10 Things You May Not Know About the U.S. States

how the states got their shapes, h2, brian unger

HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES reveals surprising facts about all 50 U.S. states, and how they came to be. Here’s 10 tidbits you may not have known about states across the country.

  1. The geographic center of North America is located in the town of Rugby, North Dakota. The geographic center of the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) is found two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas.
  2. There are eight main Hawaiian Islands, but the official state borders encompass over 100 additional islands, atolls, islets and reefs that extend over a water area of more than 1,000 miles. Hawaii is the most isolated population center on Earth, located more than 2,300 miles from California and 3,800 miles from Japan.
  3. At 250 million years old, the Appalachian Mountains are the oldest mountain range in the U.S. and at one time, were higher than the Himalayas. The Cumberland Gap is the only natural opening through the mountain chain for 100 miles in either direction, which made it the gateway for settlers pushing west to the frontier.
  4. A majority of U.S. states–29–gained entry into the union in the 19th century. Only five achieved statehood in the 20th century: Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.
  5. The federal government owns 30 percent of the land in Montana and a whopping 80 percent in Nevada, including the highly classified Area 51.
  6. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in 1861, precipitating the Civil War, but its history of rebelliousness stretches back even further: As a colony, South Carolina set up its own government in March 1776, months before the Declaration of Independence. South Carolina even fought a battle against the British in June 1776, and won!
  7. The Mason-Dixon Line forms part of the border of four U.S. states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia (which was still part of Virginia when the line was drawn). Although often associated with the North-South divide during the Civil War, the line was actually surveyed in the 1760s to settle a border dispute between colonies.
  8. Twelve of the 50 U.S. states have active or potentially active volcanoes within their borders, but only four of those 12 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and California) have experienced a volcanic eruption since 1900.
  9. While Alaska and Texas are two of today’s top oil-producing states, the original oil boom began in the 1850s in Pennsylvania, the site of the first well drilled in the U.S. for the express purpose of oil exploration. Pennsylvania sits atop the Marcellus Shale, which geologists expect will be the new frontier of the latest resource boom–natural gas.
  10. As colonies and territories became states, border disputes erupted in several places on the map. Ohio and Michigan fought the bloodless Toledo War over access to Lake Erie and the Continental Congress voted to invade Vermont when the Green Mountain Boys refused to acquiesce to New York’s authority. Most famously, Kansas and Missouri fought over the issue of slavery during the period known as “Bleeding Kansas,” sparking a rivalry that still exists today and is settled every year on the gridiron when the University of Kansas meets the University of Missouri in a game that fans have dubbed “The Border War.”