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.
Other countries that don’t use the metric system
Despite what you might believe, the USA is not the only country that doesn’t use the metric system. There are three: America, Myanmar, and Liberia. Liberia, located in western Africa, commonly uses United States customary units. Myanmar (formerly Burma), located in southeast Asia, uses the traditional system of Burmese measurements. However, Myanmar has been in the process of moving to the metric system since 2013. The United States? Not so much. Interested in other fun facts? Check out these trivia questions only geniuses will get right.
Al Capone’s true crime
Al Capone, one of the most famous American criminals of all time, spent most of the 1920s smuggling illegal alcohol and murdering his enemies. But the crime that finally got him caught and sent to prison in 1931 was… tax evasion. When a 1927 Supreme Court ruling declared that bootleggers had to pay income tax, Capone’s downfall began. At first, he pled guilty, thinking he would only receive a short sentence. When the judge told him that wasn’t true, he agreed to go to trial. He was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
Alcatraz Prison’s only escapees
Thirty-six different people tried to escape from Alcatraz during its 29-year time as a federal prison. Most of them either died during the attempt or were caught. But in 1962, three criminals vanished from the prison. They made a raft out of stolen raincoats, left dummy heads in their beds Ferris Bueller-style, and escaped by climbing through a ventilator (according to the FBI investigation). While pieces of their raft were found, the three men themselves were not. The FBI turned the case over to the U.S. Marshals Service in 1979. The Marshals Service is technically still on the case, though its all but certain that the men are no longer still alive (even if they did survive their escape). These are the most notorious criminals in every state.
The trial of the tomato
Though the many health benefits of tomatoes are widely known today, a mere two hundred years ago, there was a widespread belief that they were poisonous. Though they were wildly popular in Mexico and much of Europe, a tomato scare hit England (and subsequently its colonies) when a surgeon named John Gerard wrote a book called The Generall Historie of Plantes in 1597. In the book, he claimed that tomatoes were deadly because they contained a chemical called tomatine (which is true, but it’s not nearly enough to make them poisonous). Thanks to Gerard’s mostly bogus book, much of England and the USA remained tomato-shy for the next 200 years. Finally, in 1820, a man named Robert Johnson staged a “tomato trial” on the steps of a New Jersey courthouse. He ate a full basket of tomatoes and did not die.
Christmas was illegal?!
Because of Christmas’s roots as an ancient pagan holiday, the early American Puritans didn’t originally take too kindly to it. They believed that religion should be very solemn, so the carol-singing, booze-drinking Christmas celebrations didn’t sit well with them. The Parliament of England, largely composed of Puritans, made the holiday illegal in the 1600s, and the North American Puritans in New England followed suit. The law stuck as the New England colonies evolved into the United States. The first state to actively legalize Christmas was Alabama, and it wasn’t until 1836! Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870, but it was still illegal in some states. It wasn’t until 1907 that Christmas was legal the United States over (looking at you, Oklahoma). These are the dumbest laws in America.
Ohio, the forgotten state
Ohio was the 17th state added to the United States… or was it? Though Congress approved Ohio’s request for statehood in 1803, they forgot to officially ratify the state constitution. It wasn’t until 150 years later that Ohio representative George H. Bender made a move to make his state “official.” Congress voted to retroactively ratify the state constitution so that its official date of statehood remained March 1, 1803. But if you want to consider 1953 its year of admission, that would make it the 48th state.
The biggest and smallest states
The largest state in America, Alaska, is 429 times the size of the smallest state, Rhode Island, in terms of area. Even more impressive, its coastline is longer than the coastlines of all 49 other states combined. However, Rhode Island has the larger population of the two—by more than 300,000 more people. Rhode Island is also the state with the longest official name: “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” Next, here are 50 more facts you never knew about the 50 states.