30 U.S. State Facts Everyone Gets Wrong
Think you're a United States trivia pro? Check to see if you've ever fallen for these U.S. state blunders!
How well do you know the states?
With 50 different states, it can be tough for even the most passionate aficionado of Americana to keep track of what all of them are famous for and what their capitals are—never mind which ones do and don’t observe Daylight Saving Time. Were you aware of these common U.S. state misconceptions, and the actual facts? Plus, brush up on the strangest fact about every state.
All of Alaska is divided into boroughs, not counties
Alaska and Louisiana are the only two states that don’t divide themselves into counties, they separate their territory into boroughs and parishes, respectively. But at least 323,400 square miles of Alaskan land falls under the Unorganized Borough category. In other words, it belongs to no county, parish, or borough. This bigger-than-Texas nonentity has no central government which means they don’t have to pay for local or property taxes. Despite this big perk, there are a few pitfalls to living in the rural Alaskan lands of the Unorganized Borough such as poverty, crime, and addiction. Periodically, there have been movements to turn the nonentity into actual boroughs, but residents may not be ready for that step just yet. Check out these 51 false facts you’ve always believed to be true.
No one in Arizona observes Daylight Saving Time
Arizona has not observed Daylight Saving Time since 1967, but there is one portion of Arizona that continues to observe it—Navajo Nation. The Native American territory, which also traverses the state lines of Utah and New Mexico, elected to adopt Daylight Saving Time because they didn’t want to put the communities on two different clocks. The smaller Hopi reservation of the Navajo Nation is the only segment of the territory that chose not to observe Daylight Saving Time because it lies within Arizona. Here’s the reason we observe Daylight Saving Time in the first place.
The largest earthquake in American history occurred in California
Even though California is extremely susceptible to earthquakes because it lies on top of the San Andreas Fault system, Alaska wins the record for largest recorded earthquake in the United States, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. On March 28, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunamis struck Alaska’s Prince William Sound and caused about $2.3 billion of damage in today’s money. Check out these 50 facts about the 50 states.
Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana
Actually, Washington and Colorado both defied federal law and passed the legalization of recreational marijuana use on November 6, 2012. Today Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington D.C., Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts (which goes into effect in July 2018) have given the “OK” for recreational marijuana use. Now, a few other states are following suit and filing their own initiatives.
Connecticut is called the “Constitution State” because the constitution was signed there
The U.S. Constitution was written and signed on September 17, 1787, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. But in the early 19th century, John Fiske, a popular historian from Connecticut, claimed the Fundamental Orders of 1638/1639 were the first written constitution in history. And a former Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court backed up Fiske’s claim by citing a book authored by a journalist, who wrote that a group of men had never met up to prescribe a set of rules and modes of government until a few men in Connecticut came together to write up the Fundamental Orders. But the dispute amongst historians about the real “first written constitution” still continues. Don’t miss these 16 other history facts people always get wrong.
The Florida Everglades is the largest swamp in the United States
People may think the Florida Everglades is a swamp filled with alligators and crocodiles lurking beneath the dark water’s surface, but the everglades are actually a wetland. The largest swamp wilderness in America is the 1.4 million-acre Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, which is at least two and a half times more productive than the Florida Everglades. Here are the science trivia questions that always stump everyone.
The “Peach State” of Georgia is the country’s leading producer of peaches
Peaches may be a valuable part of Georgia’s agriculture and economy, but California ranked first in 2016 as the country’s leading peach producer. Besides, Georgia blueberries are the state’s real moneymaker. Blueberries generated an estimated $94 million for Georgia growers while peaches only made $30 million in 2012. In fact, blueberries—not peaches—ranked as one of Georgia’s top ten agricultural commodities in 2016.
Pineapples are the native fruits of Hawaii
The sweet, juicy fruit may be a Hawaiian symbol, but the tropical plant is native to Paraguay and southern Brazil. It is suspected that the Spaniards may have taken the pineapples to Hawaii and Guam in the early 16th century after introducing the fruit to the Philippines. Here are some of the strangest food laws in each state.
Chicago, Illinois is called the “Windy City” because of its wild breezes
Chicago’s moniker doesn’t describe the city’s daily forecast like most people think, it actually became a more accurate description for public officials. The city can thank nineteenth-century journalists for criticizing Chicago’s elites for being “full of hot air” and thus giving the city its nickname. An 1858 article from the Chicago Daily Tribune read, “[a] hundred militia officers, from corporal to commander…air their vanity… in this windy city.” Numerous newspapers used the “Windy City” reference for the egotistical politicians of Chicago who gave long-winded speeches (known as “windbags”), but only wanted to con people to turn a profit. Learn about how every state got its name.
