50 Facts for 50 States

Flags image by Unsplash

Happy 4th of July Cat Flaggers! In honor of our nation’s birthday, I have decided to do a Cat Flag special to celebrate this great nation of ours – one interesting or unusual fact about every state in the Union! Let’s see how well we know our country, shall we?

Alabama – The red imported fire ant, that bane of many a barefoot southerner, was accidentally introduced in Mobile, Alabama in the 1930s. Authorities tried to stop their spread by bombarding the land with pesticides, but that backfired badly when the pesticides eliminated much of the fire ants’ competition, allowing them to spread even further, and now the species has colonized 17 states and Puerto Rico.

AlaskaThe tallest mountain in North America had been known for centuries as “Denali” by the native Koyukon people who lived there, but in 1896 gold miners renamed the mountain “Mount McKinley” after William McKinley, the Ohio-born 25th president. In 1975 the Alaska state government asked for the federal government to officially change the name back to “Denali”, but congressmen from Ohio spent decades blocking Alaska’s request, insisting that “their” president’s name stay on the mountain. Finally, in 2015, Alaskans got their wish when President Obama approved the name change.

Arizona – The Hopi Indian pueblo of Oraibi in Arizona is the oldest continuously inhabited human settlement in the United States, believed to have been founded in 1100 AD.

ArkansasThe Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in the world where you or I or anyone else can try your luck digging for diamonds, garnets, amethysts, and other gemstones and keep any you find. Park visitors take home more than 600 diamonds each year.

The Flag of California

CaliforniaThe state flag of California famously features a grizzly bear, the phrase “California Republic”, and a red star representing Texas.

Yes, Texas.

A bit of history – in the early 19th century, various parts of Mexico were trying to break away, including the short-lived republics of Yucatan, Rio Grande, and of course, Texas. California attempted a short-lived rebellion of its own in 1836, and in solidarity with Texas the rebels adopted a “lone star” flag – a red star on a plain white banner – inspired by the Texan lone star flag. That red star found its way on the Bear Flag used by rebels in Sonoma ten years later who backed the U.S. invasion of California in the Mexican-American War, and thus it remains on the California state flag today.

Colorado – It won’t surprise you that the state famous for the Rocky Mountains has the highest elevation of any state. Having said that, it might surprise you to learn that Colorado’s lowest point is 3,317 feet above sea level. This is by far the highest lowest point of any state, higher in elevation than 18 states’ highest points!

Connecticut – New London, Connecticut is home to the USCG Eagle. This old-fashioned wooden sailing ship was built in Nazi Germany in 1936 and originally named the Horst Wessel after the author of the Nazi anthem. After the German surrender in World War II, the ship was handed over to the Americans, who gave it a new flag, a new name, and a new paint job. Now it is known as “America’s Tall Ship” and in addition to training Coast Guard officers, it makes occasional diplomatic voyages to countries around the world.

Delaware Blue Hen image by Tim Westbrook

Delaware – The state bird of Delaware is the Delaware Blue Hen, a breed of chicken that was specifically bred for cockfighting. During the American Revolutionary War, the Delaware regiment brought some of these birds with them to amuse themselves in the downtime between battles. The other soldiers were impressed with the ferocity of the birds and with the ferocity of the Delaware soldiers, and so they dubbed their comrades from Delaware “Blue Hens”, the only time calling someone a chicken was a compliment.

Florida – The Walt Disney Corporation has a special arrangement with the State of Florida regarding Walt Disney World, essentially giving the corporation certain governmental powers within the park boundaries. The park has its own Disney police, its own Disney fire department and ambulance services, its own Disney utilities services, its own Disney building codes and zoning ordinances, and its own Disney-built and Disney-maintained roads.

Georgia – Heaven help you if you need to get around in Atlanta. One of the most important of the city’s streets is Peachtree Street, which is also called Peachtree Road in some neighborhoods, but it is not West Peachtree Street, a different street entirely. Then there’s New Peachtree Road, Peachtree Creek Road, Peachtree Parkway, Peachtree Lane, Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Plaza, Peachtree Drive, Peachtree Park Drive, Peachtree Way, Old Peachtree Road… you get the idea.

