Skip to main content

The term “tar heel” dates back to North Carolina’s early history as a leading producer of supplies for the naval industry. Workers who distilled turpentine from pine sap and burned pine boughs to produce tar and pitch often went barefoot during hot summer months, collecting tar on their heels. Calling someone a “rosin heel” or “tar heel” implied they worked in a lowly trade. However, during the Civil War, North Carolina soldiers transformed the term into a badge of honor, calling themselves “tar heels” to express state pride. This term became widely adopted, and North Carolina became known as the “Tar Heel State.” In the 1880s, when UNC teams began competing in intercollegiate sports, they naturally adopted the nickname “Tar Heels.”