Ever wonder how the University of Michigan got its nickname, the Wolverines? Well, as early as 1861, UM students and alumni began referring to themselves as “Wolverines.” But how the ferocious animal came be associated with the state and adopted as the university nickname remains a bit of a mystery, but there are several theories.
- The first theory for the wolverine nickname would be that the animal was abundant in Michigan at some time. However, all the evidence points otherwise, as there has never been a verified trapping of a wolverine inside the state’s borders, nor have the skeletal remains of a wolverine been found within the state’s 96,705 square miles, until February 2004, when there was a wild wolverine found in Ubly, a small village located about 90 miles north of Detroit. It was the first sighting of a wild wolverine in 200 years.
- Legendary football coach Fielding Yost had a theory for the nickname, which he wrote about in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 1944. He felt that the reason for the nickname concerned the trading of wolverine pelts which occurred at Sault Ste. Marie for many years. The trading station served as an exchange between the Indians, other trappers and fur traders, who would eventually ship the products off to the Eastern United States. Because many of the furs were actual wolverine pelts, the traders may have referred to them as “Michigan wolverines.”
- Albert H. Marckwardt presented another theory for the “wolverine” name eight years after Yost’s theory was published in the Michigan Quarterly Review in. His reasoning was based on the fact that Michigan was first settled by the French in the late 1700s. The appetites of the French were judged to be gluttonous or “wolverine-like.”
- The last theory derives from the border dispute between Michigan and Ohio in 1803 aka the Toledo War. While the two sides argued over the proper setting of the state line, Michiganders were called wolverines. It is unclear, however, whether the Michigan natives pinned this name upon themselves to show their tenacity and strength, or whether Ohioans chose the name in reference to the gluttonous, aggressive, habits of the wolverine. From then on, Michigan was labeled the “Wolverine state” and when the University of Michigan was founded, it simply adopted the nickname of the state it represented.
It was most likely the Toledo War gave birth to the greatest rivalry in the history college football, Michigan vs. Ohio State.