NYC maritime facts: A seafaring history of Gotham

Get schooled on facts about NYC’s maritime history, from Giovanni da Verrazano’s 1524 exploration of the Hudson to the creation of cocktail sauce.

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New York’s waterways are more than just sun-and-surf weekend destinations—they’re brimming with history. Trailing Gotham’s origins from an oyster-loving Dutch settlement to the sushi-rolling modern era, these maritime factoids will have you cruising the city’s sea-set history more smoothly than a sailboat in the Hudson.

1524

Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazano enters the New York Narrows, the first European to tour the Hudson River and land on Gotham soil. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—linking Brooklyn to Staten Island—is later named in his honor.

1621

In a diary entry, a Dutch settler bellyaches that “very large oysters” are so plentiful along the shore that it’s difficult to sell the colossal bivalves in New Amsterdam (present-day New York).

1660–1700

New Yorkers like Frederick Philipse—one of the city’s big-pimpin’ merchants—welcome pirates seeking to relieve themselves of their “found” booty.

1703

The New York provincial government passes an act outlawing both the distilling of rum and the burning of oyster shells within city limits (due to fear of air pollution).

1830s

Massachusetts businessmen begin marketing Maine lobster to New York and Boston after the booming canning industry creates an unquenchable demand for the crustacean, leading to lobster’s rise from a poor man’s protein to a gourmet delicacy.

1860

Twelve million oysters are sold in New York. By 1880, the area’s oyster beds are producing 700 million a year. The last year oysters are harvested in city waters is 1927.

1885

An oyster-shucking champion shells 2,500 bivalves in a lickety-split two hours, 23 minutes and 39 seconds.

1889

The Evening Sun reports on a ten-seat Fulton Street restaurant called the Clam—serving more than 50 kinds of preparations—widely regarded as Gotham’s first-ever single-item-focused eatery.

1939

Manhattan clam chowder is deemed such an affront to the New England original that a bill introduced into Maine law makes it illegal to add tomatoes to chowder.

1940s

Brooklyn’s fishing industry booms post-WWII, when a number of navy veterans enter the business, converting the War Department’s sub chasers into fishing boats.

1948

Sau-Sea, a New York company, patents and brands the first-ever cocktail sauce.

1972

The Harvard Club of New York opens the city’s first sushi bar. The club’s exclusivity plays a role in the rising cost of sushi and bolsters its reputation as tony fare.

1976

The shellfish beds of the Great South Bay—which supplied the vast majority of New York’s clams—are at their peak, regularly producing 750,000 bushels a year. In 1985, they plummet to 104,000 annually, due to an algae-laden “brown tide.”

2010

World Trade Center workers scouring post-9/11 rubble discover the skeleton of an 18th-century ship 30 feet below street level.



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