"The Congress shall have Power ... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States..."
, Section 8
The states that make up the United States of America. In this case, several
is used in the sense of 'considered separately,' rather than in the sense of 'a small number of them'. The Constitution is full of references to "the several states" where today we might refer to 'the individual
There is an untrue factoid floating around, mostly in places outside of the US, that there are only 46 'states' and four that are technically Commonwealths (note the capital
C). In actuality, all of the states have long-form titles, and some just happen to use the word 'Commonwealth' instead of State. F A The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky are all full-fledged states. If anything, it is 50 states and two commonwealths (note the lowercase
c), namely Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, which, as commonwealths and not states, occupy a very different legal status. 'State' is a synonym for 'nation', not 'province'; a war was fought
at least partly over this distinction. Nonetheless, each state has its own capital, though most (with some exceptions) are not particularly large or notable as far as American cities go.
Before we start, a brief note on state borders. Apart from a sign on each side and possibly a toll booth, there are no practical artificial delineations between the states (though as in other countries, rivers sometimes act as natural borders for states; it's awfully hard to miss the Mississippi.note
On highways, there is often a visitors' bureau, one on each side, with about 100 pamphlets on tourist activities, and usually a volunteer to give directions to these state-revenue-enhancing
locales. The differences in state laws and taxes and complete lack of intra-U.S. border control create scenarios where you see many stores on one side selling things that are either illegal or more expensive on the other side. The most common of these are fireworks, though casinos and bulk tobacco products are also quite common. This last can lead to some strange situations: for instance, usually you expect prices to be higher in a major city than in its surrounding suburbia
, but Philadelphia
's eastern suburbs are in New Jersey
, which has higher taxes than Pennsylvania (but lower than New York), meaning that people can (and do) go into
the city to buy things like cigarettes and alcohol at a cheaper price.
In parentheses next to each state is its numerical order in the Union. That is, where it ranks on the list that chronologically dates each state's acceptance into the nation by the U.S. Congress (or, for the first few, the state legislature's voting to ratify the U.S. Constitution). As a general rule, the 'younger' states are to the west, though there are a few exceptions.
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Located in the far northeastern U.S., New England is the site of some of America's first colonies. Each one of its states were either among the Thirteen Colonies that seceded from Britain, or broke off from those same colonies. From the beginning, it has always been one of the wealthiest and most urbanized regions of the country, and its politics
reflect that—it was a stronghold for the Federalist Party in the early 19th century, it was the first part of the country to industrializenote
, and it is today one of the most solidly Democratic regions in the country. In the War of 1812
, New England considered seceding from the rest of the country due to how the war was cutting off trade with Britain and wrecking their economy.
Today, the region is best known for higher education and high technology (half of the Ivy League
schools are located here, as is MIT), maple trees, lighthouses, fishing and lobstering, Quirky Towns
(which may or may not be hiding something
), the Red Sox
, snow, funny accents, and combining strong social liberalism with buttoned-up moral guardianship
. On one hand, it was a major center of abolitionism, temperance, labor activism, and women's rights in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and more recently, all six New England states recognize same-sex marriage, with Vermont being the first state in the country to legally recognize gay civil unions at all while Massachusetts was the first to call it marriage by name. On the other hand, it was the home of the Watch and Ward Society from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th (the origin of the phrase "banned in Boston"
and Massachusetts only legalized tattoo parlors in 2000
Largest City: Portland
Other Cities of Note: Bangor
Population: 1,329,192 (10th smallest)
The State of Maine is the northeasternmost state in the contiguous U.S. Formerly part of Massachusetts, it was split off in 1820, when the free states (those states where slavery was illegal) needed a new state to balance out the new slave state Missouri. It was the setting of one of the shortest 'wars' in American history, the Aroostook War, stemming from a boundary dispute between Maine and the neighboring British territory of New Brunswick (now a Canadian
province); most of the fighting was between lumberjacks and frontiersmen rather than either side's armies, and the two sides worked out a compromise before Maine and New Brunswick could actually bring their respective militias into the fight. (In case youre wondering, Maine received most of the disputed territory, barring a strategic corridor connecting New Brunswick to the British colonies in what is now central Canada.)
Today, it's best known for lobster fishermen, lighthouses, a rocky coastline dotted with islands, potatoes, and lumberjacks. It also has the distinction of being the oldest and whitest state in the U.S.; the 2010 census lists 94.4% of the population as non-Hispanic Caucasians,note
and the average age for a resident was 42.7 years old. Home of horror novelist Stephen King
and setting of many of his books, to the point where it's now the part of New England most associated with Lovecraft Country
(even though HP Lovecraft
mainly wrote about Massachusetts); setting a work of horror fiction in small-town Maine is an easy way to show that you are either homaging
King or trying to copy him
The largest city in the state is Portland, though it's not the largest or the most famous American city bearing that name; that would be the one in Oregon
. However, it did give that Portland its name, the result of a coin toss between the Oregon city's two founders, one of whom was from Portland, Maine and the other of whom was from Boston
, Massachusetts. So if not for a Mainah
, we'd have two
large cities named Boston, which would be awfully confusing.
Also, for some reason, it is the most popular "Flag of Convenience" state for trucking companies; a lot of trailers have Maine license plates even if the trucking company's location is nowhere near Maine. Also, the expiration of a Maine trailer plate can be told from twenty feet away, they always expire on the last day of February of the year which is the first two digits of the license plate number.
While reliably Democratic presidentially, Maine is more politically sporadic otherwise. Mainers, more than any other state, are willing to elect independent candidates and even Republicans have frequent successes there, storming into control of the entire state government in 2010... only to lose 66% of it 2 years later due to the unpopularity of the governor, Paul Le Page
, who is rather hard-right for a New England state. For the longest time, the state had 2 moderate Republican senators who were VERY popular with the public, showing a sense of bipartisanship in the state as a whole. As of 2013, Maine is the home state of one of America's two independent senators, Angus King, a very popular former governor who took the seat of equally beloved aforementioned senator, Olympia Snowe.
Largest City: Manchester
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 1,320,718 (9th smallest)
The State of New Hampshire holds the first presidential primaries in the nation, for some reason; therefore, like Iowa, it attracts a lot
of attention early in presidential election cycles. The highest mountain in the northeastern U.S., Mt. Washington, is located here; cars with bumper stickers reading "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington
" are not an uncommon sight in the region. The state is known for its libertarianism—the phrase "Live Free or Die" is on the license plates (which are made by prisoners), there's no state income tax (but the property taxes are enormous), nor any sales tax (attracting a lot of business from its neighboring states, though prepared
food is subject to a relatively-high-for-the-region "hospitality tax"), it's the only state that doesn't have a seat belt law for adults, and there are liquor stores in the Interstate rest areas. Yes, they sell liquor to people who are driving on the highway with no requirement to buckle up
these liquor stores are run by the state itself
. Live Free or Die, indeed. (Of course, it is
still unlawful to drink and drive, just like anywhere else.)
For this reason and because of its fairly low population, in 2003 a group of libertarians chose it for a "Free State Project" wherein they would colonize it with like-minded people in order to mold it into their ideal society. So far, only a thousand people (out of a planned 20,000) have made the move, and "Free Staters," as the group's members call themselves, make up only twelve of the state's 400-member House of Representatives.note
This is partly because they've been more than outweighed by the tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents turning the southern third of the state into an exurb of Boston, and partly because a competing group (perhaps anticipating the aforementioned problem) chose Wyoming for a similar project.
About the 400-member House of Representatives: for one of the smallest states (both by population and area), New Hampshire has America's largest deliberative body (behind the national Congress), with 400 people in the House, and 28 in the Senate. Each elected official represents an average of 3,300 people, and receives a salary of $100 per year
. Since there is little motivation to become a professional politician, the NH House tends to be more dominated by activists, producing a disproportionate number of 'Only in New Hampshire' political stories.
Largest City: Burlington
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 626,011 (2nd smallest)
The State of Vermont is the fourteenth state and first one admitted to the Union as an expansion team. Chronologically first (Texans need to be reminded of this to keep their egos in check
) and alphabetically last of the independent republics (1775–91) and the first state to outlaw slavery (it was admitted into the union as an antislavery state to balance the slave-owning Kentucky joining the Union). Known for food products (maple syrup, cheese, Ben & Jerry's ice cream), the rock band Phish
, winter sports, very loose gun laws, environmentalism, Howard Dean
, and antiwar politics, having suffered among the highest per-capita casualties in every American war. (Even today, when a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine from Vermont is killed in action, it leads the news. Twice. The day it's announced, and the day of the funeral.)
While historically viewed as one of the most solidly Republican states in the U.S.—George H.W. Bush
was the last GOP presidential candidate to carry the state—today it's one of the most solidly Democratic, thanks to both the Republican Party's socially conservative "Southern strategy" and a large influx of new residents from New York and the rest of New England. It was the first state to allow same-sex "civil unions"note
four years before gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, the last state to open a Walmart
(and then, only after Walmart agreed to renovate vacant stores rather than build new ones), and it is trying to implement America's first single-payer public health care system.note
It's home to the other officially independent U.S. Senator and the only self-described socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders.
Historically, it was divided east-to-west due to the waterways on each flank and the Green Mountains in the middle. People west of the mountains would take wares to market in Albany, Montreal
, or New York City
, drink Genessee or Utica Club beer, and were Yankees or Expos fans, while those east would go to market in Boston, Springfield, or Manchester, drink Narragansett, and root for the Red Sox. (In the days of GOP hegemony, the party had an unofficial 'Mountain Rule' alternating governors between sides of the state.) The construction of Interstate 89 in the '60s and the growth of Burlington to the point where it offers pretty much everything Albany does (if not always as much of it) has pulled western Vermont closer to the rest of New England, a trend that accelerated in the '00s with the post-9/11 hardening of the Canadian border and the Montreal
Expos' moving to DC.
The lack of really major cities to absorb public works projects has led to a noticeable difference in road and other infrastructure when crossing the state line from New York or Massachusetts. The other
big difference is the lack of billboards which were banned in 1968.
Capital & Largest City: Boston
Other Cities of Note: Springfield, Cambridge
Population: 6,646,144 (14th largest)
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is one of the original 13 colonies, founded by the Puritans to escape religious persecution in Britain. When they arrived, they promptly set up a theocracy of their own
(you may have heard of the Salem witch trials). Irish immigration in the 19th century turned it into a major center of Catholic life in America, and today it is one of the most secular states in the U.S. Many notable colleges are found here, as well as Harvard
. The country's public education system also arguably got its start in the state thanks to the reforms of state politician Horace Mann
, which all of the other states eventually copied. Famous for liberal politics, as the home of the Kennedy family. A good choice of New England state due to having modern credentials (Route 128 around Boston is essentially the Yankee Silicon Valley) while also having a lot of quaintness and history. Massachusetts is Lovecraft Country
and, in fiction, often has a sort of ancient, backwards feel (though in real life, the eastern half is mostly suburbs of Boston). The state is known for its sandy beaches and cranberry bogs in the east and rolling green hills in the west, as well as once being the center of whaling trade, especially on the offshore island of Nantucket.
Its capital and largest city is Boston
, where colonists protested taxes (although for that fateful tea party, they were actually protesting against a tax cut
) by throwing tea into the harbor, and which is the bitter arch-rival of New York City
in just about everything, but especially sports
and, lately, football
as well). Seriously. Do not
go into Boston, or anywhere in New England for that matter, wearing Yankees or Giants gear. For that matter, going into the more Irish parts of the city (especially the non-gentrified parts of South Boston
) wearing orange, especially around St. Patrick's Day, is likely to get you an earful about "the cause"
... on a good day.
Lately, with Massachusetts giving filmmakers tax credits to shoot in the state, Boston has been used to double for New York City
(example: the remake of The Women
), which has only intensified the rivalry on the Boston side.
And then there's western
Massachusetts. Home of the Berkshires (known for fall foliage and winter resorts), the Quabbin Reservoir, some of New England's best farmland, and the state's third-largest city, Springfield, western Massachusetts is typically held to be everything "westa Woostah" (west of Worcester, Massachusetts), and sometimes including that city as well. Historically a Republican stronghold versus Democratic-dominated Boston, it has shifted left for many of the same reasons that Vermont did (demographic shifts, the national Republican Party's move to the right), and is arguably even more liberal than Boston nowadays. Don't think that this has lessened the region's hatred of Boston any less, though; eastern vs. western Massachusetts, particularly as it concerns the allocation of public works funds, is one of the clearest cultural and political dividing lines in the state.
It's produced a very large number of public figures, including Benjamin Franklin
(born there, but much more commonly associated with Pennsylvania), John Adams
and his son
, John F. Kennedy
and Robert F. Kennedy
, and George H.W. Bush
. Some of the country's first noteworthy writers came from the state, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson
, Henry David Thoreau
, Emily Dickinson
, Oliver Wendell Holmes (both Sr. and Jr.), Louisa May Alcott
, and Edgar Allan Poe
(although he spent most of his professional career in Maryland). Food associated with Massachusetts include Boston baked beans,note
clam chowder, various fish, and whatever edibles get chucked onto the field at Fenway when the Yankees show up
. Media set in Massachusetts includes Boston Legal
, several years of Something Positive
, Car Talk
and Questionable Content
. State inhabitants are known as Bay Staters or, less politely, as 'Massholes'.
