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Portland got its name thanks to a copper penny

Settlers and founding fathers, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove, flipped a minted 1835 copper penny to determine the city's name.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It goes by many names. The Rose City, Bridge City, Rip City, Stumptown, Soccer City USA and Biketown. But for more than 170 years, it's been known by one name: Portland.

What is now downtown Portland, the heart of Oregon's largest city, was first known as "The Clearing." A 640 acre piece of land covered in trees and stumps, that pioneers and city founders Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove both owned a stake in.

Portland's name would get decided away from the city itself in a city farther south.

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"This is the oldest house in Oregon City," Holly Swogger, tour guide of the Ermatinger House in Oregon City said while walking through the house. "

The two men attended a dinner party, believed to be at the Ermatinger House. It was once owned by Hudson's Bay Company businessman Francis Ermatinger. The house has been moved from its original location to its current spot at 619 6th Street and is under the care of the city of Oregon City.

"Alright, right here is Ermatinger's study," Swogger said while walking from the dining area to a room towards the front of the house. "This is where the men would come after having a dinner party, they'd come in here and they would discuss politics."

In this room is where it's believed the infamous Portland penny coin toss happened. 

The pair couldn't decide on a name, Pettygrove wanted Portland after the city in his home state of Maine.

Lovejoy wanted Boston, named after where he was born.

Credit: Oregon Historical Society
Asa Lovejoy, on the left and Francis Pettygrove on the right with the "Portland Penny" that is believed to have determined Portland's name.

The two men agreed to a coin toss using an 1835 minted copper penny.

Pettygrove had heads. Lovejoy had tails.

The story goes that in a best out of three tosses, Pettygrove's coin landed heads side up twice and thus winning the coin toss and the naming rights to the city.

Portland was officially incorporated as a city on Feb. 8, 1851.

If you think about it, had the coin flipped the other way, the city we know as Portland could've very well been Boston. The city's NBA franchise would be called the Boston Trail Blazers, or the MLS team calling themselves the Boston Timbers. Students would graduate from The University of Boston or Boston State University.

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The Rose City goes by many names, but will forever be known as Portland thanks to the coin landing heads up.

You can see the Portland Penny on display inside the Oregon Historical Society's lobby.

Credit: KGW
Still capture of the Portland Penny on display at the Oregon Historical Society




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