Every U.S. state has a nickname, whether or not the state legislature has made it official. Many need no explanation at all, with names inspired by a state’s abundant wildlife or most abundant exports. Louisiana’s Pelican State moniker, for example, refers to the big birds that catch fish along the state’s meandering coastline, while Georgia is called the Peach State for its famous bounty of sweet summer fruit. As for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, no one wonders why they’re referred to as the Bay State and the Ocean State, respectively. Other state nicknames are a little more curious, however. Here are some explanations and inspirations behind some of our country’s more unusual state nicknames.
Colorado, The Centennial State
Colorado joined the union as a state in 1876 — exactly 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Thus, Colorado became known as the Centennial State. Unofficially, the state is often referred to as “Colorful Colorado” for its unspoiled mountain backdrops and colorful vistas. In fact, the state’s department of transportation famously erects "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs along many of the state’s highways.
Iowa, The Hawkeye State
Iowa’s nickname is in honor of a Native American leader and warrior of the Sauk tribe. A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War, Chief Black Hawk’s personal memoir was the first Native American autobiography published in America. He died in 1838 in Davis County, Iowa, where a local newspaper publisher renamed his paper The Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot in his honor. The Hawkeye State nickname was made official in 1838, before Iowa even became a state.
Connecticut, The Constitution State
In 1959, Connecticut’s general assembly declared a state nickname — the Constitution State. The reason behind the moniker: a series of government documents adopted by the Connecticut Colony council entitled the Fundamental Orders of 1638-39 that were actually the first written rules of government used in the United States. The orders may very well be the first written constitution in American history, and it’s certainly safe to say they laid the groundwork for the United States Constitution. So, even though the nickname only became official in the 1950s, Connecticut earned it!
Ohio, The Buckeye State
Ohio’s Buckeye State nickname stems from the buckeye trees that proliferate within the state’s natural spaces, specifically broad grasslands and low hills. These trees famously bear nuts that Native Americans and early settlers likened to the eyes of male deer — or bucks. The buckeye is even the official state tree, designated by Ohio legislature in 1953.
That said, the moniker is more than this native tree — Ohioans have been referring to themselves as Buckeyes at least since the presidential election of 1840, when Ohio resident William Henry Harrison ascended to the Oval Office. The politician’s supporters used buckeye wood to fashion carved campaign souvenirs in support of Harrison (who only served 31 days in office before succumbing to pneumonia.
Indiana, The Hoosier State
Per the Indiana State Library, the Hoosier State nickname comes from a poem called “The Hoosier’s Nest.” Published in The Indianapolis Journal in 1833, the poem inspired Indianians to adopt the nickname — possibly starting at a Jackson Day dinner in Indianapolis that same year and becoming widely used to describe state residents by the 1930s. Why Hoosier? The state’s historical bureau points to one Samuel Hoosier as the source. A contractor, Hoosier preferred Indiana laborers for his various projects. Of course, the moniker grew even more popular after a movie of the same name was released in 1986. Set in the 1950s, the Oscar-nominated film tells the story of a high school basketball team participating in an Indiana state championship.
Maryland, The Old Line State
According to state government officials in Maryland, historians believe the Old Line State nickname came directly from General George Washington in tribute to the colony’s Line Regiment troops, who bravely served under him in the Revolutionary War. The Old Line term — which Marylanders adopted and still use widely — was common in Washington’s writings. But Maryland is sometimes referred to as the Free State as well. That unofficial moniker refers to the state’s abolition of slavery in its constitution back in 1864.
Missouri, The Show-Me State
Missouri’s nickname dates back to 1899. In a speech at a Philadelphia naval banquet, Missouri Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver famously stated, “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” He was speaking of his personal conservative and sometimes skeptical stance — one he believed reflected the spirit of Missourians who (sometimes stubbornly) subscribe to common sense values. All that said, the nickname is widely used across Missouri today — but only unofficially.
Montana, The Treasure State
Montana’s nickname — the Treasure State — refers to its rich mineral reserves, including its gold and silver mines. The state motto refers to these treasures as well: It’s “oro y plata,” Spanish for “gold and silver.” Such an abundance of riches has fed a thriving mining industry since the late 19th century (the nickname was coined in 1895). One of Montana’s unofficial nicknames is a bit less glamorous, however. First published in 1922, the “Stubbed-Toe State” moniker relates to many injuries an amateur hiker adventuring through Montana will likely face.
New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment
The Land of Enchantment nickname refers to New Mexico’s magical and often otherworldly beauty, which ranges from desert dunes and red rock formations to evergreen forests, and includes sites such as the White Sands National Monument, the Rio Grande Gorge, and the Capulin Volcano. The name only became official in 1999, and it derives from a Lilian Whiting book of the same name that espouses the unique beauty of America’s Southwest. Before 1999, New Mexico test-drove other nicknames including the Land of the Heart’s Desire, the Land Without Law, the Science State, and many others.
One thing’s for sure: U.S. Presidents are the stuff of legends. However, just because personal tales about the leaders are passed down from generation to generation doesn't mean the stories are rooted in truth. In fact, many of the stories are so outlandish that it’s amazing people believed them in the first place.
