50 Facts About America That Most Americans Don’t Know
From little-known trivia about presidents to amazing facts about the land we walk on, these 50 facts about America will blow you away.
America the beautiful
With 50 states and a nearly 250-year history, there’s plenty about our majestic nation that will amaze and awe you. Read on to learn more about U.S. politics, geography, notable citizens and more. Find out the most historic landmark in every state.
The current flag was designed by a 17-year-old
Our current 50-star flag was designed as part of a high school project by 17-year old Robert Heff. It was 1958, and there were only 48 states at the time but Heft had a hunch Hawaii and Alaska would soon be granted statehood.
His teacher gave him a B- but went on to update the grade to an A after Heft submitted his design to the White House, eventually leading to a call from President Eisenhower that it had been selected as the official U.S. flag. This is one of the 20 American flag facts that will amaze you—keep it in mind, especially when celebrating Flag Day.
They call it Lake Superior for a reason
Everyone knows Lake Superior is big (they don’t call it one of the Great Lakes for nothing, after all) but few people know exactly how large it really is. Not only is Lake Superior the largest freshwater lake in the world, but it holds three quadrillion gallons of water. That’s enough liquid to completely cover both North and South America under a foot of water. It’s no wonder Lake Superior has been the site of so many shipwrecks.
We love our pizza
It’s no secret that Americans love pizza, however, it might surprise you to learn that we eat enough pizza every day to cover 100 acres. Total it up and that’s 3 billion pizzas a year. Sadly, no official data is available regarding how many of those pies were consumed due to Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ “Two Pizza Rule.”
Ol’ man river
“Ol’ Man River” is a famous song from Show Boat and as it happens, America knows a thing or two about old rivers. Although its exact age isn’t known, the New River, which flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina to Virginia and West Virginia, is thought by most scientists to be the oldest in North America. Many believe the New River is older than the continent of North America itself. Be prepared to get spooked by these stories of the world’s 14 most haunted bodies of water.
Someone is still collecting a Civil War pension
The Civil War ended in 1865, but Irene Triplet is still collecting a pension. Her father served in the war which entitles Triplet, who is now almost 90 years old, to a survivor’s benefit of $73.13 a month. One can only imagine Triplet has seen a great deal in her life and knows all about the triumphs and tragedies only military families can understand.
Americans are a generous bunch
According to the World Giving Index, the United States is the most generous country in the world, based on a tally of charitable donations, volunteer hours, and a track record of reaching out to help others. Before you open your wallet, find out the charities where your donation goes the farthest.
Where to shoot hoops with RBG
Being a supreme court justice is undoubtedly a stressful job. One way they let off a little steam is with a friendly game of basketball. A storage room on the top floor of the Supreme Court was converted into a basketball court. Justices and their clerks shoot hoops there. And you thought there could be no other ways Ruth Bader Ginsberg could make history.
The Constitution wasn’t original
If you thought that Ben Franklin and the founding fathers came up with the constitution all by themselves you’d be wrong. They actually modeled it after the constitution of the Iroquois confederacy of Native American tribes. It’s just one of many facts about Native Americans you didn’t learn in history class.
We don’t have an official language
Most people assume English is the official language of the United States but the truth is, although that might be the case in many of the states, the federal government has never declared an official language. Not English or anything else. This is one of the 16 history questions everyone always gets wrong.
You might be surprised by the oldest city
Many people assume Jamestown, Virginia is the oldest city in the United States, but the reality is Jamestown is merely the oldest English settlement. The oldest city in the United States is actually St Augustine, Florida. The area was originally claimed for Spain by famed explorer Ponce De Leon in 1513; the United States took control in 1821. That’s why St. Augustine is one of the 16 best U.S. cities for history buffs.
That’s an old book
The book believed to be the first-ever to be printed in America was called Bay Psalm Book, published way back in 1640. In 2013, one of the 11 copies known to be still in existence sold at auction for $14.2 million. Needless to say, the Bay Psalm Book is one of the most expensive books in the world.
Thanksgiving was when?