Politically, the state is consistently a solid Presidential win for the Democrats; on the national level, it is also home to probably the most popular Senator in the Democratic Party, Elizabeth Warren, who has been busy making waves on the Senate Banking Committee.
Capital & Largest City: Providence
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 1,050,292 (8th smallest)
The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is technically not a single island; the bulk of the state is on the mainland and it has several islands to the south. It's the smallest state in the country by area (usually the only thing most outsiders know about it) but has the longest official name
of any state.note
It was founded by religious dissidents from Massachusetts fleeing persecution, and remains the most Catholic state in New England. It also serves as a convenient unit of measurement, as in 'An iceberg/asteroid the size of Rhode Island'. Home of HP Lovecraft
, Family Guy
creator Seth Mac Farlane
(the fictional Quahog is right outside Providence, and the show makes several Rhody-specific references), Richard Hatch (the naked gay guy who won the first Survivor
), Paragon City
, and Eternal Darkness
. For some reason, the state has spawned a disproportionate amount of noise rock bands, the most famous of which are Black Dice and Lightning Bolt. It's also the home of the Newport Folk (famous for being the site of Bob Dylan
'going electric' in 1965) and Jazz Festivals in Newport every Summer.
The capital, Providence, is smallish at 180,000 people, but has a metro area of 1.6 million due to encompassing the whole state
plus southern Massachusetts. Former mayor Buddy Cianci was convicted of racketeering while in office, but kept his job for several years after that because he revitalized the city's previously dangerous downtown.
To gamers, Rhode Island is known for being at the center of the scandal involving the collapse of 38 Studios, the game developer headed up by former Red Sox star Curt Schilling, which had received a $75-million loan from the state. Following 38 Studios' bankruptcy, the state of Rhode Island now owns the rights to all of the studio's assets, including their sole release, Kingdoms Of Amalur Reckoning
. Does your
state own a video game company? Didn't think so.
Largest City: Bridgeport
Other Cities of Note: New Haven (home of Yale University)
Population: 3,590,347 (22nd smallest)
The State of Connecticut is the third-smallest state. Like neighboring Rhode Island, it was founded as a refuge from religious persecution in Massachusetts. Today, most of western Connecticut is considered part of the New York City metropolitan area, making the state something of a Mid-Atlantic/New England hybrid. Southwestern Connecticut (Fairfield County, to be more specific) is also used a lot for film locations, especially for movies about suburban dysfunction (Revolutionary Road
, The Stepford Wives
This is partly because the area is infamous for its WASP
population, but as with the rest of the state and Northeast the reality is more diverse, and certainly more Italian and Irish. Films are also partly shot here because Connecticut gives tax credits to filmmakers who film there
Also home to the University of Connecticut (better known as UConn) in Mansfield and Yale University
in New Haven. Original home of the Bush family
, though they're more associated with Texas. Connecticut is widely known for a being very wealthy state (mainly due to its status as a New York bedroom community), but some of the cities such as Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury and "Gun-Wavin'" New Haven have some truly gruesome crime statistics and can resemble mini-Detroits
. The capital city of Hartford was the site of a political convention in 1814–15, where New England politicians discussed seceding from the U.S. over the War of 1812, and is known today for being the home for a lot of insurance companies. Together with Springfield, Massachusetts less than 25 miles away, the Hartford–Springfield area (known as the 'Knowledge Corridor' due to the concentration of prestigious universities and hospitals) is home to nearly two million people, the second-largest urban area in New England behind Boston.
Connecticut's only major league sports team is the WNBA's
. When they moved to Connecticut from Orlando in 2003, they became the first WNBA team to not share a market with a pre-existing men's team. Their financial success proved that women's sports can indeed be independently profitable.
Together with New England and parts of Virginia (see below), the Mid-Atlantic region forms the rest of the area commonly known as 'the Northeast' or 'the East Coast.note
All five states here were among the original Thirteen Colonies. Unlike New England, the Mid-Atlantic has one of the weakest regional identities in the nation, having been called "the typical American region" by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893. Today, the region is known for its affluent, well-educated populace; an economy built on trade, finance, media, medicine and research; and for exemplifying the American Melting Pot
. It has always been one of the most multicultural regions in the country, a consequence of both the diverse collection of colonies that existed in the region before the British took over, and the fact that it was the point of entry for most immigrants to the U.S. The region, like New England, is known for its liberal politics, especially along its heavily urbanized coastline (the cities of Boston
, New York City
, and Washington, DC
are all located here), although the rural interior tends to swing more conservative.
New York State
Other Cities of Note: Buffalo, Rochester
Population: 19,570,261 (3rd largest)
The State of New York has a very large city
, a bunch of its suburbs, several other cities, a fair bit of rural area to the west, and a bunch of pretty mountains to the north
. Nowadays, nobody really remembers that anything outside of New York City exists ('not like there's anything up there anyway' but say that to an Upstate dweller
at your own risk), although Buffalo was a very big deal back in the day after the Erie Canal. Syracuse has a college which, due to its good journalism program, often gets name-dropped in the news far more often than it probably deserves. Parts of Eastern Upstate New York, especially towns like Sleepy Hollow
, can be considered out-of-New-England branches of Lovecraft Country
. The other parts of it south of the Adirondacks include the Capitol District, the metro area of state capital Albany. Tropers might care about Schenectady (Albany's neighbor) for trivia value, as it is home to General Electric, which parented the world's first television station
's first affiliate (though they belong to CBS
now). The legislature in Albany carries on a 200-year tradition of talking "very loud, and very fast, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done."
New York has a long history of progressive social activism—Rochester and Seneca Falls were hubs of the abolitionist and women's rights movements in the 19th century, it was the first state to legalize abortion on demand in 1970, and it was the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage by name (and the first to legalize it through legislation rather than court order). Even the state's conservative voters skew more in the libertarian direction of that ideology; for a long time, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller was considered an icon of the Republican Party's socially moderate, business-oriented wing. The religious conservatism that the modern GOP employed to great effect in the South and Midwest never gets far upstate, as some politicians have found out the hard way.note
Largest City: Newark
Other Cities of Note: Atlantic City, Jersey City
Population: 8,864,590 (11th largest)
Officially the State of New Jersey is known as "The Garden State", and the fourth-smallest state in the country. In modern times, home to a great many suburbs of both New York City
, which have made it the most densely-populated state in the country, as well as some very large and infamous highways. Also home to Atlantic City, Poor Man's Substitute
for Las Vegas. While it is still lush enough to deserve the "Garden State" moniker (it has the highest cranberry production in the country, for example), it is steadily being overtaken by warehouses and factories (part of the reason it's generally the Butt Monkey
of the states) and possibly giant robot cars
. Home of Bruce Springsteen
, Woodrow Wilson
, the View Askewniverse
, and is a traditional
location of Gotham City
. The 'New York' Giants and Jets of the National Football League
actually play in New Jersey, which only feeds the popular belief that much of the state is merely an extension of New York City. This is a source of much consternation on the Jerseyans' parts, especially the part of it that's an extension of Philadelphia
. Also has the dubious honor of being home to more Superfund sites (places legally identified as toxic waste dumps that need to be cleaned up) than any other state.
Why is it that New Jersey has the most toxic waste dumps and Washington, D.C. has the most lawyers?
Other Cities of Note: Pittsburgh
, Lehigh Valley (Allentown–Bethlehem–Easton), Wyoming Valley (Scranton
Population: 12,763,536 (6th largest)
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the home of Benjamin Franklin
, who was probably the most notable Revolutionary-era leader who wasn't from Massachusetts or Virginia (he was born in Boston, but left before age 20). Its largest city, Philadelphia
, was once the second-largest English-speaking city in the world
behind only London. It was the site of the meeting where the colonists decided to formally declare independence from Britain, and served as the second capital (after New York City) of the new nation until a North–South political compromise led to the creation of Washington, DC
. Eastern and Western Pennsylvania are culturally distinct from each other—the western half being more Midwestern than Northeastern—and then there's a large rural zone that divides them
. A common joke describes the state as "Philadelphia
in between." The northeastern part of the state, the Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is one of the major coal-producing regions of the country. Today, however, the area is best known for Dorney Park, The Office (US)
, and the ski resorts in the Poconos. The southwestern part of the state was also once very (in)famous for coal mining; Andrew Carnegie built his steel empire in that region.
Eastern and Central Pennsylvania are home to large numbers of Amish and Mennonite residents, which gives the area a distinctive character that makes it a frequent setting for books and the screen. The southern border with Maryland is probably the only state border that gets any notable attention at all these days. The Mason–Dixon Line (named after the two royal surveyors who laid it out to end a colonial land dispute) was traditionally seen as the dividing line between the Northern and Southern regions of the country, owing to the fact that states north of the line (including Pennsylvania) largely abolished slavery prior to the Civil War
while those south of it did not. Nowadays, it's probably known more as the point at which a motorist travelling north will notice the first of many potholes in the road. Speaking of the Civil War, the state is also noteworthy for the most famous battle of the war and the turning point where the South lost all hope of victory, the Battle of Gettysburg
Pennsylvania also has a quirk in its rules about fireworks. It's illegal for residents to have fireworks, but if you're not a resident, you can visit a fireworks store, show your drivers license, and (as long as you spend at least $50) buy as much as you want, as long as you're taking your goods out of the Keystone State
Largest City: Wilmington
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 917,092 (6th smallest)
The State of Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution, and also has the fewest counties (threenote
). Also known for a lack of sales tax, but staggeringly high tolls, as anybody who's tried to travel I-95 between New Jersey and Maryland
can attest. The current U.S. vice president, Joe Biden
, represented the state in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. Also home of DuPont, Playtex, and Superman
, as Metropolis has been established to be located in Delaware.
Delaware is also a popular place for public corporations to be chartered out of, because of a quirk in the rules of American corporate governance. While you as an individual are subject to the laws of the state where you are when you do something, a corporation only has to act with respect to its internal operations according to the laws of the state where it is chartered, not where its headquarters are located, or where it operates. So when you set up the headquarters of your corporation in Florida, charter it in Oregon, and someone in Georgia sues the operation, the Georgia court will use the laws of the State of Oregon in determining whether the business is operating correctly. So if a corporation is chartered in Delaware, any place that it is sued, to determine whether the corporation is operating in accordance with the laws, the court, no matter where it is, must follow the laws and court decisions of Delaware. Delaware has over 300 years of court decisions and is very favorable to deciding in favor of the management. Delaware used to be very popular for banks and credit card companies, but thanks to Supreme Court decisions more credit card issuers operate out of South Dakota than Delaware, with (for other reasons) Nevada a big second.
Largest Metro Area: Washington, D.C.note
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 5,884,563 (19th largest)
The State of Maryland is the one north of the District of Columbia. It was founded as a haven for Catholics to escape persecution in Britain, and is home to the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in America. Once upon a time, it was thought of as part of the South, but any evidence of Maryland's Southern heritage now sits buried under a sea of suburbia
(referring to Maryland as Southern is now a bit of a Berserk Button
to Marylanders). Its major city is Baltimore, but please don't hold that against the rest of the state. There's a joke that the legislature in Annapolis thinks its sole purpose for being is to suck money out of Montgomery County, the richest part of the state, in order to pump money into the City of Baltimore. Notable for Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency, and Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2012, it became the first state (beating Maine by a few hours) to approve gay marriage by popular vote rather than through legislation or court order.
Geographically, it has a bay that nearly cuts the state in two, plus a long panhandle pointing towards West Virginia; the state as a whole looks rather like a Tommy gun. Maryland is also famous for its blue crabs, eaten with Old Bay, a regional spice, and Crab Cakes that take a distinctive ball-like shape as opposed to flat patty-like crab cakes seen elsewhere. Heaven help you if you pronounce the name as 'Mary-land', the locals preferring the pronunciation 'Mare-a-lend' thanks to several centuries' worth of lingual drift. Maryland's flag
(based on the first Lord Baltimore's heraldic colors) is one of the most colorful and distinctive state flags in the Union.
The national anthem of the United States, the Star-Spangled Banner
, originates from a poem written after the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.
Historically, the South has always been one of the most rural areas of the country, even as its transformation into the 'Sun Belt' has led to the rapid growth of its urban centers. The South is also the most heavily stereotyped
region in the country, and to some extent these views are Truth in Television
—the South is a conservative stronghold, it has been consistently plagued by poverty rates higher than the national average (so far, only Virginia and Florida have managed to buck this trend), and the display of the Confederate flag is still polarizing
for many Southerners. However, if the last fifty years are any indication, then the South has been hard at work turning these perceptions around. Cities like Atlanta
, Memphis, New Orleans, and Charlotte have grown into major economic and cultural centers, creating what has been called a 'New South' that has moved beyond the legacy of the Civil War.
Thanks to its history of plantation slavery, the South has the largest concentration of African Americans in the country, and a 'Black Belt' exists in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas where black people make up a majority or plurality of the population. This region was originally named for the rich black soil which made the cotton industry possible, though over time the cultural distinction became better known than the geographical one.
Largest City: Virginia Beach
Largest Metro Area: Washington, DC
Other Cities of Note: Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport News
Population: 8,185,867 (12th largest)
The Commonwealth of Virginia was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth I
. One of the original Thirteen Colonies, and (along with Massachusetts) one of the main centers of leadership of The American Revolution
and early Republic. In particular, four of the first five Presidents
hailed from Virginia, and the exception
was the only one-term President in that group.
