New York is home to a lot of brilliant minds (comedians, authors, artists—the list goes on). And that claim to fame means we’ve also originated many of the world’s great creations. Did you know all these things were created here?
1. Toilet paper: In 1857, Joseph C. Gayetty began selling packs of “medicated paper for the water closet” out of his wholesale shop at 41 Ann St. The paper was made from pure Manila hemp and treated with aloe. Best (or worst) of all, each sheet was watermarked with his name.
2. Chicken ’n’ waffles: After its 1938 opening, Wells Supper Club in Harlem was the last stop for jazz greats like Sammy Davis Jr., Gladys Knight and Nat King Cole. Catering to its night-owl talent, Wells created the perfect dish for acts who’d missed dinner but couldn’t wait till breakfast: leftover fried chicken on a sweet waffle.
3. The pneumatic railway: Inventor Alfred Ely Beach unveiled the first air-propelled train (and technically new York’s first subway) in 1870. The car was pushed by a 20- ton fan along one block under Broadway from Warren to Murray Sts, and cost a quarter to ride.
4. The Waldorf Salad: The Waldorf Astoria boasts two inventions on this list, the first of which is its classic salad, which combines lettuce, apple, celery and walnuts. It was first served in 1896.
5. Teddy Bears: In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot an injured black bear while on a hunt. Inspired by the story, Morris and Rose Michtom, candy-store owners from Brooklyn, sewed a plush bear and displayed it, calling it “teddy’s bear.” The toy was so popular, they gave up candy and opened a factory to make the cuddly critters.
6. The Tom Collins: In 1874, a hilarious joke swept through the city: A prankster would tell a friend, “I was at [insert local saloon], where Tom Collins was saying [insert insult] about you!” The offended party would rush off to defend his honor, but there was no Tom Collins. (Cool joke, bro.) Inspired by the prank, New York mixologist Jerry Thomas created the recipe in 1876.
7. Coal-fired pizza: Pizza was cooked with wood fires until Gennaro Lombardi introduced the tasty magic of coal. Legend has it he served the first coal-fired pie in 1905. Cooking pizza that way is technically illegal now, but the ovens of a few select haunts around the city were grandfathered in, including Lombardi’s, Totono’s and Patsy’s.
8. Scrabble: Out-of work architect and anagram lover Alfred Mosher Butts conceived this wordy board game in 1931 while living in Jackson Heights, Queens. The street sign on Butts’s corner in Queens now reads “35t1H4 a1V4e1n1u1e1” after the famed letter-scoring system.
9. Spaghetti primavera: When this faux Italian dish (fresh vegetables and Parmesan cream sauce on pasta) was served at Le Cirque in 1977, it was, according to The New York Times, “the most talked-about dish in Manhattan,” much to the chagrin of head chef Jean Vergnes. The classically trained Frenchie was so offended, his cooks had to prep the dish in a hallway—yet later he claimed its invention.
10. The remote control: Nikola Tesla conceived of a radio-controlled boat way back in 1898. The idea was so novel that nobody believed such technology could exist.
11. Sweet’n Low: Fort Greene entrepreneur Benjamin Eisenstadt teamed up with his chemist son, who found a way to create saccharin in powdered form (before it could only be a liquid or a pill). He named his pink-label brand after a Tennyson poem.
12. Eggs Benedict: Stockbroker and bon vivant Lemuel Benedict woke up one morning in 1894 with a raging hangover and booked it to the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where he ordered a poached egg, crispy bacon, toast and hollandaise sauce. Legendary maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky was such a fan of the creation, he added it to the hotel’s menu.
13. The Bloody Mary: Fernand “Pete” Petiot imported his tomato-juice-and-vodka concoction from Paris to the St. Regis hotel’s King Cole Bar. Catering to the spicier local tastes, Petiot added Worcestershire sauce, lemon and a dash of cayenne and black pepper.
14. Credit Cards: You have John Biggins of the Flatbush National Bank to thank for those interest charges and late fees: In 1946, he created the charge-it program, which issued customers bank credit cards for use at local Brooklyn merchants. The shop owners would then deposit the sales slips at the bank, who would then bill cardholders.
15. Baked Alaska: In 1876, the pioneering pastry chefs of lower-Manhattan restaurant Delmonico’s conceived of piping-hot sponge cake topped with crispy meringue and filled with ice cream, naming this miracle of food science in honor of the country’s newest territory.
16. General Tso’s Chicken: While exiled in Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War, chef Peng Chang-Kuei created a spicy-and-sour chicken dish as an homage to a famous Hunanese general. When he jumped ship to New York in the 1970s and opened Peng’s, the dish became a huge hit— after he added sugar to the recipe.
17. Frozen Hot Chocolate: Stephen Bruce, the cofounder of iconic East-Side restaurant Serendipity 3, kept the recipe of this decadent dessert a secret for 40 years. Bruce recently revealed that the famous frozen treat is 14 kinds of cocoa mixed with crushed ice and topped with whipped cream. (The types of cocoa still remain a mystery.)
18. Air conditioning: In 1902, Willis Carrier created his “apparatus for treating air” to keep the humidity from warping the paper at a printing plant on Grand St in Bushwick. Saving workers from the sweltering summer heat was just a fortunate side effect.
19. The Reuben Sandwich: Alright, this one’s contested, but many say Arnold Reuben, owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen, invented the meat-and-krout combo in 1914. Legend has it, the sandwich was created for a famished actress, who came in after a show, using the few ingredients left on the deli shelves.
20. Mr. Potato Head: When New Yorker and toy designer George Lerner first created plastic facial features to stick on real vegetables, toy companies worried that food wasting wouldn’t fly with a postwar public. But in 1952, Hasbro bought Lerner’s idea and made the first TV ad ever for children’s playthings, selling a million units that year.
21. Hot dogs: Coney Island baker Charles Feltman had the genius idea to serve hot sausages in a bun for a dime each. His frank fortune bought him a beachside empire of hotels and beer gardens, until former employee Nathan Handwerker opened Nathan’s Famous and sold his dogs for only a nickel.
22. ATMs: the first money-dispensing device was conceived in 1939 by Luther George Simjian, who convinced the City Bank of New York (today’s Citibank) to test his contraption for six months. The bank declined to use the machine after that, because “the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers.”
23. Cronuts: Dominique Ansel labored for months to perfect his doughnut-fried, fluffy hybrid from heaven. The pastry, which debuted in May 2013, still inspires down-the- block lines each morning.
24. Children's Museums: The Brooklyn Children's Museum, located in Crown Heights, opened in 1899 and was the country’s first museum dedicated to the education of kids. It was also the first to introduce a “hands-on” policy for its exhibits.
25. Hip-hop. Enough said.
—Research and writing by Tolly Wright and Joseph Alexiou