Hawaii – The Hawaiian Islands exist because of a “hotspot” under the Pacific tectonic plate that pushes hot magma up to the surface, spewing out as a volcano that builds and builds until it forms an island. As the plate slowly moves over the eons, the hotspot under it stays put, leading to the formation of an island chain. However, scientists have no idea what is causing this hotspot, meaning our 50th state’s very existence is a scientific mystery.

Map of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming image from Wikimedia Commons

Idaho – If you look at a map of Idaho, it looks like Montana took a huge bite out of it, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because that’s exactly what happened. According to the book How the States Got their Shapes and the TV series of the same name, Idaho’s shape is the result of one man’s grudge against it.

Sidney Edgerton was appointed a judge in the Idaho territory, but the governor assigned him to a remote, backwater area populated by gold miners and practically nobody else. When news reached Edgerton that Congress was planning to split Idaho and create a new territory called “Montana”, he made his way to Washington, D.C, with $2,000 of gold, and… ahem… “convinced” Congress to draw the Idaho-Montana boundary far further west than originally intended. A rather unique form of revenge, to say the least.

Illinois – The ancient Mississippian Indian civilization built a thriving city-state in Cahokia, Illinois, that flourished from the 9th to the 13th centuries AD. Like other Mississippian cities, the Cahokians built dozens of artificial hills, the largest of which is Monks Mound – a man-made hill as big around as the Great Pyramid of Giza and 100 feet tall. In its heyday, Monks Mound had a very large building sitting atop its peak, possibly a temple or royal palace.

Indiana – If you find yourself looking for a bite to eat in Evansville, Indiana and stop into the Hilltop Inn, you might try a very unusual item on their menu – fried-brain sandwiches. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like: slices of pork brains pan-fried and served on a bun. You know, if you’re feeling adventurous that day.

Iowa – You would think the question, “Were any Civil War battles fought in Iowa?” would be an easy one to answer, but it’s not. The Battle of Athens, Missouri took place just across the state line in 1861, and during the battle some members of the Iowa militia sat on the river’s edge – in Iowa – and fired their cannons into Missouri at the enemy. Does that count?

Kansas – You might remember an amusing study conducted in 2003 that claimed Kansas is, indeed, flatter than a pancake. However, don’t read too much into that study, as other scientists came out after the study was published and said “Everything on Earth is flatter than a pancake as they measured it”. The lesson here was less about Kansas and more about pancakes, which just aren’t as flat as you might think.

Kentucky – Bourbon whiskey gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it was first produced. However, over the centuries, the original Bourbon County shrank as more and more new counties were lopped off of it. In fact, from 1919 to 2014, there were no bourbon distilleries actually located within Bourbon County!

Louisiana – In the rest of the United States, our legal system is what’s known as “common law”, a system that originated in England. Louisiana, however, has a different legal system known as “civil law” based on colonial French and Spanish law. The main difference between these systems is that common law is allows judges to set precedents in their rulings that can be used by future similar court cases, while civil law is based solely on what is written in the law codes.

Maine – The United States and Britain nearly went to war over Maine’s northern border. At the time, the United States and Canada disagreed on where the border was, which was a problem when loggers began to compete for lumber in the disputed region. In 1838, the governments of Maine and New Brunswick each mobilized their militia, prompting the American and British governments to try to hammer out their differences before any shots were fired. The current border was settled in the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty.

MarylandThe official state sport of Maryland is jousting. I’m just going to leave that fact there for you to ponder.

Massachusetts – Both basketball and volleyball were invented ten miles away from each other in Springfield and Holyoke, Massachusetts, respectively.

