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Why is the San Francisco football team called the 49ers?

When the California Gold Rush began in 1848, American football didn’t exist. But those aggressive gold miners would give their nickname to a football team one hundred years later.

Gold was first found in Northern California in January 1848, and it took about a year for the news to travel and inspire thousands of fortune seekers to head west. The miners who arrived in 1849 encountered a number of fortunate coincidences. They were relatively early compared to the competition that would follow over the next six years; they could put a pan in the river and pull out gold. Also, California was still disputed territory. Before 1850 (when California became a state), the gold was free. There were no taxes or land rights’ arguments. These fortunate early gold miners were quickly dubbed the “forty-niners.” There were published reports around the country about them, and there was a book, The Forty-niners, Or, The Pioneer’s Daughter published in 1879.

Meanwhile, the first game of American football was played in 1869 in New Jersey, and even then it didn’t really look like football, more like soccer mixed with rugby. (Why are there two kinds of football? Get the story.)

When the first Northern California football team was founded in 1946, the name came logically. The team’s mascot was a gold miner named Sourdough Sam (pictured above). Perhaps because of the name, the team has never left San Francisco.

(And why is the Super Bowl called a “bowl?” Does it have anything to do with bowling?)

28 Comments

  1. Anne Lopez -  September 28, 2014 - 11:41 am

    I have been a 49ers fan all my lifen I was birn in San Francisco and my dad took me to the keysar stadium. I am no longer a 48ers fan. I read how they got their name. They killed my people so I will no longer go for them. I’m being really nice right now. No respect what the white man did. Came to our land and took over and killed my people babies children ladies and men. We should of never been nice to the whit people

    Reply
  2. Sean -  June 23, 2014 - 11:35 am

    Whoever wrote this out did a great job.

    Reply
    • tat -  October 6, 2014 - 1:21 pm

      yeah this is so cool

      Reply
  3. Formule 1 -  February 6, 2013 - 6:35 am

    49! Like this! They’re so cool.

    Reply
  4. Societic -  February 3, 2013 - 7:19 am

    I always thought it was because the California Gold Rush started around 1849, well you learn something new everyday they say.

    Reply
  5. steelersarethebest -  February 3, 2013 - 7:09 am

    wow, that’s very interesting, our social studies teacher told us this because he is a 49ers fan, 49ERS ALL THE WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  6. Zaki Siddiqui -  February 2, 2013 - 1:07 pm

    C’mon guys. You don’t have to be so critical all the time. This is really awesome.

    Reply
  7. 4qers -  February 2, 2013 - 12:54 pm

    hi

    Reply
  8. John The Righteous -  February 2, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    One would have to be born under a rock, a post 1980 public high school graduate or a Democrat to not know about the California Gold Rush and the forty-niners.

    Reply
  9. Otoo Kate -  February 2, 2013 - 10:06 am

    I Really Enjoy The Story
    I’m So Impress,i Love It!!!!!!

    Reply
  10. 49ers | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 2, 2013 - 8:19 am

    [...] “49ers” — Goal in them there Hills — of San Francisco where the Haight — Is in the Street — The Golden Gate and pieces of  — Wait — Oui only dealing in limited skills. — Research is not in our passing. — Our goal is simply harassing. — The Staff of multitudinous personalities  — not trying for Castro outclassing. –  Another Bowl of Roses — Uber sniffing by upturned noses — of a Foot or a Ball or both. — At the same time. –>>L.T.Rhyme This entry was posted in DICTCOMHOTWORD, L.T.Rhyme and tagged LT, LTRhyme, the HOT WORD on February 2, 2013 by LTRhyme. [...]

    Reply
  11. twmorgan -  February 1, 2013 - 10:47 pm

    The Sand Gnats? Best sports team name ever!!!

    Reply
  12. Handsome Jonni -  February 1, 2013 - 4:13 pm

    They should be called the 69ers ’cause of football.

