Jody Victor: Ohioans have been known as “Buckeyes” for so long the real story has been lost to us. But there are some theories. Ohio may have become known as the Buckeye State simply because many large, economically important buckeye trees grew in the Ohio region at that time.
Another possibility was proposed by the pioneer historian S.P. Hildreth of Marietta, Ohio, who told how Col. Ebenezer Sproat, who held the first court of justice in the Northwest Territory at Marietta in September, 1788, was given the name “Big Buckeye” by admiring Indians. According to the story, the nickname became known far and wide and was eventually associated with all the settlers of the region.
Still another theory, and perhaps the most credible, is that the name caught on in 1840, after Gen. William Henry Harrison began using the buckeye as a campaign symbol in his prisidential quest. During the campaign, hundreds of buckeye walking sticks and canes were distributed, and buckeye log cabins built on wagons as floats appeared in parades in many towns and villages. These, together with an accompanying song calling Ohio the “Bonnie Buckeye State,” firmly established a link in many people's minds between the state and the tree. The Ohio Buckeye was popularly accepted as the State's symbol during the late 1800s and the first half of the twentieth century, but it was not formally adopted by the Ohio legislature as the State Tree until 1953, on the occasion of Ohio's 150th anniversary of statehood.
Today the Ohio Buckeye especially symbolizes Ohio State University, particularly with regard to intercollegiate athletics. But even at OSU the buckeye is a relatively new symbol. During the 1920s the buckeye gradually assumed an unofficial role as a school symbol through references in the news media. In 1930, a recent OSU graduate, Milton Caniff, who later became popular as the creator of a comic strip (Steve Canyon), designed and began to promote a logo consisting of a buckeye leaf and several fruits. He continued doing this until September, 1950, when the University accepted the logo as its official symbol. Today, this stylized buckeye emblem assumes a prominent place at the base of the University's seal.