You may think it’s a fact that Thanksgiving was always held on the fourth Thursday of November, but that’s not the case. The holiday was held on several different dates until Abraham Lincoln declared that it would henceforth be held the fourth Thursday in November of every year in 1863. This day was honored by every subsequent president until FDR moved it to the third Thursday of November in 1939 to extend the Christmas season. After many complaints, he realized his mistake and moved it back to the fourth Thursday two years later; that’s when we celebrate it today. Here are 15 more Thanksgiving “facts” that aren’t actually true.
Eleanor Roosevelt was groundbreaking
Eleanor Roosevelt is known as a groundbreaking first lady in many regards and generations later, still considered to be a role model. Perhaps one of her most memorable was holding her own press conference, something no first lady had done before. More memorable still? She only invited female reporters to attend. Find out more trivia about Ms. Roosevelt and all the other First Ladies.
Independence Day could have been on July 2
One of the things many people don’t know about Independence Day is that Congress officially declared its independence from England on July 2, 1776. We celebrate the holiday on the fourth of July because this is the day that John Hancock became the first man to sign the document. Head here to learn more about 4th of July history.
Women rock it in space
If you were thinking the astronaut who has spent the most time in space was a man, you’d be wrong. That honor belongs to a woman. Astronaut Peggy Whitson has spent the most cumulative time in space, just one of 13 amazing facts about the women of NASA.
Don’t stand too close to this volcano
Geologists consider Mt Kilauea in Hawaii to be the most active volcano in the world because it has been erupting continuously for more than 35 years. The longest period the volcano has been inactive was the 18 years between 1934 and 1952. Check out this list of the volcanoes that could erupt next.
Sacagawea was a new mom
Sacagawea is well-known for her important contribution as an interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark’s Discovery Corp expedition in1805-1806. What many people forget is that Sacagawea gave birth just two months before the expedition and took her newborn son with her on the dangerous journey.
Her husband, who was also part of the expedition, was paid $500.33 and 320 acres for his work. Sacagawea received nothing. Sacagawea is one of many untold stories of Native American heroes.
Mustangs were imported
There is perhaps no creature that encapsulates the image of the old American west more than the wild mustang. But mustangs aren’t actually native to the United States. They are descendants of Spanish or Iberian horses which were brought here during the 16th century. You can still spot wild horses roaming free in these 6 locations today.
Dinosaurs loved it here
The United States has not only found the most dinosaur fossils, but it also has the most variety. Although the finds have been scattered throughout the country, most of them were in desert areas, where vegetation isn’t likely to grow and fossils remain more accessible since they are covered by nothing but sand and rock, as opposed to trees and soil. If you’d like to see dinosaur bones without digging for them, these are the best dinosaur museums in the world.
The words on the Liberty Bell
Did you know the word Pennsylvania is spelled wrong on the Liberty Bell? Actually, spelled wrong is probably a bit harsh: in 1752, when the bell was made, it was one of several acceptable spellings. Our forefathers also made some glaring grammar mistakes in the Constitution.
George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth
Most of us have heard at one time or another that George Washington had teeth made of wood but this isn’t true. Although he did rely on dentures due to losing his teeth early in life, forensic research has proved that his teeth were made from a combination of donkey, horse, and human teeth one of 11 surprising facts about President Washington you didn’t learn in history class.
Amelia Earhart was more accomplished than you realize
Amelia Earhart has seized the hearts and imagination of the country for decades. It seems every year a new conspiracy theory emerges about her disappearance. Unfortunately, all this mystery and intrigue tend to overshadow her achievement. Although it’s well-known that she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, many people lose sight of the fact that she was the second person, male or female, to fly solo across the Atlantic, period, behind Charles Lindbergh.
Harriet Tubman was a war hero
Harriet Tubman escaped slavery but that wasn’t enough to satisfy her, not when so many other people were still enslaved. She became a conductor for the Underground Railroad, putting her life on the line to lead hundreds of human beings to their freedom.
What many people don’t know is that Tubman also fought and led soldiers in the Civil War. In fact, she was the first woman to lead an armed excursion in the war, and successfully liberated 700 slaves in the Combahee River Raid. Here are more true stories of pioneering women who changed history.