    Reply
  13. Anaza -  February 1, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    Wow… talk about history. That’s pretty neat!

    Reply
  14. dnorthfield -  February 1, 2013 - 3:47 pm

    The 49ers are about the leave SF for a new stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Sad!

    Reply
  15. charlott -  February 1, 2013 - 2:37 pm

    wow way kool

    Reply
  16. ghfcgdx -  February 1, 2013 - 11:40 am

    no 49ers

    Reply
  17. mhood1 -  February 1, 2013 - 9:21 am

    Minor league teams have the best names. The baseball team in Savannah, GA is the “Sand Gnats”, and there’s a baskeball team in Vermont called the “Frost Heaves”. (If you’ve driven in New England in the winter you get it!)

    Reply
  18. mhood1 -  February 1, 2013 - 9:19 am

    Names don’t keep teams from leaving, though I can’t imagine the 49ers anywhere but San Francisco, a great sports town! Some teams have moved and taken names with them that don’t make much sense in their “new” locales. The Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) name made much more sense in their orignal home of Minnesota, the “land of ten thousand lakes”. Also in LA, the Dodgers (MLB) supposedly took their name from the long-ago Brooklyn everyday pedestrian adventure of “dodging” streetcars to get around. The team moved 55 years ago, the name stayed. Meanwhile NBA fans have been used to the name “Utah Jazz” for a while now, but the name only makes sense when you realize the team’s original home was New Orleans.

    Reply
  19. Esteban Sardinia -  February 1, 2013 - 6:50 am

    Your facts are in dispute; they are named the 49′ers after the year in which Claudius married Agrippina the Younger. Look at the 49ers history section on the Webnet; they were almost called Agrippina’s Centurions but the name was shot down.

    Reply
  20. jacklyn -  February 1, 2013 - 6:41 am

    I love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  21. Tuanku Bustamam Hassan -  February 1, 2013 - 6:18 am

    I think it is not free of co-relation in meaning between the super bowl and bowling. Although it’s seen like a free connection beween “superbowl and bowling” in context or syntaxes but it is not free from meaning relationships ethimologically. And may feel free to read and write both supebowl and bowling in any contextual expression. Thank you!

    Reply
  22. jrilett -  February 1, 2013 - 5:37 am

    Shouldn’t they be the Sutters or the Millers??

    Reply
  23. Bubba -  February 1, 2013 - 3:44 am

    I guess a high school tournament is called a ‘Saucer’? – no, wait … a Cup? If it were a REALLY small tournament a ‘Demi-tasse?’
    In Europe they could call their soccer finals ‘Vats’, or better yet ‘Cauldrons’ or even ‘Crucibles’? And don’t let’s forget to remember those horse racing events called Plates. We could call our local Pub-league baseball bashes ‘Mugs’ and an after dinner billiards match a ‘Snifter’.
    I’m sure that with a little imagination we can find some sports to ‘match’ up with all the rest of the neglected dinner set. Hey, we could call an Eating contest a….. GOBLET!!!

    Reply
  24. anthonee -  January 31, 2013 - 10:04 pm

    the 49ers are going to win the superbowl this year on february 3, 2013.

    Reply
  25. sarah -  January 31, 2013 - 7:18 pm

    aawweessoommee i love the 49ers!

    Reply
  26. nelson1457 -  January 31, 2013 - 4:31 pm

    Actually, they aren’t the 49ers. They’re the Forty-Niners.

    And you need to do a lot more research on the subject. California was governed by territorial law in 1848 (it was acquired by the United States in 1846,) which was quite specific about land rights. Yes, you could easily make a claim on a piece of land of specific dimensions, and take the gold from that land, but you did not have ownership or permanent rights. Many ‘camps’ had additional rules, such that no chinese were allowed a claim.

    And the people who arrived in 1849 found almost all of the good claims were gone, and were mostly relegated to land where little gold was likely to be found.

    Reply

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