The History of Tailgating

By Ashlee Peck

September 2nd is National Tailgating Day. Tailgating is a widely loved pastime, but where does the activity originate?

history of tailgating

Even those that don’t love sports are often willing to take part in tailgating festivities. What’s not to love about sharing (lots of) food and fun with friends while enjoying a much larger sense of community?  In fact, it’s actually reported that as many as 35% of tailgaters don’t attend the sporting event being held within the stadium. But where did this tradition of grilling out and celebrating in parking lots before the game get its start? Did our ancestors tailgate?

While investigating, we discovered that there are actually several theories.  At its shortest, this activity goes back at least 100 years – while some suggest that the history is much deeper.

One of the most popular positions suggests that tailgating actually has its roots in the bounty of falls harvest.  Groups would gather to celebrate the end of summer and their successful crop yield as a final hurrah before the harsh fall and winter arrived. Over time, these large parties began to coincide with our sporting events, and incidentally they became part of a shared tradition.

Another prominent, and macabre, theory is that tailgating actually originated during the U.S.’s Civil War. This theory suggest that during the first major battle, the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, voyeurs actually traveled from DC to Manassas, Virginia. There, they gathered with picnic baskets to watch and cheer on their “team”, Union or Confederate.

A third theory which is widely accepted actually has its roots in American football. The story tells that a large number of fans were transported by train to a Yale football game in 1904. By the time they arrived to the game, most of the fans were quite famished. Luckily, they had made sure to bring food and beverages to the stadium prior to the start of the game.

Whatever the actual origin may be, tailgating has been a beloved tradition in our country for a very long time. It’s not unlikely that your American ancestors spent a sunny afternoon enjoying an overabundance of food with their friends and community.