With a rich history spanning almost 250 years and across 50 wonderful states, there's so much to know beyond the scope of history textbooks about our magnificent nation. From geography and presidents to pizza and bison, read on to learn 50 awe-inspiring tidbits about America that will blow you away.
The Current Flag Was Designed by a Teenager
Robert Heff was a 17-year-old high school student in 1958 when he designed our current 50-star flag as part of his school project. At that time, there were only 48 states in the union, but Heft had a hunch that Hawaii and Alaska would soon gain statehood. His teacher was not impressed.
For his work, the Ohioan earned a grade of B-, with his teacher saying it lacked originality. But the grade was later bumped up to an A after Heff submitted his flag to the White House and later received a call from President Eisenhower telling him his design had been selected to be the official American flag.
There’s a Reason Why Lake Superior Is Superior
We all know Lake Superior is enormous (it’s certainly earned its place as one of the Great Lakes of North America), but do you know how huge it really is? This incredible body of water is not only the world’s largest freshwater lake, but it also contains three quadrillion gallons of water. That’s enough to completely cover both North and South America under one foot of water.
What’s more, this beautiful lake also holds some dark secrets. With unusually low temperatures, legend has it that “Lake Superior seldom gives up her dead.” About 350 shipwrecks have fallen within her mighty waters, including the wreck of the famous SS Edmund Fitzgerald.
Pizza Is So Popular Here
You probably knew that already. But how much exactly do we love pizza? You might be surprised to learn that Americans collectively consume enough pizzas every day to fill 100 acres of land. That totals to three billion pizzas a year!
For the popularity of this mouthwatering dish, though, we have working-class Italian immigrants to thank. They were the major consumers and retailers of pizza in the late 19th and early 20th century when they immigrated to the US in large numbers.
The Old ‘New River’
The tune "Ol' Man River" is a popular song from the 1927 musical Show Boat. As a matter of fact, America knows a few things about old rivers. According to most scientists, the New River, which flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina through Virginia to West Virginia, is the oldest in North America.
Although its real age remains unknown, it is widely believed that the New River has been in existence longer than the North American continent itself. In 1998, it was designated an American Heritage River.
Someone Is Still Receiving a Pension From the Civil War
The Civil War ended in 1865, but there’s a woman who is still receiving a Civil War pension from the Department of Veteran Affairs. The 89-year-old Irene Triplett’s father served in the war as a Confederate-turned-Union soldier, and after his passing in 1938, his family members became eligible for his pension.
Triplett’s mother died in 1967, making her eligible for a survivor's benefit of $73.13 monthly. Much like Irene, 4,038 widows and children still receive payments monthly for their family members’ service in World War I, which ended in 1918.
America the Generous
The scope of American generosity cannot be matched anywhere in the world. Combining donations to charity, hours spent volunteering, and a history of providing aid to those in need, the World Giving Index crowned the United States the world’s most generous country. Following closely behind are the nations of Myanmar, New Zealand and Australia.
According to the Giving USA Foundation, our benevolent countrymen and women donated over $410 billion in 2017 alone. That’s about two percent of the country’s GDP. In addition, we’ve been consistent, being named the most generous country in the world over the past decade.
Play B-Ball in the ‘Highest Court in the Land’
Working as a Supreme Court justice is, without a doubt, tasking. One way the judges are known to relieve stress and catch some fun at the same time is by playing basketball. Not many people know that the Supreme Court sports its very own basketball court, which is often called ‘The Highest Court in the Land.'
How did the name come about? The court, which was once a storage room, is located on the fifth floor of the Supreme Court building, which is a lot higher than the actual courtroom, which sits on the fourth floor. So if you ever want to shoot some hoops with the ‘Notorious RBG,’ you know where to go.
The Constitution Was Influenced by the Native Americans
Benjamin Franklin and the Founding Fathers did not think up the Constitution of the United States all on their own. They had help from the Iroquois, a powerful Native American confederacy. The American Constitution, as well as the Bill of Rights, were modeled after the constitution of the Iroquois confederacy.
In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution to acknowledge the influence of the Iroquois on the Constitution. It read, "The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was inﬂuenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself."
There Is No Official Language
It probably seems like a no-brainer that English is the official language of the United States but, as a matter of fact, it is not. Granted, it is the most commonly spoken tongue, and 30 out of the 50 states have established it as their only official language.
But there has never been a declaration by the federal government that it is the official language of the United States of America. Since the 1750s, a debate has been going on about whether or not English should be adopted as the officially-recognized language, but for now, it remains only as de facto.