Bourbon whiskey was named after Bourbon County in Kentucky
The jury is still out on this one! Michael Veach, a bourbon historian, believes the name came from New Orleans. The Tarascon brothers, two transplants from Cognac, France came to Louisville, Kentucky and started shipping local whiskey aged in charred barrels down to Louisiana. Veach says that the brothers marketed their whiskey as resembling cognac or French brandy, a beloved favorite for French residents in New Orleans. By the 19th century, the New Orleans entertainment district became known as Bourbon Street. “People start asking for ‘that whiskey they sell on Bourbon Street,’ which eventually became that ‘bourbon whiskey,’” Veach told Smithsonian Magazine. Still, historians are stumped as to who gets the credit for the bourbon name.
The easternmost part of the United States is Maine
You’ll be surprised (and totally confused) to find that the Semisopochnoi Island in Alaska is the easternmost part of the United States and North America, not Maine. If you use the Prime Meridian and 180th meridian to define the boundaries between the eastern and western hemispheres, Semisopochnoi Island stretches across the 180-degree line of longitude into the Eastern Hemisphere, making it the easternmost part of the United States. If this geography fact threw you for a loop, make sure you know these 30 other geography facts that everyone gets wrong.
Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was the youngest U.S. President to ever serve
You may think the dashing JFK was the youngest U.S. president ever, but it was actually former New York governor Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was 42 years old when he stepped in as president in 1901 after William McKinley’s assassination. John F. Kennedy was 43 years old when he was elected.
Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” has the most lakes in the entire nation
Don’t let the moniker deceive you! Minnesota’s lake total tallies in at close to 12,000! But the state with the most lakes goes to Alaska with three million lakes greater than 5 acres. In fact, Alaska holds more than 40 percent of the nation’s surface water resources, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Mississippi River is the longest river in the United States
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Missouri River trumps the Mississippi River for longest river at 2,540 miles, an entire 200 miles longer. Find out the 35 city names you never knew you were saying wrong.
Nevada has the country’s hottest temperature ever recorded
Actually, that record goes to California with Death Valley reaching a scorching 134 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer of 1913, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Not only is it the hottest temperature in the United States—it’s the highest in the world!
New York City served as the nation’s first capital
Yes, New York City was the first capital of the United States under the ratification of the Constitution. But did you know that there were seven other capitals before that? In 1774, representatives from the 13 colonies first convened as the First Continental Congress at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Here are other history lessons your teacher might have lied to you about.
The deadliest day in American military history took place during the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania
The Battle of Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets the record for deadliest day in American military history. In fact, that title goes to a different Civil War battle—the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, which killed more than an estimated 3,500 Union and Confederate soldiers in just one day. Check out these famous moments in history that didn’t actually happen.
Rhode Island is the least populated state
Don’t judge a state by its small size—even if it’s the smallest state of Rhode Island, home to 1.06 million residents! Wyoming, the tenth largest state, is the least populated stated with only 579,000 residents.
The largest mountain carving is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
But not for long, hopefully! The Crazy Horse Memorial, also in South Dakota, is the largest mountain carving in-progress. Once it’s completed, the proposed measurements will come in at 641 feet long and 563 feet high compared to Mount Rushmore, which only measures in at 60 feet high and 185 feet long. An Oglala Lakota Chief invited sculptor Korczack Ziolkowski to carve a memorial of Lakota leader Crazy Horse to honor all North American Indians. The construction has been ongoing since 1948. Issues with the rock face and reliance on private funding are to blame for the sculpture’s painstakingly slow construction.
Tennessee is the only state with most bordering U.S. states
Missouri and Tennessee both tie in this category with eight states each that border them. Colorado and Kentucky come in second with seven neighboring states.
Vermont has the most ski areas in the nation
When you think of snow and skiing, you probably think of Vermont. But the National Ski Areas Association reports that New York has the most ski resorts in the country with a whopping 52 ski areas compared to the 26 ski areas operating in Vermont.
The oldest city in America is Jamestown, Virginia
The distinction for the first U.S. settlement belongs to St. Augustine, Florida founded and established by the Spanish in 1565. Jamestown wasn’t settled until 1607. In 2015, St. Augustine celebrated its 450th birthday! Learn more about the oldest city in America.
Washington holds the record for most consecutive rainy days
From 1939 to 1940, Maunawili Ranch on the Hawaiian island of Oahu saw 331 straight days of measurable rain, Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) told weather.com. Meteorological records define measurable precipitation as 0.01 inches or more of rain and/or melted snow in a given day.
