What Is the Keystone State?

, Staff Writer
Updated June 30, 2021
map Pennsylvania keystone state
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    map of Pennsylvania keystone state

It can be fun to identify states by their nicknames, but it can be challenging to remember which nickname goes with which state. Are you wondering which state is sometimes referred to as The Keystone State? The answer might surprise you, as will the origin of this nickname as you find out what it means.

Why Is Pennsylvania Called the Keystone State?

Pennsylvania's nickname is The Keystone State, even though it isn't shaped like a key. The meaning of The Keystone State isn't about shape. Instead, Pennsylvania's nickname is a historically significant reference based on the meaning of the word keystone. This term is defined as the centerpiece of an arch, which serves the purpose of holding the arch together. Pennsylvania is called this nickname because its geographic location was directly in the middle of the 13 colonies, and it played a main role in the formation of America.

Many significant events that led to America's independence from England and evolution as a nation have Pennsylvania roots.

  • The Liberty Bell, a beloved Pennsylvania landmark, is also a significant American symbol.
  • Valley Forge, where George Washington was headquartered during the American Revolution, is in Pennsylvania.
  • Many American Revolution battles took place in what became the state of Pennsylvania after the war.
  • The United States Constitution was drafted, finalized and signed in Pennsylvania, as was the Declaration of Independence.
  • George Washington, America's first president, lived in Philadelphia for part of his presidency.
  • John Adams, the second president of the United States, lived in the same Philadelphia home as George Washington. When the White House was completed, he moved to Washington, D.C.

Once the new country was born, Pennsylvania also played a key role in the early development of the United States, not only from a political perspective but also from an economic and societal point of view. For these reasons, it makes sense that the keystone is an official symbol of Pennsylvania's state government.

sign Pennsylvania
    sign in Pennsylvania
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    Used under Getty Images license

Other Pennsylvania Nicknames

The Keystone State is not the only Pennsylvania nickname. Several other Pennsylvania nicknames are sometimes used.

  • The Birthplace of America - Pennsylvania is often called The Birthplace of America or The Birthplace of the United States, largely because this is where the new country's form of government was decided upon following the American Revolution.
  • The Birthplace of Democracy - While Ancient Greece is actually recognized as the first example of democracy in the world, Pennsylvania is sometimes described as The Birthplace of Democracy because this is where America's form of democracy was created.
  • The Quaker State - During colonial times, Pennsylvania was a Quaker province. Pennsylvania was originally founded to provide Quakers with a safe place to call home, due to the religious persecution they faced elsewhere.
  • The Oil State - The world's first oil well was located in Pennsylvania in 1859. Oil production has been a significant part of Pennsylvania's economy since that time. At one time, there were about 350,000 oil wells in the country. Now, most of the state's oil production comes from around unconventional wells, largely used for fracking.
  • The Coal State - Coal has also long been a major part of Pennsylvania's economy, so the state is sometimes described as The Coal State. Pennsylvania is, overall, the fourth-ranked coal-producing state in the U.S. in terms of volume. It's the only state that produces both anthracite coal and bituminous coal.
  • The Chocolate State - If you've ever eaten a Hershey bar, chances are that you know why Pennsylvania is sometimes called The Chocolate State. Beloved candy manufacturer Hershey started, and is still headquartered in, Hershey, Pennsylvania. There's even a Hersheypark theme park there!
  • The Steel State - Steel became the cornerstone of Pennsylvania's economy during the Industrial Revolution and remained a major source of revenue and jobs through the 1980s. That's why the state is sometimes called The Steel State.
  • Pennsyltucky - People sometimes refer to the state as Pennsyltucky, which is a slang reference comparing the Appalachian region of the state to Kentucky in a derogatory way. It's a rural, very conservative area, whereas the rest of Pennsylvania tends to be more progressive and liberal.

Keystone State Abbreviations

While The Keystone state is the most common nickname of Pennsylvania, the abbreviations used to represent the state are based on its actual name. The official postal abbreviation for Pennsylvania is PA. People sometimes abbreviate the state to Penn., both in writing and conversation. For example, The Pennsylvania State University is commonly referred to as Penn State. The school even uses the abbreviation on its official website.

Learn About State Nicknames

Now that you know which state is The Keystone State and have learned some interesting facts about what that means and other nicknames the state goes by, take the time to discover interesting facts about some other U.S. states and their nicknames. For example, find out which state is called the Pine Tree State. Then, explore which state is known as the Beehive State. You'll soon discover that Pennsylvania isn't the only state with a cool nickname that has an interesting backstory.