The state of New York keeps its capitol in centrally located Albany, but its crown jewel, New York City, is largely responsible for the state's nickname, "The Empire State." Many point to George Washington as the first who uttered the state nickname of New York. In 1784, the nation's first president allegedly called the territory "the seat of empire," alluding to its position of worldly dominance, particularly in economic and technological affairs.
Legislators officially enacted the state nickname of New York in the late 19th century, but historians note that it was Washington who began the trend a few centuries before, when he reportedly used the terminology in a few ways, particularly in a letter to the mayor of New York City, James Duane. The state's flag, shield and seal all reflect this spirit of empire, by prominently displaying the state motto of "Excelsior," meaning "forever upward." "The Excelsior State" is another less-commonly used state nickname of New York.
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For four decades after its construction in 1931, the world's tallest skyscraper was located in New York City's Manhattan burough, aptly named the Empire State building. It is still a popular landmark in 2011. The World Trade Center became the city's as well as the world's tallest building in 1973. In 2001, however, when the twin towers were destroyed, the Empire State building regained the title of the tallest skyscraper and symbol of dominance for the city, and possibly the world.
The state attempted to broaden the meaning of its nickname in early 2001. Instead of license plates declaring "The Empire State" and bearing a prominent New York City monument — the French-given Statue of Liberty, the state switched to plates that bore the nickname along with a collage of skyline views: the Adirondack Mountains, Niagara Falls and Manhattan. This offered a more well-rounded view of the entire state and not just New York City.
Another state nickname of New York that has fallen far out of favor is "The Knickerbocker State." This is in reference to a popular style of pants worn by Dutch colonists. Though the Dutch were among the earliest settlers, this nickname quickly became insufficient to describe the city's burgeoning progression toward becoming the heart of the American melting pot.