The first of the original 13 states to ratify the federal Constitution, Delaware occupies a small niche in the Boston–Washington, D.C., urban corridor along the Middle Atlantic seaboard. It is the second smallest state in the country and one of the most densely populated. The state is organized into three counties—from north to south, New Castle, Kent and Sussex—all established by 1682. Its population, like its industry, is concentrated in the north, around Wilmington, where the major coastal highways and railways pass through from Pennsylvania and New Jersey on the north and east into Maryland on the south and west. The rest of the state comprises the northeastern corner of the Delmarva Peninsula, which Delaware shares with Maryland and Virginia (hence its name). Most state government operations are located in Dover, the capital.
Date of Statehood: December 7, 1787
Population: 897,934 (2010)
Size: 2,489 square miles
Nickname(s): The First State; The Diamond State; Blue Hen State; Small Wonder
Motto: Liberty and Independence
Tree: American Holly
Flower: Peach Blossom
Bird: Blue Hen
- The first European colony in the Delaware Valley was established by Swedish settlers in 1638. Between 1698 and 1699, the descendants of these early colonists constructed Old Swedes Church (also known as Holy Trinity Church), which is one of the oldest houses of worship in America still in use.
- According to legend, Delaware was nicknamed “The Diamond State” because Thomas Jefferson referred to it as a “jewel among the states” due to its prime location on the Eastern Seaboard.
- The first bathing beauty pageant in which contestants competed for the title of “Miss United States” took place in Rehoboth Beach in 1880 as a way to attract business during its summer festival. Inventor Thomas Edison was one of the contest’s judges.
- After the onset of World War II, several concrete observation towers ranging between 39 and 75 feet tall were constructed along Delaware’s coast to protect the bay and coastal towns from German warships. Eleven towers remain in Delaware and two remain in Cape May, NJ.
- Delaware Bay is home to more horseshoe crabs than anywhere else in the world. Mostly unchanged for the past 300 million years, these “living fossils” were collected by Native American Indians for food and used as fertilizer—a practice that was passed along to early colonial settlers and continued until the 1960s. Currently used in biomedical research, horseshoe crabs have played an invaluable role in studying the human eye and detecting bacteria in drugs.