The Oldest City May Surprise You
It is widely believed that Jamestown, Virginia, is the oldest city in the United States. But it turns out that it is only the first permanent English settlement. The oldest city in America is actually St. Augustine, Florida.
Also referred to as the ‘Ancient City,’ Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon originally claimed St. Augustine for the Spanish crown in 1513, and the U.S. took control of the territory in 1821. Ponce de Leon also gave the peninsula its name, which is Spanish for “feast of flowers.”
That’s One Old Book
Bay Psalm Book is believed to be the very first book to be printed in America. It’s one of the most expensive books on the planet, and was published as far back as 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Eleven surviving copies of the first edition of the book are known to still be in existence today. On November 26, 2013, a 1640 copy owned by Old South Church, Boston, was sold for a whopping $14,165,000, setting a new record for a single printed book.
Thanksgiving’s Different Dates
Many believe that since inception, Thanksgiving has been held on the fourth Thursday of every November. But in reality, the holiday used to be held on multiple dates before Abraham Lincoln declared in 1863 that it would henceforth be observed on the fourth Thursday in November of every year.
Every president after Lincoln honored the date until Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, he moved the date up a week to the third Thursday of November in order to give people more time to shop before Christmas. The people complained, and two years later, he moved the date back to the fourth Thursday of the month.
The Pioneering Eleanor Roosevelt
Wife of the 32nd American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and niece to the 26th American president, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt is known to have redefined the role of First Lady. She was a pioneer in many ways, including speaking publicly in support of human rights.
In a bid to level the playing field in journalism, Eleanor did something no first lady had attempted before. She famously held a series of women-only press conferences, essentially putting pressure on newspapers to hire more women. Decades later, Eleanor remains highly regarded as a role model.
July 2nd Would Have Been Independence Day
If you’ve ever felt like lighting up your July Fouth fireworks a couple of days earlier, here’s probably why. One of the lesser-known facts about the United States is that its independence from England was officially declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. John Adams wrote to his wife that July 2nd, “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
However, we celebrate the holiday on July Fouth because it was on this day that the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was finally approved, and the President of Congress, John Hancock, became the first person to sign the document.
Women Are Making Waves in Space
Not many people know that the American astronaut who has spent the most time in space is a woman. Astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the record on April 24th, 2017, with a total of 665 days aboard the International Space Station.
In October 2007, Whitson also became the first female commander of the ISS. And in December 2019, astronaut and engineer Christina Koch broke Whitson’s record for the longest single space flight by a woman after spending 289 continuous days in space.
The Most Active Volcano in America
Mount Kilauea, meaning “much spreading” in Hawaiian, is located on the southeastern part of the island of Hawaii and once erupted non-stop for three decades. Once considered by geologists to be the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea continuously spewed lava for more than 35 years.
The longest period the volcano was dormant was for 18 years, between 1934 and 1952. At last, on December 5th, 2018, after three months of inactivity from Kilauea, the eruption that started in 1983 was declared to have ended.
Sacagawea Was a Working Mom
Notable for her significant contribution as an interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark’s Discovery Corp expedition in 1805-1806, Sacagawea is one of America’s most beloved heroines. But what many fail to remember is that the Shoshone woman had birthed a son just two months before leaving to explore with the American explorers.
What’s more, the 16-year-old took her new child, Jean Baptiste, along with her on the precarious thousand-mile expedition. Although her husband, who had also accompanied them on the trip, was compensated with 320 acres of land and $500.33 for his work, Sacagawea got nothing after the voyage had ended.
Mustangs Were Imported
Americans love their horses, especially the wild mustang. These gallant, beautiful beasts are a symbol of freedom, heroism, and romance, and perfectly embody the Old West more than any other animal. But surprisingly, mustangs aren’t native to the United States.
The wild horses are descendants of Spanish or Iberian horses which were brought here by Spanish explorers during the 16th century. There are six places you can still spot them roaming free today, including Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Dinosaurs Enjoyed America
Dinosaur fossils have been discovered on all seven continents, but did you know most of the fossils have been unearthed in the US? In addition to that distinction, the US has the most variety of species, including the famous horned triceratops and the ferocious T.Rex.
Although their remains have been discovered in various places across the country, most of the finds were in desert regions where vegetation is poor and fossils are easily accessible because they are covered by sand, rock, and nothing else, rather than with trees and soil.
Liberty Bell’s Inscriptions
Did you know that the word "Pennsylvania" is wrongly spelled on the landmark Liberty Bell? It is actually spelled "Pensylvania," with only one "n". But to be fair, it can’t be counted as an error because in the year 1752 when the bell was forged, the state name was commonly spelled that way. Not today, though, so some people count it as a typo.
