Missouri’s nickname as the “Show-me State” comes from an ultimately undetermined source, though there are a number of different stories and legends regarding the phrase and how it came to be connected with the state. Among these various stories, the two most common and popular concern either a speech given by former congressman Willard Vandiver or the use of Missourian miners to replace striking miners in Colorado. In either case, the phrase became indelibly connected to Missouri and it has been known as the Show-me State ever since.
The most common source for the nickname for Missouri comes from a speech given by a former congressman from the state and his incredulity regarding political affairs. While he did not directly indicate that he was from the Show-me State, he may have coined the phrase or at the very least certainly popularized it and cemented its place in the history of the state. Representative Willard Duncan Vandiver was a member of the United States (US) Congress and served during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
Vandiver also served on the US House Committee on Naval Affairs and gave a speech at a naval banquet in 1899. It is said that in this speech he was commenting on the virtues of his home state of Missouri and commented that since he was from Missouri, that others had to show him something, rather than just saying something without anything tangible behind it. While many people look to this speech as the origin of the Show-me State nickname, some research has shown usage of the term prior to this address.
Other stories indicate that the nickname first originated in reference to a group of Missouri miners who went to Colorado to replace striking Colorado miners. These Missourians were unfamiliar with Colorado mining practices and it is said that they required frequent instruction regarding the regulations and procedures for mining in Colorado. The story goes that other miners commented on the Missouri miners and indicated to each other that they would have to “show them” how to do everything.
Regardless of the origins of the nickname, residents of the Show-me State have come to embrace the term as an indicator of pragmatism and realism in everyday affairs. The nickname remains unofficial, though “Show-me State” is printed on license plates for Missouri. Missouri is also sometimes referred to as the “Cave State,” due to the more than 6,000 caves found throughout the state, and “The Mother of the West,” due to the high numbers of pioneers who set out from Missouri.