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How did the Name "Beantown" Originate?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated May 17, 2024
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Beantown is another name for the American city of Boston, Massachusetts. During its early history, this town was famous for the production of molasses, some of which was used to make rum, but the majority was also often used in making baked beans. It is believed that Boston's reputation for making this dish was a contributing factor that earned this city its nickname.

One rumor concerning the origination of the name Beantown concerns a remark made by a prominent resident of Boston during the early 20th century. This person is said to have coined the phrase, "you don't know beans until you come to Boston." The phrase stuck and became widely used by the locals when they were talking to tourists.

During the early 20th century, the town of Boston often printed postcards that had pictures of a bean pot on them. This indicates that the town's reputation for making baked beans had spread throughout the country. During this era, visitors began asking for this dish regularly in Beantown restaurants.

It appears that many factors contributed to Boston earning the nickname Beantown. The fact that Boston residents ate large amounts of brown beans which were often flavored with the molasses that was produced there was likely a major contributor. Boston baked beans have been enjoyed by local residents and tourists alike since the city was first settled in the 1600s.

In the 1870's, Boston was home to a baseball team that was called the "Boston Beaneaters." Today this team is known as the Atlanta Braves. It is not certain how the team earned this name. During this era, the term "beaneater" was an offensive phrase because many poor citizens ate a lot of brown beans, as this was a relatively inexpensive food.

During the late 19th century, Boston was the site of many reunions of American Civil War soldiers. Bean pots were used during these reunions, perhaps to cook a large amount of food for those who were attending. Some of the pots were taken from these reunions as souvenirs. These bean pots which came from Boston helped the city be associated with eating beans.

In colonial times, Boston was a part of what was known as the Triangular Trade. This trade was between North America, Europe, Africa and the West Indies. Slaves in the West Indies would sell sugar to traders from Boston. These traders would then use it to make molasses and rum, which was then sold to traders in Europe and West Africa. Eventually, this molasses was used in making baked beans.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jun 12, 2014

I've actually never heard anyone from Boston call Boston "Beantown." I've heard Boston called the Olde Towne, The Puritan City and the Cradle of Liberty.

By donasmrs — On Jun 12, 2014

I'm not sure how true this is but I read that Native Americans in Massachusetts already ate baked beans before the colonists arrived. The colonists are said to have adopted the dish as their own. The Native Americans used to add maple syrup to their beans, but the colonists opted for molasses that they made from cane sugar.

It became a tradition to eat baked beans on Sunday and on Sabbath. And Boston became increasingly known for beans, but it certainly wasn't the only only place where beans were popular.

By candyquilt — On Jun 11, 2014

I can't believe "beaneater" was thought to be offensive at one point. So what if beans are cheap? Now people of all economic statuses enjoy bean dishes and baked beans is a famous American dish.

I think "Beantown" is a rather cool name.

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