The capital city is Richmond, which also served as the capital of the Confederacy. The largest metropolitan area is the congregation of eight cities (and one town)note
usually referred to as Hampton Roads in the southeastern corner of the state. This area, consisting of the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, and Williamsburg, plus the town of Yorktown, is the home of the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet. A number of other militarily significant places are here, too, including Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis. The exurbs of Hampton Roads and the exurbs of Richmond fuse together, and both metropolitan areas continue to grow toward each other. The result of this is what appears to be a hundred-mile-long 'dumbbell' of city lights when viewed from space. This is regarded as the southernmost part of the BosWash megalopolis (the nearly-unbroken conglomeration of cities and suburbs along the east coast stretching from Concord, New Hampshire, in the north to Hampton Roads in the south).
The cultural boundary between the North and South is generally considered to be somewhere in Virginia, though where exactly is hard to say. This is partly because said boundary is moving ever-further south as (mostly white-collar) Northerners pour in; there was a time when Baltimore was considered thoroughly Southern, but no longer. Currently, the Rappahannock River and the city of Fredericksburg are seen as the dividing line. Northern Virginia, consisting of the suburbs of Washington, DC
, has become practically indistinguishable from the Mid-Atlantic region in both its economy and its politics, and is home to a number of government bodies, such as the CIA
and the Department of Defense.
The point that the states of the United States that are named 'commonwealth' are simply a difference in name and nothing more, can be proven by the fact that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia establishes an organization that is the policing agency and highway patrol for the Commonwealth, and Virginia's Constitution establishes the name of that agency as the "State Police".
Capital & Largest City: Charleston
Other Cities of Note: Huntington, Morgantown
Population: 1,855,413 (13th smallest)
A bit of a difficult area to classify, the State of West Virginia is grouped in with different regions of the nation depending on who you ask: it's either the northernmost Southern state or the southernmost of the Northern states. This is mainly due to the fact that it was originally part of Virginia, but after Virginia seceded during the Civil War, West Virginia counter-seceded from Virginia and sided with the Union due to having stronger political and economic ties with the North at the time. It is the only state that is considered to be located entirely
within a mountain range (the Appalachians) and is the only state that is entirely contained within the Appalachian region as it is defined as well. The Appalachians not only were the cause of many of the social and political differences that separated West Virginia from its parent state of Virginia, it also kept much of the state isolated from outside influences and advancements for a surprisingly long time, an isolation that ended up characterizing the state and its citizens.
Nowadays, the state is mainly noted as the stereotypical Hillbilly and coal-mining country, and even today coal mines provide a sizable income and source of employment for the state. Jokes about family reunions
are to be made at one's own risk
. West Virginia natives on the other hand like to pride themselves on folksy politeness and rugged self-reliance, due to its rural isolation in many areas of the state. To West Virginia's credit, the Appalachian Mountains are in their full glory here, and the state's natural beauty and rugged terrain make it a playground for outdoorsy types ... at least, the parts that aren't being literally blown up to get at the coal underneath. Its capital is Charleston. Residents often refer to it as "West-by-God Virginia".
Largest City: Louisville
Other Cities of Note: Lexington
Population: 4,380,415 (25th smallest)
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is mostly known for bourbon, horses (which resulted in the very apt tourism slogan: "Unbridled Spirit"), fried chicken, Fort Knox (just south of Louisville), and college basketball
. It also contains several dry counties, areas where the local government forbids the sale of alcohol. The points east/southeast of Lexington/Covington area tend to be known as part of 'Appalachia', which shares the dubious distinction (with West Virginia) as Hillbilly country. This leads to the unfortunate situation of Kentucky being perceived with the worst stereotypes of both the Deep South and
Appalachia, often intersecting with jokes about the lack of availability (or worse, knowledge) of shoes. Here's a good one for trivia night: The factory where Chevrolet manufactures its famous Corvette
sports car is located in Bowling Green.
Largest City: Charlotte
Other Cities of Note: Piedmont Triad (Greensboro–Winston-Salem–High Point), Wilmington, Asheville
Population: 9,752,073 (10th largest)
One of the original Thirteen Colonies, the State of North Carolina supplied one-third of the soldiers and much of the industrial resources during the period of the Confederacy, and still has a strong industrial base. Geographically, North Carolina includes many types of terrain across its 600-mile (1000-km) width—from beaches, coastal plains, and swamps in the east, through the rolling hills of the Piedmont and the Uwharrie Mountains in the center, to the Appalachian Mountains in the west.
Some of the rural parts conform to Deep South
or Appalachia stereotypes, but its largest city, Charlotte, is the second largest banking center in the United States. North Carolina also has the Research Triangle (the Raleigh-Durham area), home of one of the largest university research centers in the world and an important center of the bio-tech industry. Research Triangle is not
to be confused with the Piedmont Triad (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point) which is 90 miles to the west and known for manufacturing furniture and textiles. The state public university system is one of the best in the nation, and its private schools include Duke University and Wake Forest University. The impact has been felt in politics: long considered a lock for the Republicans (and before that, a lock for the Democrats) in presidential elections, North Carolina has joined Virginia as the second battleground state in the Old South (just barely voting for Barack Obama
in 2008 and just barely voting for Mitt Romney
in 2012). As a result, North Carolina has come to symbolize the 'New South'.
North Carolina can also claim that its citizens were the first to proclaim independence from Great Britain, as two counties did so in 1775. (The dates are on the state flag.) Possibly most widely known for being the state that the Wright Brothers took their historic flight from Kitty Hawk (it's on their license plate and state quarter, in case you forget). North Carolina residents are also known as 'Tarheels', which is where the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill takes its team name (Tar Heels) from. Speaking of which, the vitriol of the Duke–UNC rivalry
can never be understated; at least one weatherman in the area has been known to describe a blue sky as being a shade precisely between Duke blue and Carolina blue, and one U.S. Representative who is a diehard Carolina fan remarked in 2012, "I have said very publicly that if Duke was playing against the Taliban, then I'd have to pull for the Taliban."note
Wilmington, arguably North Carolina's most prominent coastal city, is the home of the largest film and television production studio outside of California (though it's not 'East Coast Hollywood' just yet), which produced Dawson's Creek
, One Tree Hill
, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
movie, and The Crow
(so yes, Brandon Lee died here). Colonial-era capital city New Bern is considered to be the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, though the company only seems to care about that when marketing the beverage to this particular state. Asheville, nestled in a river valley in the middle of the Appalachians, has gained a reputation in recent years as a New Age
Capital & Largest City: Columbia
Largest Metro Area: The Upstate (Greenville–Spartanburg–Anderson)
Other Cities of Note: Charleston
Population: 4,723,723 (24th largest)
Yet another of the original Thirteen Colonies, the State of South Carolina is nicknamed the "Palmetto State" (that's not a palm tree on the state flag). It actually officially declared independence from Britain a full year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and governed itself as an independent state for the whole of that period. The famous Gadsden flag designnote
was also the doing of a man from this state.
It's one of the archetypal Deep South states, along with Mississippi, Alabama and the non-Atlanta parts of Georgia. The Civil War started here; South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union (and the last to be readmitted), and the first battle of the war took place at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. It was also the site of the first successful submarine attack on an enemy ship. Stephen Colbert
is from there (but was born in Washington, DC
Also, a popular 1920s
dance was named after the iconic harbor city.
On Interstate 95 at the border between North and South Carolina is one of the largest Tourist Traps in the country, South of the Border
, probably most well known as a big seller of fireworks.
Other Cities of Note: Columbus, Augusta, Savannah
Population: 9,919,945 (8th largest)
Despite being nicknamed the Peach State
, the State of Georgia is ranked third in production of said fruit, behind South Carolina and California. Outside of Atlanta, the state's capital and largest city, Georgia is one of the deepest parts of the Deep South—this is where Deliverance
was set, after all. Proud Southerners have been known to disown the cosmopolitan, 'New South' Atlanta—the arrival of the Olympic Games
in the city in 1996 led to the creation of the tongue-in-cheek 'Redneck Games' down in East Dublin. Contains the Chattahoochee, Chattanooga and Chickamauga Rivers and the Okefenokee Swamp. It was originally founded as a penal (tee-hee!)
Home of Coca-Cola (drinking Pepsi is blasphemy), Ted Turner and his former media empire
, Jeff Foxworthy
, The B-52s
(the band, not the subconscious brain function
), Ray Charles
(whose famous song "Georgia on My Mind" is the state anthem), former President and current humanitariannote Jimmy Carter
, and the magician
(Hail Atlanta!). Southern hip-hop is based here as well. Outkast
, Ludacris, and many others call Georgia (particularly Atlanta, or 'the ATL') home. Atlanta is also home to the busiest airport (by number of passengers) in the world.
Georgia has a good-sized film industry due to the tax credits that it offers to filmmakers, leading to a lot of Georgia Doubling
in movies and TV shows, though it's not as big as in nearby Louisiana. One of the most popular shows currently shot in Georgia is The Walking Dead
. The highest-grossing movie of all time, Gone with the Wind
, is set in Civil War-era Georgia.
Largest City: Jacksonville
Largest Metro Area: South Florida (Miami
–Fort Lauderdale–West Palm Beach)
Other Cities of Note: Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Key West
Population: 19,317,568 (4th largest)
The State of Florida has a number of things that it is famous for, including its beaches, Miami
(a major center, along with Los Angeles
, of Spanish-language media), Cape Canaveral
, Walt Disney World
, the Everglades, alligators, the 2000 election
, and being where many old Americans go to retire. One can expect it to get hit by at least one hurricane every year. The Latino population here is more Cuban
than elsewhere, which affects the state politically—they tend to vote for the Republicans, due to their harsher line on Fidel Castro
's Cuba. Lately, though, Florida has become a major swing state, going to the Democrats in three of the last five presidential elections, and one of the other two was the infamous nail-biter that was the 2000 election
The northern part of the state (the Panhandle and Jacksonville) is a part of the Deep South
, but thanks to a large number of Northeastern immigrants, central and southern Florida are culturally distinct from the rest of the region. A common joke states that the further south you head in Florida, the further North you get, and vice versa. The unofficial line separating the two regions is Interstate 4, which connects Daytona to Tampa, crossing through Orlando. Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States, while St. Augustine is the oldest continually inhabited city in North America. The Florida State Seminoles were one of a very small number of NCAA teams allowed to keep its Native American-based name and imagery after a recent crackdown... mostly because the various Seminole Nations in Florida are boosters.note
Florida's status as a Weirdness Magnet
has earned it its own trope
Despite strong competition from the Midwest, Florida is the flattest, lowest state. Its highest point is only 345 feet above sea level; the nation's lowest high point. It is often joked that the tallest mountain in the state of Florida is Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World.note
Largest City: Birmingham
Other Cities of Note: Mobile, Huntsville
Population: 4,822,023 (23rd largest)
The State of Alabama is an archetypal part of the Deep South
. It played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement
; Martin Luther King, Jr. was from Birmingham, the state's largest city, and the cities of Selma and Montgomery were the sites of major protests. Birmingham was considered the "Pittsburgh
of Dixie" for its steel production, and was named after the one in England
In recent years, Alabama has begun attracting foreign companies enticed by the tax breaks and abundant non-unionized labor force, including Mercedes–Benz (Tuscaloosa), Honda (Lincoln), Hyundai (Montgomery), Thyssen Krupp (Mobile), and Airbus (Mobile). In particular, Huntsville in northern Alabama is a major technological center thanks to the presence of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which has the mission of designing the nation's space propulsion systems, and the Army's Redstone Arsenal. It is also home to the NASA Space and Rocket Center Museum, which houses a Saturn V rocket and is home to the U.S. Space Camp. As a result, Huntsville has the nickname of "Rocket City".
Capital & Largest City: Jackson
Other Cities of Note: Gulfport, Biloxi
Population: 2,984,926 (20th smallest)
The State of Mississippi is known as the "Magnolia" or "Hospitality" State. It shares its name with the longest river in the U.S., and the Mississippi Delta region is well known for its influence on Blues music. Over half of the state is forested, and Mississippi also has the dubious honor of having the highest rates of obesity and illiteracy in the country, contributing to a large number of Deep South
stereotypes. Jackson is the biggest city, as well as the capital.
Despite having the lowest literacy rate in the union, it is also the home to many famous writers, including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, John Grisham
, and Thomas Harris. That's right. We've got Hannibal Lecter
Largest City: Memphis
Other Cities of Note: Knoxville, Chattanooga
Population: 6,456,243 (17th largest)
The State of Tennessee is home to Andrew Jackson
and Davy Crockett. Its nickname is "The Volunteer State". It was the last state to join the Confederacy, an act that was extremely divisive; it furnished both more Confederate troops than any other state and more Union
troops than any other Southern state. East Tennessee in particular (like much of Appalachia) was a hotbed of pro-Union sentiment, resenting the dominance of the elite planter class and voting overwhelmingly against secession in 1861.
Birthplace of country
, rock 'n' roll
, and the blues
. It's also the home of Jack Daniels Old No.7 Whiskey, though in a fit of cosmic Irony
, the city of Lynchburg, where the stuff is made, is in Moore County—a dry
The state has two major cultural centers: the state capital of Nashville, a major recording industry center and unofficial Mecca of country music as well as a gigantic (mainly religious) publishing center; and Memphis, where Elvis Presley
got his start, and which is gradually usurping Detroit
's old role as America's premier Wretched Hive
of crime and urban decay.
