Why is Boston Called Beantown?

Why is Boston Called Beantown?
Cities, just like people, sometimes get nicknames. These names might highlight an attribute people are fond of, or they may reflect something the city is famous for. When it comes to Boston, the town is actually known by a handful of different nicknames. Some of these include The Hub of the Universe, The Athens of America, and The Cradle of Liberty. But perhaps Boston’s most famous nickname is Beantown. In this post, we’ll explore the origins of the Beantown nickname. Why is Boston called Beantown in the first place?

Why is Boston Called Beantown?

It should be noted that not everyone enjoys the nickname Beantown. In informal polls and discussion groups, it is common to find Bostonians that are against this name. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it still exists. So how did it come about? As with much in life, no one can say for certain, but there are a couple prevailing theories.

The Area Is Known for its Beans

The state of Massachusetts has long been known as a place for baked beans. In fact, the baked navy bean is the state’s official bean.

The prominence of beans in the region all began with the Native Americans, who prepared a variation of baked beans with maple syrup and venison even before the Pilgrims arrived. The colonists who settled in this area would have seen the dish prepared in this way, and likely adapted it to their own diets.

The early settlers of Massachusetts were very religious. They observed the Sabbath, meaning they did not work or cook hot meals on Sundays. Over time, it became common to bake beans on Saturdays, and leave them in hot brick ovens overnight. Thus, baked beans became a traditional Sunday meal, a practice that lasted until the early 20th century.

According to at least one legend, it was the popularity of baked beans in the area that would lead sailors far and wide to dub the city “Bean Town.”

Beans Were Used as a Publicity Stunt

Another theory for how Boston came to be known as Beantown deals with publicity stunts to encourage people to visit the city. In 1890, a Civil War Veteran’s convention was hosted in Boston, and to commemorate the event, the Beverly Pottery Company created and distributed small bean pots as souvenirs. When people were asked where they had gotten those posts, they supposedly replied with “bean town.”

It’s also possible that Boston got its nickname in the 1900s, when it created its first annual Old Home Week. People who had previously lived in the area but moved away were encouraged to come home and relive their memories during the celebration that would last for an entire week.

The campaign to get people back to Boston was incredibly aggressive and spanned the entire nation. Stickers were created for the event, and they portrayed two hands clasped together above a bean pot. Approximately one million of these stickers were created and distributed.

Later, postcards were created that portrayed a variety of different slogans to encourage people to visit Boston, including the saying “You Don’t Know Beans Until You Come to Boston.” Other postcard slogans included “Bigger, Better, Busier, Boston,” which featured an image of a bean pot, and “Souvenir of Boston and Vicinity, Won’t You Have Some?,” which also had a picture of a bean pot.

For this reason, it’s not hard to see why people would soon begin to associate Boston with beans.

A Controversial Symbol and Nickname?

Boston Nickname
From the start, not everyone was happy with the use of beans and the bean pot to symbolize Boston. In fact, many viewed it as nothing more than an everyday stove implement used by common people. They were inexpensive and were often the main sustenance for poor immigrants who lived in Boston. Many believed that there were other patriotic symbols that could and should have been used as the city’s symbol. Even today, there are those that view the use of Beantown as rude and insulting.

While the exact origin of the nickname is unclear, we do know that it was likely a ploy to get tourists and visitors to come to the area. In many ways, it is still used in that way. According to online chat groups, no one who lives in Boston actually refers to it as Beantown. In all likelihood, Beantown was created for, and continues to be used by, outsiders.


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