Why Is Idaho Called the Gem State?

Esther Ejim

Idaho is called the gem state due to the meaning behind the name “Idaho.” In 1860, a mining lobbyist known as George M. Willing proposed this name to Congress as a name for a new territory. In the mid- to late-1800s, Indian names were popular, and Mr. Willing had told Congress that Idaho was a Shoshone Indian word that translated to “Gem of The Mountain.” It was eventually discovered that Mr. Willing had made the name up since it was not actually an Indian word.

The monarch butterfly is the official insect of Idaho.
The monarch butterfly is the official insect of Idaho.

The new territory that Mr. William had tried to name Idaho was instead named Colorado or Idaho by Congress after they discovered that Idaho was not a real Indian word. Still, the name Idaho stuck and another territory was eventually bestowed with the name in 1863 by Congress. It is from this translation of the supposed Indian word that the term “gem state” was coined.

Idaho is known for its many semi-precious gems.
Idaho is known for its many semi-precious gems.

Gem state is a most fitting name for Idaho because the state produces more than 240 different types of minerals. These minerals include semi-precious gems like aquamarine, cerrusite, vivianite, pyromorphite and ilavite. The Idaho mountains contain deposits of gold veins, zinc, lead, copper and cobalt. Other gems include opal, tourmaline, topaz and jasper.

The official state gem of Idaho is the star garnet, a gem that is only found in Idaho and India in appreciable quantities. Another feature that makes the term “gem state” most apt is the fact that Idaho is the topmost silver mining state in the United States. More than one fifth of the silver mined in the United States is produced in Idaho. Apart from the “gem state,” another nickname for Idaho is “The land of Famous Potatoes,” a name given in response to the state’s famous Idaho potatoes.

Idaho also has other symbols like an official fish, which is the cutthroat trout, and an official flower, which is the syringa. Idaho’s official fossil is the Haggerman horse fossil, the official insect is the monarch butterfly, and the official tree is the white pine. As expected, the official vegetable is the potato.

Another interesting symbol of the gem state is its flag. Idaho’s state flag is composed of a blue background with the state seal in the middle. A scroll underneath the seal contains the words State of Idaho,” while three edges of the flag are bordered by a gold band. The state motto of Idaho is the Latin phrase Esto perpertua, which means “Let it be Perpertual.” This motto can be found on the state seal, flag and quarter.

The semi-precious gem topaz is found in Idaho.
The semi-precious gem topaz is found in Idaho.

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Discussion Comments


@spotiche5- Not only can you find great attractions for rock collectors in Idaho, but you can also find beautiful jewelry that is custom made in the state out of stones mined in the state. These pieces make great souvenirs for Idaho visitors who also love special jewelry.


@spotiche5- If you like collecting all types of rocks, you will be thrilled when you visit Idaho. Since mining of all types of stones and minerals done throughout the state, rock clubs, stores, and even museums can be found all over the state as well.

When you visit various rock and mineral shops, you can also find supplies for rock hounds so you can find, collect, and identify your own specimens. Being that rock hounding is so popular in the state, you can also find many adventures in Idaho that give you opportunities to hunt for rocks, minerals, and gems.

Before you take your trip to Idaho, you can search online for attractions and events that are perfect for rock hounds like yourself. You can also ask your travel agent to help you find events, adventures, and stores that are all about rocks and minerals so you can make the most of the reason behind Idaho's nickname on your visit.


I guess I never thought of Idaho as being a state with a gemstone mining history. I'm planning to travel to each state over the next few years, and I want to visit attractions that focus on the important features of each state. I'm also an avid rock hound, and gemstone and mineral collector. Does anyone know if there are a lot of interesting things to do and see in Idaho that focus on rocks, minerals, and gemstones?

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