Bison are huge
The largest mammal in all of North America is the bison: The males are up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. If you want to see bison in the wid, there are nearly 5,000 of them in Yellowstone National Park, which is the only place to serve as a continuous home to the bison since prehistoric times. These are some amazing wildlife photos from Yellowstone National Park.
The Wright Brothers never went to college
Wilbur and Orville Wright, better known as the Wright Brothers, famously invented the airplane, which might lead you to believe they were a highly educated pair, but in actuality, neither of them graduated college. The invention brought the brothers fame and fortune, so, fortunately, they didn’t live to become one of these inventors who regretted their inventions.
The story of the Clotilda
The Clotilda, believed to be the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States, was smuggled into the country in 1860 when slavery was still legal but importing new slaves was outlawed, on the eve of the Civil War. The captain oversaw the transfer of his unwilling passengers to a second boat before burning and sinking the Clotilda. In 2019, the wreckage of the Clotilda was discovered in Alabama. Here are some shipwrecks you can still visit around the world.
You’ve got to see this bridge
The oldest bridge in the United States is the Frankford Avenue Bridge in Philadelphia. The 73-foot stone bridge was erected in 1697, which makes it older than America itself. It was reconstructed in 1893 and is still in use today. The Frankford Avenue Bridge is one of 14 of America’s fascinating, lesser known-bridges.
George Washington never lived in the White House
Although George Washington chose the site of the White House in 1791, he never got to live in it. John and Abigail Adams were the first president and first lady to move into the White House, and it was still under construction at the time. Since then, every subsequent president has resided in the White House while in office. Find out 11 more facts about the White House you never knew.
They didn’t tell you the truth about Ben Franklin
You’ve probably heard that Benjamin Franklin wanted the sturdy turkey to be our national bird instead of the majestic bald eagle. It’s an interesting story, but it’s not true. Franklin wrote his daughter a letter, stating that he thought the Great Seal looked more like a turkey than a bald eagle and from there, went on to philosophize about the attributes of both birds. This letter became the source for the turkey instead of the eagle myth. Here are 51 more “facts” that are actually false.
S’mores are an American food
S’mores are camping classic and they were invented right here in the USA. They are said to have been invented by Loretta Scott Crew and in 1927, the recipe was published for the first time in Girl Scouts book. If you like s’ mores and camping, check out these amazing American campsites.
Presidents and Virginia are a thing
The United States is a mighty big country, yet for some reason, one state has produced an inordinate amount of presidents. Eight U.S. presidents were born in Virginia. (As it’s one of the 13 original colonies, Virginia has an edge over younger states.) Next in line is Ohio, with seven presidents born there, and New York with five. Read these astonishing facts you didn’t know about U.S. presidents.
This library is old
The Darby Free Library in Pennsylvania is the oldest continuously operating library in the country. Originally opened by Quakers in 1743 it has been serving community members who enjoy the free things they can do with their library card for more than 275 years. These are the most impressive libraries in every state.
Talk about a big cave
Situated in the Green River Valley, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the largest known natural cave system on the planet, with over 400 miles of cave explored. After you visit the cave system, you should check out these other hidden gems in every state.
The real-life Barbie and Ken were siblings
The diminutive Barbie is arguably the most famous doll in America, which makes sense since it came from California, where Ruth Handler invented the doll in 1959 and named it after her daughter, Barbara. It might not surprise you to learn that Handler also had a son named Ken. This is what Barbie looked like the decade you were born.
We’ve been setting off fireworks on July 4th for hundreds of years
The traditional Fourth of July celebration started in 1777, one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Large celebrations took place in Pennsylvania and Boston and included fireworks. When fireworks became available to the public in 1783, the tradition spread even further. These cities have some of the most spectacular Fourth of July fireworks shows.
FDR served a long time
Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president longer than anyone else: He served four terms and from 1933 to 1945. During that time he started the Social Security program, levied heavier taxes on the rich, and implemented the New Deal programs. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1951, now limits presidents to serving two full terms. Check out these presidential libraries every history buff should visit, including FDR’s.
