Baseball Shorts: Where does the word Barnstorming come from?

Some years ago, you could read a blog post about Barnstorming Tours. In that blog post it was explained what a barnstorming tour was but the origin of the word barnstorming was not explained. In this blog post it will.

Barnstorming tours were a common thing in the 1920s and 1930s. Both Negro League teams and MLB players did this. In fact Negro League teams played a lot of barnstorming games next to the regular schedule of the Negro Leagues. It was a way to earn some extra money. Also MLB players grabbed the opportunity to earn a bit more as the average MLB player did not earn a lot more than the blue collar worker, so they had to work after the regular season.

But where does the word barnstorming (tour) come from. The word barnstorming dates back to the period shortly after World War I. Barnstormers’ performances were like a traveling circus, only with aerial stunts. They went from town to town, establishing a “base” of operations at a cooperating local farm. The term itself derived from one of the stunts that barnstorming pilots would perform, which was to fly their plane through the barn (in one door and out the opposite door) of their host farmer. This stunt had little room for error. Because of this high risk, the barn fly-through, or “barnstorming,” became the trademark highlight of these aerial circuses.


It appears that the term barnstorming dates back even further. The word ”barnstorming” has been in use since at least 1815. It referred to “taking by storm” the barns where traveling groups of actors entertained rural audiences as they toured the countryside. “Storm” in this sense comes from “storming” a fortress in warfare. Later, “barnstorming” was adopted by the touring air shows.

Image may contain: one or more people and baseball
Even Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig made barnstorming tours. Here you see a photo of the Bustin’ Babes and the Laruppin’ Lou’s

Even though baseball players did not fly through barns, the word barnstorming was used as those barnstorming players often visited rural towns or farmer villages. As those towns and villages had lots of barns, the link can easily be made.

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