Perhaps no state has produced as many notable figures as New York, whether from the worlds of politics, literature, the arts, or sports. Many of the towering individuals who played such fundamental roles in building this country politically, economically, and culturally were New Yorkers. The list reads like a who's who of the United States since independence: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Livingston, Roosevelt, Gould. Thousands of writers, artists, and filmmakers -- many, of course, drawn from elsewhere to New York City's rich arts climate -- have made New York their tableau.
The roster of New York statesmen is impressive: Alexander Hamilton (NYC by way of Nevis, St. Kitts), the first secretary of the treasury; John Jay (NYC), the first chief justice; Presidents Martin Van Buren (Kinderhook), Chester A. Arthur (NYC by way of Vermont), Grover Cleveland (Buffalo by way of New Jersey), Theodore Roosevelt (NYC), and Franklin D. Roosevelt (Hyde Park); and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (Sleepy Hollow). Others played critical roles in widening the political spectrum and campaigning for expanded liberties. Eleanor Roosevelt (NYC/Hyde Park) was the wife of FDR but herself a formidable reformer and human rights activist. Susan B. Anthony (Rochester by way of Massachusetts), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Johnstown), and others were leading activists for women's suffrage and civil rights. Harriet Tubman (Auburn) was one of the most important abolitionists, an ex-slave who shepherded hundreds to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Frederick Douglass (Rochester) was the publisher of the immensely influential journal The North Star and a leading campaigner for civil rights. Shirley Chisholm (Brooklyn) was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first African American to run for President on the Democratic ticket.
And a few more . . .
New York visionaries in other fields include George Eastman (Waterville/Rochester), founder of the Eastman Kodak Company and inventor of the Kodak camera, and Dr. Jonas Salk (NYC), who developed the vaccine for polio. Other New Yorkers scaled different heights: Al Capone (Palmdale) is perhaps the most infamous American gangster of all time.
Thomas Cole (Catskill) founded the Hudson River School of Painters, and the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and modern sculptors like David Smith, with his studio near Lake George, established New York as the epicenter of the art world in the latter half of the 20th century. Edward Hopper (Nyack) became one of the 20th century's best-known realists (many of his most famous paintings are scenes of New York City, like "Early Sunday Morning," a placid early morning view of Hudson St.), while Andy Warhol (NYC by way of Pittsburgh) and Roy Lichtenstein (NYC) were the top pop artists of the '60s and '70s. Norman Rockwell (NYC), a talented painter and illustrator, made art accessible through nostalgic portraits of small-town America.
The list of New Yorkers who made their marks in the worlds of art and literature is without parallel. Herman Melville (NYC) was the author of one of modern literature's classic works, Moby Dick. Henry James (NYC) analyzed modern society in Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Wings of a Dove. The poet Walt Whitman (West Hills) wrote one of the seminal works of poetry, Leaves of Grass. The playwright Eugene O'Neill received the Nobel Prize for literature, while J.D. Salinger, raised in the Bronx and the author of The Catcher in the Rye, remains an enigmatic recluse. Modern masters whose works are often indelible portraits of the city include Don DeLillo (the Bronx), who wrote Underworld and White Noise, and Paul Auster (Brooklyn), whose books include New York Trilogy and The Brooklyn Follies.
In the world of popular music, Irving Berlin (NYC), a Russian immigrant to New York City's Lower East Side, wrote the classics "White Christmas," "God Bless America," and "Puttin' on the Ritz." Barbara Streisand (NYC) transitioned from her generation's greatest voice to a successful career as a film actress and director, and Bette Midler dedicates herself to protecting New York City's green spaces when not acting or performing her cabaret shows.
In the sports world, talented New Yorkers who revolutionized their sports include the basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Lew Alcindor in NYC); the tennis champion John McEnroe (Douglas Manor, Queens); Lou Gehrig (NYC), the Yankees' legendary hitter; football coach Vince Lombardi (Brooklyn), who played college football at Fordham University in the Bronx; pitcher Sanford "Sandy" Koufax (Brooklyn), who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers; and basketball star Julius Erving (Roosevelt).
New York is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and while many have made their name in the city's cut-throat industry, Tommy Hilfiger rose from modest Elmira (Finger Lakes region), and Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lipshitz in the Bronx. Famous actors from New York include Woody Allen (born Allen Konigsberg in NYC); Lucille Ball (Jamestown); Humphrey Bogart (NYC); Mel Brooks (born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn); James Cagney (NYC); Tom Cruise (Syracuse); Robert De Niro (Little Italy/NYC); Groucho Marx (Spanish Harlem/NYC); and Mae West (Brooklyn). For additional famous filmmakers, musicians, and writers, see the following section, "New York in Popular Culture."
Presidential Birthplaces -- Four of 44 American presidents were born in New York State, including: (No. 8) Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841 (b. Dec. 5, 1782, Kinderhook); (No. 13) Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853 (b. Jan. 7, 1800, in Locke Township [now Summerhill]); ; (No. 26) Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909 (b. Oct. 27, 1858, New York, New York); and (No. 32) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945 (b. Jan. 30, 1882, Hyde Park).
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