Jump on the Bandwagon – How it Got Started

Jump on the Bandwagon – How it Got Started

Where did the Phrase ‘Jump on the Bandwagon’ Come From?

People say it all the time, “jump on the bandwagon,” in reference to somebody deciding to go along with the crowd. We often say things and have no idea where they started or how they became so popular. Do you know the origin of the phrase, jump on the bandwagon? Do you understand what it means and how it all got started?

What does “Jump on the Bandwagon” mean?

When somebody says, “jump on the bandwagon” they are referring to supporting a hobby, idea, person, team, etc. after it has already become popular. For example, after an NFL team wins the Super Bowl, many people will “jump on the bandwagon” and become fans of the winning team.

Often, the phrase is used in a negative way and with sports; it may be accompanied by the phrase, “fair weather fan,” which means a fan willing to “jump on the bandwagon” of any team achieving success. Many sports fans believe a true fan will stick with their team no matter how good or bad they are, but a fair weather fan will jump on the bandwagon of the next team achieving success.

The phrase can be used in a more positive way. For example, if somebody decides to jump on the bandwagon and try to quit smoking, this would be a positive thing. However, the phrase is often associated with popular opinion and just going along with the crowd. It may seem positive, but often, jumping on the bandwagon is just going along with what’s popular and not standing up for what you believe in.

What is a Bandwagon?

Understanding the origin of the phrase, jump on the bandwagon starts with understanding what a bandwagon is exactly. A bandwagon is another name for a wagon. However, this type of wagon carried a circus band and the word, “bandwagon” first appeared in print in the book called, The Life of P.T. Barnum, which was published in 1855 and written by P.T. Barnum.

Jump on the Bandwagon

Circus Bandwagon (Flickr)

P.T. Barnum was a famous circus owner and when he was alive, the circuses were known for huge parades throughout the town before they set up shop. The parades always attracted quite a bit of attention and were used for marketing. The bandwagons were a huge part of the parades and were often decorated in bright colors making them very hard to miss.

The bandwagon, in the simplest sense, was a horse-drawn wagon pulling a platform. The platform was used for a band or group of musicians to perform during a circus parade.

What is the Origin of Jump on the Bandwagon?

Dan Rice - Circus Clown - 1823-1900

Dan Rice – 1823-1900 (LOC)

The late 1800s saw this marketing method become something most people understood better. It started to become more popular with politicians and Dan Rice, a circus clown, was the first to allow a politician to rent his bandwagon for campaign marketing.

As the rental of bandwagons for political campaigns grew in popularity, people started to rent out the seats to ride throughout the town. When they did this, they received face time with the residents of the town, which helped with the campaign.

Throughout the late 1890s, the first usages of the phrase, jump on the bandwagon started to emerge. The phrase was most often used in a negative way when a political speech was delivered. Often, the candidate would say something like, “don’t jump on the opponent’s bandwagon in haste.” The negative connotations of the phrase kept many others from admitting they even had a bandwagon, even though it was very common at the time.

At first, the phrase meant to literally “jump on someone’s bandwagon.” However, it evolved into something much different and became a phrase used to mean jumping into a popular hobby, fad diet, fandom for a specific team or anything else popular.

The transition occurred somewhere between 1899 and 1951, but an exact date is unknown. Teddy Roosevelt helped to make it popular when he referenced the phrase in Letters, which was published in 1951.

Bandwagon Fan

In sports, the phrase, jump on the bandwagon is often shortened to bandwagon fan. This is a person claiming to be a fan of a specific sports team, even though they didn’t have any interest in the team until they started winning. Often times, these types of sports fans only show interest in teams when they make the playoffs and will switch to a new team if their current team loses. They may not even own any team merchandise or watch any of the regular season games.

An example of this was seen when LeBron James was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many tried and true fans are found in Cleveland, but the group grew very fast as other bandwagon fans started to get on board when the Cavaliers made the playoffs.

Oprah Winfrey - Bandwagon Effect

Oprah Winfrey – Bandwagon Effect (Flickr)

The Bandwagon Effect

Along with the phrase, jumping on the bandwagon comes the bandwagon effect. This is a phenomenon where something happens causing many to follow an idea, fad, trend or belief. Usually, for the bandwagon effect to happen, the idea, belief or fad must already be accepted by a small group of people and seem to provide some type of benefit to those deciding to jump on the bandwagon.

As more start to accept the idea, fad or belief, the bandwagon effect happens, which causes the group to grow very fast. This is similar to the way a post can spread like wildfire on Facebook or Twitter, which is referred to as “going viral”.

The bandwagon effect is responsible for the many fashion trends and fad diets found across the world. When celebrities or others with a large following endorse a product, service, trend or fad, it’s often followed by the bandwagon effect. For example, anything Oprah recommends becomes an overnight hit. If it’s a book, it quickly becomes a bestseller.

The Bandwagon Effect in Politics

Often, the bandwagon effect drives a political candidate to success. Voters will jump on the bandwagon of a candidate they see as very likely to succeed simply because they don’t want to be on the losing end. They hope to be on the winner’s site when the election is over.

The time zones often cause a bandwagon effect in political races. Since the broadcasts happen in the Eastern Time zone, while the western time zone polls are still open, many western voters will choose a candidate after they have been influenced by the news from other time zones. In fact, Ronald Reagan was declared the winner by NBC News in 1980 before the polls in the west were even closed. This was based on the exit polls, not the actual votes.

This same bandwagon effect is seen in the primary for the presidential election. Since states all vote at different times spread across many months, it’s common for states voting early, such as Iowa and New Hampshire to cause a bandwagon effect since other states have to wait. Many candidates have won nominations after receiving momentum from early states in the primary.

Many studies have looked at the bandwagon effect with political races including The Journal of Politics study done of Todd G. Shields and Robert K. Goidel in 1994. They looked at 180 random students from the University of Kentucky and assigned them to nine different groups. Then, they asked questions about the same set of election scenarios.

Nearly 70% were influenced heavily based on the person they expected to win. Expectations were a huge part of the study and they found an independent voter is twice as likely to vote for a candidate they expect to win. Even Republican voters were shown to be more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate if they thought the candidate was more likely to win.

Another study was done during the 1992 US Presidential Election. Carol Pluinski and Vicki G. Morwitz conducted a study later published in The Journal of Consumer Research. They looked at 214 business students given the national polls and results of student polls, which stated Bill Clinton was in the lead. Other volunteers were not exposed to the same polls. Many students intending to vote for Bush had changed their minds after reading the polls showing Bill Clinton was in the lead.

Get into the Band Wagon

The phrase, jump on the bandwagon may have originated with actual bandwagons. However, the use of the phrase, as we know it today, may have started in 1884 at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. A speech delivered by Senator Dwight M. Sabin in support of nominee James G. Blaine stated: “…that Minnesota had concluded to be solid for Blain, “getting into the band wagon.”  Sabin delivered it well, and his “getting into the band wagon” was very generally listened to, which is saying a good deal in a convention where scarcely anything was heard but yells and cat calls.”

St. Paul (Minnesota) Daily Globe, June 9, 1884, page 4, column 7.

This was known as the earliest appearance of the phrase, “get into the band wagon,” which may have later been changed to “jump on the bandwagon.”


So, there you have it… The history and origin of the phrase Jump on the Bandwagon! Please add to the story by leaving a comment below.


April 24, 2017 / by / in

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