States of the Union #2

States of the Union #2

Today I am continuing what will be a ten-part series covering all of the fifty States of the Union comprising the United States of America. I am a proud American, particularly regarding our remarkable history, so for ten consecutive Wednesdays each blog post will spotlight FIVE States (chosen at random). There will be some trivia, facts and data, a map, occasional vocabulary lessons, and naturally a wee bit of history. Links to the previous blog is below.

States of the Union #1 — Oklahoma, Alaska, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Florida


Abbreviation — CA
Capital — Sacramento
Statehood — September 9, 1850
State Motto — “Eureka (I have found it)”
State Nickname — Golden State
State Bird — California Valley Quail
State Flower — Golden Poppy


  • California boasts the highest point in the continental United States —Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet— and the lowest point —Death Valley at 287 feet below sea level.
  • Death Valley is the hottest and driest desert in North America. On July 10, 1913 the hottest temperature ever recorded on planet Earth was 134.1 degrees Fahrenheit at Furnace Creek in Death Valley.
  • The first Spanish mission was established in 1769 at San Diego. Eventually there were 21 missions created, all of which remain as functioning Catholic churches and important historical monuments.
  • In 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino.
  • With 9 designated Federal National Parks, California has more than any other state.
  • On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill, starting the California Gold Rush and bringing settlers to the state in large numbers.
  • Castroville is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World. In 1947, Norma Jean Baker was crowned Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen. You probably know her better by her screen name: Marilyn Monroe.
  • The California Redwood is the State Tree, can grow to a height well over 300 feet, and is the largest, tallest, and oldest living organism in the world. The tallest measured is found at Humboldt Redwoods State Park standing proud at 369 feet. The biggest Sequoia Redwood is the General Sherman located in Sequoia National Park. In King’s Canyon there is a massive Redwood tree that can be driven through.
  • California grows over 300,000 tons of grapes each year, but not only the famous wine grapes on the coastal regions and in Napa Valley. Fresno is considered the Raisin Capital of the World and is home to Sun-Maid Raisin Co.
  • Amongst the numerous industries in California, agriculture is the biggest. More than half of all US consumed vegetables, nuts, and fruits are grown in California.
  • The Silicon Valley, a general area surrounding San Jose, is thus named due to being the largest center of technology companies in the world.
  • In 1873, Jacob Davis teamed up with Levi Strauss to provide Denim Jeans to California miners and ranchers.
  • At 20,105 square miles, San Bernardino County is the largest county in the US, and is in fact larger than many States!

FAMOUS CALIFORNIANS: President Richard Nixon – Steve Jobs (founder of Apple Computers) – Joe DiMaggio (baseball) – Julia Child (chef) – Robert Frost (poet) – William Randolph Hearst (publisher) – George S. Patton (general) – John Muir (naturalist) – John Steinbeck, Jack London (authors) – Tiger Woods (golf) – Tony Hawk (skateboarder).


The Golden State’s name comes from a Spanish romance written in 1510. Las sergas de Esplandian (The Exploits of Esplandian), by Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo, contains a reference to a fictional island called California.

“…on the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very near to the Terrestrial Paradise…”

Since the name was deliberately coined in fiction, it is unknown what roots Ordóñez used to come up with California. It could be from the Spanish califa, meaning caliph (an Arabic word for “successor, or next in line for a ruler”). As his novel included a Queen Calafia as the ruler of the island California, this makes sense. Or he could have combined the Latin calida and forno into a word that roughly meant “hot furnace.”

Whatever Ordóñez’s inspiration, when Spanish explorers in the 16th century first encountered what is now the peninsula of Baja California they were clearly inspired by his fictional work. Hernando Cortes was the first European to visit the Baja California Peninsula in 1535 and the name was first applied either by him or someone who followed shortly after him. What is now the US state of California was originally called Alta (upper) California. The name “California” was appearing in English texts by the 18th century, but as noted above, not until 1850 was it designated as a State of the Union separate from the Mexico-owned Baja California.


