As with a large percentage of word differences, the American spelling of color was the direct decision of one very important man: Noah Webster. Famously, Webster introduced the relatively young nation of the United States to the dictionary, an influential book that helped to demarcate American English from Dr. Johnson's British English.
Some years before the publication of Webster's book, however, there was much debate among settlers over whether or not English should even be adopted by the very country that was trying to become independent from Britain. Because of a small German influence in the New World, the German language was even suggested for Americans.
However, Webster, who bore somewhat of a political influence, pushed for not only the introduction of English, but the American standardisation (or should I say standardization?) of it. It was his belief that America needed to be independent not only politically and economically from the British, but artistically - particularly when it came to literature.
It was in his A Compendious Dictionary, an abridged version of the more expansive dictionary that would come later, that colour was changed to color, centre to center and programme to program. Bizarrely, a central tenet of Webster's standardisation strategy was the idea that chopping down words would save money, since shorter words would equate to fewer pages in print publications.
Webster was not interested in "dumbing down" English, but rather ridding it of the many inconsistencies that still exist today. Indeed, something that is often overlooked is that Webster had proposed countless other changes that were ultimately rejected by the American public.
In fact, if Webster had had his way, I'd now be referring to the American publick. Half of this publick would be wimmen. And if you developed a few akes and pains after falling off your sley in winter, someone would determin that a warm spunge might be the order of the day.
Many have argued that American standardisation has robbed English of its glamour, a word, incidentally, that Americans normally spell with a u. But I would argue that there is nothing more glamorous in linguistics than a vibrant, ever-evolving vernacular.
Especially one with colo(u)r.
Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States.