Interestingly, the state name is also spelled with only one “n” in the Constitution where the Founding Fathers affixed their names. But elsewhere in the document, it is spelled how we view it to be correct now. Weird.
George Washington’s Teeth Weren’t Wooden
Contrary to popular belief, George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood. In spite of his renowned physical prowess, the former president spent a great part of his adult life suffering from a host of dental troubles, including lost teeth and ill-fitting dentures.
But it was only a myth that the dentures he wore were made of wood. Forensic research has confirmed that his teeth were crafted out of materials including human, donkey and horse teeth, ivory, lead-tin alloy, copper alloy, and silver alloy.
Amelia Earhart Achieved More Than You Think
Aviation pioneer and legend Amelia Earhart has captivated and inspired us for generations. It appears with each new year, fresh conspiracy theories about her mysterious disappearance spring up. Sadly, all the enigma and intrigue they create obscure her great accomplishments.
Although we all know she gained celebrity status by being the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, many people overlook the fact that Earhart was only the second person, male or female, to make a solo transatlantic flight - coming in only after Charles Lindbergh.
The Heroism of Harriet Tubman
Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom in 1849. But that didn’t satisfy the Maryland native. Tubman subsequently risked her life by becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad so she could liberate her family members and hundreds of other slaves.
But a lesser-known fact about this heroine is that she also fought and led soldiers during the Civil War. As a matter of fact, she was the first woman to lead a military operation in the war and was able to free 700 slaves in the Combahee River Raid.
Bison Are Enormous
The official mammal of the United States is a lot bigger than you may have imagined. Bison are currently the largest mammal in the whole of North America. How large? The males stand at up to six feet tall and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
To see these giants in the wild, head down to Yellowstone National Park. There are almost 5,000 of them there, the only location since prehistoric times that has served as a continuous home to free-range Bison.
The Wright Brothers Didn't Have College Degrees
Popularly known as the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright were famous inventors who achieved the first powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight in the year 1903. They surpassed that achievement two years later by building and flying the first fully practical airplane.
Despite making history and their immense contributions to aviation, the brothers never went to college. And although they attended high school, they did not receive diplomas. Leaning instead on their curiosity and talent, their inventions helped them attain great wealth and fame.
The Tale of the Clotilda
The Clotilda is considered to be the last known slave ship to bring captives from Africa to the United States. In 1860, a time when slavery was still practiced despite it being officially against the law to bring in new slaves, the ship was smuggled into the country on the eve of the Civil War.
Its captain supervised the transfer of the 110-160 slaves onto a second boat, and then set the Clotilda on fire and sank her. In 2019, the wreckage of the ship was discovered at the bottom of the Mobile River in Alabama.
This Bridge Is a Must-See
The Frankford Avenue Bridge in Philadelphia holds the title of the oldest surviving bridge in the United States. Also known as the Pennypack Creek Bridge, this 73-foot stone structure was erected in 1697, making it older than the nation of the United States itself!
In 1893, it was remodeled to accommodate more traffic and is still being used by travelers today. Other charming and little-known historic bridges worth visiting include the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park in Arizona and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in Missouri.
George Washington Never Occupied the White House
He did choose the site for it and approved its Georgian design in 1791, but George Washington never actually got to live in the White House. His service as chief executive ended in 1797 and he died two years later before the completion of the White House in 1800.
Second president John Adams and his wife, Abigail, were the first to move into the White House, and it was still being constructed at the time. Every president since then has lived there while in office.
The Truth About the Ben Franklin Turkey-Eagle Myth
A lot of people believe that Benjamin Franklin wanted the robust turkey rather than the magnificent bald eagle to be our national bird. It’s a thought-provoking and fascinating story but it’s unfortunately also not true.
What really happened was that Franklin wrote his daughter a letter in which he questioned the choice of the eagle. He stated that the Great Seal resembled a turkey more than it did a bald eagle. Then he went on to expound on the characteristics of both birds. It was this letter that became the basis of the turkey rather than the eagle myth.
S’mores Are an American Delicacy
A s'more is a nighttime campfire treat popular in the United States and Canada, but the U.S. takes the credit for inventing them. They are believed to have been created by the Loretta Scout Crew, who made them for the Girls Scouts in 1927.
Originally called “some mores,” the first known recipe for this cherished sweet treat was published in the Girl Scouts handbook Tramping and Trailing With the Girl Scouts in 1927. The graham cracker had been invented by the Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham sometime in the 1880s.