Abbreviation — PA
Capital — Harrisburg
Statehood — December 12, 1787
State Motto — “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence”
State Nickname — Keystone State

State Bird — Ruffed Grouse
State Flower — Mountain Laurel


  • The Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address were all written in Pennsylvania.
  • Of the original Thirteen Colonies, Pennsylvania is the only state that does not border the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The nation’s first circulating library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin.
  • The Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem opened in 1745. It is the oldest bookstore in America and the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world
  • Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond on May 11, 1751, is the first hospital in the United States. It is also home to America’s first medical library.
  • The Philadelphia Zoo founded by Benjamin Franklin opened in 1874, the first zoo in America and thus the oldest operating zoo in the country.
  • The Liberty Bell, known as the symbol of American Independence, is located in Philadelphia.
  • The nickname “Keystone State” is due to Pennsylvania’s central location geographically within the 13 original colonies.
  • The town of Hershey is considered the Chocolate Capital of the United States.
  • Pennsylvania has the highest concentration of Amish in the country.

FAMOUS PENNSYLVANIANS: President James Buchanan – Louisa May Alcott (author) – Stephen Foster (composer) – Daniel Boone (frontiersman) – Arnold Palmer (golfer) – Betsy Ross (US flagmaker) – Kobe Bryant (basketball) – Joe Montana and Joe Namath (football) – Andy Warhol (artist).


Pennsylvania territory was disputed in the early 1600s among the Dutch, the Swedes, and the English. England acquired the region in 1664 with the capture of New York, and in 1681 the territory was granted to William Penn, a Quaker, by King Charles II. Penn named the territory in honor of his father Admiral Sir William Penn, combined with the Latin word “Sylvania” which means “land that is full of trees, or woodland.”


Abbreviation — WI
Capital — Madison
Statehood — May 29, 1848
State Motto — “Forward”
State Nickname — Badger State

State Bird — Robin
State Flower — Wood Violet


  • The state nickname is from lead miners, who were referred to as “badgers” because of how they dug holes, living in the mine shafts or in homes dug into the sides of the hill similar to badgers.
  • The Ringling Brothers (Albert, Otto, Charles and John) gave their first circus show performance in Baraboo in 1884.
  • Harley-Davidson, the American motorcycle manufacturer, was founded in Milwaukee in 1903 by William Harley, Arthur Davidson, and Walter Davidson.
  • Wisconsin has over 15,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Eagle River hosts the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby and is known as the Snowmobile Capital of the World.
  • Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the country with more dairy cows than any other state producing some 15% of the entire country’s milk.
  • In 1882 the first hydroelectric plant in the US was built at Fox River.
  • Summerfest, held in Milwaukee, is one of the worlds largest outdoor music festivals with an average of 2,500 performers.

FAMOUS WISCONSONITES: Harry Houdini (magician) – Liberace (pianist) – Douglas MacArthur (general) – Orson Welles (producer, actor) – Laura Ingalls Wilder (author) – Frank Lloyd Wright (architect).


The Winnebago, Menominee, and Dakota Indians lived in Wisconsin when the first French explorer, Jean Nicolet, landed at Green Bay in 1634. By 1660 there was a French trading post and Catholic mission established near present-day Ashland. Great Britain obtained the region in settlement of the French and Indian Wars in 1763. In 1783, after the Revolutionary War, the United States technically acquired the territory of Wisconsin, however, Great Britain retained control until after the War of 1812.

The name Wisconsin was originally applied to the Wisconsin River. It derives from the Cheppewa Indian word Ouisconsin, and the Miami Indian word Meskonsing, which both mean “river that meanders through something red.” The reference is to the red sandstone bluffs of the Wisconsin Dells through which the Wisconsin River flows.