Michigan – If you have ever wondered why the Upper Peninsula is a part of Michigan in spite of having no land connections with the Lower Peninsula, the answer has to do with Toledo, Ohio. In 1835, Michigan claimed that the city was actually Toledo, Michigan, and was willing to fight Ohio with guns to enforce that claim. As with Maine, cooler heads prevailed and reached a peaceful settlement: Ohio got Toledo, and in return Michigan was given the whole Upper Peninsula.

Minnesota – We need to stop calling Minnesota the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It doesn’t have 10,000 lakes. It has 11,842 lakes. Get it right.

Steamboat image by jared422_80

Mississippi – You would be forgiven for thinking the Mississippi River is the western border of the state of the same name, but if you look at a map drawn by a careful cartographer, you will see many little pockets of Mississippi on the west side of the river, as well as tiny pieces of Louisiana and Arkansas on the east side of the river. This is because when the river changes course, the state borders do not.

Missouri – Missouri is home to a dialect of French that is unique to the state, long spoken by descendants of early French settlers. Today, however, the dialect is near extinction, as only a handful of elderly speakers remain.

Montana – The Montana Highway Patrol has the numbers “3-7-77” on their badges and uniforms. In the Wild West, this was a warning vigilantes would use to tell people they didn’t like to get out of town or face a lynching.

Nebraska – Unlike most states, whose legislative branches have both a Senate and a House or Assembly, Nebraska has only one legislature, boringly named the “Nebraska Legislature”. It is also the only state legislature that is nonpartisan; candidates don’t run as Democrats or Republicans, but run independently.

Nevada – The famous Las Vegas Strip and all of the casinos and attractions located there are not actually located in the City of Las Vegas, but instead are in an unincorporated area juuuust outside the city limit called “Paradise”, so those casinos don’t have to pay city taxes.

Old Man of the Mountain image from Wikipedia

New Hampshire – That photo above shows one of the Granite State’s most famous state symbols, the Old Man of the Mountain, a rock formation above Profile Lake. However, natural erosion being what it is, the formation collapsed in 2003. Sorry, New Hampshire.

New Jersey – Salt-water taffy originated in Atlantic City, New Jersey. No, it doesn’t have any salt water in it, but a popular legend has it that the name comes from an incident at a candy store in 1883. A huge storm flooded the local shops, the story goes, so when a young girl went to buy some taffy the next day, the owner warned her that all he had was “salt-water taffy”, and the name stuck.

New Mexico – In 1680, the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico successfully drove the Spanish off their lands in an uprising. Not only that, but they successfully repulsed Spanish attempts to reconquer them for 12 years. When, at last, the Spanish reasserted control of New Mexico, they found the Pueblo were surprisingly agreeable and more willing to come to terms – it seems the leader of the Pueblo Revolt, Popé, turned out to be a harsh dictator who angered the other Pueblos and was ultimately overthrown.

New YorkThe Erie Canal was dug across the State of New York from 1817 to 1825, connecting the Hudson River to the Great Lakes and playing a huge role in the westward expansion of the United States. Of course, in our modern age of trains, planes, and automobiles, it’s just an old ruin, right? Nope! Boats continue to use it to this day.

North Carolina – Nobody is sure how the Tar Heel State got its nickname, but one popular legend from the Civil War says that North Carolina’s soldiers in a very dicey battle stayed put while the regiments from other states retreated. After the battle, the story goes, the North Carolina soldiers threatened to put tar on the heels on the other troops so that they wouldn’t be able to break and run like that again.

North Dakota – When President Benjamin Harrison signed the proclamations formally admitting North Dakota and South Dakota to the Union on November 2, 1882, he purposefully shuffled the papers so nobody would know which state was admitted first.

Flag of Ohio from Wikipedia

Ohio – The Buckeye State has the only state flag that isn’t rectangular. The swallowtail design is based on swallowtail-shaped flags used by the U.S. military in the 19th century.

Oklahoma – In 2004, the seven-mile segment of the North Canadian River that flows through Oklahoma City was officially renamed the Oklahoma River. Not the whole river, mind you, just that one part.

