Iconic New York

The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. From the founding of the republic, to the construction of some of its most iconic landmarks, to celebrations as varied as V-J Day and the modern holiday season, New York City can be seen as an endless collection of iconic moments.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture

Central Park and Upper West Side Manhattan (2009) by Photographer: Eric FirleyRoyal Institute of British Architects

Join this Expedition through time and the seasons to explore one of the most iconic cities on Earth.

Federal Hall, April 30, 1789

What took place before April 30, 1789, that brought George Washington to Federal Hall in New York City on that day? The British colonies in North America fought for and won independence from Great Britain. 

After long debate and great compromises, the new states ratified the United States Constitution, creating a government of 3 branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Unanimously elected as the first chief executive, or president, of the United States, Washington paid off his debts and travelled from Virginia to New York.

Federal Hall

New York’s City Hall became Federal Hall in 1785, not long after the city became the nation’s first capital. The building was demolished in 1812. The custom house built on the site in 1842 now serves as the Federal Hall National Memorial.

George Washington

Born in 1732, Washington grew up in the Virginia Colony. At 21, he was a major in the British Army. In 1775, he was appointed commander of the Continental Army. The victory of his troops at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 was decisive in the War of Independence.

John Adams

John Adams accompanied Washington to Federal Hall in 1789 to be inaugurated as his vice president. He was an early advocate for American independence and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. In 1796, he became the second president of the United States.

Soldiers of the Continental Army

The Continental Army was established by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. It was a permanent fighting force of paid troops, different from the volunteer militias that operated in the colonies. The miserable conditions suffered by Continental Army soldiers throughout the Revolution are legendary.

Empire State Building, 1931

Although it has not been the World’s Tallest Building for longer than it held that title (41 years!), the Empire State Building may be the most famous building in the world. It is certainly one of New York City’s most recognizable landmarks. Built during the Great Depression at a cost of $41 million, this steel, granite, limestone, and brick monument has 102 stories and tops out at 1,250 feet. 


In 1929, when construction of the Empire State Building began, the massive tower cranes used in the building of skyscrapers were quite new. Developed in Europe in the first decades of the 20th century, initially they were used mainly in the shipbuilding industry.

Steel Girder

You can think of the Empire State Building as a limestone and granite skin on a 3-D grid of steel columns and beams—57,000 tons of them. The steel frame is entirely encased in concrete to make it fireproof.

Riveting Team

Beams and columns made of rolled steel were assembled with rivets to form the frame. Four-man teams—a “pitcher,” a “catcher,” a “holder”, and a “riveter”—replaced temporary bolts with hot rivets at a rate up to two per minute.

Safety Precautions

What safety precautions? The “sky boys”—the ironworkers who assembled the building’s frame—worked without helmets or harnesses, balancing on narrow beams and defying gravity. Their daring was documented in hundreds of photographs by Lewis Wickes Hine, whose work this still recreates.

Rockefeller Center, September 20, 1932

Rockefeller Center was conceived by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., as a “city within a city” at the heart of Manhattan. Rockefeller certainly wanted to make money on the development, but he also loved buildings. 

Today, the central complex of 14 office towers and theaters completed in 1940 is widely considered to be an architectural masterpiece. We’re standing now on what will be the 70th-story observation deck of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the Center’s centerpiece. It’s 1932, and below, the city is in turmoil.

Construction Workers

Construction of Rockefeller Center began in 1931 during the Great Depression, a period when the economy of the United States nearly came to a halt. By 1932, the unemployment rate was over 24%. From 1931 to 1940, construction of Rockefeller Center provided jobs to over 75,000 workers.

The City

New York City was hit hard by the Depression from the moment the New York Stock Exchange “crashed” in October, 1929. Hundreds of businesses shut down, and by 1932, 1 in 3 New Yorkers was without a job, and over 1.5 million people were receiving some kind of assistance.

New York City, 1930s by ©Bettmann/Getty Images

Hooverville in Central Park

During the Great Depression, homelessness soared in New York City. Soon a settlement of makeshift shacks had been erected in one area of Central Park. Shantytowns like this were called Hoovervilles by people who blamed President Herbert Hoover for the painful economic conditions.

Times Square, August 14, 1945 ─ V-J Day

When people think about World War II, they often imagine fighting across Europe. But the fighting in the Pacific with Germany’s ally Japan was also intense and cost many thousands of lives. The European war ended on May 8, 1945, with Germany’s surrender. 

The war with Japan went on until, in August 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Americans celebrated V-J—or Victory over Japan—Day on August 14, 1945, the day they learned the Japanese had surrendered.

War is Over

Well, not quite. In Japan, on August 15, 1945—because of the time difference, it was August 14 in the U.S.—Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender. But the official surrender was not signed until September 2, 1945.

The Kiss

This still recreates one of the most famous photographs of all time. The picture—often called “The Kiss” —was taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. Eisenstaedt was in the right place at the right time, and, as he put it, “It was done within a few seconds.”

The Sailor

The identity of the sailor is not certain. There is evidence to support the claims of both George Mendonsa and Glenn McDuffie to have been the guy who planted the famous kiss. Both were in Times Square that day.

Vj Day (1945-08-14) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

The Girl

Greta Zimmer was almost certainly the girl. In fact, she wasn’t a nurse but a dental assistant. This is how she described the moment: “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”

Central Park West, Thanksgiving Day, 2015

In 1924, R. H. Macy & Co.’s flagship department store in Herald Square was expanded to cover an entire city block. What better way to promote the “World’s Largest Store” than to throw a parade? 

The lineup stretched for two city clocks and included 3 horse-drawn floats, 4 bands, and animals from the Central Park Zoo. Santa Claus brought up the rear just as he has done every year since. The parade was a huge local success. Today, it’s an American tradition.


The parade draws huge crowds—over 3.5 million people line the 2.5-mile route from W. 77th St. and Central Park West to W. 34th St. and 7th Ave. Another 50 million people watch the parade on TV.


The gigantic helium balloons for which the parade is famous were introduced in 1927. For some people, the Giant Balloon Inflation, which takes place the evening before the parade in areas surrounding the Museum of Natural History, is even better than the parade itself.

Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, at W. 65th St. and Central Park West, hosts its own iconic New York event. For the past 49 years, it has presented the sacred music of J. S. Bach and his contemporaries at the Sunday evening Vespers service.

Central Park

Moving south on Central Park West, the parade passes some of the park’s most well-known landmarks, including Strawberry Fields, the Sheep Meadow, Tavern on the Green, the Heckscher Ballfields, and the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle.

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