after its owner, a Loyalist named William Bayard, had been kicked out by the colonial government.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

4. Life was good along the Hudson, except for one thing: the turtles. Stevens’ new estate was overrun with snapping turtles, which kept eating his chickens. So Stevens decided to turn his lemons into lemonade (or in this case, his reptiles into turtle soup), inviting his wealthy buddies from the island of Manhattan over for a turtle feast. The day was deemed a success, and the Hoboken Turtle Club was born. Early members included George Washington, John Jay, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.

5. The tradition continued into the late 19th century, by which time the Hoboken Turtle Club—considered by some to be the country’s first real social club—had a tony new Manhattan address, where its members were better known for their drinking prowess than their affinity for reptile recipes.

6. The first steam-powered ferryboat began running between Hoboken and Manhattan’s Vesey Street in 1811. Behind the vessel: the aforementioned John Stevens, who focused much of his engineering career on figuring out the best ways to harness steam for transportation.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Stevens was also the recipient of the United States’ first railroad charter in 1815, and built and operated the country’s first steam-powered locomotive in 1825. It traveled a total of half a mile around his estate in Hoboken.

8. The first trains to travel between Hoboken and New York City began running under the Hudson River in 1907. Today the PATH train—the Port Authority Trans Hudson—helps passengers make more than 72 million trips across the river annually.

9. During World War I, approximately two million U.S. soldiers were shipped off to Europe from Hoboken’s docks. “Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken” became a rallying cry for troops hoping to make it home in time for the holidays.

10. Hoboken’s historic train terminal—formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal—was itself the site of several firsts. Thomas Edison operated the first electric train from the station to Montclair, New Jersey, and the terminal was the first public space in the country to boast central air conditioning [PDF].


The stunning Beaux-Arts building, which was restored to its former glory in the mid aughts, has served as a shooting location for films such as Funny Girl (1968), The Station Agent (2003), Julie & Julia (2009), as well as Eric Clapton’s 1996 music video for “Change the World.” 

12. Speaking of filmmaking, the 1954 drama On the Waterfront was shot almost entirely on location in Hoboken and featured appearances by real dockworkers and policemen. The film raked in eight Oscars, including a Best Actor prize for star Marlon Brando.

13. The great photojournalist Dorothea Lange hails from Hoboken, and artist Alexander Calder studied at the city's Stevens Institute of Technology.


Hoboken’s most famous son is Frank Sinatra, who was born in a tenement there on December 12, 1915 to Italian immigrants Natalie “Dolly” Della Garavente and Anthony “Marty” Martin Sinatra. Marty, a boxer, went by the name “Marty O’Brien” in order to gain access to the town’s Irish-only gyms. 

15. America’s pastime was developed there in the 1840s. Alexander Cartwright, credited with inventing modern-day baseball, and his team, the New York Knickerbockers, held court on Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, going up against teams like the New York Nines.

16. So was the zipper. In the 1890s, a man by the name of Whitcomb Judson improved upon previous zipper-like clasps by introducing a sliding device. Together, he and an associate started the Universal Fastener Company and began producing the closures in Hoboken.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One Hoboken resident, an Italian immigrant by the name of Italo Marchiony, developed and patented a waffle holder for ice cream in 1903—paving the way for the cone-shaped summertime staple we enjoy today. 

18. Another important dessert milestone occurred there in 1912, when the NYC-based National Biscuit Company made its first sale of a brand-new cookie to a grocer on Washington Street. More than a century later, you can find Oreos in nearly 100 countries around the world. 

19. In 1964, three young men from Jersey City decided to take a risk on a new sandwich craze they had first encountered down the shore: the submarine. Together, they opened the very first Blimpie sandwich shop on Washington Street.

20. Hoboken has its very own superhero. Marlon Rodriguez, a.k.a. Hoboken Batman, rides up and down Washington Street on his Bat Bike, and even helps direct traffic for emergency vehicles.

21. Hoboken’s boozy reputation goes all the way back to the 17th century, when in 1663, Dutch settlers opened up the country’s first brewery.

22. But it's not quite as brew-happy as people seem to think, despite the oft-cited stat that it has more bars per square mile than any other city in the U.S. Take a look at this table for proof.

23. While the town is often touted as one of America’s most walkable small cities, if you need a ride to, or from, the bar, Willie McBride’s will pick you up in its house limousine.

24. In an unassuming building on 9th and Madison sits one of the country’s most prestigious recording studios, Water Music Recorders. The studio has played host to dozens of artists, including Beyonce, the Dave Matthews Band, U2, Blondie, Sonic Youth, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, and more. Lenny Kravitz, meanwhile, recorded multiple albums at Waterfront Studios on Washington Street. In the midst of a session there in 1991, he and guest musician Slash decided to go on a booze run. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, which meant liquor stores were closed. So the enterprising duo decided to go door-to-door, asking people for alcohol donations.

25. Sorry, Brooklynites: this past March, Hoboken was named the Hipster Capital of America by To qualify for consideration, cities had to have populations of 50,000 or more, a significant number of people between the ages of 20 and 34, and a high proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees. The site determined final scores by multiplying the number of coffee shops for every 10,000 residents by the number of yoga studios for every 10,000 residents. No word yet on if any local hipsters have tried to ironically resurrect the Turtle Club.

How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.


Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.


The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.


The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)


Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.


As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.


Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.


Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?

New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?


Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.


Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at


More from mental floss studios