Capital & Largest City: Little Rock
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 2,949,131 (19th smallest)
The correct pronunciation for the State of Arkansas is 'ar-kan-saw'; this Southern state is the birthplace of Bill Clinton
. Wal-Mart also has its corporate headquarters here, namely in Bentonville. Little Rock is its capital and largest city; it's (in)famous for President Dwight D. Eisenhower
having to send federal troops there in 1957 to force one school to admit nine black students
. Famous for its public diamond
dirt field mud pit
mine, which is depicted on both its flag and license plate. Isn't sure if it belongs in the Southwest (west of the Mississippi, neighbors Texas), Deep South (a fertile-yet-poor Delta flatter than the Great Plains), or even Appalachia (as Hollywood wants to believe). Northwest Arkansas, no matter how big it seems, is
always treated as a separate entity in-state. The Ozark Dome region, which straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border, is similar to Appalachia in terrain and has the same "hillbilly" stereotype as West Virginia; Al Capp
's Lil Abner
was from the Arkansas part of the Ozarks.
Capital: Baton Rouge
Other Cities of Note: Shreveport, Lafayette
Population: 4,601,893 (25th largest)
The State of Louisiana is notable for its French influence and New Orleans
. Southern Louisiana is the home of the Cajuns, descendants of the original French settlers in Louisiana who have become famous for their brand of cooking. Owing to the state's Catholic roots, its counties are known as parishes. The southern region of the state was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and while New Orleans has since recovered (complete with stronger anti-flooding measures), many smaller communities along the Gulf Coast lay abandoned.
For the last decade or so, Louisiana has been very
active in giving tax credits to filmmakers, making it the fourth-largest film production center in North America behind Hollywood
, New York City
. As a result, Louisiana Doubling
has become quite common in the American film industry. (But see New Mexico for a comparison.) The stretch of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, known as 'Cancer Alley
', has enough chemical plants to make a New Jerseyan
feel at home, and the parts of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana's southern coast produce a lot of America's oil. Indeed, you might have heard about one of those oil rigs
When people talk about quintessential Americana, they're most likely talking about this area. The Midwest is quite possibly the most stereotypically 'American' place in the country. If a work is set in Everytown, America
, then chances are it takes place here, even if it looks far more mountainous than it should
. The region is also known for its unpredictable weather. Winters are notoriously harsh, and the rest of the year often sees a few days of sunshine followed by snowstorms (if close to winter) or thunderstorms/tornadoes (if not).
Culturally, there is something of a duality in the Midwest. On the one hand, there is the urbanized Great Lakes region, also known as the Upper Midwest and the Rust Belt, which was the industrial heartland of the U.S. for most of the 20th century—and, as can be inferred by the name 'Rust Belt
,' has been hit hard by the fall of manufacturing in the country (although some areas, such as Chicago
, have fared better than others). The western parts of Pennsylvania (hubs in Pittsburgh
and Erie) and New York
(hub in Buffalo) are often included. (Brits, picture an American version of Oop North
.) On the other hand, there are the more rural areas
, where agriculture and other 'primary' sectors (mining, forestry) are major contributors to the economy. The Great Plains states are often included with the latter, though they are sometimes split off as their own separate region. Although there are exceptions (mainly in the extreme regions bordering other sections of the country, such as the northern borders with Canada), the Midwest is also known for creating the Newscaster English, or 'Generic American' accent.
Socially and economically, the Midwest is one of America's key 'swing' regions, with both political parties pouring millions of dollars into winning voters in such politically important states as Ohio
and Iowa. On one hand, it is known for populism, especially of the economic variety—the antislavery Republican Party got its start in Wisconsin, the industrial cities are the heartland of the American labor movement (Milwaukee elected mayors from the Socialist Party with remarkable consistency during the early–mid-20th century), while the left-wing agrarian movements of the rural prairies produced the famous firebrand William Jennings Bryan (the "Boy Orator from the Platte"note
) and the state of North Dakota's publicly-owned central bank, the only one in the nation. On the other hand, the region is also culturally conservative outside the largest cities—the populist Bryan was also the lawyer for the creationist side at the Scopes "Monkey Trial", and Ronald Reagan
was famously able to exploit the fault lines between religious, working-class Midwesterners (so-called "Reagan Democrats") and the more liberal Democratic mainstream to win by landslides in 1980 and 1984.
Capital & Largest City: Columbus
Largest Metro Area: Cincinnati (largest metropolitan area that includes Ohio territory), Cleveland
(largest entirely within Ohio)
Other Cities of Note: Toledo
, Akron, Dayton
Population: 11,544,255 (7th largest)
The State of Ohio is either yet another flat state full of corn if you're from the coast, or the beginning of the 'Urban East' if you're from this flat state full of corn. Ohio is far more urban than most writers realize; it has six cities of 100,000 or more, and is the most densely populated state outside the east coast. Politically, the population is pretty evenly split between conservatives in the rural areas and liberals in the cities and their suburbs, hence why Ohio is such a battleground state during election season. It last voted against the person declared president in 1960
, the longest 'winning' streak of any state. Also, Ohio has arguably the most distinctive flag in the country, being the only one pennant-shaped.
The three biggest cities all start with a 'C'. Cleveland
is the most (in)famous for several reasons: its largest river caught on fire, the city government went bankrupt
, the term 'rock 'n' roll
' was coined here, Halle Berry
is from here, and it was the first major city in the U.S. to elect a black mayor (Carl Stokes, and it wasn't during his
term that first two events happened). Reportedly, one must be tough to live here. Next is Cincinnati, the first major inland city in the U.S. Despite giving us Hustler
magazine and electing Jerry Springer
they've also concocted a weird yet satisfying version of chili: it includes cinnamon and cocoa powder, and is traditionally served atop a mound of spaghetti. And Columbus, the capital, is basically the world's biggest college town. It lacked professional sports teams until the creation of Major League Soccer
in 1996, when the Columbus Crew began play, soon followed by the creation of the NHL
's Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000,note
but they love college football like nothing else. The
Ohio State University is the largest school in the U.S. by enrollment, and God help you if you wear
a University of Michigan
shirt in city limits. Columbus is also one of the most affluent cities in the Midwest and was relatively unaffected by the economic recession. However, the city is almost never seen in fiction compared to quirky Cincinnati and gritty Cleveland
Ohio can lay claim to eight
though most of them have been forgotten by the general public
. The shooting of Vietnam War
-protesting students at Kent State University by members of the National Guard in 1970 inspired the famous protest song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Chagrin Falls (a suburb of Cleveland
) is home to cartoonist Bill Watterson, author of Calvin and Hobbes
. The city of Sandusky is home of Cedar Point, generally considered the nation's best amusement park (sometimes the world's
). The state is also birthplace of multiple aviation pioneers, including the makers of the first airplane, the first man on the moon, and the pilot of the first atomic bomb mission. Snarkier observers may suggest that there is something about this fair state that makes people want to leave the planet.
Other Cities of Note: Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor
Population: 9,883,360 (9th largest)
The State of Michigan is known for bordering four of the five Great Lakes, and being broken into two parts, its southern part resembling a mitten (expect locals to point at parts of their hands as a visual aid for where they live). Once lost a war with Ohio over Toledo, but got its upper peninsula as a consolation prize, which tends to be ignored by "Trolls"—those who live "under the bridge"—excuse us, "under da bridge
"—in the lower half. Home to the Motor City, Detroit, seat of the American auto industry but better known for the poster child for urban squalor
in the public imagination (hence the alternative nickname "Murder City"). On a lighter note, Detroit is also known for its contributions to popular music which, among many others, includes Aretha Franklin
, Ted Nugent
, Kid Rock
, and Motown Records, which held a pantheon of R&B artists in the 1960s and '70s. Michigan also made substantial contributions to Punk Rock
in the form of the MC5
and, more famously, Iggy Pop and the Stooges
in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then the garage rock revival in the early 2000s with the likes of The White Stripes
and the Von Bondies (to name only the most successful acts).
The city of Flint, which is even worse than Detroit, is claimed as a hometown by left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore
—who actually grew up in one of Flint's slightly-less-Godawful suburbs. Most of the state's upper-class residents live in the vicinity of Grosse Pointe. The city of Ann Arbor is the home of the University of Michigan
, a college whose reputation as a Berserkeley
is only topped by its reputation for wishing the Ten Plagues on everyone in Columbus, Ohio
The capital, Lansing, would probably be rather like Detroit and Flint (General Motors has a couple of factories and such in the area), but for the fact that the state government and Michigan State University (in its immediate eastern suburb, East Lansing
, which keeps things relatively OK.note
The proper term for a resident of Michigan is 'Michigander'.note
Residents of the UP (Upper Peninsula) are sometimes called 'Yoopers' and have a distinct accent; depending on who you ask, they either sound like Minnesotans or Canadians
Michigan recently introduced some very substantial tax incentives for media productions shot there, so look for it to pretend to be someplace else
soon. It certainly could use the money; as of 2009 it had the nation's highest unemployment rate. According to the 2010 census, it was the only state with a net loss
in population vis-à-vis its 2000 figures (while Detroit sank from tenth- to eighteenth-largest city over the same years), primarily due to the terrible job market.
Michigan was the first state and the first English-speaking jurisdiction in the world to abolish the death penalty (in 1846). The state of Michigan has not executed anyone since statehood, and only one person has been executed on Michigan soil since then (in 1938 by the federal government).
Other Cities of Note: Fort Wayne, Evansville, South Bend
Population: 6,537,334 (16th largest)
The State of Indiana is known for a few things, such as a passion for basketball ('Hoosier hysteria'note
), Michael Jackson
, Janet Jackson
, and hosting the Indy
500. In 1929, a pair of sociologists declared Muncie, Indiana, to be the most typical small town
in America. As a result, a lot of marketing testing used to be conducted there. Jim Davis, creator of the comic strip Garfield
, comes from Muncie, as does David Letterman
. For a long time, Indiana was one of three states (Arizona and Hawaii being the others) that did not use Daylight Saving Time. It is still split into two time zones—the northwest corner, around Gary, is so tied to nearby Chicago
by urban sprawl that it was considered inconvenient to be on Eastern Time, and the same holds true for the southwest corner around Evansville, in this case because it's the main economic center for a decent-sized chunk of Illinois and western Kentucky. Discussing the time zone issue—or any other 'Northwest Indiana vs. the Rest of the State' topic—is likely to start a Flame War
. Natives of Indiana are properly referred to as Hoosiers, though the origin of the word has been lost to time.
Contrary to popular belief, Indiana produces more than just corn. It also produces soybeans.
It's also home for the only execution chamber for the Federal Government (most executions are handled on the state level). Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, was tried in Denver
, Colorado, due to concerns over him getting a fair trial, then executed at the federal execution chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Other Cities of Note: Joliet, Peoria, Elgin, Champaign–Urbana (home to the main campus of the University of Illinois), three of the five Quad Cities
(East Moline, Moline, Rock Island)
Population: 12,875,255 (5th largest)
The State of Illinois has a special pronunciation of its name. The s
in Illinois is silent, making it 'ill-i-NOY'. Home to Chicago
, the third-largest city in America, but its state capital is actually Springfield. No, not THAT Springfield note
. Most of what Illinois is known for is
Chicago; more than half the state's population lives in the city's metro area. The rest of Illinois is rural by comparison; conservatives in southern and central Illinois often resent being politically lumped with Chi-town. Abraham Lincoln
, who would be elected to the presidency on behalf of the nascent Republican Party in 1860, started his political career in Illinois, which is why Illinois' Springfield is the second
most important Springfield in American culture. Democratic President Barack Obama
, who had settled in Chicago after law school, represented this state in the U.S. Senate.
The state has a reputation for political corruption, with four of the last eight (and two of the last three) governors serving prison time and Governor Rod Blagojevich having been thrown out of office not long after Obama's election to the White House for apparently attempting to sell his vacant Senate seat. At one point, prosecutors had framed so many people for death penalty cases that on the last day of his term, Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of all 156 persons on death row to life imprisonment. This might be the reason that Governor Pat Quinn would later sign a bill that eliminated the death penalty in Illinois.
Other Cities of Note: Green Bay
Population: 5,726,398 (20th largest)
Initially settled when miners discovered huge lead deposits in the 1830s and 1840s, the State of Wisconsin is known as "The Dairy State". As such, it's known as the home of cheese, That '70s Show
, and the Green Bay Packers
. Also home of Milwaukee
, which was notable for having had three mayors from the Socialist Party for 38 years between 1910 and 1960, and for being the home of several brewing companies (though the actual brewing has long been relocated). Capital is Madison (named in honor of Founding Father James Madison
), a Berserkley University
Birthplace of Ed Gein
, Jeffrey Dahmer
, Senator Joseph McCarthy
, and the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company
, so watch it
, eh? Also home of the Ocean Spray cranberry company; the state produces no less than 52% of the entire country's annual cranberry supply each year.
Wisconsin was the second state to abolish the death penalty (in 1853). Much like Michigan, only one person has ever been executed in post-statehood Wisconsin, although that was
by the state government; the hanging (in 1851) proved to be such a gruesome spectacle that public revulsion led the Legislature to outlaw the practice.
