I recently retired from corporate America and the U.S. Army as a systems tech. My Bruriah daughter is about to get married.
Now I’m a New York City tour guide. I do the open top buses. I also do private walking tours. Seven inventions get everyone’s attention: Pizza. Elevator. Steamship. Escalator. Air Conditioner. Telephone Area Codes. Oreo cookies.
Pizza: In Little Italy, 1905, Lombardi’s Restaurant had an idea. Take this common Italian family dinner of bread, tomato sauce and cheese. Slice it. Sell it to the public. The idea caught on fire. Pizza had been around since the Roman Empire. Back then, it was bread, cheese and spices. Tomatoes came to Europe after Columbus discovered America.
Elevator: A few blocks from Lombardi’s at an 1857 caste iron building is the first mechanical elevator. Elisha Otis built it for the Haughwout’s Department store. A rope over a tree branch has been around since Adam and Eve. But Otis’ steam driven device went up five floors. The first pizza and the first elevator are 200 yards apart.
Steamship: Up until 1807, all propulsion was muscle or wind. Then Robert Fulton launched the first steamship. Today, many American cities have a Fulton Street. The New York City Fulton Street is where the first steamship chugged up the Hudson. Fulton, however, didn’t invent the steam engine. That was James Watt in Scotland 30 years earlier. It had small industrial uses back then. But a New Yorker made big bucks from it.
Escalator: Coney Island is nine miles from lower Manhattan. till, as we pass the Brooklyn Bridge I point out that in 1896, Coney Island had the first escalator. Electric, too. Built by Jesse Reno, an engineer from Massachusetts who had put the idea down on paper in 1859. “Step Right Up Ladies and Gentlemen!” This idea caught on fire, too. A ramp at the Brooklyn Bridge got an escalator in 1897.
Air Conditioner: In 1902 mid-Brooklyn, a printing plant had a summer dilemma. The humidity was bending the paper. A 26-year-old engineer, Willis Carrier from upstate New York, tried his new cooling device that was the size of a car. It had these spaghetti shaped pipes with an expanding inert gas that absorbed heat. A fan at the condenser blew the heat outside. The printing workers thought this invention was cool, literally and figuratively. Willis Carrier distributed air conditioners after World War I. He had his “Igloo” at the 1939 World’s Fair. The big market was after World War II. Willis died in 1950.
Telephone area codes: As the tour goes up the Hudson, I talk about New Jersey. Some movie stars are from there, such as Loretta Switt and James Gandolfini. The Holland Tunnel was built in a national emergency. The colonial owner was born in Jersey, England. In 1947, Bell Laboratories invented the telephone area code for the U.S. and Canada. No human operator required. Washington got 202. Connecticut, 203. Manitoba, 204. The cities got the “1” in the middle. New York City, 212. Chicago, 312. Toronto, 416. Back in 1947 all of New Jersey got the same first area code: 201. The middle digit became more than a “1” in 1995. Around that time, I had worked with an older tech who was at Bell labs back then.
Oreo cookies. This last invention gets some tourists really excited. At 14th Street and the Hudson River is the 1899 headquarters of the National Biscuit Company, also known as “Nabisco.” Oreo cookies came out of there in 1912. The bakery moved to Fair Lawn in 1958. The old factory complex is now part of the Highline railway walk and the Chelsea Market.
For private tours, contact Adam Sternglass at (917) 355-5223 or [email protected].
Adam Sternglass was a systems tech on Wall Street and in the World Trade Center. He’s retired Army Reserve with saw duty in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives in Elizabeth and davens at Bais Yitzhak.