Skip to main content

Why are Purdue students and alumni called Boilermakers?

The Boilermaker Special
The Boilermaker Special, Purdue's mascot, helps keep a legend alive.

Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, has had winning sports teams since the 19th century, when both our union and the university were young. In 1889, Purdue's football team traveled to Crawfordsville, Indiana, to play Wabash College, whom they defeated 18-4.

Wabash students and the people of Crawfordsville were devastated by the defeat. According to one correspondent from the era, the town began referring to the Purdue team as "a great big burly gang of corn-huskers," "rail-splitters," "foundry molders," and "log-haulers." One newspaper reporter wrote this line: "A blacksmith they had would come into the Wabash boys like a mogul engine and the more they choked him the happier he seemed to be."

Over the next few years, Purdue's reputation did not dim, and when their team gave Wabash College a 44-0 drubbing in 1891, the local press wrote wildly about the carnage. One sports writer for the Daily Argus headlined his story "Slaughter of Innocents," with the line under that reading, "Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue."

By the next football season, the name had stuck. Ever since, Purdue's teams have been known as the Boilermakers, and the school's mascot is now the Boilermaker Special, a vehicle outfitted to look like the 19th century steam engines that Boilermakers built throughout the country.

What about that widely held view that those early teams actually used burly Boilermakers from the local railroad shops? Unfounded. West Lafayette's Monon railroad shops were not built until 1895, several years after the name was already in use.

One fact that may have contributed to public acceptance of the Boilermaker nickname is that Purdue's engineering students pursued a hands-on education, often working directly with the tools. From 1891 to 1897, they kept a fully operational steam locomotive, The Schenectady, on hand for research. Real boilermakers and blacksmiths would have felt right at home in this university lab.

Visit the Purdue Sports website for a more detailed explanation of the Purdue/Boilermakers nickname history.

Latest News

  • The massive crowd at the 11th annual USA Boilermakers Kansas City Sporting Clays Shoot prepares to brave the rain.

    Boilermakers shoot raises record $215,000 bucks for the bang

    Read More

  • IP Newton B. Jones, conference chairman

    New initiatives, carbon capture, absenteeism solutions punctuate MOST National Tripartite Alliance Conference

    Read More

  • International announces scholarship winners

    International announces scholarship winners

    Read More

  • Boilermakers joins rail union bargaining coalition

    Boilermakers joins rail union bargaining coalition

    Read More

  • Attending the first District 10 conference are, first row l. to r., L-D454 ST David (Spud) Stevenson, L-D406 ST Share Hebert, L-D579 ST Mike Ettinger, L-D494 ST Stanley Young, District 10 BM-ST Tony Andrade, L-D406 VP John Black, L-D366 BM Jameson Amaral, L-D387 President Jason Bosley, L-D387 ST Mike Gyde and L-D324 President Scott Carson. Second row l. to r., L-D366 President Jason Boles, L-D494 President Jim Louwe, L-D454 President Brad Sutherland, L-D579 President Shawn Hines, L-D488 ST Mike Smith, L-D48

    District 10 holds first leadership training conference

    Read More