Capital: St. Paul
Largest City: Minneapolis
Other Cities of Note: Duluth, Rochester
Population: 5,379,139 (21st largest)
The State of Minnesota is popularly called the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Actually, if you count the lakes over 10 acres, it's closer to 12,000
. According to Hollywood, most of these lakes are frozen for six months at a time.note
Home of the Twin Cities
: Minneapolis, the state's largest city (and home of the musician Prince
), and St. Paul, the capital. Asking which city is better is not advised
Tends to be very populist politically, even more so than the rest of the Midwest; the local affiliate of the Democratic Party is still officially named the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (or DFL
for short) note
, voter turnout is regularly among the highest in the nation, and they voted in Independence Party pro wrestler Jesse Ventura
for governor before California ever had their recall.note
Famous for its residents' extreme politeness, to the point where we have a trope about it
. Also, includes one county which does not appear on maps, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children ... are above average
Speaking of A Prairie Home Companion
, the state's appreciation for public radio
is unrivalled in the nation, outside of maybe
New York. Public Radio International (PRI), distributor of This American Life
(among countless other programs) and one of the largest public radio organizations in the country, is based in Minneapolis, while Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), maker of Companion
, has the largest audience of any public radio network in the U.S. and listener support that is only matched by WNYC in the Big Applesauce
(keep in mind that MPR reaches barely half as many people as WNYC does).
Minnesota's 3rd largest city Rochester is home to the Mayo Clinic
and it's 4th largest city of Duluth's position at the western most tip of the Great Lakes allow it to be a major shipping port in the middle of the continent.
Anything else? Oh yah
, not everyone in Minnesoo
ta talks in that funny, sorta-Swedish accent
, but it does happen
, don'cha know?
Capital & Largest City: Des Moines
Other Cities of Note: Cedar Rapids, the other two Quad Cities (Davenport, Bettendorf)
Population: 3,074,186 (21st smallest)
The State of Iowa consists of gently rolling hills and is home to a lot of farmers. For some strange reason, it gets to go first on the presidential selection process, resulting in many presidential candidates turning up to a lot of farm shows hoping to win the caucuses there. Since Iowa is one of America's leading corn producers, this is often cited as the reason why so many politicians support corn ethanol programs despite their questionable effectiveness
—support for ethanol is a great way to win the Iowa caucuses and gain a head start in the primary cycle. It was also the first state outside New England to legalize same-sex marriage, to the surprise of many.note
Some good ones for quiz night: The town of Riverside, Iowa, has said James T. Kirk will be
born there. Radar O'Reilly from Mash
had his hometown in Ottumwa, Iowa. Travel writer Bill Bryson
came from Des Moines, the state capital (somebody had to). Heavy metal band Slipknot
is from Iowa, and their second album is even named after their home state. The Music Man
takes place here. Buffy
writer Jane Espenson is from Ames. Lastly, the state has produced one President: Herbert Hoover
Capital: Jefferson City
Population: 6,021,988 (18th largest)
The State of Missouri is known as the "Show-Me" State, nicknamed for its residents' reputation for skepticism. Home to Harry Truman
and the starting place of the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails (all Independence, including Truman); also the home of Rush Limbaugh
(Cape Girardeau) and Mark Twain
(Florida. Yes, there is/was a town called Florida, Missouri), as well as a Kansas City
(The Day After
featured prominently here and the nearby Kansas
city of Lawrence). Speaking of cities, the largest city is Kansas City—or maybe St. Louis
, home of a very important World's Fair.note
The capital city is Jefferson City, more or less smack-dab between the two.
Missouri is famous for having tons of barbecue places (predominately in St. Louis and Kansas City), unpredictable weather, and lots of rednecks—including people who fly Confederate flags—possibly stemming from the state's divided loyalties during the Civil War. To this day, it's argued whether Missouri should be considered Midwestern or Southern. Until 2008
, the state had a near-unbroken string of voting for the person declared triumphant in the national presidential election dating back to 1904
(the only failure being 1956
), which gave it the modern nickname "Bellwether State".
Missouri doesn't have the largest (that would be Kentucky) or the most famous (probably New Mexico) caves in the U.S., but it has more
of them than any other state in the U.S., and in the southern half of the state you're unlikely to drive fifteen miles along the highway without seeing a billboard for one or another of them.
Southern Missouri is the northern part of the Ozark Dome region, which as mentioned under Arkansas is the stereotypical home of hillbillies (The Beverly Hillbillies
were from the Missouri Ozarks). Also of note in the region is Branson, a small town with a huge presence in the tourist industry, thanks mainly to its Highway 76 corridor jam-packed with "music shows" (mainly country) and businesses that sprang up to separate the tourists going to the music shows from more of their money. Branson also has the Silver Dollar City theme park nearby, which is one of the most consistently "themed" theme parks in the country (an 1880s mining town).
Largest City: Wichita
Population: 2,885,905 (18th smallest)
The State of Kansas is the geographic center of the 'continental' 48 states. Mostly flat farmland, and the western part is particularly boring flatness, but the parts bordering Missouri have some curvature. Associated with tornadoes, for some reason
, though that is Truth in Television
. Some Kansans believe that Kansas is
Oz, down to U.S. Highway 54 in that state (running from Fort Scott to Liberal and Dorothy Gale's house) being called 'The Yellow Brick Road'. 'Bleeding Kansas' was the scene for a warm-up bout just before the Civil War: Kansas even had its own massacre.note
It was also where John Brown of "John Brown's Body" lived before he went to Harper's Ferry, Virginia. There was even one actual Civil War battle in the state.
The capital of Kansas is Topeka; before that, the capital was the subject of some of Bleeding Kansas' bleeding. Surviving former capitals include LeCompton—barely—and Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas and its Jayhawks. The largest city in Kansas is Wichita; the next three largest are all part of the Kansas City
metro area (Overland Park, Kansas City, Olathe). Leavenworth is known throughout the country as the location of a famous federal prison, and Dodge City is one of the most iconic Old West towns.
In 2005, Kansas earned itself a ton of mockery by allowing the teaching of intelligent design in public-school science classes, leading to the "Open Letter to the Kansas Board of Education" that spawned
the Parody Religion
of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
adored by Hollywood Atheists
everywhere. Fortunately, the people of Kansas voted out the pro-ID crowd on the state board of education the following year, partly as a backlash against their change to the curriculum.
Kansas has also been tested
to be flatter than a pancake (from IHOP).
Largest City: Omaha
Other Cities of Note: Bellevue, Grand Island
Population: 1,855,525 (14th smallest)
Offers tend to be void here ...
The State of Nebraska is the only one to have a unicameral (single-house) legislature. What everyone else does with two houses is beyond them. The population is pretty evenly split between Omaha Metropolitan Area (™
) and the rest of the state, both of which pretend the other doesn't exist. They don't agree on much, really. Because of Nebraska's peculiar take on the Electoral College,note
the 2008 election saw two congressional districts cast a vote for John McCain, while the third—which contains Omaha—voted for Obama
. Nebraska's single uniting factor is the Nebraska Cornhuskers: no matter where you're from, the quickest way to be liked is to wear Husker red.
Another thing it used to have only one of, was the means to perform executions, with the electric chair being the only authorized method. The State Supreme Court found execution by electric chair to be cruel and unusual punishment (Offer Void in Nebraska, of course) in 2008, so it has, like every other state that has retained the death penalty, switched to lethal injection.
On the other hand, do not, under any circumstances, bring up ethanol
. Even if you're for it.
Nebraska, though a Plains State, is not entirely flat. There are bluffs in the east, buttes in the west, small canyons in the south, and the Sand Hills (grassy sand dunes) in the north. With no ocean or Great Lakes to temper it, the weather is best described as 'psychotic'. Part of what was the Oregon Trail is now I-80, which cuts east to west through the state. Most of the land is given over to ranching and farming, though telecommunications is major business, and STRATCOM
is based outside Bellevue, Nebraska. Then there's, um ... corn?
Whereas Kansas is the geographic center of the lower 48 states, Nebraska is the geographic center of North America.
Famous Nebraskans include Terry Goodkind
, Johnny Carson, Malcolm X
, William Jennings Bryan, and Warren Buffett (the world's fourth wealthiest man, who still lives in Omaha). Nebraskans also invented Kool-Aid
and TV dinners
(39) and South Dakota
Capitals: Bismarck and Pierre, respectively
Largest Cities: Fargo and Sioux Falls, respectively
Other Cities of Note: Minot & Grand Forks (North Dakota), Rapid City & Aberdeen (South Dakota)
Population: 699,628 and 833,354 (3rd and 5th smallest)
The State of North Dakota and State of South Dakota entered the Union on the same day in 1889. Officially, North Dakota, home of Fargo, is the 39th state, and South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace and American Legion baseball, is the 40th state. It has been said that if the United States grants statehood to, say, Guam
or Puerto Rico
, North and South Dakota should unite to become Dakota, just to keep the number of states at a nice even 50. North Dakota actually considered this in the 2000s, due to its drastically declining population. Several news stories have cropped up recently about Dying Towns
and Ghost Towns
throughout the state, and it is the least visited of all the states. With the merger, it would also get mentioned sooner in alphabetical listings of the states
. However, North Dakota is currently undergoing an oil boom, as the Bakken oil formation in the western part of the state, once too deep and too expensive to get at economically, is now profitable thanks to rising oil prices and improved technology. Combined with the conservative lending practices of the state's publicly-owned central bank, North Dakota has emerged from the late '00s recession nearly unscathed.
Earlier this article mentioned how banks and credit card issuers used to be chartered in Delaware, but then South Dakota changed its laws to be extremely friendly to credit card issuers by eliminating usury, so a credit issuer can charge any interest rate they want. A U.S. Supreme Court decision also said that a credit issuer can charge whatever interest rate the state it is chartered by permits, even if the laws of the state where the customer is located set a lower limit on interest that can be charged. However, Nevada is also attractive for credit card issuers as well.
South Dakota is also home to Gutzon Borglum's large-scale sculpture project Mount Rushmore, which you may have heard of. And one of the largest Tourist Traps in the United States, Wall Drug
, which runs ads for 500 miles in every direction advertising 'free ice water'.
The home of The Western
, this is where The Wild West
earned the 'Wild' moniker. This land was acquired from Mexico, and as such has always had a Latino flair to it—especially in recent years, with increasing immigration. Most of its population consists of migrants from the rest of the country, especially in Arizona and New Mexico. The region also has the highest population of Natives in the continental U.S., with several reservations
and a notable presence in the cities. The area is usually thought of as being dry and hot—while the 'dry' part is Truth in Television
, in reality the more mountainous areas of New Mexico and Arizona get cold enough in the winter to support ski resorts such as Mount Lemmon Ski Valley
, which gets over 180 inches of snow per year and is located right outside Tucson, which has an average summer high of 99 degrees and typically gets less than two inches per year. Flagstaff gets over two hundred days per year with a temperature below freezing (one of the highest rates in the country outside Alaska).
Other Cities of Note: San Antonio, El Paso
Population: 26,059,203 (2nd largest)
The State of Texas is the largest of the lower 48 states, the second largest by area after Alaska, the second most populated after California, and the state with the most counties (254). It is often considered to be part of both the South and the Southwest. Formerly an independent country—the Republic of Texas—prior to joining the United States in 1845. MESSING WITH IT IS NOT ALLOWED.note
The birthplace of the Six Flags theme park, the name coming from the six national flags that have historically flown over the state (France
, the Republic of Texas, The United States
, and the Confederate States
). Famous for wealthy oil industry magnates and cattle ranching. Its capital, Austin
, is an enigma—it's a liberal college town that prides itself on being offbeat (it even has the slogan "Keep Austin Weird" to promote tourism), it's known for the famous indie rock and film festival South by Southwest, and it sits smack dab in the middle of one of the most conservative states in the country. Because of this, both liberal Austinites and conservative, non-Austinite Texans tend to refer to the city as "the People's Republic of Austin," either jokingly or half-seriously.
To encourage Texas to agree to give up being a separate country and join the United States, it got one special privilege and one special permission in its admission. First, all public domain land in Texas belongs to the State of Texas (everywhere else, public domain land remained the property of the U.S. Government). Second, without further action of Congress
, Texas can, at any time, divide itself into as many as five
states. The joke coming from that is that it will never happen, because none of the new states to be created could agree on which one got to keep the Alamo.
The Texas Ranger Division is one of the most famous non-federal law enforcement agencies in the nation, acting in many of the big events in Texan and Old West
history, including the Indian wars, The Mexican Revolution
and the capture of Bonnie and Clyde
. Despite two attempts to disband them (once during Reconstruction, and again in the 1930s in a political dispute), they remain part of the state's law enforcement, functioning as a Texan version of the FBI
. They are the source of the saying, and trope, "One Riot, One Ranger
Texas is tied with California for having the most cities whose populations are among the ten largest in the country, with three: Houston
is #4, San Antonio is #7, and Dallas
Capital & Largest City: Oklahoma City
Other Cities of Note: Tulsa, Norman
Population: 3,814,820 (23rd smallest)
The State of Oklahoma is part of the area originally known as "Indian Territory," due to the relocation of several Native American tribes to the area by the American government, Oklahoma became the 46th state on November 16, 1907. While the state is vastly rural, its two biggest cities are Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the latter being the eighth largest city in the United States by land area. Due to its location, different maps list it being in the Southeast, the Southwest and the Midwest. Similarly, despite what tends to be shown on TV, the state isn't a vast flatland of wheat
, but has a surprising variety of scenery, from the heavily forested mountains in the southeast to the dry, arid plateaus of the panhandle.