Abbreviation — HI
Capital — Honolulu
Statehood — August 21, 1959
State Motto — “The life of the Island is perpetuated in righteousness”
State Nicknames — Aloha State, Paradise of the Pacific

State Bird — Nene, the Hawaiian Goose
State Flower — Yellow Hibiscus


  • There are 8 islands that make up the state of Hawaii: Maui, Niihau, Lanai, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and the Island of Hawaii. The islands are the summits of volcanoes, the projecting tops of the biggest mountain range in the world. Measured from the base at the ocean floor, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world.
  • Iolani Palace in Honolulu is the only royal palace in the United States.
  • Hawaii is the only state that grows coffee.
  • More than one-third of the world’s commercial supply of pineapples comes from Hawaii. The Big Island of Hawaii is the worldwide leader in harvesting macadamia nuts and orchids.
  • Geographically, Hawaii is the southernmost state in the United States.
  • Hawaii is the only state to honor a king, celebrating King Kamehameha Day on June 11th since 1872. King Kamehameha I (Kamehameha the Great) is known for uniting the Hawaiian Islands in 1810.
  • There are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet. Vowels include A, E, I, O, and U. Consonants include H, K, L, M, N, P, and W.

FAMOUS HAWAIIANS: President Barak Obama – Father Damien De Veuster (priest and Catholic saint) – Don Ho (entertainer) – Bette Midler (singer, actor) – Jason Momoa (actor).


First settled by Polynesians sailing from other Pacific islands between A.D. 300 and 600, Hawaii was visited in 1778 by British captain James Cook, who called the group the Sandwich Islands. This name lasted until King Kamehameha I united the islands under his rule as the “Kingdom of Hawai’i.”

The name for the islands collectively derive, obviously, from the name of the largest island. Properly spelled Hawai’i, a common Hawaiian explanation is that it was named for Hawai’iloa, a legendary figure from Hawaiian myth who tradition holds discovered the islands. Additionally, the Hawaiian language word for “homeland” is owhyhee, which is very similar to the Polynesian word for “homeland” Sawaiki.

South Dakota

Abbreviation — SD
Capital — Pierre
Statehood — November 2, 1889
State Motto — “Under God the people rule”
State Nicknames — Coyote State, Mt. Rushmore State

State Bird — Ringneck Pheasant
State Flower — Pasque Flower


  • Mount Rushmore has the faces of four famous US presidents carved into the solid rock, each some 60 feet tall. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Located in Pennington County, the memorial carved by sculptor Gutzon Borglum began in 1927 and opened on October 31, 1941.
  • Jewel Cave in Custer County is the second largest cave system in the United States, and third largest in the world.
  • Lead is home to The Homestake Mine, which at over 8000 feet deep is the largest gold mine in the US and one of the biggest in the world. It opened in 1876, making it the oldest continually operating gold mine in the world. It produces about 15% of the nation’s gold and still has huge reserves.
  • The Badlands of South Dakota, a region of barren ravines and cliffs, are known as “the playground” of the dinosaur due to the wealth of fossilized bones.
  • The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is the home of 300 wild mustangs, where they run free on several thousand scenic acres. The Standing Butte Ranch near Pierre is home for the largest buffalo herd in the country.

FAMOUS SOUTH DAKOTANS: Crazy Horse (Oglala Chief) – Sitting Bull (Hunkpappa Sioux Chief) – Tom Brokaw (news anchor).


Arikara people lived in South Dakota during the 1500s. Throughout the early 1700s, Sioux and Cheyenne moved into the area, but by the 1800s the Sioux had forced all other Native Indian tribes out of the territory.

Exploration of the now-Dakotas began in 1743 by French explorers Louis-Joseph and François Verendrye who were in search of a route to the Pacific. The US acquired the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Fort Pierre, the first permanent settlement, was established in 1817, but settlement of South Dakota did not begin in earnest until the arrival of the railroad in 1873 and the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874. The Dakota Territory was divided into South and North when each became States of the Union on November 2, 1889.

Dakota is the Sioux word for “friend” or “ally.” The Sioux who lived in the territory called themselves Dakota, or Lakota, hence the name of the state in honor of the indigenous peoples.

Those are the five for this week’s blog.
Be sure to read the previous blog,
and also be sure to return next Wednesday
for five more States of the Union!



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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cindie snyder

Lots to learn about my home state! Glad we have the chocolate in Hershey!lol


I’m loving this series, fascinating, especially to a non American who is definitely not a geography expert!!!! Thank you.

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