OregonNobody actually knows where the name “Oregon” came from. Was it named by the Spanish for the oregano that grows there? Did the name come from the French ouragan, meaning windstorm? Or was it named for an error on an 18th-century map showing “Ouaricon-sint” (Wisconsin) far further west than its actual location? Your guess is as good as mine.

Pennsylvania – The Philadelphia Zoo is the oldest in the United States, opening in 1874. The house of John Penn, grandson of Pennsylvania founder William Penn, is located on the zoo’s grounds.

Rhode Island – In 2010, the State of Rhode Island spent $75 million in borrowed money to prop up a video game developer called 38 Studios, in the hopes of making the state a new hub of the video game industry and bringing jobs to the state. Two years later, 38 Studios went bankrupt, and the scandal thoroughly rocked the state as Rhode Islanders asked their state government, “Seriously?”

South Carolina – As a history buff, the American Revolutionary War is one of my favorite periods in history, and one of my favorite battles in that war is the Battle of Cowpens which took place in South Carolina in 1781. The American commander, Daniel Morgan (who was practically crippled from rheumatoid arthritis), had the local militia march into battle against a crack British division. The militia broke and retreated after firing a mere two volleys, and the British chased after them – only to find that this was all an elaborate trap set by Morgan, who had a whole battalion of elite, well-trained Continental regulars waiting for them at the bottom of the hill. To put it mildly, the Americans won the battle decisively.

Mount Rushmore image by Dean Franklin

South Dakota – All of us know Mount Rushmore as the most massive monument we have to our greatest presidents. But the designer of the monument, Gutzon Borglum, would know it as “incomplete”. See, his original plans called for the president’s depictions to reach all the way down to their waists, but in 1941, the funding ran out, and people figured “eh, their faces is impressive enough”.

Tennessee – The state of Tennessee and the river of the same name that runs through it are both named after a Cherokee village, Tanasi, that existed until the early 19th century.

Texas – June 19th or “Juneteenth” is an important holiday to many African-Americans, as it celebrates the abolition of slavery in Texas on that date in 1865, the last of the Confederate states to free its slaves. Today, 45 states recognize the holiday in some capacity.

Utah – Many a speed demon has flocked to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to see how fast they can push their vehicles, as the dry lake bed gives a wide-open field with virtually no obstacles, making it a perfect track. Many land speed records have been set here.

Vermont – Though Vermont helped out a bit during the American Revolutionary War, it wasn’t committed to the new United States, in large part because both New York and New Hampshire claimed their land. For a few years, Vermont was effectively an independent country, and even at one point considered rejoining the British Empire, before finally being admitted as the 14th state in 1791.

Virginia – Recently, commercials have been airing on TV promoting tourism in Virginia with the slogan “Virginia is for Lovers”. This slogan has been used, unchanged, since 1969. If it ain’t broke, I guess.

WashingtonThe county where Seattle is located was originally named “King County” in honor of 19th-century politician William Rufus King. Then, in 2005, it was renamed “King County” in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

West Virginia – The state of West Virginia wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Civil War. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, a group of pro-Union Virginia politicians gathered in Wheeling and declared the secession illegal, proclaimed themselves the “Restored Government of Virginia”, and authorized the northwestern part of the state, which was generally more pro-Union and anti-slavery, to form a new state. For political reasons, Abraham Lincoln’s government recognized the “Restored Government” as the “legitimate” government of Virginia, and accepted the plan to split the state, admitting West Virginia as a free state in 1863.

Wisconsin – The NFL’s Green Bay Packers are the only top-tier, major league professional sports team in the United States that is a non-profit cooperative owned by its fans. The team currently has more than 360,000 owners, who are referred to as “stockholders” even though they can’t resell their stock or earn dividends on it like stock in a normal corporation. Instead, “stockholders” get the right to vote on important team decisions and exclusive stockholders-only merchandise.

Wyoming – The only state in the Union named after a place in another state, Wyoming gets its name from Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of our great nation, and hope you all have a Happy 4th of July!

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