Kansas is the flattest state
Jokes abound about midwestern states like Kansas and Nebraska being flat as flat can be—but neither of those is the flattest state in the U.S.A. The actual flattest state is not in the midwest at all. A pair of geographers set out to determine if Kansas really was the flattest state by assessing every state’s topography in precise detail. Kansas turned out to only be the seventh flattest state, and Nebraska barely even cracked the top 20 at #19! The actual flattest state, their research found, is Florida. Another surprising result of the study? The least flat state is not a state in the Rocky Mountains vicinity—it’s West Virginia!
The Reuben originated in New York
What place in America comes to mind when you imagine sinking your teeth into a delicious, corned beef–loaded Reuben sandwich? It’s probably New York, right? You might even specifically think of the Carnegie Deli. But another state has a pretty valid (though impossible to fully prove) claim that it, not New York, is the place where the Reuben originated. That state is Nebraska, where, in 1934, the first-ever reference to a “Reuben” appeared on the menu of a hotel in Omaha. Nebraskans attribute the sandwich to a hotel cook, Bernard Schimmel, and the request of a hungry customer named Reuben Kulakofsky in the 1920s. New Yorkers insist that the sandwich that would become the Reuben was in fact the work of a sandwich shop owner named Arnold Reuben in 1914. Perhaps it was a case of multiple discovery. Find out what famous food was invented in your state.
North Carolina was the undisputed “first in flight”
Here’s another state face-off that rages to this day. History and aviation buffs know that the Wright brothers first flew an aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. You may have even visited the Wright Brothers Memorial, also in Kitty Hawk, where you can see the exact spots where the craft landed. But there’s another state that claims to be the site of the first-ever controlled, powdered airplane flight. And no, it’s not Ohio, even though Ohio is the state whose license plates say “Birthplace of Aviation.” (That’s because the Wright brothers were born in Ohio.)
It’s Connecticut, where Wright skeptics claim that, in 1901, a man named Gustave Whitehead flew an aircraft for at least half a mile over the city of Bridgeport. Scientific American reported that there was a single photo, of questionable quality, of this supposed flight on display in a 1906 museum exhibit—but no evidence was actually found to prove that this photo existed. That is, until 2013, when an Australian historian suddenly claimed to have found a photo of that exhibit, containing a photo-within-a-photo of the lost shot of the flight. Skeptics doubt the authenticity of the photo, while Whitehead fans claim that the Smithsonian and the Wright Brothers Memorial folks just don’t want to admit they’re wrong and make all the necessary corrections to the accepted version of history.
The Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts
Yes, the Pilgrims docked the Mayflower in Massachusetts, but the iconic American landmark Plymouth Rock was not the first spot they landed. Nor was it their original destination—according to History.com, they were supposed to dock in Virginia but storms steered them toward Massachusetts instead. And they first landed, not in Plymouth, but in Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod. They sent a scouting party ashore and then, a few weeks later, sailed to Plymouth, on the inner side of Cape Cod Bay.
Arizona was the last of the contiguous United States to become an official state
Okay, so this is a tricky one that is not technically false—Arizona was the 48th state added to the Union, succeeded only by Alaska and Hawaii. But when Congress approved Ohio’s request for statehood in 1803, they forgot to ratify the state constitution. It wasn’t until 150 years later, in 1953, that an Ohio Congressman sought to correct this error and make his state “officially” official. And though Congress backdated the state constitution to keep Ohio’s date of statehood as 1803, its ratification in 1953 would place it after Arizona, added in 1912, and before Alaska and Hawaii.
That state’s capital is…
State capitals—and the fact that only 17 of them are also the most populous city in their state—can cause a whole lot of confusion. To name a few state capital facts that seem counterintuitive, New York City is not the capital of New York, nor is Chicago the capital of Illinois. Neither Philadelphia nor Pittsburgh is the capital of Pennsylvania, and the capital of California is not Los Angeles, nor San Francisco, nor San Jose, nor San Diego. If any of those facts were news to you, brush up on these capital cities, both national and international, that loads of people get wrong.
The first Cheesehead hat was worn at a Green Bay Packers game in Wisconsin
If you’ve ever gone to a Green Bay Packers football game, you’ve probably seen fans don a giant foam wedge of cheese on their heads, famously known as the Cheesehead. It’s no wonder Wisconsinites are called cheeseheads, formerly a derogatory term reportedly coined by their neighboring state, Illinois. Ralph Bruno, a Milwaukee native and creator of the Cheesehead, crafted the popular headpiece with a turkey slicer in 1987 and wore it proudly for the first time at County Stadium in Milwaukee for a Brewers-White Sox game. The hat gained instant popularity and now people can pay about $25 for a large Cheesehead hat that weighs nearly one pound and measures 14 inches on each side. Next, don’t miss more U.S. trivia your teacher never taught you.