The Purdue University Boilermakers weren't always known as the Boilermakers. Though they have been playing baseball on-and-off since 1888 their nickname history is an interesting one:
In the 1890s, hometown newspapers were considerably more protective of college teams than they are today. After the 44-0 drubbing, one Crawfordsville newspaper lashed out at the "Herculean wearers of the black and old gold." Beneath the headline "Slaughter of Innocents," the paper told of the injustice visited upon the "light though plucky" Wabash squad.
"Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers From Purdue" proclaimed another headline on the same story in the Daily Argus-News.
By the next week, the Lafayette papers were returning the taunts: "As everyone knows, Purdue went down to Wabash last Saturday and defeated their eleven. The Crawfordsville papers have not yet gotten over it. The only recourse they have is to claim that we beat their 'scientific' men by brute force. Our players are characterized as 'coal heavers,' 'boiler makers' and 'stevedores,'" wrote a reporter for the Lafayette Sunday Times of Nov. 1, 1891.
The nickname stemmed from the nature of a Purdue education. As a land-grant institution, the college since its founding in 1869 had schooled the sons and daughters of the working class for work that was considered beneath the high-born who attended liberal arts colleges such as Wabash.
That same fall of 1891, Purdue had acquired a working railroad engine to mount in a newly established locomotive laboratory. It was one more step in the development of Purdue as one of the world's leaders in engineering teaching and research. For athletic adversaries and their boosters, this specialty in engineering education - and the other concentration at the founding of the institution, agriculture - served as fodder for name-calling.
Over the years, Purdue teams had been called grangers, pumpkin-shuckers, railsplitters, cornfield sailors, blacksmiths, foundry hands and, finally, boilermakers. That last one stuck.
Source: Purdue University Webpage (link).
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