From Sinatra to the Boardwalk: Fascinating New Jersey History

From the swagger of Frank Sinatra to the salty breeze off the Atlantic City boardwalk, New Jersey has a storied history. From its colonial history to its vibrant present day, this small state has a lot of interesting and fascinating stories to tell. We’re going to explore some of the most interesting and fun facts and history about New Jersey, from its earliest settlements to the modern day. Whether you’re a lifelong Jersey resident or just curious about the Garden State, you’re sure to learn something new.  

New Jersey Was Almost Named Something Else 

Black and white illustration of King James II

Did you know that the Garden State was almost named something else? Before the name “New Jersey” was settled on, other potential names included “The Province of New Switzerland,” “The Province of New Wales,” and even “The Province of New Netherlands.” It was James, Duke of York (later King James II), who chose the name “New Jersey” in 1664. He named it after the British Channel Island of Jersey and divided the state into two parts: East and West Jersey.  

The name “New Jersey” wasn’t officially adopted until 1776 when it was included in the Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t until 1787 when all the original thirteen colonies officially ratified the name, and it became the official name of the state. Since then, the name “New Jersey” has become synonymous with everything from the boardwalk to Bruce Springsteen. It is a source of pride for residents, and a name recognized by millions around the world. 

The First Miss America Pageant Was Held in Atlantic City 

Old image of first Miss America Pageant
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Atlantic City, New Jersey is known for its beautiful beaches and iconic boardwalk, but it has also been home to some historic events. In 1921, Atlantic City hosted the first ever Miss America Pageant. This event was created by businessman and entrepreneur Lenora Slaughter as a way to extend the tourist season in the city. Since then, the pageant has grown into a nationally recognized event that is watched by millions of people around the world. 

The first Miss America was Margaret Gorman, who was only 16 years old at the time. The Miss America Pageant has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Atlantic City. Today, it is an annual event that brings together contestants from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

There Are More Diners in New Jersey Than Any Other State 

Close up view of 1950s era diner booth and table

When it comes to eating out in a restaurant, no other state in the United States can compete with New Jersey when it comes to diners. New Jersey is home to more than 600 diners, which is more than any other state. This isn’t a surprise though; diners are a beloved part of New Jersey culture. 

The diners found in New Jersey are iconic for many reasons. Many of them have been around since the 1920s and 1930s, making them historical sites that serve as reminders of simpler times. They also offer up a unique atmosphere that you won’t find at your average chain restaurant. Some of the best-known diners in New Jersey include the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, The Edison Diner in Edison, and the Chit Chat Diner, a short drive from The Jefferson in Hackensack. 

Hoboken Is Where Baseball Began 

Historical illustration depiction of a baseball game at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ. Lithograph by Currier & Ives.
Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history of baseball is well-known, but what many people don’t know is that it all started in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1846, the first ever organized baseball game was played between the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers at Elysian Fields in Hoboken. The Knickerbockers won 23-1 in a 3-inning game, and while the rules of the game have changed drastically since then, the basic structure of baseball as we know it was born in this humble corner of the Garden State.  

Hoboken’s importance in baseball history has been recognized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which inducted the entire New York Nine and the Knickerbockers as members of its inaugural class in 1939. Today, a plaque at Elysian Fields marks the spot where this historic game took place. It serves as a reminder of the great moments that can come from small beginnings, and how far this beloved sport has come since its earliest days in Hoboken. 

Thomas Edison Invented the Light Bulb in Menlo Park 

Close up view showing a variety of hanging Edison lightbulbs

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This groundbreaking invention completely changed the way people used energy and led to modern day electricity. Edison and his team experimented for nearly four months to perfect the light bulb, and it was his first successful invention. After this invention, Edison went on to become one of the most prolific inventors of all time, inventing such items as the phonograph and the motion picture camera. 

The light bulb Edison created used a carbonized filament and was the first practical and commercially viable incandescent light bulb. His work on this invention is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Industrial Revolution. Even today, over a century later, his invention continues to shape our lives as we rely on it for illumination. 

Did you further know that Menlo Park is a section of Edison? And Edison was renamed in 1954 for – you guessed it – Thomas Edison! 

Fort Lee is the Birthplace of the American Film Industry 

Clapperboard being used to film a scene

Thanks to Thomas Edison creating the motion picture camera, New Jersey went on to further solidify its standing as a technological leader. Fort Lee, New Jersey has a long history of being a major contributor to the film industry. The small town was actually the birthplace of American movie production. In 1912, Fort Lee was chosen as the filming location for the first feature-length motion picture “The Great Train Robbery”. This groundbreaking film was shot there and helped establish New Jersey as a mecca for filmmakers.  

Since that time, many famous movie scenes have been filmed in Fort Lee, including classic titles like “King Kong,” “Easy Rider,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Goodfellas,” and “Risky Business.” It is also home to many television shots from shows like “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order,” and “Saturday Night Live.” In addition to these great productions, Fort Lee has also been the site of several iconic music videos, such as Madonna’s “Vogue” and Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover.”  

Fort Lee, NJ is a short drive from Waterside Village in Little Ferry, NJ, making it convenient to explore some of the locations from your favorites.  

The World’s Tallest Water Sphere Is in Bergenfield 

The Union Watersphere
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bergenfield, New Jersey is home to the world’s tallest water sphere, also known as a water tower. Located in Bergen County, this impressive structure stands at 128 feet tall and can store 1.2 million gallons of water. The water sphere is a critical component of Bergenfield’s water supply system and helps the borough maintain water pressure. 

The construction of the water sphere began in 1959 and was completed two years later. It is made of steel reinforced concrete and stands on a two-foot-thick slab of reinforced concrete. The water sphere has become a local landmark and has even been featured in several films and television shows. In 2015, it was named a historic landmark by the state of New Jersey. Bergenfield takes great pride in their water sphere, and it serves as an important reminder of how far the borough has come. 

Cape May Is America’s Oldest Seaside Resort Town 

View from the beach showing Cape May Victorian style red and green roof top buildings.

Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May has been a popular vacation destination since the mid-1800s. It was originally discovered in 1609 by the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson, who sailed past its coastline. By the late 19th century, Cape May had become a major resort town with a plethora of hotels, beaches, and attractions for visitors to enjoy.  

Today, Cape May is still a popular vacation spot, with plenty of fun things to do and see. Visitors can explore the quaint Victorian architecture, relax on the gorgeous beaches, or take in some of the city’s unique attractions. Cape May also boasts an impressive variety of restaurants and bars, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening. 

New Jersey Was the First State to Sign the Bill of Rights 

Artistic depiction of the Bill of Rights with American Flag next to it.

On December 18th, 1787, New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, making it the most important document in American history. The Bill of Rights, written by James Madison, outlines the basic rights of citizens of the United States. These rights include freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. It also ensures that the government will not infringe on these rights. This document is seen as one of the most important documents in world history and has been used to influence constitutions around the world.  

New Jersey’s decision to sign the Bill of Rights helped set a precedent for the other states to follow suit. Without New Jersey’s bold move, it is possible that the Bill of Rights may have never been adopted. By taking this decisive action, New Jersey ensured that all citizens of the United States would have their basic rights protected for generations to come.