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Why Is Nebraska Called the Cornhusker State?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cornhusking is a term for the manual husking, or stripping, of husks from fresh corn. Before the advent of husking machinery, farmers husked their corn by hand. The "Cornhuskers" was the nickname for the University of Nebraska sports teams, named by sportswriter Charles S. Sherman in 1900. In 1945, Nebraska took the sports teams' name as the state nickname to honor the state's major agricultural industry — corn. Nebraska's bounty of agriculture did not come easy for the state, and behind the "Cornhusker State" nickname is a story of Nebraskan persistence and determination.

Nebraska is located in the center of the contiguous Unites States, a vast, flat land once perceived as part of the great central plain desert. Even the rivers are flat in the state; the name Nebraska comes from the Native American word nebrathka, meaning "flat water." The dusty, empty, monotonous landscape showed little promise for agriculture. Pilgrims traveling through the territory on their way west commonly made mention of Chimney Rock, a natural rock formation that seemed to be one of Nebraska's only notable landmarks.

The Homestead Act of 1862 changed Nebraska from a flatland range into a thriving agricultural state. Fields of wheat and corn and tree orchards flourished from advanced farming methods, better tools, irrigation and stubborn tenacity of Nebraskans. Undeterred by severe weather, natural disasters, insect plagues and wildfires, Nebraskans persisted their plantings, determined to make Nebraska the bread basket of the country. They planted wheat and the most important food staple — corn, which led toward the nickname "Cornhusker State." As Nebraska's prosperity grew, Nebraskans sought patriotic state symbols, a state motto and other state emblems to express their history and pride of citizenship.

The first official state nickname for Nebraska was the "Tree Planters State." It brought attention to the nearly miraculous transition of the desert plains to acres of trees planted by homesteaders. J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City founded National Arbor Day in 1872. Then in 1895, the Nebraska Legislature officially deemed Nebraska as "Tree Planters State."

By the 1940s, Nebraska was booming with maize. The state latched on to the University of Nebraska's athletic nickname, judging it to be an appropriate name for the state as well. The State Legislature repealed the "Tree Planters" nickname in 1945 and deemed "Cornhusker State" the new official state nickname. The "Cornhusker State" nickname referred to the importance the crop held in the state, both as a food staple for human consumption and as grain for Nebraska cattle, which was another important industry for the state.

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Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Jan 21, 2012

@titans62 - I agree, I feel like Nebraskans do not really care what people think about them and they choose to hang together as one group of people and embrace their culture.

Although people can make fun of the people from Nebraska, they live in a unique state that separates themselves from the rest of the country. I actually find that having a culture and a unique aspect is a lot better than not having a unique part about a state and that Nebraska is a great example of this aspect.

By adopting such a unique nickname and unique identity it allows the state of Nebraska to separate themselves from the rest of the county and show that they are proud to be from the state that they choose to live in.

By titans62 — On Jan 20, 2012

@cardsfan27 - I have always thought that the term "the Cornhusker State" causes the people in the state of Nebraska to be looked down upon and looked at as a bit of a backward type of people just because it labels the state as being full of farmers.

Maybe it could be the elitist thoughts of some people, but it just seems like that the state of Nebraska is made fun of a lot more than other states simply due to the fact that they associate so much of their state with corn and are not afraid to say so.

I feel like that the people that make up the state of Nebraska do not care for these outsiders opinions and that they simply care to embrace the unique nature of the state and not be afraid to say that they are different than other states.

By cardsfan27 — On Jan 20, 2012

@jcraig - You are absolutely correct for a variety of reasons. A good unique team nickname can help the culture of the college and give the sports programs more attention and more of a charm that appeals to people. I went to a small school where the nickname was the "Scots" which had nothing to do with the community and was simply a neat nickname, but it definitely brought attention to the college and made us more well known.

A nickname like the "Cornhuskers" definitely reflects the culture of the area and reflects the people that make up the state. I have always felt that the University of Nebraska had quite a large, loyal, and energetic fan base due to the fact that their name and success as a program allow a little bit of charm to them and make them a unique and successful school in the athletic realm.

By jcraig — On Jan 19, 2012

I have always thought that the University of Nebraska Corn Huskers have the most appropriate mascot for any major college in the country.

It is very hard to think of many other schools that have a name that embodies the people of the state and gives them their own unique name that no one else has.

Although to most people a person who husks corn is a rather boring thing to have for a mascot, it is a very integral part of the culture of Nebraska and this is reflected in the University of Nebraska athletic programs as their mascot is relevant to the people of the state and reflects the culture of the state.

Schools that pick mascots such as this add their own unique stamp on the college landscape and do a lot to unite the people of the state around the programs and allow them to support the programs with pride.

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