Obscure Facts About the United States You Probably Don't Know
The United States is home to more than 327 million people. It remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it’s not always the place of the most well-informed people, and this widespread knowledge deficit even includes facts about the United States itself.
These facts about the United States are likely not common knowledge, regardless of your age bracket. See how many of these facts you already know.
If You're Having a Tough Day, Consider the Knox Expedition
The Knox Expedition, also known as the Noble Train of Artillery, should help put your own troubles in perspective. In 1775, Colonel Henry Knox of the Continental Army was tasked with transporting a supply of immensely heavy weaponry 300 miles during the winter. These were the years that independence was truly won for America, and it wasn't easy.
Knox and his men moved a whopping 60 tons of weaponry over the course of a brutal three-month winter. It took men, boats, ox-drawn sleds and horses to move that weight from Ticonderoga, NY to Boston. So what's on your plate today?
The U.S. Camel Corps
Just when you thought that American military ingenuity was in its golden age, you find out about the United States Camel Corps. And naturally, you wonder why the Camel Corps isn't a staple of modern battlefields.
The Camel Corps was actually only relevant during the mid-1800s. What started with camels being shipped in to assist westbound settlers evolved into the U.S Army training them for use in the western United States. Unfortunately, the Civil War brought an end to the Camel Corps experiment.
The Designer of the Current American Flag Was a Teenager
Robert G. Heft has been referred to as the Betsy Ross of the current, 50-star American flag, though he does not receive nearly the publicity that Ross does. Heft, who passed away in 2009, designed the 50-star flag as part of a school project, beating over 1,500 other designs.
It's astounding that Heft does not hold a larger role in American history, but more astounding still is that Heft was a teenager when he designed the flag. He was only 17 at the time.
Land of the Free, Home of the Venus Flytrap
The United States is the proud birthplace of so many things. The cheeseburger, rock and roll music, Meryl Streep — there’s no denying that many popular things were created within the borders of the United States. Weirdly enough, you can count the Venus Flytrap in that number as well.
While this strange and predatory plant might seem like it had to have come from exotic land, the truth is that it’s native to the East Coast of the United States. Who would have guessed that such a plant was as American as apple pie?
Lake Superior...No Kidding
Do you have any idea how a lake like Lake Superior gets its name? Here's a hint: its name is not coincidental, nor is it ironic. While the name actually comes from the French term for "upper lake", the sheer size of Lake Superior makes it, for lack of a better word, superior to all other freshwater lakes.
Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake on the face of the planet judging by surface area. If you are ranking freshwater lakes by volume, it ranks third. If you say the U.S. contains the largest freshwater lake, you're not wrong.
Centralia, PA: An American Ghost Town
Centralia is a town in Eastern Pennsylvania that is nearly as close as it gets to a ghost town — except it still has a few residents. As of 2017, the population of Centralia was somewhere between five and 10 people, depending on which source you consult.
That is a massive drop from the 1,000 people who lived in Centralia circa 1980. It doesn't appear to be a hot spot for young professionals either, as the median age at last check was 64. A coal mine fire has been burning beneath Centralia since 1962, .
Americans Absolutely LOVE Pizza
You do not have to spend much time in the United States to realize that Americans love their pizza. Whether you are in the heart of Brooklyn, a 7-Eleven in the middle of Idaho, or somewhere in between, there's a high likelihood that you can have a pizza in your hand in 30 minutes or less.
But the extent to which Americans truly love pizza is astonishing. Americans eat an estimated 100 acres worth of pizza every day, the equivalent of 3 billion pizzas each year, and 46 slices per person in America (as of 2015).
The Majority Of American Presidents Have Served
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 26 of the 45 American presidents have served in the military. Some of the standouts in terms of military valor include Ulysses S. Grant, who steered the Union Army to victory in the Civil War, George Washington (naturally) and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who played an instrumental part in winning WWII.
It's not a prerequisite for a president to have served in the military, as the presidencies of Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Barack Obama can attest to. It turns out, however, that being a military veteran — and better yet, a hero — doesn't hurt.
The New River Is One Old River
If you are looking for artifacts of the past in North America, you can't find anything that is much older than the New River. The New River is considered by most to be the oldest river in North America. It runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina into parts of Virginia and West Virginia.
The river is approximately 320 miles long, and some scientists believe that it may be even older than the Appalachian Mountains through which it makes its path. That's one old river, but you can just call it the New.
Did You Receive Your Civil War Pension This Month?
Odds are you don’t receive a Civil War pension, but if you’re Irene Triplett, you very much do. Some fantastic life circumstances resulted in Irene Triplett continuing to receive a Civil War pension even in the 21st century.
