Rust Belt, Sun Belt, Bible Belt, etc. - Which "Belt" Came First?

When did the term “belt” to describe the characteristic of a region in the US first come into use, and what was the first one?

My WAG is “Bible Belt,” for no reason at all.

Grain belt? Referring to the northern Great Plains states and east through Illinois and Indiana. I recall hearing that as a little tyke.

Grain Belt Beer is from the 1890’s.

Your WAG is correct.

Here’s a Google Ngram view for usage of the three terms. Usage of “Bible Belt” dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, and has been steady since. “Sun Belt” comes in during the 1970s, and “Rust Belt” in the early 1980s.

Crop based groupings based on their tendency to follow narrow bands of latitude were probably the first.

You can read about that claim here.

Oooh, good call. I added “grain belt” to the Ngram view I had already posted, and it’s the winner so far, dating back to the very late 19th century.

rat avatar’s link specifically mentions “corn belt” – adding that into the Ngram is interesting, as usage of it was far bigger than any of the other terms, though it tailed off dramatically over the last half of the 20th century. Like “grain belt,” it comes into usage in the late 19th century.

Too late to ETA:

" The “belt” terminology was first applied to growing regions for various crops, "

The Cotton Belt beats them all.

I think that Ngram is going to start measuring the relative rarity of books at this date, but there was a Corn Belt Council in 1817 which is probably indicative of common use.

“Black belt” is older than severanof the belts in the OP —

We actually know who coined the term Bible Belt: H. L Mencken. I thought it was during the Scopes Monkey Trial, but apparently it was in 1924, a year before.

I think you’re right that we’re reaching the limit of Ngram’s utility, so this isn’t proof of much. But the first blip above 0% for Cotton Belt is 1797 and the first blip for Corn is 1837.

Given the importance of cotton versus corn in the early days of the country, I think it more likely that the cotton belt was first.

Throwing “black belt” into the mix is more difficult to determine because many google hits are unrelated to a geographic region.

Orion’s Belt came first.

You have to be very careful interpreting results from Google Ngrams and Google Books. The date they list for serials is usually the date the series was first published. You need to dig deeper to find the actual publication date for the particular issue. The publication dates they list for books are often wrong. You need to verify dates by looking at the publication data that is often printed in the first few pages.

For example, the “Corn Belt Council” reference above is from United States Congressional Serial Set. The series was first published in 1817, but the issue that the phrase appears in is volume 11687. I haven’t been able to track down an exact publication date, but it seems to be from about 1952.

I can trace “Tobacco Belt” to 1817.Arator, Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical & Politica

I can trace “Wheat Belt” back to 1842. Agriculture, Horticulture, and Rural Economy

I can trace “Cotton Belt” back to 1851. De Bow’s Review

So far I can trace “Black Belt” back to 1870. Journal of the Statistical Society of London (1870)