Denali is one tall mountain
The highest mountain peak in the United States is Denali, formerly called Mt McKinley. It stands at more than 20,310 feet tall If you want to see Denali in person, it’s the site of a National Park with over six million acres of land to explore. Check out these other National Parks which are off the beaten path.
Columbus never set foot on mainland North America
Most people think Columbus landed in North America, but what you probably never learned about Columbus is that the explorer never set foot on the mainland. The only New World sites visited by Columbus were the Carribean Islands and parts of Central America and South America.
Frank and Jesse James were in it for themselves
There are perhaps no criminals in American history more notorious than Frank and Jesse James. Popular folklore paints them as Robin Hood-like bandits who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but there is no evidence this is true. The truth is the James Brothers committed their robberies for personal gain, and worse yet, sometimes murdered people in the process. These are the most notorious criminals in every state.
Long live the newspaper
The oldest continuously-run newspaper in the United States is The Hartford Courant, known originally as The Connecticut Courant. The paper has been published since 1764 and the first issue was only four pages long. The newspaper recently digitized its archives, allowing historians to study issues from 250 years ago. This is the real reason old newspapers turn yellow.
Niagra Falls was the first state park in the United States
Niagra Falls is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the world. In 1885, Niagra Falls State Park became the first state park established in the country. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City. Find out the most beautiful waterfall in every state.
Seattle owes a great deal to the Gold Rush
Seattle is known for an economy that largely revolves around the tech industry, but there was a time it owed its prosperity to the Klondike Gold Rush. Seattle, it seemed, was ideally situated for prospectors to obtain their provisions before heading up to Alaska, leading to a booming economy that allowed the city to grow. If you plan to visit Seattle, you’ll be relieved to learn that SeaTac airport is one of the most reliable in the country.
That’s a lot of money
The largest currency denomination circulated is the $10,000 bill. Unlike most other bills, it didn’t picture a president, but rather treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase, who went on to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court starting in 1864. If you haven’t seen a $10,000 bill floating around, there’s a reason for that. The government stopped producing them in 1969. Here are more mind-blowing facts about money.
Alexander Hamilton established our first bank
Alexander Hamilton established the first federal bank in Philadelphia in 1971, aptly named First Bank. Although the building is now a park service office, the history behind it and the gorgeous, columned exterior still make it a major tourist attraction. These are the most popular tourist attractions in every state.
Hollywood has been making movies for more than 100 years
There’s a reason Hollywood is synonymous with the movies; Hollywood has been making films for over 100 years. The first movie made in Hollywood was The Count of Monte Cristo in 1908, although the movie was also partly filmed in Chicago. The first movie made entirely in Hollywood was a 1910 short film called, In Old California. If you’re a fan of the movies, you should plan your next vacation in one of these hotels where your favorite movies and TV shows were filmed.
Women had to fight for basic rights
The 19th amendment to the constitution, which finally gave women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified in 1920. It was a moment that changed women’s history forever. Not only did women finally have the right to vote, but the amendment also gave them the right to own property.
Rosa Parks knew exactly what she was doing
Many people like to portray Rosa Parks as an ordinary woman who was simply too tired to give up her seat on the bus to a white person in Alabama. But this narrative sells her short. The truth is Rosa Parks in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, she was already a leader in Civil Rights Movement who went on to help organize and plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Here are other history lessons your teacher might have lied to you about.
You owe your bifocals to Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin was famously one of the Founding Fathers of our country, but he was also a revered inventor and scientist. His inventions included bifocals, the Franklin stove, the urinary catheter, and swimming fins. He is also one of the people who signed the U.S. Constitution.
There are millions of descendants of the Mayflower
In American folklore, perhaps no group of immigrants looms larger than the passengers of the Mayflower. In fact, the Mayflower pilgrims are so ingrained in our culture it’s easy to forget that they were real people. Today we have living proof of this, as there are an estimated 10 million Americans and 35 million worldwide descendants of the Mayflower. Amongst the most famous are John Adams, Julia Child, Humphrey Bogart, and Norman Rockwell. Next, read on to find ou 23 geography facts you didn’t learn in school.