Virginia and Her Presidents
With 50 states and 3.8 million square miles of land area, the United States of America is pretty huge. Yet, somehow, one state has managed to churn out more presidents than all the others: Virginia.
Eight of America's presidents were born in Virginia (it was one of the original 13 colonies, so it has some leverage over younger states): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. Following closely behind Virginia is the state of Ohio with seven presidents originating there.
This Library Has Been Around for Ages
Located on Main Street, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the Darby Free Library is the oldest library in continuous service in the country. It was founded on March 1743 by 29 Quakers and started out as a subscription library until 1898 when it became free and open to the public.
In 1866, a property on Main Street was acquired to build a permanent home for the Darby Free Library, and the building was completed in 1872 at a cost of $8,895.54.
This Cave Lives Up to Its Name
For your next holiday destination, you might want to consider the intriguing Mammoth Cave. Not only is it one of the seven wonders of America, but with 346 miles of passageways, a Mammoth Dome 192 feet high and a Bottomless Pit 105 feet deep, this is also the largest cave system on the planet.
The entrance was first discovered by Native Americans about 4,000 years ago and was then re-discovered by white settlers in the 1790s. Since then, guides have been leading awe-struck tourists into the incredible Mammoth Cave.
In Real Life, Barbie and Ken Were Siblings
50 years ago, Barbie Millicent Roberts made her debut in the world of toys. With over one billion models sold, Barbie has since become the most famous doll not just in America but also across the globe. Millions of children have come to love her and her beau, Ken.
Invented by California native Ruth Handler, Barbie was named after her daughter Barbara. So you might be surprised to know that Handler also had a son named Kenneth, after whom Ken is named.
Fireworks Have Been a Part of Fourth of July for Hundreds of Years
Fourth of July celebrations are never complete without fireworks. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, we fork out an estimated one billion dollars for them each year. An interesting tidbit about this tradition is it has a history that goes way back.
The first Fourth of July celebration was held in 1777, a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Aside from in Pennsylvania, large celebrations were also held in Boston, and fireworks were included. In 1783, they became available to the public, essentially aiding the spread of the tradition.
FDR Was the Longest-Serving President
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only president to have served more than two terms of presidency and was in office longer than anyone else. Roosevelt vied for and won the election for a third term in 1940, and then in 1944, won a fourth.
As president, he started the Social Security program, imposed more taxes on the rich, and enacted the New Deal programs. In 1951, six years after his death, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thereby limiting presidents' time in office to only two full terms.
The Towering Denali
Nepal has Mount Everest, Tanzania has Kilimanjaro, and America has the captivating Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. Located in south-central Alaska, it is the tallest mountain in North America with a peak of 20,310 feet (6,190 meters) above sea level.
Denali means “The High One” or “The Great One.” And to experience all the wonders of this great mountain, you have to head down to the Denali National Park and Preserve, which features more than six million acres of land ready to be explored.
Columbus Did Not Enter North America
Many people have been taught that Italian explorer and navigator Christopher Columbus’s voyages led him to North America, but you’d be surprised to know that, in reality, he never set foot here.
Beginning in 1492, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain on four separate trips in hopes of discovering a new route to India and its legendary riches. He landed on the Bahamas and the island that would later be known as Hispaniola (the current-day Dominican Republic and Haiti). Columbus also explored the Central and South American coasts, but he didn’t reach North America.
The James Brothers Robbed for Themselves
Frank and Jesse James are perhaps the most notorious criminals in the history of the United States. Popular tales depict them as Robinhood-esque outlaws whose crimes were justified because they stole from the rich and gave to the poor. But there’s no proof that this is true.
On the contrary, the legendary James brothers carried out crimes for their own benefit, robbing banks, trains, and even individuals all across the Midwest. And worse than that, they sometimes killed people during the process.
The Oldest Newspaper
The Hartford Courant is the largest newspaper in the state of Connecticut, the oldest continuously-run newspaper in the nation, and is, in fact, older than the nation of the United States itself. It started out as a weekly paper called the Connecticut Courant on October 29, 1764, and its first issue was just four pages long.
The paper has a daily circulation of over 100,000 and recently digitized its archives, enabling historians to study issues from more than 250 years ago.
The First State Park in America Was Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls’ magnificent waters make it one of the greatest treasures of the world. In 1885, the Niagra Falls State Park, New York, opened its doors to the public for the first time, becoming the first state park established in the country. It has been in operation ever since.
The park was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1963, the Niagara Reservation was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It even made it on The Today Show in 2007 as the 10th most beautiful spot in America.