United States Trivia Your History Teacher Never Taught You
When was Christmas illegal in America? Which state did Congress forget to officially add to the Union for 150 years? Plus, more fun USA trivia that you didn’t learn in school.
The first U.S. city to host the Olympics
The United States didn’t host the Olympic Games until the Summer Games in 1904. The city to receive the honor was St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis holds an even more significant Olympic distinction: it was the first non-European city to host the Games. Since then, Lake Placid, New York; Los Angeles and Squaw Valley, California; Atlanta, Georgia; and Salt Lake City, Utah have all hosted the Olympics. Check out these other little-known facts about America.
The oldest city in the United States
Nope, America’s oldest city is not a city from the original 13 colonies. It’s not Boston, Philadelphia, or even Jamestown, Virginia. The oldest city in the United States is Saint Augustine, Florida. The Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established a settlement there in 1565. de Avilés reached shore on August 28, the feast day of St. Augustine, and decided to name the city accordingly. To be fair, though, it was controlled by the Spanish, and then the British, and then the Spanish again, before it was technically American. The United States acquired the region by treaty in 1821. Find out how every state got its nickname.
The first capital of the United States
Washington, D.C. didn’t become the nation’s capital until 1790. The first city to hold the title was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when the First Continental Congress met there in 1774. In the 16 years between then and 1790, a total of seven—yes, seven—other cities held the title. Some, like Baltimore, Maryland, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, only held the title very briefly as the Continental Congress moved around to avoid the British. New York was the last pre-D.C. city to hold the title. Congress met there for about four years, and George Washington himself was inaugurated as president there. Which is ironic, considering that he’s the president Washington, D.C. is named after. Check out the full list of capital cities on Mental Floss, and learn 18 more things you never knew about our nation’s capital.
The first president born in a hospital
Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, was the first to be born in a hospital. He was born in 1924. Not all of Carter’s successors were born in hospitals; post-Carter presidents Reagan and H. W. Bush were not. Meanwhile, seven previous presidents, including Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, were born in log cabins, meaning more U.S. presidents have been born in log cabins than hospitals. Do you consider yourself a history buff? Think again. These Jeopardy questions will confound you.
The number of U.S. presidents who were only children
Zero! Every single U.S. president has had, at the very least, a half-sibling. The four U.S. presidents who had half-siblings, not full siblings, were Franklin Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. The president with the most siblings was James Buchanan, the 15th president, who had six sisters and four brothers. These “facts” that you’ve always believed about the presidents are actually false.
The only U.S. president to never marry
James Buchanan, the 15th president, remained unmarried not only throughout his entire presidency but also throughout his entire life, the only U.S. president to do either of those things. His niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, served as his first lady. Buchanan was not the only bachelor elected to office, however. Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president, was unmarried when he was elected, but he got married while in office. Before then, his first lady was his sister. Here are some more facts you never knew about America’s first ladies.
The first president to declare war
Our fourth president, James Madison, became the first U.S. president to declare war in 1812. He signed a declaration of war on June 18 of that year, officially beginning the War of 1812 against the British. It would be more than 30 years until the next official declaration of war: 1846, when James K. Polk began the Mexican-American War. We bet you never knew about these surprising hidden talents of U.S. presidents.
Who really started the Boston Tea Party
Which of the Founding Fathers was responsible for the most famous tea-dumping in history? Well, the tea-tossing was initiated by the anti-taxation group the Sons of Liberty. But according to History.com, Samuel Adams led the charge. So, yes, the man who started the Boston Tea Party is now the mascot for a brand of beer. Can you guess which founding father has the most valuable signature on the Declaration of Independence?
The first national monument
Enacted in 1906, the American Antiquities Act established the protection of “natural and cultural resources” in the United States, paving the way for national monuments and parks. President Theodore Roosevelt wasted no time and proclaimed four national monuments in that same year. The first of those was Devils Tower in Wyoming. This massive column of igneous rock attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.
The first official national park, meanwhile, is Yellowstone in Wyoming, established by President Grant in 1872. The difference between a national monument and a national park, by the way, is that parks are set aside by Congress for their scenic or natural significance, while monuments can have historic or scientific significance of any kind and are created via executive order. Buildings and ruins, for instance, can be monuments, not parks. Check out these incredible photos of America’s national parks.
How Mount Rushmore got its name
This most famous of American landmarks didn’t get its name from the mountain it’s built on. Nor is it named after the man who sculpted it (“Mount Borglum” doesn’t have the best ring to it, no offense) or any of the people depicted on it. Its namesake? A New York lawyer. In 1884, an attorney named Charles Edward Rushmore visited the Black Hills area to verify some legal titles. According to the National Parks site, Rushmore asked a local guide what the name of the mountain was. The guide replied, “We will name it now, and name it Rushmore.” And somehow, that name stuck. What seems like an off-hand comment to please an out-of-towner ended up giving the monument its permanent name. See what 10 famous landmarks looked like 100 years ago.