5 Things You Didn’t Know About Long Island

Long Island Put America on the Moon

With the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing upon us, it’s high time to salute the engineers and scientists of Grumman (now Northrop Grumman) who built the Apollo lunar module, which ferried astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon on July 20, 1969. Only three of these historic spacecrafts survive today; one of them is prominently featured at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City – in a special exhibit running through August 18, 2019.

First Shots Fired in the American Revolutionary War

While tensions between Whigs and Tories had been rising on Long Island for many years prior to the advent of hostilities in 1776, the first actual bloodshed occurred right here in Nassau County in what is now the Village of Rockville Centre. There, on June 22, 1776, an attempt by patriots to arrest Tories responsible for an attempted assassination on General George Washington was met with armed opposition, sparking the brief but significant Battle of Hempstead Swamp. While no one was killed in the incident, the shootout foreshadowed a far bloodier event that would occur two months later: the Battle of Brooklyn, which put Long Island – and all of New York City – under British control for the duration of the war.

A historical marker commemorating this early battle can be viewed by venturing to Tanglewood Preserve, an 11-acre nature refuge, in Rockville Centre.

Long Island: Star of the Silver Screen

While the film industry largely deserted the New York region in the 1920s, Long Island has been featured in many major Hollywood epics over the years, among the notable being:

  1. Citizen Kane (1941) – The magnificent Oheka Castle – in Cold Spring Harbor – is used to portray Charles Foster Kane’s legendary “Xanadu” mansion in Orson Welles’ magnum opus.
  2. North By Northwest (1959) – Another magnificent Nassau County Estate – Old Westbury Gardens – was used to depict the sinister residence of Dr. Lester Townsend, where ad man Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) nearly meets his doom.
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – The real-life Glen Head home of disgraced broker Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, was used to shoot several scenes of this Martin Scorsese epic.

Long Island continues to be a great place to shoot movies, and dozens of films and TV productions are being made here right now. Go to moviesfilmedonlongisland.com – a website dedicated to tracking these productions – to learn more about “Hollywood on the Sound.”

Notable Long Island-Based Inventions

Long Island has supplied the world with many useful inventions, and numerous organizations, including the Long Island Inventors and Entrepreneurs Club, work today to support the Island’s inventors of tomorrow. Here are some cool things invented right here on Long Island:

  1. Aerial Drones. In 1918, Long Island inventors Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt test flew a prototype for the first unmanned aerial vehicle, known as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Aircraft. While the aircraft never entered production, it’s the grandfather of today’s sophisticated drone devices used by the U.S. military.
  2. Video Games. In 1958, William Alfred Higinbotham, a physicist at Brookhaven National Labs who was part of the original team that developed the atomic bomb, invented Tennis for Two, the first interactive video game.
  3. Magnetic Levitation (Maglev). The technology powering the world’s newest, speediest trains – magnetic levitation – was patented by Gordon Danby and James Powell, two Brookhaven National Lab researchers, in 1968. (Sadly, there are no immediate plans for this technology to be deployed by the Long Island Railroad).
  4. Long Island Iced Tea. One of the world’s most potent drinks was invented in the early 1970s by Robert Butt, a bartender at the (defunct) Oak Beach Inn in Babylon. Since that time, it’s spread to elegant bars throughout the world. Consisting of equal parts of vodka, gin, white rum, white tequila and ½ parts of triple sec and sour mix, plus a splash of Coca Cola (to give it the color of non-alcoholic tea), this powerful summer cocktail only lacks one thing to make it perfect: a designated driver.
  5. The Miracle-Mop. St. James resident and serial inventor Joy Mangano invented this useful product – the world’s first self-wringing mop, in 1990. While orders for the Miracle-Mop were initially slow, they skyrocketed after Mangano personally demonstrated the product on the QVC shopping channel.
  6. The Segway. Serial inventor and Rockville Centre resident Dean Kamen invented the self-balancing Segway mobility device in 2001. While Segway sales never lived up to the projections of the company’s investors, the device is still used by police departments and tour groups around the world.

Not an Island?

Many Long Islanders will likely be shocked by the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court officially declared Long Island a peninsula, not an island, in a 1985 case entitled “United States v. Maine.”

“But of course it’s an island,” you’ll say. “It’s completely surrounded by water, isn’t it?”

Not so fast, said the Court, which deemed that because the East River, “as originally constituted,” was not deep enough to allow large ships to make the passage from New York Harbor through Hell’s Gate to the Sound, Long Island is not a true island.

Historians might have protested that the East River – even in its primordial, undredged state — was a waterway that posed no challenge to Adriaen Block – the first European to explore the Long Island Sound, when he first sailed from New York Harbor through Hell’s Gate into the Sound in 1614.

But any such protests – were they ever voiced – failed to persuade a single Justice. The result is a surreal legal precedent which — while satisfying to local State authorities seeking control over Long Island Sound — stretches common sense to the absolute limit.