Much like Kansas (see above), Oklahoma is known for severe weather, particularly that of tornadoes, which is well deserved. Fun fact: The capitol, Oklahoma City, is one of the most tornado-prone cities in the United States, being hit by a tornado, on average, once every two years. On June 8, 1974, Oklahoma City was hit by five separate tornadoes. Similarly, Oklahoma holds the record for experiencing the highest tornadic wind speeds recorded: 318 miles per hour (512 kph).
Oklahoma is the home of Carrie Underwood
, Chuck Norris
, Garth Brooks
, Reba McEntire
, Jim Ross
, the Flaming Lips
and Woody Guthrie. Also Hanson
. The state also has the most artificially created lakes in the USA. It is also the only state in the United States to have a state meal: fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecued pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken-fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. The practice of Noodlingnote
is supposedly popular in the state, as well ...
On a less pleasant note
, Oklahoma City is also the site of one of the darker chapters in recent American history. In 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed by Timothy McVeigh
in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism
in U.S. history, killing 168 people.
Capital: Santa Fe
Largest City: Albuquerque
Population: 2,085,538 (15th smallest)
The southeast 'Four Corners' state, the State of New Mexico has its motto printed on its license plates, "Land of Enchantment". New Mexico used to be one of the wildest parts of The Wild West
; Cimarron, New Mexico, is one of the few towns that lived up to the hype. The state has working cattle ranches to this day. Best known as the home of Roswell, where, erm ... something
happened in 1947. Puts "New Mexico USA" on its license plates just in case someone thinks it's part of that other Mexiconote
... Very much Truth in Television
as New Mexicans who travel can attest, to the point where New Mexico Magazine
has a long-running column entitled "One of our Fifty is Missing" devoted to instances of this mistake.
While much of the state is desert, there are also a number of mountains, leaving it as the state with the third-highest average elevation (behind Colorado and Wyoming). Oh, and if you see Saguaros (the big cactus with arms), then someone has gotten it confused with neighboring Arizona
. New Mexico's desert is generally sandier and has far less plant life than Arizona's.
is set in Albuquerque, the state's largest city, as is In Plain Sight
, which couldn't show a more different face of ABQ. The show Roswell
is also set here (of course
), as is the recent movie Sunshine Cleaning
, and parts of Terminator: Salvation
. New Mexico has a number of very attractive rebate programs and tax incentives to encourage motion picture production, which has caused a number of studio facilities to be set up here to capitalize on it. These incentives plus the relative closeness to California has made it a much more popular place than some others such as Louisiana.
Despite the aforementioned Missouri and Ohio's greater fame as a presidential bellwether, New Mexico has actually voted more reliably for the person declared president in each election since it attained statehood
in 1912. The lone exceptions came in 1976
(though Bush Jr. made up for it when he was reelected in 2004).
Also, if someone there asks you "Red or green?", answer "Christmas
". (They're arguing over which chiles are better.)
Capital & Largest City: Phoenix
Other Cities of Note: Tucson, Flagstaff
Population: 6,553,255 (15th largest)
The southwest 'Four Corners' state, the State of Arizona was officially recognized on February 14, 1912. Arizona is the 48th state to join the Union, making it the last of the contiguous states. It is well known for its desert climate, and thus shows up in Westerns (the shootout at the OK Corral took place in Tombstone, Arizona). However, in truth, there is a bit more to Arizona than just desert. Phoenix is the sixth-largest city in the country and often considered a poor man's Los Angeles
, due to its warm weather (though summers are ungodly hot), desert landscape, and Latin-flavored culture (more on that later), but having a low cost of living. In northern Arizona, the climate is cold enough to allow skiing in the winter. The television show Medium
is set here, as is the Chick Flick Waiting to Exhale
. Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain represents the state in the U.S. Senate. It also the location of the Grand Canyon.
Since Indiana changed over, Arizona is now one of two states that do not participate in Daylight Saving Time.note
Recently, the media portrayal of Arizona has shifted to 'Alabama
with cacti' thanks to the state declining to officially observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day from 1987 to 1992note
, and a highly restrictive anti-illegal immigration law that the state passed early in 2010, which has inflamed passions on both sides of the issue. As with all things political
. The state is also home to the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio
of Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix), who has gained notoriety for his anti-illegal immigration stance and his ... colorful
handling of the prison system.
Notable Arizonans include Linda Ronstadt
, Barry Goldwater, Jordin Sparks
, Stevie Nicks
, Stephenie Meyer
, the Gin Blossoms, and Alice Cooper
(though he got his start in Michigan).
The Intermountain West
Everything between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Outside of a few areas, this is one of the least-populated parts of the United States, with many areas being genuine wilderness. The whole area has a reputation for libertarianism, and the wilderness is home to a great many prickly survivalists. Also considered to be part of the 'Wild West', although it doesn't have nearly the same reputation that the Southwest has for it.
Capital & Largest City: Denver
Other Cities of Note: Colorado Springs, Aspen, Boulder
Population: 5,187,582 (22nd largest)
The northeast 'Four Corners' state, the State of Colorado is usually known for its mountains, the ski resorts on said mountains, the Columbine
shootings and South Park
. However, the eastern half of the state consists of flat prairie more reminiscent of Kansas than our usual perception. But even then, it still has some of the highest mountains in the country (only Alaska and California have higher) and the highest average elevation of any state, with its lowest point still approximately 3300 feet above sea level (higher than many states' highest points and the only lowest point more than 1000 meters above sea level). The thin, clean air and the abundance of outdoor activities may explain why, statistically, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate◊
in America. Its state capital, Denver
, is the largest city in five hundred miles; the fact that it only has about 600,000 peoplenote
says something about how sparsely populated the region is.
Politically and culturally, the 'red/blue state
' divide runs straight through Colorado, making it a fairly important swing state. On the one hand, there is the city of Colorado Springs, which has been called the Evangelical Vatican due to how many conservative Christian groups
are headquartered there, and how many born-again Christians
have moved to the city as a result. On the other hand, there are Boulder (a.k.a. "The People's Republic of Boulder") and the various ski resort towns in the western part of the state, which are famously liberal and secularnote
, and are filled with hippies
, Granola Girls
and, in the case of the ski towns, rich Hollywood celebrities making a second home. The Denver metropolitan area is itself also a reflection of this cultural divide, with the city proper and its inner suburbs being extremely liberal and the more outer suburbs (especially affluent Douglas County in the southern part) being extremely conservative.
Colorado is where the traditional values of the Midwest begin to shift into the relatively libertarian values of the West. Casino gambling, while not widespread, does not suffer the same stigma is does in the Midwest (Colorado is one of 15 states to permit commercial gambling). Same-sex civil unions have also been legalized. Colorado shares a reputation with the West Coast as being extremely marijuana-friendly, having been one of the first two states (together with Washington) to legalize the herb.
Colorado is the location of ADX Florence, a supermax-class prison often called The Alcatraz
of the Rockies, where the federal government keeps many of the most dangerous people convicted, including the Unabomber, Zacarias Moussaoui, and many other terrorists and mass murderers.note
Capital & Largest City: Cheyenne
Other Cities of Note: Casper
Population: 576,412 (smallest)
Least populous state in the Union, with two Senators and one representative in the House, the State of Wyoming bears the nickname "The Equality State" because it is the state where women have longest held a continuous right to vote.note
The state became infamous for the murder of Matthew Shepard (which led to a spectacular display of asshattery by the Westboro Baptist Church
), and this incident may have been the reason why Brokeback Mountain
was set in Wyoming. Despite its sobriquet, Wyoming is one of the most conservative states in the country, with over twice as many people voting for Republicans in presidential elections as for Democrats.
Wyoming was also the state that invented a popular alternative to the corporation, the Limited Liability Company, in 1987.
Largest City: Billings
Other Cities of Note: N/A
Population: 1,023,579 (7th smallest)
Beautiful, untamed wilderness that's either being strip-mined, clear-cut, occupied by fanatical gun-toting militia groups
, or snapped up by rich Hollywood types looking for a scenic holiday spot. If one were to look at an outline of the State of Montana, one could see the profile of a face looking southwest into Idaho.
The fourth-largest city (population around 40,000), Bozeman, has been mentioned in the CSI Verse
—it is the birthplace of both
Catherine Willows from CSI
and Lindsay Monroe from the New York spinoff
, where the latter had some of her friends brutally murdered in her youth (it is unknown if they know each other, though it's unlikely).
It seems that the generally untruthful perception of gun-toting fanatics is wider than some would hope. Gerard Way, of My Chemical Romance
and The Umbrella Academy
fame, wore a bulletproof vest during a trip to Montana (which he probably already owned since he's from Newark, New Jersey
). In concert. Apparently he believed he was going to be shot by one of his ticket-buying fans. Of course, it didn't help that he was drugged out of his mind at the time. Sadly, the stereotype that Montanans are violent and dangerous doesn't stem the flood of Californians into the state. Oh well. On the other hand, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists
is a native of the capital, Helena, and has strong links to Missoula, location of the University of Montana.
Also, keep your eyes open in 2063 when humanity's first successful warp-capable ship will depart from here
Capital & Largest City: Salt Lake City
Other Cities of Note: Provo, Orem
Population: 2,855,287 (17th smallest)
The northwest 'Four Corners' state, the State of Utah was founded by Mormon pioneers when they were driven out of the United States into Mexican territory—which was then promptly sold to the U.S. after the Mexican-American War
. Salt Lake City—or Sal Tlay Ka Siti
if you prefer—was the first city founded by the pioneers, and remains the state capital, its largest city, and its main economic and cultural center. It is named for the Great Salt Lake, the American version of the Dead Sea. The majority of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
. For this reason, Utah is staunchly conservative, and Mormonism dominates state culture and politics, sometimes leading to conflict with non-Mormon residents, who mostly live in or near Salt Lake City. The joke about this is that because of the rules of the Mormon church, Salt Lake City is the only place where even Jews are 'Gentiles'. However, it is also worth noting that SLC has a very large and vocal gay community, to the point that Utah of all places legalized gay marriage in 2013.
It is relatively cheap to film here, so many movies have at least one location there, especially Disney Channel Original movies. You've probably seen chunks of Utah's southern half doubling as the Old West or various alien planets, due to much of it being interestingly colored or shaped. The famous landscape Monument Valley sits along the border between Utah and Arizona; it has been featured in many western movies, particularly those made by director John Ford
. NASA tends to use Utah as a training ground for Mars, to test rockets, and to land space probes, while the military used it to test (and later destroy) biological and chemical weapons. Everyone else comes to hike, ski, or ride bikes (stereotypically mountain bikes). Since everyone seems to want to be an entrepreneur, you can buy pretty much anything there, except hard liquor, which is restricted to bars and state liquor stores.note
If you are in Salt Lake, don't wear anything blue or with cougars on it and if you are in Provo (home of Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution), for the love of every being ever worshipped, avoid wearing red or a giant 'U' (for University of Utah, the secular state-run school based in Salt Lake City). It is for your own safety. College rivalries can get scary.
Capital & Largest City: Boise
Other Cities of Note: Coeur d'Alene
Population: 1,595,728 (12th smallest)
The State of Idaho grows lots of potatoes. Has a reputation for being very conservative and white, to the point that it has been known to attract literal neo-Nazis
—the Aryan Nations had their headquarters in Hayden Lake from the '70s until they were sued into bankruptcy in 2001, and the Ruby Ridge siege took place just two counties over. On a more positive note, it's become famous in recent years as the setting of Napoleon Dynamite
, so much that the state legislature moved to pass a resolution thanking director Jared Hess for "raising Idaho awareness". The state also has the second-highest Mormon population after neighboring Utah. Boise State University is also home to the first football stadium in the country with a non-green/brown playing field (its artificial turf is blue). A few other schools have since followed suit.
It has a 'fake' name. That is to say, the name 'Idaho' has no Indian pedigree as it may appear, but was made up by a mining lobbyist who thought an exotic, Indian-sounding name
would attract lots of settlers.
Capital: Carson City
Largest City: Las Vegas
Other Cities of Note: Reno
Population: 2,758,931 (16th smallest)
The State of Nevada was one of the two states to join the Union during the Civil War (the other being West Virginia), both for its silver reserves and Abraham Lincoln
's need for electoral votes. Would still be a couple of silver mines and a whole lot of empty desert, if not for the state's decision to legalize gambling in 1931. Now it has the tourist black hole of Las Vegas
, the smaller gambling mecca of Reno, a couple of silver mines, and a whole lot of empty desert where prostitution is legal.
It's pronounced Nuh-vae
-duh (as in gam
ble), not Nuh-vah
-duh (like fa
ther). Pronouncing it wrong around the wrong resident will land you an angry rant.
It's home to CSI
and, possibly, E.T.'s relatives
Nevada is popular for banks because it has the same rule as South Dakota, they can charge any interest rate they want. Nevada is also popular for private corporations because it has no state income tax, it is the only state that refuses to share information with the IRS, and because the rules on how a corporation operates are very favorable to management. There have been complaints about this because Microsoft has its licensing division chartered in Nevada rather than Washington State, saving it millions of dollars of taxes it would have to pay if it was chartered in Washington where the parent company is located.
