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Why is Pennsylvania Called the Keystone State?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006743 — On May 13, 2022

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

By Ruggercat68 — On Oct 02, 2014

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.

By Buster29 — On Oct 01, 2014

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.

Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
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