Irene's father, Mose, served in the Civil War when he was 16. He had Irene with his wife — who was 50 years younger than him — when he was 84! Ever since Irene's mother and father passed away, she received Mose's $73.13 pension check each month from the U.S. government. She was 90 at the start of 2020.
Come on in, Canada!
While Canada and the United States have similar cultures, they remain decidedly separate countries. That may seem like a foregone conclusion today, but there was once the possibility of both nations being one
The Articles of Confederation served as the United States’ first constitution and stated that America’s neighbor to the north could become the 14th state (at the time) so long as they renounced their loyalty to the crown of England. As it turns out, that did not happen, and Canada remained, well, Canada.
America the Generous
While there are some people who say many Americans are self-centered, the people of the United States are also objectively altruistic, at least by one measure. According to the World Giving Index, America is the most generous nation on the face of the planet.
Admittedly, the index relies on self-reporting from Gallup Surveys, and who is going to admit that they haven't volunteered or given to charity in the past ten years? It’s also true that richer countries are more likely to make donations in the first place, since they can afford to give. Even so, the Giving Index still counts!
Do You Know Your State Song?
Almost every American is of the national anthem, even if they’ve forgotten or never learned the words. But even the most patriotic Americans may not be aware that many states also have their own song. Some even have a state anthem in addition to a state song.
Take "Go, Mississippi" for example. Mississippians out there, have you ever heard of it? Have you sung it? Perhaps Nevadans out there are familiar with "Home Means Nevada", while Californians may know the lyrics in "I Love You, California. Maybe, but probably not.
The U.S. Supreme Court Loves to Ball
The United States Supreme Court is an important institution, but not exactly a thrilling one. While knowing each of the justices who have dedicated their lives to crafting the law of the land is important for civic-minded Americans, the Supreme Court just isn’t as exciting as, say, a game of basketball
Except for when the two are the same thing. Surprisingly, a former storage room on the top floor of the Supreme Court building was converted into a basketball court where the justices and their clerks can decompress with an occasional game of hoops.There’s no word on whether all the judges actually get together to play, but we’ll still imagine Ruth Bader Ginsberg dunking on John Roberts.
Kentucky and Bourbon Are Inseparable
It’s almost impossible to overstate the extent to which the identity of the state of Kentucky is tied to bourbon, a barrel-aged whiskey made primarily from corn mash. Estimates for how many barrels of bourbon are currently aging in Kentucky range from 8.5 million to more than 9 million.
For perspective, the population of Kentucky is expected to be around 4.6 million by the time the 2020 census is complete. That means every resident of Kentucky could have approximately two barrels of whiskey to themselves — and that's just what's in the barrels.
Some States Are More for Cows Than Humans
When we talk about population growth, usually humans are at the center of the conversation. But in certain states, it is not the threat of humans overwhelming resources that is most pressing. Instead, cattle outnumber humans, and by a large margin.
Of all the states in the union, South Dakota has the greatest cattle-to-human ratio, with 4.6 cattle to each South Dakotan. There are 3.5 cattle in the state of Nebraska for each human resident, while in New Jersey there is less than one percent of a cow or steer for each person.
St. Augustine, Florida Is Older Than Jamestown
Even the most bare-bones American history courses teach students about the first English settlement on the continent: Jamestown in 1607. And if you polled a group of Americans, you would probably get more than a couple who believe Jamestown is the oldest city in America.
That's not quite the case, however. While Jamestown is considered to be the oldest English settlement in the country, St. Augustine, Florida was founded earlier by the Spanish in 1565.
You Can Thank Abe for Your Turkey
Do you know how Thanksgiving came to fall on the fourth Thursday of November every year? Well, like for many things, you can thank the top-hatted genius Abraham Lincoln for making your Turkey Day as consistent as possible.
In October of 1863 (how many score ago is that, again?) Honest Abe decreed that the fourth Thursday of every November would be designated for giving thanks and eating turkey. FDR tried to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November but ultimately relented when Congress insisted they follow Abe's original mandate.
America: Reigning Rugby Champs
If you follow Rugby, you know that the United States is not typically top of the scrum when it comes to winning international competitions. Nations such as New Zealand, England, Australia and even Fiji have more storied, well-funded and successful rugby programs than the United States.
You might be surprised then to learn that the most recent Olympic gold medal in the sport went to the Americans … in 1924. That was the last time rugby was played as an Olympic sport, and other nations haven't had a chance to reclaim the gold. Who cares? USA! USA! USA!
All About State Constitutions
The United States Constitution gets a lot of love. It’s the single document at the heart of the United States. It’s definitely important, but you know what documents don't get nearly enough love? State constitutions.
