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Why is Pennsylvania Called the Keystone State?

Pennsylvania earned the nickname "Keystone State" for its pivotal role in the founding of the United States, much like the keystone in an arch, which holds all other stones in place. Its central location, rich history, and influential figures were instrumental in shaping the nation. Discover how Pennsylvania's unique heritage continues to impact America's story. What secrets does this keystone hold for you?
Dee Saale
Dee Saale
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Each state in the United States has at least one state nickname. One of Pennsylvania’s nicknames is the Keystone State. Although no one knows the exact reason behind the nicknaming Pennsylvania the Keystone State, many people believe it originated from Pennsylvania’s key vote to move the states toward independence from Britain. Other people believe it refers to Pennsylvania’s geographic location. Regardless, the Keystone State has been one of the accepted nicknames of Pennsylvania since the 1800s.

It may be helpful to understand what a keystone is before delving into the reasons behind Pennsylvania’s nickname as the Keystone State. A keystone is the main, center wedge in an architectural arch. It is the piece that locks all the other pieces into place — all the pieces depend on the keystone, and without the keystone, the arch would crumble. The common theme amongst all the reasons for nicknaming Pennsylvania the Keystone State is related to this supportive piece.

The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Some people believe the nickname, the Keystone State, originated from the time when the states were voting for their independence from Britain. Pennsylvania had nine delegates in the Continental Congress. Some sources hold that the Pennsylvania delegates were divided: four delegates were for independence and four delegates were against becoming independent. The final vote went to John Morton, and he voted in favor of independence. His vote, and consequently, Pennsylvania’s vote to move toward independence have been called the keystone vote or the vote in support of the new government.

Thomas Jefferson referred to Pennsylvania as the "keystone of the federal union" in 1802.
Thomas Jefferson referred to Pennsylvania as the "keystone of the federal union" in 1802.

Pennsylvania’s nickname was reportedly used in a toast during the victory speech when the Republican presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, defeated his democratic rival. He referred to the state as the “keystone of the federal union” in 1802. A newspaper stated that Pennsylvania was a “keystone in the democratic arch” in 1803. Even in modern times, Pennsylvania is believed to have an impact on the politics of the United States by many people.

To avoid religious persecution, William Penn and other Quaker colonists formed the settlement of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the Quaker State.
To avoid religious persecution, William Penn and other Quaker colonists formed the settlement of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the Quaker State.

A few people believe that Pennsylvania’s nickname originated based purely on its location amongst the original 13 colonial states. There were six states above and six states below Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was the state that literally held the other 12 states together, much like the keystone holds together an arch.

Pennsylvania has several other nicknames, as well. Many people refer to it as the Quaker State because it was originally founded by William Penn, a Quaker. He moved to Pennsylvania to avoid hostility toward his religious beliefs. It has also been nicknamed the Steel State, the Chocolate State, the Oil State, and the Coal State based on the industries that were prevalent through Pennsylvania at various times in history.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Pennsylvania referred to as the Keystone State?

Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania earned the nickname "the Keystone State" due to its central location among the original Thirteen Colonies and its key role in the founding of the United States. It was likened to the keystone of an arch, an essential piece that holds all the other stones in place, symbolizing Pennsylvania's central position in social, economic, and political development. The state's contribution to the formation of the U.S. government and its pivotal role in early American history cemented this moniker.

What historical events contributed to Pennsylvania's keystone reputation?

Pennsylvania's reputation as the Keystone State is rooted in several historical events. It was the meeting place for the First and Second Continental Congresses, and the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed in Philadelphia. Additionally, Pennsylvania was at the center of the American Revolution and played a crucial role in the creation and shaping of the new nation, further reinforcing its status as the keystone of the fledgling United States.

When did Pennsylvania start being called the Keystone State?

Pennsylvania was first called the Keystone State in the early 19th century. The exact origin of the term is not definitively known, but it is believed to have been popularized during the 1802 Pennsylvania election, where a Jeffersonian newspaper referred to the state as the "keystone in the federal union." The nickname gained widespread acceptance and has been associated with Pennsylvania ever since.

Are there any official symbols or emblems of Pennsylvania that reflect its keystone nickname?

Yes, Pennsylvania's keystone nickname is reflected in various state symbols and emblems. The state's flag features the state coat of arms, which includes a depiction of a keystone. Additionally, the keystone shape is incorporated into the design of the Pennsylvania state capitol building, and it is also used in the logos of many state agencies and programs, emphasizing its significance as a symbol of Pennsylvania's heritage and identity.

How does Pennsylvania's geography contribute to its keystone nickname?

While the nickname "Keystone State" is primarily derived from Pennsylvania's historical and political significance, its geography also plays a role. Pennsylvania's location provided a natural land bridge between the Northern and Southern colonies, facilitating trade and communication. Its rivers, such as the Delaware and the Susquehanna, were crucial for transportation and commerce, further establishing the state as a central and connecting force among the colonies.

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to UnitedStatesNow.

Learn more...
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to UnitedStatesNow.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon1006743

Thomas Jefferson was a member of the Democratic-Republican party. His opponent, John Adams, was a member of the Federalist Party.

Ruggercat68

If you ever get a chance to drive through Pennsylvania, you'll find a lot of things named for keystones. There's a Keystone state park and a Keystone state motel, for instance. There's also a popular beer called Keystone. Personally, I think the theory that PA is the central keystone of an Original Colonies arch is the right one. John Morton casting the deciding vote for American independence was an important moment, obviously, but I think the nickname was already in the works before the Revolutionary War.

Buster29

My parents grew up in western Pennsylvania, but I grew up in Ohio. Sometimes we'd visit relatives in PA and I'd see these odd little wedge-shaped symbols on license plates. My mom explained that Pennsylvania was called the Keystone State, and the little wedge was the keystone piece at the top of an archway. I always remember the nickname because of the license plates.

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    • The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
      The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
    • Thomas Jefferson referred to Pennsylvania as the "keystone of the federal union" in 1802.
      By: Vacclav
      Thomas Jefferson referred to Pennsylvania as the "keystone of the federal union" in 1802.
    • To avoid religious persecution, William Penn and other Quaker colonists formed the settlement of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the Quaker State.
      By: George Eastman House
      To avoid religious persecution, William Penn and other Quaker colonists formed the settlement of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the Quaker State.
    • Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
      By: Gino Santa Maria
      Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.