The Possible Historic Reasons We Give Apples To Teachers

Have you ever wondered why apples and teachers are so indelibly connected in our collective consciousness? Look at a back-to-school flyer, and it's a good bet there will be an apple or three worked into the layout. A quick Google search for "apple and teacher" results in the hundreds, if not thousands. But why? If it's nostalgia, what are the roots of the connection? 

According to, the origin story of why apples and teachers go together may go back to 16th-century Scandinavia when parents in Denmark and Sweden were known to gift teachers with baskets of food, including apples, as a show of appreciation and a means of support in addition to their sometimes meager wages. The practice extended into the United States with the 18th-century arrival of Swedish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic Ocean with their sights set on settling in the U.S. midwest to farm or work for railroad companies (via Library of Congress).

An apple a day keeps the teacher close

While public schools were taking off in the eastern United States, outlying frontier towns to the west were still recruiting teachers well into the 19th century, according to How Stuff Works. The U.S. Department of Education was established in 1867 (via Public School Review), and by 1918, all American children were required to complete elementary school. Eventually, the practical reason for gifting teachers with apples fell by the wayside. Still, the symbolism of expressing gratitude with an apple for the teacher remained embedded in U.S. culture — usually with a positive connotation.

By the 1920s, long after the practice of giving a teacher an apple had become a symbolic gesture of thanks and respect, the tradition met with controversy when naysayers called out the tradition, saying it was a way to "curry favor" in the classroom, per Smithsonian Magazine. Twentieth-century crooner Bing Crosby temporarily gave that claim credence with his 1939 song, "An Apple for the Teacher." In the duet with Connie Boswell, according to Second Hand Songs, Cosby sang, "An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don't know your lesson in arithmetic."