Take Alabama, for example. It’s the longest constitution in the world, with over 389,000 words outlining the basic principles that Alabamians chose to live by when they adopted the current version in 1901. Massachusetts has the oldest state constitution from 1780, while Rhode Island's is the newest, having only been ratified in 1986.
Louisiana: The Hippo State
When the World's Fair came to New Orleans in 1884, water hyacinths plant were brought in to add vibrancy to the city's waterways. However, the problem with water hyacinths are that they spread quickly, so the new plants quickly took over local waterways. In order to combat the problem, someone came up with a novel solution: bring in hippopotamuses.
Hippos are known to eat water hyacinths, so a bill was proposed to allocate $250,000 to bring in hippos to New Orleans. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for all you hippo enthusiasts out there), the bill never passed, and New Orleans remains free of wild hippos.
July 2nd: The Real Independence Day
Whether it’s because they love beer and hotdogs or setting off fireworks, most Americans know that Independence Day is celebrated on the Fourth of July. However, according to history, July 2nd is the real Independence Day.
The Second Continental Congress met on July 2nd, 1776 in Philadelphia. There they voted to approve a resolution to become a nation independent from Great Britain. While July 4th is the day of official adoption, July 2nd is arguably more significant.
NASA: Ladies Welcome
If you look back at many of the most historic space missions and the movies based on them, they mostly involve men. Space exploration was a decidedly sexist affair back in the day, but don't let that fool you into thinking American women haven’t accomplished anything great in space.
In fact, the astronaut who set the American record for most cumulative time spent in space was Peggy Whitson. (The Russians are still in the lead.) Female astronauts continue to achieve amazing things in space, including Christina Koch, who set the record for longest space flight by a woman (and fifth overall) in 2019.
Sacagawea Was One Bad Mother, Literally
The term 'bad mother' can refer to somebody who sets their own rules, achieves amazing things and just doesn't give a, ahem, hoot. By that measure, Sacagawea, who helped Lewis and Clark discover a nice chunk of uncharted America, was definitely a bad mother.
In addition to having the skills necessary to navigate a large chunk of the continent, Sacagawea was literally a mother, which makes the title 'bad mother' all the more fitting. She gave birth to her son just two months before leading the expedition and even took her newborn along for the trip.
Mustangs: Icons of the Old West, Not Actually American
Whether you’re talking about the horse or the car, mustangs are quintessentially American. While the Ford Mustang is an American-made classic and certainly not an import, some may be surprised to learn that the horse is not native.
Despite being synonymous with the American West, the mustang horses that you can still find roaming free in a few select parts of the country were originally brought to the New World during the 16th century by Spanish conquerors. Consider the mustang an adopted part of American culture, but of the culture nonetheless.
Don't Forget Amelia
Amelia Earhart remains one of the most iconic Americans in history and is among one of the most iconic women in history, period. Unfortunately, she’s often most strongly associated with her disappearance, which remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time.
This understandable fascination with Earhart's demise, however, often results in people forgetting about her accomplishments. Perhaps most noteworthy is that she was the second person ever to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean without assistance from a co-pilot or crew. Only Charles Lindbergh did it before her.
Harriet Tubman, Civil War Hero
Harriet Tubman is an indelible figure in American history. Most know her as a leading figure in the Underground Railroad, the organization of people who helped slaves escape to freedom north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But fewer people know that Tubman also played a role in the Civil War effort.
In order to further the movement towards abolition, Tubman was a scout, spy and nurse for the Union army. Like most Civil War soldiers, she was not paid much for her service and had to supplement her pay by selling root beer and pies.
Bison: American-Born and Huge
Bison are some of the most majestic mammals in North America and objectively the largest. They can grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to a ton. You don't want to mess with these guys.
While a few thousand bison roam the plains of Southern Canada, the majority of them live in America, which is why they have become synonymous with the American West. Yellowstone National Park is the only location that has been a continuous home to the bison since their near-extinction in the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
Who Needs College?
Graduating college has become something of a prerequisite for entering many professional spheres today. Whether you want to be a lawyer, therapist, engineer or teacher, you likely need a degree to be taken seriously.
But two of the most important men in American history, the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, did not go to college, and they invented the freaking airplane. The next time a lack of college education makes either you a friend feel down, just remember that.
One President Didn’t Live in The White House
It’s tradition for American presidents to live in the White House, situated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Washington, D.C. It offers proximity to the beating heart of the nation’s politics and culture.
Yet there is one president who never lived at the White House: George Washington, the first president. While he selected the site of the future home of every other U.S. president, it wasn’t completed during his presidency.