Today upon hearing reports about how Hurricane Earl was going to hug the Eastern Seaboard I couldn't help but think how strange this phrase is. Is "seaboard" used in any other contexts? What is the origin of this phrase? Does anyone in the US west coast considered their coastline the "Western Seaboard"?
The OED has the following general meaning of seaboard:
The line where land and sea meet, the coastline; the sea-shore or the land near the sea, esp. considered with reference to its extent or configuration.
The first citation of this seaboard is from 1788:
"The Gnats are almost as troublesome here, as the moschetoes in the low-lands of the sea-board."
The OED doesn't seem to draw this connection, but I imagine this meaning came about as an extension of another meaning for seaboard, which is:
With prepositions a, at, on, to seaboard, on or to the seaward side (of a ship, etc.). Obs.
If you connect that meaning with other sea terms like overboard, it would make sense that the seaward side of a ship would be called a seaboard. And then saying that the coastline is essentially the seaboard of a landmass is a small jump.
Nowadays, it seems like "Eastern Seaboard" has become an idiom or set name for a certain region, and we don't really use it in the general sense at all (although I don't know anyone in the fishing industry).
I think back to Physical Geomorphology -- the Eastern Seaboard in the US is a shoreline of emergence and the Western is not a "seaboard" -- because the west coast is a shoreline of nothing (it is totally different geologically).
There has to be something -- some journal -- that says Eastern Seaboard. I think it has something to do with the Louisiana Purchase (someone else on the comments said it) because we did not own a west coast at the time.
I have a PhD in Geography but I cannot remember the text.
The Eastern Seaboard consists of the original 13 Colonies all of which face the Atlantic (although three of their four "offshoots," (Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and Kentucky) do not. (That is all except Maine.)
It was the "board" or foundation from which America sprang. Until we reached the "Continental Divide" in the Rockies (late in the 19th century), all ocean bound traffic would head for the "seaboard" (or Gulf Coast), which "merges" into the Atlantic, past Florida.
The United States also has a "west coast" of course, but it has nothing of the historical significance of the "eastern seaboard." To a lesser extent, this is true of the Gulf Coast, which did not become a factor until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and whose importance was soon "undermined" by the Erie Canal across New York State in 1825, which effectively connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic.