States of the Union #4

States of the Union #4

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 blogs are below.

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

States of the Union #2 — California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and South Dakota

States of the Union #3 — Arizona, Maine, Vermont, Oregon, and Iowa


Abbreviation — ID
Capital — Boise
Statehood — July 3, 1890
State Motto — “It is forever”
State Nickname — Gem State
State Bird — Mountain Bluebird
State Flower — Syringa


  • Hell’s Canyon is the deepest gorge in America at 7,993 feet. Yes, deeper than the Grand Canyon!
  • Idaho is called the “Gem State” because 72 different precious and semi-precious gemstones are found in the state, nearly every known type of gemstone. For instance, the star garnet can only be found in significant quantities in Idaho and India.
  • Shoshone Falls, at 212 feet high and thus 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls, is called the “Niagara of the West”.
  • Idaho is the leading producer of potatoes in the nation, growing approximately 27 billion each year.
  • The town of Arco became the first community in the world electrified by nuclear power when a local plant began production in 1951.
  • Sun Valley is recognized as the home of America’s first destination ski resort. Additionally, the world’s first alpine skiing chairlift was located in Sun Valley, built by Union Pacific Railroad engineers. Designed after a banana-boat loading device, the 1936 installed ski chairlift has since been retired but operated for decades.

FAMOUS IDAHOANS: Ernest Hemingway (author) – Nez Perce Chief Joseph – Sacagawea (Shoshone guide for explorers Lewis and Clark) – Joseph Albertson (founder of Albertson’s grocery stores) – Lana Turner (actress).


Portions of what is currently Idaho were acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored parts of present-day Idaho during their Oregon Trail expedition. In 1809, the British opened the first trading post in Idaho. An agreement with Great Britain in 1846 secured the Oregon territory, including Idaho, as a US possession. Mormons established the first permanent settlement, Franklin, in 1860.

Contrary to some claims, Idaho was not derived from an Indian word. In fact, the name Idaho is completely fabricated! In 1860, when the now-State of Colorado was being established and needed a name, mining lobbyist George M. Willing suggested “Idaho” to Congress, claiming it was a Shoshone word meaning “Gem of the Mountains.” Apparently Congress strongly considered the name, even agreed tentatively, but then discovered that “Idaho” was not actually a Native American word! Whether Willing was straight up lying or merely misinformed is unknown. In any case, Congress axed the name and Colorado, a Spanish word, won out.

Fast forward three years, when a name was needed for another new State, the US Congress decided to use the previously contemplated Idaho. Most people had forgotten the prior mix-up, if they knew at all, but for this reason some sources still claim the “Indian” origin of Idaho.


Abbreviation — CT
Capital — Hartford
Statehood — January 9, 1788
State Motto — “He who transplanted still sustains”
State Nickname — Constitution State
State Bird — American Robin
State Flower — Mountain Laurel


  • Home of the United States Coast Guard Academy.
  • The first telephone book was published in New Haven on February 21, 1878. It consisted of a single piece of cardboard and included 50 names.
  • The Hartford Courant started publication as a weekly newspaper on October 29, 1764, and as such is the oldest newspaper still being published.
  • Inventor Eli Whitney began manufacturing his cotton gins, which revolutionized the economy of the South, at New Haven in 1793.
  • The first automobile law passed in the US was in Connecticut on May 21, 1901. The law established the speed limit at 12 miles per hour in cities and 15 miles per hour on country roads.
  • In 1898 the first car insurance in America was issued at Hartford. To this day, Hartford has the highest concentration of jobs in the insurance industry, and is nicknamed the “Insurance Capitol of the World.”
  • Connecticut played a prominent role in the Revolutionary War, serving as the Continental Army’s major supplier. Sometimes called the “Arsenal of the Nation,” the state became one of the most industrialized in the nation.

FAMOUS CONNECTICUTERS: Ethan Allan and Nathan Hale (American Revolutionary heroes) – Benedict Arnold (Revolution General and Traitor) – P.T. Barnum (Barnum and Bailey Circus co-founder) – Charles Goodyear (creator of vulcanized rubber) – Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain (authors) – Noah Webster (lexicographer) – President George W. Bush – Katherine Hepburn, Meg Ryan (actors).


Dutchman Adriaen Block was the first to explore the Connecticut Valley in 1614. In 1633, English colonists came from Massachusetts to settle Windsor, the first permanent settlement in Connecticut. Together with settlements in Wethersfield and Hartford they united to form the Connecticut Colony in 1636.

Connecticut as a state name came after the 410 mile long River Connecticut was named. The largest river in New England was thus named from quonehtacut, a Native American Algonquian (Mohegan) word meaning “long tidal river.”


Abbreviation — OH
Capital — Columbus
Statehood — March 1, 1803
State Motto — “With God all things are possible”
State Nickname — Buckeye State
State Bird — Cardinal
State Flower — Scarlet Carnation


  • Ohio is nicknamed the Buckeye State because of the buckeye trees (the State Tree) found in abundance throughout the Ohio River Valley.
  • Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton.
  • The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team in 1869.
  • In 1879, Cleveland became the first city to be lighted by electricity.
  • The first full time automobile service station was opened in 1899 in Ohio.
  • Founded in 1833, Oberlin College was the first interracial and coeducational college in the US.
  • Charles Goodyear (born in Connecticut) developed the process of vulcanizing rubber in Akron, Ohio, in 1839.
  • The first ever issued speeding ticket was written by a policeman in Dayton. In 1904, Harry Myers was cited for driving a whooping 12-miles-per-hour!
  • Ohio is known as the “Modern Mother of Presidents” having sent eight native sons to the White House. Seven of them were Republicans.

FAMOUS OHIOANS: US Presidents James A. Garfield, Ulysses Grant, Warren G. Harding, Rutherford Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and William H. Taft – General George Armstrong Custer (Calvary officer) – Thomas Edison (inventor) – Orville and Wilbur Wright (airplane inventors) – Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Jim Lovell (astronauts) – Paul Newman, Clark Gable, Roy Rogers, Doris Day, Halle Berry (actors) – Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh – Jack Nicklaus (golfer) – Dean Martin (singer) – Annie Oakley (sharp shooter).


European explorers first arrived in Ohio in the late 1600s. Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier explored the Ohio region in 1670 and is believed to be the first white man to visit the area. In 1750, the Ohio Company of Virginia sent Christopher Gist to explore Ohio in preparation for the settlement of British colonists. Founded in 1788 by General Rufus Putnam and named in honor of then Queen of France Marie Antonette, Marietta was Ohio’s first permanent settlement.

Similar to Connecticut, Ohio the state name came after the Ohio River was given its name. Ohio was named thus for the Iroquois word ohi-yo, meaning “great river.”

New Mexico

Abbreviation — NM
Capital — Santa Fe
Statehood — February 14, 1912
State Motto — “It grows as it goes”
State Nickname — Land of Enchantment
State Bird — Roadrunner
State Flower — Yucca


  • At 7,198 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is the highest capital city in the US. Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is also the oldest capital city.
  • The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe is the oldest government building in the nation. The Spanish built it as part of a fortress during the winter of 1609-1610.
  • “Land of Enchantment” was first applied to New Mexico in a book about the state by Lillian Whiting in 1906.
  • White Sands National Monument is a desert, but consists not of sand but of gleaming white gypsum crystals.
  • The world’s first Atomic Bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945 on the White Sands Testing Range near Alamogordo.
  • New Mexico is one of the states that form the Four Corners, the only location in the United States where four states intersect at a single point. The other three states are Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.
  • Micro-Soft was founded on April 4, 1975 by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque.
  • Albuquerque hosts the world’s largest international hot air balloon fiesta every October. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 9-day festival. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
  • The Santo Domingo Mission between Albuquerque and Santa Fe was built fifteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.
  • Smokey the Bear, the symbol of National Fire Safety for the Forest Department, was rescued in 1950. The little bear cub was found trapped in a tree in Lincoln National Forest after his home was destroyed by fire.
  • The largest Native American Group, the Navajo, have a New Mexico reservation covering 14 million acres. Many Navajo fought in World War II, and their unique language is so complex that it was used to send coded messages to the allies.
  • Roswell is home to the most famous UFO sightings.

FAMOUS NEW MEXICANS: William “Billy the Kid” Bonney (outlaw) – Kit Carson (army scout) – Glen Campbell, John Denver (singers) – Georgia O’Keeffe (artist).


Present-day New Mexico was inhabited by Native American tribes for thousands of years before Spanish explorers entered the area, claiming the territory for Spain in 1539. Settlers migrated north from Mexico, particularly missionaries building missions and spreading Christianity and European culture amongst the indigenous peoples. Uprisings occurred, specifically in 1680 when Indians drove most Spaniards back into Mexico. However, in 1692, Spain again recaptured the New Mexico territory. Not until 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, did New Mexico fall under Mexican control.

That same year, US traders opened the Santa Fe Trail, opening the region to American settlers. In 1848, the US won the Mexican War, acquiring New Mexico as a US territory.

Not surprisingly, the name New Mexico (Nuevo Mexico) was given by the Spanish for all lands north of the Rio Grande. The word Mexico is a derivation of Mexitli, an Aztec war god, and means “place where Mexitli lives.”

Rhode Island

Abbreviation — RI
Capital — Providence
Statehood — May 29, 1790
State Motto — “Hope”
State Nickname — The Ocean State
State Bird — Rhode Island Red Hen
State Flower — Violet


  • Rhode Island is the smallest US state geographically. Hence, not shockingly, every Rhode Island resident lives within 30 miles from the water, and this fact is why the nickname “The Ocean State.”
  • Rhode Island was the first of the original 13 Colonies to declare independence from Great Britain (in May of 1776) but the last colony to become a state.
  • Rhode Island made the first law that prohibited slavery in 1652. However, slavery continued to be an essential part of the economy for the primarily farming territory with large plantations. The prohibition of importing slaves was passed in 1774, Rhode Island colony the first to do so.
  • Rhode Islanders were the first to take military action against England by sinking one of her ships in the Narragansett Bay located between Newport and Providence.
  • The first circus held in the US was in Newport in 1774.
  • Portsmouth has the oldest schoolhouse in the US, built in 1716.

FAMOUS RHODE ISLANDERS: George Cohan (composer) – Anthony Quinn, James Woods (actors).


In 1524 the Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazano, while sailing for France, was the first European to explore Rhode Island. One possible origin of the state’s name is that Verrazano thought one of the islands near the mouth of Narragansett Bay resembled Island Rhode located off the coast of Greece. In a letter to France dated July 8, 1524, Verrazzano wrote: “discovered an Ilande in the form of a triangle, distant from the maine lande 3 leagues, about the bignesse of the Ilande of the Rodes.”

The official origin is that in 1625 Dutch explorer Adriaen Block named Aquidneck Island (the largest island in Narragansett Bay) “een rodlich Eylande” meaning “an island of reddish appearance” due to the red clay that lined the shore. It is an interesting debate based, it seems, over a technicality. Although Verrazano did write the name “isola di Rhode” nearly one hundred years before Block, he didn’t actually name the area or even clearly identify which of the many islands in Narragansett Bay he was referring to. Thus, credit is given to Block.

In 1636, Baptist minister Roger Williams left (after being banned) the Puritan controlled Massachusetts. Determined to establish a settlement with a policy of complete religious and political freedom, Williams purchased land from the Indians and founded Providence, the first permanent white settlement in the territory. He is considered the founder of Rhode Island and established the First Baptist Church in America in 1638. Unfortunately, not all Indian tribes were as tolerant as those who sold to Williams. In 1662, a war erupted between white settlers and the Wampanoag tribe, lasting until 1676. These troubles aside, Roger Williams’ principles of absolute freedom of religion, speech, and public assembly (deemed “extreme views” by the British and Puritans) were publicly acknowledged by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as the originating concepts reflected in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Also of note, Roger Williams was the first to officially refer to the area in a 1644 English written text: “Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Isle of Rods or Rhod-Island.”

On July 15, 1663, English King Charles II granted a Royal Charter to the colony, “by the name of The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations.”  Eventually the name of the region was colloquially shortened to just Rhode Island despite the bulk of the state not being an island at all.

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



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I’m loving these posts! So much fascinating information. When I was 12 I had 2 pen friends, one from Sweden and the other from Cleveland Ohio!

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