The Garden State and Other New Jersey State Nicknames

NJ Home Page
There is no definitive explanation for New Jersey's nickname of "The Garden State."

It is on our license plates as the result of L.1954, c. 221; NJSA 39:3-33.2. This legislation was passed over Governor Meyner's veto. His veto message to A545, dated August 2, 1954, says in part "My investigation discloses that there is no official recognition of the slogan 'Garden State' as an identification of the State of New Jersey."

Alfred M. Heston, in his two-volume work, Jersey Waggon Jaunts, published in 1926 ( Camden, NJ, Atlantic County Historical Society, 1926), twice credits Abraham Browning of Camden with coining the name at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia on New Jersey Day, August 24, 1876. On page 310 of volume 2 he writes: "In his address Mr. Browning compared New Jersey to an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and the New Yorkers from the other. He called New Jersey the Garden State, and the name has clung to it ever since." The problem with this is that the image of a barrel tapped at both ends dates back at least to Benjamin Franklin, so this statement crediting Browning with naming the Garden State can not be taken at face value.

Robert Lupp
New Jersey Reference Services
New Jersey State Library
12 October, 1994


Addenda:

#1
NJSA 39:3-33.2 License plates; words "Garden State" to be imprinted

The Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles in the Department of Law and Public Safety shall, upon the occasion of the next and each subsequent general issue of passenger car motor vehicle registration license plates, cause to be imprinted thereon in addition to other markings which he shall prescribe, the words "Garden State."

L.1954, c. 221, p. 834, para. 1.

Historical Note

Passed December 6, 1954, the objections of the Governor notwithstanding; Filed December 7, 1954. Title of Act: An Act concerning motor vehicles and supplementing article 2 of chapter 3 of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes. L.1954, c.221, p. 834.


#2
State of New Jersey,
Executive Department,
August 2, 1954

Assembly Bill No. 454

To the General Assembly:

I am returning herewith, without my approval, Assembly Bill No. 545, for the following reasons:

This bill provides that the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles shall, upon the occasion of the next and each subsequent general issue of passenger car motor vehicle registration license plates, cause to be imprinted thereon the words "Garden State".

A bill similar to this was vetoed by Governor Driscoll in 1953. He said "the registration plate itself, moreover, is an important legal device evidencing compliance with the laws of the State of New Jersey and it should be confined to that purpose without the detraction of any mottoes or phrases". Governor Driscoll's point of view might be refuted if there existed either an official basis for the designation of New Jersey as "Garden State" or if the gardening or farming industry was the overwhelmingly predominant feature of the State's economy. I refer, for example, to the designation on the Wisconsin license plates of that state as "America's Dairyland".

My investigation discloses that there is no official recognition of the slogan "Garden State" as an identification of the State of New Jersey. It is, moreover, obvious that New Jersey's place in the economy and life of the nation is today attributable to its preeminence in many fields, in addition to its acknowledged high standing in agricultural pursuits. Statistically, only 2.4 percent of our workers are employed on farms while 97.6 percent are engaged in non- agricultural occupations. New Jersey is noted for its great strides in manufacturing, mining, commerce, construction, power, transportation, shipping, merchandising, fishing and recreation, as well as in agriculture. I do not believe that the average citizen of New Jersey regards his state as more peculiarly identifiable with gardening for farming than any of its other industries or occupations. Indeed many of our people regard the state as preeminently a residential community.

For the reasons set forth hereinabove, I cannot concur in the view that such justifiable purpose is served by the bill in question as would outweigh the obvious disadvantage of reducing the space on the metal license plates available for the official registration designation.

Accordingly, I am constrained to return Assembly Bill No. 454 without my approval.

Respectfully, Robert B. Meyner, Governor

Attest: Robert J. Burkhardt, Secretary to the Governor.


#3
(From: Heston, Alfred M. "Jersey Waggon Jaunts" Camden, Atlantic County (N.J.) Historical Society, 1926. Vol. 1, p. 72)

A distinguished citizen of Camden, Hon. Abraham Browning , stirred the pride of Jerseymen by telling them, at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, on New Jersey Day, August 24, 1876, that our Garden State is like a huge barrel, with both ends open, one of which is plucked by New York and the other by Pennsylvania.

And from Vol. 2, p. 310:

The principal speaker on "Jersey Day" was Hon. Abraham Browning, of Camden. ... In his address Mr. Browning compared New Jersey to an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and New Yorkers from the other. He called New Jersey the Garden State, and the name has clung to it ever since.


NJ Home Page