Nevada, much like New Mexico, Ohio, and Missouri above, has a good bellwether status; it has voted for the overall winner of each election since 1912, except for Jimmy Carter
in 1976 (though they made up for that when they voted to boot him out in 1980
The West Coast
The ultimate goal of Manifest Destiny
was for America to stretch "from sea to shining sea," and this area proves that they accomplished that goal. Ironically, the modern residents of the West Coast are among those who would most vociferously disagree with the idea of Manifest Destiny—there's a reason why it's been nicknamed 'the Left Coast'. The area is a major center of high-tech industry and research in the United States, and is home to some of America's largest Asian and Latino minorities—the latter causing quite a bit of friction.
Population: 38,041,430 (largest)
The State of California is the most populous state of the union, and the third largest in terms of land mass (behind Texas and Alaska). Southern California is famous largely for being the center of the United States' film and television industries (they shoot so much film here, it's a trope of its own
), as well as never getting rained on, and Northern California is famous largely for being the center of the computer industry and left-wing politics, and getting rained on almost constantly. Every now and then, the idea comes up of dividing it into two or three states (north, south, central, and now, even the technocrats from Silicon Valley wants their own state); this never happens, and likely never will. If Los Angeles County were to form its own state, it would be ninth in population all by itself.
California also became famous for ousting its governor, Gray Davis, in a recall election in 2003, and electing Arnold Schwarzenegger
to his position from a field of 135 candidates. The national media painted the election as a circus and a farce (a stripper
was one of the candidates), but many Californians feel it was a perfect example of democracy in action—i.e. the people being able to hold their elected leaders accountable for their conduct.
If California were to secede from the United States, it would be the world's eighth-largest economy. That's another one to keep handy for trivia night. However, the state currently has a serious fiscal problem due to several outdated and restrictive laws. The state government actually ran out of money
once in the 1980s, and again in the late 2000s.
Water is a big issue here because of agriculture, and complaints that non-agricultural users are subsidizing the cost of water to farms. There is a lot of hard feelings over water; the politically powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) imports water all the way from Arizona (and Arizona has sued California in the U.S. Supreme Court four times since the 1920s over how much water it gets from the Colorado River), and the MWD even gets some water from lakes in Northern California. But Northern California is not happy about the amount of water the south uses. The residents in the north seem to think the southland wants to drain it dry, while the south thinks the northerners want them to die of thirst.
People who don't live on the Left Coast (and sometimes Californians too) have an annoying tendency to lump the coast into California. It may or may not be because of California Doubling
, all three states have their own idiosyncrasies, and are fairly different from each other. Please don't do it.
California's areas can be divided as such:
- Southern California: Home to Los Angeles and San Diego, this is a metropolitan area known for being home to much of the entertainment industry and heavily influenced by Mexican immigration.
- Desert: To the East, a sparsely-populated area with Death Valley National Park, the Sierra Nevada mountain range and close enough proxmity to Nevada to often be mistaken for it. Highly conservative; some areas are practically part of the Deep South.
- 'Northern' California: Referred to as 'Central' by those in the below category, this holds San Francisco and the state capital, Sacramento. Known for its computer industry and highly liberal politics.
- North State/'The Mythical State of Jefferson': For the most part, a highly conservative area often forgotten by the rest of the state if not for its inclusion of Humboldt County (the one area of highly liberal politics in the area). Important cities are Redding, Chico and Eureka. One attempt to break California into several states proposed the North State become 'Jefferson', which some locals have adopted, in varying degrees of seriousness, as the name for the whole area. Attempts to create a state of Jefferson almost succeeded back in 1941, when they came together with like-minded separatists in southwestern Oregon, but the Pearl Harbor bombing put such efforts on indefinite hold.
California currently ties with Texas for having the most cities whose populations rank among the top ten in America, with three: Los Angeles ranks #2, San Diego is #8, and San José is #10.
Other Cities of Note: Eugene, Corvallis
Population: 3,899,353 (24th smallest)
Known in some parts of the nation as being in the sticks thanks mainly to the fact that most people haven't paid any attention to the State of Oregon since the Oregon Trail ended in 1869. Smack dab in The Other Rainforest
, it's famous for the Oregon Vortex and the only state to have a flag with two different sides. Also one of the few to have minted their own money. Famous for being the first (and before Washington legalized it in 2008, only) state to legalize assisted suicide, as well as being one of two states (New Jersey
being the other) that doesn't let people pump their own gas and one of five with no sales tax. Oregon is the state that first implemented the system of direct legislation and referendum that is now used by over half of the states (causing it to be called the 'Oregon System'), as well as being the first state to conduct its voting entirely by mail, the first state to implement a glass bottle return bill, and the first state to make its entire coastline public property (meaning private landowners cannot own beaches, although they can own the land one would use to access
the beaches). Oregonians are fond of correcting outsiders who pronounce the name of the state 'or-uh-gon'. It's 'or-uh-gin' (with the hard 'g' sound) and don't you forget it!note
Oregon is also the home to the Silicon Forest, AKA where Silicon Valley moved to when California got pricey. Intel's largest facilities are all in the Portland area, along with primary R&D lines. Cheap electricity due to the Columbia River leads to massive aluminum refineries along the Columbia. Historically, the state was known for its timber and salmon.
Oregon's largest city is Portland
, another hippie liberal college weirdo city populated by indie rock bands, erudite stoners
and granola girls
—like Austin, Texas, but this time it's in a similarly liberal state. Its reputation for environmentalism goes back quite a ways—back in The Seventies
it gained notoriety for demolishing a freeway
and replacing it with a park
(now considered a major milestone in urban planning), and it's got a better-developed mass transit system than many cities three times its size. Much like Seattle
, its sister city to the north, it's known for rain, a large indie music scene, really liberal politics and a sports drought of its own.note
One unique feature about Portland is that it has more microbreweries than any other city on Earth. The presence of the largest independent bookstore in the world (Powell's City of Books, literally taking an entire city block) and a library system with the second highest circulation of materials in the USA (after New York City's) has also given it a reputation of being a city of readers and writers. In recent years the city has attracted the attention of foodies, both through its award-winning restaurants and also the sheer diversity of food carts available everywhere in the city. Its nicknames include "Stumptown," due to tons of logging when the area was first settled, and "Bridgetown," because ... it has lots of bridges.
If you drive around Portland, some of the street names may seem familiar: this is because Portland-born Matt Groening
used a lot of them for last names of characters from The Simpsons
. Reportedly, the dream of the '90s is still alive and well in Portland
If any of the smaller cities that surround Portland (Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Troutdale, etc.) are mentioned, it is usually by Portlanders snickering at them for being backwards, "uncool," and conservative (this is especially true of Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River, although Washington having legal pot and Oregon not has increased its cachet a little bit). This is not appreciated by residents of these cities
, and there have been several politicians in significantly more conservative Clackamas County, just to the south of Portland, who have built their careers on preventing "Portland creep" into their metropolitan areas.
The state is divided into four main areas: Willamette Valley, Coast, Eastern Oregon, and Southern Valleys. Eastern Oregon and the Willamette Valley have all the rivers flow north to the join the Columbia, while the Coastal Region and Southern Valleys flow directly to the Pacific Ocean.
- The Willamette Valley, which stretches from Portland to Eugene, is the largest population center in the state, containing 70% of the state's population. The Valley is between the Coast Range of mountains being upthrust and the volcanic Cascade Mountains. Great soil in the region and known traditionally as good farming land. This is almost indisputably the most liberal part of the state.note Both of the big college football teams, the Oregon State University Beavers and University of Oregon Ducks, are located here (in Corvallis and Eugene, respectively), who every year hold a "Civil War" game that consumes the attention of local football fans. The trophy for winning the competition used to have a platypus (aka an animal that looks halfway between the two teams' mascots) on it, before it got lost in a closet for a few decades. Veneta hosts the annual Oregon Country Fair, a weekend-long festival started in 1969—and arguably, it has never left the Summer of Love culturally speaking. Expect a lot of people in tie-dye, people in weird costumes, and people (particularly young women) going topless, as well as music, counter-cultural activism, the ever-present smell of weed, and booths selling either art or food. And that's only during the day: what happens after hours is only speculated at by those who don't have booths or who haven't paid for camping.
- The Coast: Long stretch of rocky and wet coastline. Large fishing population along with timber production. Now popular for Tourism. The Lookout Air Raid took place in this region. Keiko the whale lived for quite a while at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
- Eastern Oregon, the least populated part of the state, makes up two-thirds of Oregon's land area. High desert to full desert/prairie. Much more conservative than the rest of the state, which has led to secession proposals that, for the most part, have gone nowhere. Ranching is popular. Large segments are owned by the Federal Government. It got a mild amount of infamy in the '80s when Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a New Age cult leader, moved in with his followers and did your typical cult things—exploiting followers as cheap labor, discouraging family connections, and buying a truly remarkable amount of Rolls-Royces—as well as intentionally infecting the salad bars of a bunch of restaurants in The Dalles with salmonella in order to incapacitate enough people to win some county elections (the single largest bioterrorist attack in U.S. history). When the U.S. Attorney for Oregon started investigating them for that as well as some other illegal activity, they tried to assassinate him. You can see why most Oregonians mostly associate Eastern Oregon with being kookaburra.
- The Southern Valleys: Several different rivers (Klamath, Rogue and Umpqua) that find their own way from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. Large timber and untapped mineral wealth with federal regulation that has shut down production. Tends to be rather libertarian, leading to a long-standing secessionist movement that has also involved neighboring parts of California (see above); Jefferson State is a popular term for the broader cross-border region. Physically located in Southern Oregon, but more culturally in line with the Willamette Valley, is Ashland, home of the world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Population: 6,897,012 (13th largest)
The northwesternmost state in the continental United States, not to be confused with the nation's capital. (For this reason, the State of Washington is sometimes referred to as "Washington State". If you want to trigger the Berserk Button
of a native, confuse the two, or just refer to D.C.
as 'Washington'. Nicknamed "The Evergreen State" for the forests
that cover almost its entire western half, between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The region's cultural and commercial hub, Seattle
, is the home of Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, grunge
music and the Space Needle. Other prominent attractions include Mount Rainier
, Mount St. Helens
. Doesn't always rain there, like some believe, but usually looks like it's about to. Also has a museum called the Experience Music Project which looks like a cross between a giant electric guitar and a shoggoth
. Its capital, Olympia, is home to The Evergreen State College (and yes, the definite article is part of the name
), a real life Berserkeley
. Since The Nineties
, western Washington has increasingly become a place of refuge for expat Californians fleeing high housing prices. Residents are occasionally referred to as/call themselves 'Washingtonians'.
Then there's the eastern
half of the state, which is mostly high prairie or desert. The Columbia and Snake Rivers have extensive dam systems that provide power and water to turn said prairie into fertile farmland; apples are a major crop. Home to Spokane, the second largest city in the state, and Hanford, birthplace of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Much more conservative than the part of the state not in the rain shadow, which occasionally builds enough resentment to try to secede from the rest of the state (sometimes coming together with nearby Eastern Oregon and the Idaho Panhandle to propose a greater 'State of Lincoln'). Nothing ever happens.
Also, whenever the Republic of Cascadia pops up in popular fiction, Washington is one of the founding entities, along with Oregon, (usually just Northern) California, and British Columbia, with someone occasionally trying to make it a reality. Needless to say, it hasn't worked yet, and probably never will.
Every few years, a different small town in the state becomes a tourist mecca after being used in a Hollywood production: Snoqualmie served up damn fine pie
, Roslyn had moose wandering around
, and now Forks is the home of sparkly vampires
Nos. 49 and 50
The remaining two states aren't a part of the Lower 48 (i.e. the states that are all neatly connected to each other), and are considered separate from the rest of the country. Most maps suggest that they're located just offshore from California (many teachers have had the painful experience of dealing with a child who genuinely believed that Alaska is an island). According to many advertisements, prices may be higher here. They're not kidding
; both states have extremely high costs of living due to goods having to be shipped long distances.
Largest City: Anchorage
Other Cities of Note: Fairbanks, Nome
Population: 731,449 (4th smallest)
The area which represents the State of Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867 for the sum of $7.2 million. Considering that the Americans found gold and oil, they got the better part of the bargain.note
Noted for its cold temperatures, military bases, and being geographically close to Russia. Became a state in 1959. Over twice the size of Texas, in terms of area, Alaska is roughly one-sixth of the United States by itself, and until 1983, the state spread across four time zones (they've since consolidated to two). Home to the highest point in North America, Mount McKinley (locals refer to the mountain by its native name, Denali, but the former is more common elsewhere because Denali also refers to the national park the mountain is in), which is roughly 20,320 feet (6,194 meters) tall. Alaska is obviously the northernmost state, but since its Aleutian Islands stretch out past 180° longitude, Alaska is technically the westernmost and easternmost state as well.
Much of Alaska is physically isolated from the rest of the world. The state itself is actually isolated from the United States; if you need to travel by land from the lower 48 to Alaska, you have to pass through a part of Canada to do so, and the state capital, Juneau, is not directly accessible by road. Alaska is, however, well connected as an air hub, since Anchorage is roughly equidistant to Tokyo
, New York City
, and Berlin
. This makes the state important for cargo and military purposes.
