The city of Portland, Oregon came to be known as "Stumptown" during a period of rapid population growth following 1847 and continuing through the turn of the century. Though Portland would not be formally incorporated as a city until 1851 and Oregon did not achieve statehood until 1859, the town and territory were beset by thousands of pioneers every year taking the well-established Oregon Trail, many seeking their fortunes following the California Gold Rush in 1849.

Urban expansion was occurring at such an accelerated rate that after felling timber, the tree stumps were left in place until some future point that labor became available to remove them. For old growth trees, many being as much as three meters in diameter at the base, manual stump removal was a very labor-intensive and dangerous process that required numerous men digging, sawing, wenching, and often dynamiting the stumps out of the ground. Steam shovels were not plentiful enough to use for this purpose until the latter part of the 19th century, as they were preoccupied with the excavation of land for construction. Once a stump was extracted, the hole had to be backfilled and the wood purposed into something usable like firewood.

So many trees were cut down to clear the land needed for building construction that steamboat Captain John C. Ainsworth famously remarked in the early 1850s that Portland had "more stumps than trees". People frequently used the stumps to keep out of the mud when crossing the unpaved streets. In some parts of town the stumps remained for such a long time that they became covered with soil or moss, so locals whitewashed them to more easily track them for later excavating.

Today the nickname is considered a Portland "brand" and is mostly used for marketing by local businesses.