Buffalo: the city of good nicknames
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
The City of Buffalo is a historic one, and it dates back all the way back to the late 1700s. Did you know it was once the eighth-largest city in the United States?
We’re known for way more than just chicken wings, failing sports teams and the Blizzard of ’77.
President William McKinley was shot here, Fredrick Law Olmstead (the father of Central Park in New York City) designed the city park system and almost 80 Buffalo sites are included on the National Register of Historic Places. Millard Fillmore grew up here, and Grover Cleveland was also city mayor before becoming president. Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald each called Buffalo home for parts of their lives.
Buffalo has a rich history, and it has the nicknames – some you may have never heard of – to back it up.
The Queen City
“The Queen City” is probably Buffalo’s most well known nickname. It came about in the 1840s because Buffalo is the second-largest city in New York State – think of the Big Apple as the “king” city. Buffalo is estimated to have 261,025 residents (in the city proper alone; this doesn’t factor in the suburbs, which brings the count to over 1 million), according to the United States Census Bureau, while New York City has (estimated) over 8 million.
As time went on, the nickname was also used to describe Buffalo’s status as the second-largest city on the Great Lakes, after Chicago. Chicago is estimated to have almost 3 million residents.
The size of the Queen City is heavily due to the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825 and exposed the Great Lakes to international trade through the St. Lawrence Seaway. That’s why the Skyway sits so high along the waterfront – giant trading ships frequented Buffalo, and the steel and grain industries flourished here.
The city was also a major railroad hub; the Central Terminal on the East Side opened in 1929, and it was built to handle over 3,200 passengers per hour and 200 trains per day. Travelers from all over wanted to come to Buffalo, and Buffalo was the middle point for those traveling between New York City and Chicago.
The Nickel City
This moniker is a little more obvious – Buffalo is the Nickel City because of the inclusion of a bison on the back of Indian head nickels during the early part of the 20th century. From 1913 to 1938, these nickels dominated the currency –the United States Mint wanted to “beautify” the coinage. The design was brought back in 2001 for use on a commemorative silver dollar.
Really, the design has nothing to do with Buffalo, but it was picked up as a nickname as the symbol is present throughout the city.
The City of Light
Paris may be known as the City of Light, but Buffalo is, too. Unbeknownst to many, Buffalo was the first city to have electric streetlights, which were in use around 1881.
In 1901, Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair) and the event was built around an electric theme – the electric streetlights had just made their American debut (after premiering all across Europe) and the fair’s center piece was the Electric Tower, which still stands on Washington Street today.
The tower was lit by hydroelectric power harnessed from nearby natural wonder Niagara Falls – not many cities have such huge sources of power so close by, and the effects are monumental.
The City of Good Neighbors
You’ll never find a city so full of good, caring people like Buffalo. Some argue the city’s crime rate is a direct paradox to “the City of Good Neighbors,” but hear me out.
When my friend’s car spun out on the Scajaquada Expressway (the 198, for all you non-Buffalonians) during a terrible snowstorm, we were stranded on the side of the road while desperately trying to explain to AAA where we pulled over.
While I was walking the highway and trying to find mile markers, three cars stopped and asked if we were OK. These people wanted to help us, despite not knowing us. We didn’t feel threatened or worried these people would take advantage of our situation, and we were amazed by the kindness.
You can’t walk into Wegmans without running into at least five people you know, no matter what suburb you’re in. And all Buffalonians seem to be connected by one degree of separation. On a family vacation, we were surprised to learn our hotel neighbors were also from the Queen City and were related to a close family friend.
Buffalo’s full of interesting things, little-known facts and tiny pieces of American history – you just have to look for them.