From flammable teeth to ridiculous bathtub debacles, we take a look at the eight of the oddest presidential myths out there — and set the record straight.
Myth: George Washington Had Wooden Teeth
Cherry tree aside, one of the most chewable facts is that the nation’s first President had a mouth full of wooden teeth. While it seems like an odd story to be linked to the founding father, a deeper dig gets to the root of the issue. Washington did indeed have terrible teeth, so much so that he had multiple dentures made. Those mouthpieces were made out of ivory, gold, lead, and even human teeth, but never any wood. Wood was not used by dentists at the time, because not only could wooden dentures cause splinters, but wood is also susceptible to expanding and contracting due to moisture — not ideal for something that lives in your mouth.
Myth: Thomas Jefferson Signed the Constitution
It seems incomprehensible that a big-name founding father like Thomas Jefferson missed out on signing the U.S. Constitution, but he never inked the deal. He was actually absent during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, as he was across the Atlantic Ocean in Paris, France, as the U.S.’s envoy.
Myth: Abraham Lincoln Wrote the Gettysburg Address on an Envelope
There’s no doubt that the 16th President was a brilliant orator. But the idea that he haphazardly scribbled one of the most important speeches in American history on the back of an envelope during a train ride sounds a little far-fetched. In reality, Abraham Lincoln toiled away at different versions of the Gettysburg Address, which he gave on November 19, 1863. Not just that, it was anything but a solo project. He collaborated with several associates on it — and there are even five original copies of the speech, not one of them on an envelope.
Myth: William Howard Taft Got Stuck in a Bathtub
One of the stranger presidential myths might be chalked up to potty humor. Somehow, 27th President William Howard Taft became associated with an embarrassing incident around getting stuck in a bathtub. While it’s true that he was larger in stature, weighing in at 350 pounds, he never had to be rescued from a tub.
That said, there is a reason he’s associated with baths. During his presidency, a super-sized porcelain tub that was 7 feet long, 41 inches wide, and a ton in weight was installed in the White House. It was so massive that four grown men could fit inside. In another bath incident after his presidency, he filled a tub at a hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, a little too high and when he stepped into it, it overflowed to the point that the guests in the dining room below got a bit of a shower.
Myth: The Teddy Bear Got Its Name After Theodore Roosevelt Saved a Real Bear
Theodore Roosevelt had long been a hunter, but didn’t exactly show off his best skills on a bear hunt in November 1902. Everyone else in the group had had a fruitful hunt, so to help Roosevelt, the guide tracked a 235-pound bear to a watering hole, clubbed it, and tied it to a tree so the President could claim it. As the story goes, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear.
The incident made its way to the Washington Post, which published a satirical cartoon about the President sparing the bear. New York City store owners Morris and Rose Mitchom saw the cartoon, were inspired by the President's act of heroism, and created stuffed animals in his honor, appropriately naming them “Teddy’s bear.”
The problem? Roosevelt didn’t shoot the bear, but he didn’t save it either. He saw that it had been mauled by dogs so savagely already that he asked for the bear to be killed with a hunting knife. Given the dark nature of this true tale, it makes sense that the details are often ignored when talking about this beloved childhood toy.
Myth: John F. Kennedy Won the Election Because of the TV Debates Against Richard Nixon
The televised broadcast of a 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is often said to have clinched the victory for JFK, who many found to be more photogenic and charismatic. But when you truly look at the election numbers, it didn’t really have that big of an effect on the results. The candidates were pretty much neck-and-neck throughout the campaign, even appearing to be tied in the polls before and after the four debates. Kennedy seemed to have a slight boost after the first one on September 26, but then Nixon hit it out of the park on the others, especially with his foreign policy take during the final one. In the end, Kennedy won the election by a mere 119,000 votes.
Kennedy and Nixon’s September 1960 debate is often credited as the first televised presidential debate, but that is also a myth. In 1956, a televised debate aired during the run-off between Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson. However, neither of them attended, and sent surrogates in their place. Eisenhower sent Maine senior senator Margaret Chase Smith, while Democrats went with Eleanor Roosevelt, and it aired on CBS’ Face the Nation.
Myth: Zachary Taylor Was Poisoned
Just over a year and four months into his term, 12th President Zachary Taylor fell ill and died while in office. For years, many thought that he may have been the first President to be assassinated, since it was rumored that he was poisoned. Despite his death in July 1850, it wasn’t until 1991 that Kentucky scientists definitively concluded there was no arsenic in his blood. Another story, that he died of eating cherries in iced milk, unfortunately may have more truth to it. After leaving the Washington Monument dedication in 1850, he had that combo as a snack and likely came down with severe gastroenteritis — an inflammation of the digestive system — dying five days later.
Myth: Gerald Ford Was a Total Klutz
Throughout Gerald Ford’s presidency, many joked that his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, was only a banana peel away from the presidency, since the 38th President was so often caught being clumsy. He tumbled down ski slopes, slipped in the rain, and fell coming out of Air Force One, so much so that he was spoofed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. But in actuality, Ford was quite an athlete in his younger days. He was a football star at the University of Michigan, where he earned his letter for three years. He even tackled future Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwander in 1934. During his White House years, he also swam and skied regularly, and played tennis and golf, so perhaps all that falling was just to add to his relatability.