Why Do We Say “Jump on the Bandwagon”?

In sports, a lot can be determined by one’s jump. Players are measured by how high they can jump, while fans are measured by where they jump.

If your team loses a few games in a row, do you give up on them? If they start off the season on a winning streak, do you suddenly go looking for your old shirt packed away deep in the bottom drawer?

Fans are constantly jumping on or off the bandwagon. Why do we say that? Where does that phrase come from?

Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Why Do We Say “Jump on the Bandwagon”?

According to Phrases.org.uk, we have the circus to thank for the word bandwagon.

Circus owner Phineas T. Barnum coined the word in the USA in the mid 19th century. He used it as the name of the wagon that carried the circus band from one city to another.  The term dates back to 1855 his his autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855:

“At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances excepting four horses and the ‘band wagon’.”

Barnum, however, is not credited with the phrase “jump on the bandwagon.” Although he is a big reason why it came into existence. He made the circus so attractive that as the bandwagon rolled through town, huge crowds would back the streets.

In the late 19th century, politicians, always looking to attract a crowd, stole a page out of Barnum’s book and started using bandwagons when campaigning for office.

By the 1890s, people began using the phrase “jump on the band wagon” to show ones alliance. Teddy Roosevelt made such a reference to the practice in his Letters, 1899 (published 1951):

“When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

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