Former governor Sarah Palin
was the Republican Party's nominee for the vice presidency in 2008. Other notables include Scott Gomez, the first Hispanic player in the National Hockey League, and pop-folk singer Jewel
Kilcher. Alaska's military presence and minor league baseball teams also make the state popular as a temporary home for the young and adventurous; painter Bob Ross and baseball players Curt Schilling and Mark McGwire lived in the state before finding their fortunes elsewhere.
The state's population density is just over one resident per square mile (0.4 people per square km), mostly concentrated into three cities, leaving lots of open space in between. Because of this, Alaska serves as a setting for many adventure stories, such as Jack London's Call of the Wild
, and more recently, reality series about the ... unique job opportunities available in the state. Deadliest Catch
is set in and around Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, on the Aleutian island chain that projects from the state's southwest coast. Seasons three and four of Ice Road Truckers
take place on the Dalton Highway, which connects the city of Fairbanks to the oil fields of the North Slope. Due to the cost constraints, most films set in Alaska are actually filmed in Washington state or the Canadian province of British Columbia
Unlike most of the country, Alaskas indigenous people were repaid for their land, as opposed to being eradicated, forcibly assimilated, or marginalized (though all had been attempted). As such, these tribes have considerable economic and political pull. You would be wise not to refer to a Native Alaskan as 'Indian', because they're ethnically distinct from the American Indians on the mainland. 'Eskimo' is considered by many an outdated slur, and 'Inuit' is a specific group and not a PC alternative.note
The best and safest terms are 'Alaskan Native' or simply 'Native'.
Also home to a third independent Senator, Lisa Murkowski, who unlike King of Maine and Sanders of Vermont is independent In Name Only
; she lost the official 2010 Republican primary as an incumbent, ran as a write-in candidate, and won, but is for all other intents and purposes a member of the Republican Party.
Capital & Largest City: Honolulu
Other Cities of Note: Hilo
Population: 1,392,313 (11th smallest)
The State of Hawaii has the nickname The Aloha State, named for the Native Hawaiian word that means "hello," "goodbye," and "I love you." The most recent state to enter the Union in 1959, Hawaii consists of several islands in the Pacific Ocean. Fun trivia: Its capital, Honolulu, is the most isolated major city in the world. The closest comparable city, San Francisco
, is 2,387 miles away. A former independent kingdom, then an independent republic (the mostly U.S.-born landowners deposing the queen when she attempted to establish universal suffrage). It's a very popular vacation spot for U.S. residents, due to its tropical climate and the non-necessity of a passport. The tropical latitude also means that daylight saving time has no practical use, and is one of two states (the other being Arizona) that does not participate in it. In reflection of a long history of being a place where people across the Pacific immigrated, no single ethnic group holds a majority among the population. Birthplace of current U.S. President Barack Obama
The state flag is notable for having the United Kingdom's Union flag in the canton, a holdover from a time when the Kingdom of Hawaii sought to align itself with the UK rather than the U.S. When the time came to choose a design to represent the state on a quarter
, the state went with one that included the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii, King Kamehameha the Great (who also has a statue in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall). Never mind the nation's history with Britain and royalty.
The inhabited islands of Hawaii are (west to east) Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii (commonly known as the Big Island
to avoid confusion). The islands other than Oahu, where over two-thirds of the population live, and where Honolulu is located, are also known as the "Neighbor Islands," and residents often talk about the dichotomy between 'big-city' Oahu/Honolulu and the 'rural' Neighbor Islands. Note that the term 'Hawaiian' is never
used within the state to refer to people who are merely residents, but is always used to refer to people who are specifically Native Hawaiian (descendants of the people who were already in the islands prior to European contact in 1778). Proper terms for non-indigenous residents of the state are:
- Kamaʻāina (literally "child of the land") – Most often used to describe those born in the state. Also sometimes used for long-term residents.
- Hawaii Resident
Non-State Portions of the United States
The following are American territories that don't lie within any of the fifty states. These include the District of Columbia—-the nation's capital also known as Washington, DC—and several island territories that, for one reason or another, have not been promoted to full state status. Their only representation in Congress is a non-voting delegate in the House, even though DC and Puerto Rico are more populous than some actual states. However, Washingtonians are
able to vote in presidential elections unlike the other territories.
Residents of these areas are considered Americans to varying degrees. DC is viewed no differently than a state in most cases. On the other end, American Samoans are not US citizens but are considered nationals note
. The other territories are in the middle; they can't vote for the President, but they're considered full American citizens and are free to visit or move to the mainland (where they can register to vote) without a passport or immigration hurdles. Likewise, a mainland American doesn't need a passport to visit these areas either
District of Columbia
Capital: It is THE capital.
Population: 632,323 (metro area of 5,703,948)
Commonly known as Washington, DC, this is the national capital, created when the new government decided that it should have a capital city that was not part of any state and was centrally located in the border region between the North and South. The reason for this was twofold: to reduce any appearance of favoritism, and to prevent a situation where the local militia could hold the government hostage, which nearly happened during the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783.
If the multiple names confuse you, the city of Washington is coterminous with the District of Columbia. It was originally composed of two counties: Washington (land given from Maryland) and Alexandria (land from Virginia). You never hear about Alexandria, DC because it was given back to Virginia due to slavery and other disagreements
, as well as the theories that the seat of government wouldn't get big enough to need it and that the District would not develop much of a local population. Both ended up happening, of course, and several major buildings such as the Pentagon are across the Potomac River in what is now known as Arlington, Virginia. As for the people, over 600,000 live within the District itself, and its suburbs sprawl out quite a ways into Virgina and Maryland as the seventh-largest metro area in the US.
For all of its wealthy politicians and lobbyists, the District has a reputation for being a Wretched Hive
. It once had the highest murder rate in the nation, which has since gone down, but gang violence, drug use, and HIV infection remain problematic. You may have heard about former mayor Marion Barry, who was convicted of smoking crack with a prostitute
while in office, but remained popular enough to win reelection and later got elected to city council where he served until his death in 2014.
Like other cities in the mid-Atlantic region, DC's local politics are staunchly liberal. The city council voted to legalize same-sex marriage within the District in 2009 to relatively little controversy. But despite its local government, Congress is able to override if need be. Due to its only representation being the single delegate mentioned earlier, the District's license plate motto is the rather snarky "Taxation Without Representation" (though drivers can choose the less politically-charged "www.washingtondc.gov" instead).
Capital & Largest City: San Juan
Other Cities of Note: Ponce
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a holdover from the Spanish-American War, fought near the turn of the 20th Century to free the people there from Spanish rule. It culturally has more in common with Latin America than the USA, and often sends representatives to world events separate from the American ones, but it's not quite independent. It is the largest of the territories in both size and population by a huge margin (the other territories combined have less people than Wyoming, the least populous state), and is the most likely to 'graduate' in the near future, but whether that means statehood or independence is a matter of fierce ongoing debate.
Two referendums in the '90s showed little support for independence, while almost half the voters supported statehood, and a few more supported an option with the benefits of both statehood and independence—the only option the United States never agreed to. After the turn of the millennium, Congress tried to pass a bill on how the referendum would be held, but couldn't agree on the terms either. In the 2012 elections, the populace finally approved a set of non-binding referendums that stated that they want to become a state, though the sitting governor is an opponent of statehood, not to mention that the introduction of Puerto Rico as a state would reshape the political landscape in ways that would not benefit the GOP, who still control the House. And you thought it would get easier when the island made its mind up.
If one were to visit, a working knowledge of Spanish will help (though each younger generation is more fluent in English than the last), as will a working knowledge of metric, since road distances are in kilometers, although speed limits are still in miles per hour.
US Virgin Islands
Capital & Largest City: Charlotte Amalie
A small cluster of Caribbean islands near Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States note
were bought from the Danes to keep Germany from snapping them up in World War I
. The Danish influence is still apparent in the names of the towns, roads, and people's surnames. The Islands' population is predominantly Afro-Caribbean
, with whites and Hispanics as the largest minority groups. Tourism is big here, as you need neither a passport nor working knowledge of another language to get by. Since it's right next to Puerto Rico, it is sometimes suggested that the two territories politically merge should PR become a state ("Puerto Virgo
" being a possible name for the new entity), though this doesn't take into account that Virgin Islanders may lose
representation in this arrangement, given the huge difference in population between the territories. Nonetheless, they do have the same ZIP code prefixes.
Fun trivia: It's the only part of the U.S. that drives on the left, as that's the norm in the region. However, most vehicles have the steering wheel on the left (U.S.-style), rather than the right-side steering wheels typical in most left-driving countries. And due to the territory's ethnic makeup, the University of the Virgin Islands is counted among the US's Historically-Black Colleges and Universities.
Capital & Largest City: Hagåtña
Separate from the Northern Marianas, Guam is an island in the Asian Pacific under American rule. Invaded in Tom Clancy
's novel Debt of Honor
, where the Japanese (yes, this is set in modern times, taking Japan Takes Over the World
in a less typical direction) cite the fact that the island is a lot closer to Tokyo than San Francisco. Known more among broadcasters as having the farthest affiliates of the American networks (15 hours from Eastern Time); Monday Night Football
is truly Tuesday Morning Football
Northern Marianas Islands
Capital & Largest Island: Saipan
The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands are part of the same island chain as Guam, but a separate territory politically. After Spain ceded Guam to the U.S. they tried to sell these islands. When America wouldn't buy them, Spain sold them to Germany. Some time before World War II
, Germany gave them to Japan. Afterwards when a number of Pacific islands that had been occupied by Japan where placed under temporary control of the U.S., the Northern Marianas chose to pursue closer ties with the U.S., instead of independence or free association. Covered in Brown Tree Snakes, which have had a devastating effect on the indigenous wildlife and regularly damage infrastructure.
Capital & Largest Village: Pago Pago
Not to be confused with the independent island nation that is also called Samoa. Has spawned a good amount of players which have appeared in the NFL
(87 currently), as well as pro wrestlers
and hilarious moments
on The Price Is Right
The Other Territories
Other U.S. territories include:
- A military base in Cuba called Guantanamo Bay that you've probably heard of. It was where the death in A Few Good Men took place.
- The United States Minor Outlying Islands, which have no permanent residents. Located in the Pacific Ocean (except for one in the Caribbean), many of them are protected wildlife sanctuaries and receive little attention. The Sea Wind murders in the mid-'70s occurred on Palmyra Atoll, one of the constituent islands.
- Wake Island, a former US military base, is one of them. Is officially uninhabited with restricted access. Claimed by the Marshall Islands. Location of a famous WWII battle.
Former U.S. Territories
- The Panama Canal Zone, obtained after the United States 'helped' Panamanian revolutionaries gain independence from Colombia in 1903, in return for the rights to build a canal in that nation. Returned in 1999 after an agreement was signed in 1977 due to increasing tensions between Panama and the US. Was brought back into slight prominence in 2008 as the area where presidential candidate John McCain was born, setting up the first general election where both main party candidates were born outside the Lower 48.
- The Philippines. Obtained after the Spanish-American War of 1898, immediately became the site of a fourteen-year insurgency against American rule by Filipino nationalists who had originally seen the American soldiers as liberators. Democratic reforms began in 1907 but didn't receive significant Presidential support until Woodrow Wilson and the Jones Act of 1916, which established the authority of a democratically-elected Senate of the Philippines. Was granted autonomy with the Tydings–McDuffie Act of 1934 (which also reclassified over 120,000 Filipinos living in the U.S. as aliens, as they had retroactively been born in another nation), which also provided for independence in 10 years. Despite the delay engendered by a minor scuffle in the Pacific, formally gained independence in 1946.
- Cuba. Following the Spanish-American War, the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam were ceded to the U.S. Cuba was granted independence in 1902, albeit under a U.S.–imposed constitution that essentially turned it into a vassal state; this was rectified in 1934 with the Treaty of Relations, part of FDR's Good Neighbor policy towards Latin America. The United States still has a naval base on the southeastern shore of Cuba; the Cubans have made it extremely clear that the base is no longer welcome, but the lease was perpetual and the Cubans don't have the power to force the Americans out.
- Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands: After the end of World War II, the United States was given most of the old Japanese colonies and League Of Nations Mandates in the Pacific to administer "in trust" for the United Nations, with the idea being shepherding these poor territories into a track of peaceful, democratic development and readiness for self-determination. These islands in the South Pacific were eventually given their choice of independence or commonwealth with the United States; of them, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau opted for independence in "free association" with the United States, while the Northern Mariana Islands (as noted above) opted to become a commonwealth.
Contrary to popular belief, Canada
is not, and never has been, part of the United States. Not that that's stopped Americans from trying to change that; the U.S. invaded Canada in 1775 during the Revolution
, in 1812 during the War of 1812
, where they sacked Toronto (Canadians have never forgotten about this, especially when British troops burned Washington D.C. in reprisal), unofficially during the Canadian rebellion of 1837 and 1838 (by a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
dedicated to removing the British Empire from North America), unofficially again by another ragtag bunch of Irish Americans called the Fenian Society from 1866 to 1871 (in protest of Britain's domination of Ireland), and by Michael Moore
and John Candynote
in the 1995 movie Canadian Bacon
The original document that created the United States, the Articles of Confederation, had a provision that allowed Canada to be admitted automatically if it requested it. They never have taken advantage of the offer.