States of the Union #6

States of the Union #6

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

States of the Union #4 — Idaho, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Ohio

States of the Union #5 — Delaware, North Dakota, New York, South Carolina, and Michigan


Abbreviation — AL
Capital — Montgomery
Statehood — December 14, 1819
State Motto — “We dare defend our rights”
State Nickname — Heart of Dixie, Yellowhammer State
State Bird — Yellowhammer
State Flower — Camelia


  • The Confederacy was founded at Montgomery in February of 1861, and, for a time, the city was the Confederate capital. The Heart of Dixie nickname is an homage to Alabama’s importance to the Confederacy.
  • Yellowhammer State, one of Alabama’s nicknames, derives from a valiant company of Confederate cavalry soldiers who wore bits of brilliant yellow cloth tied to their old, worn uniforms. “Yellowhammer” began as a shouted greeting to the one company, but soon spread as a term for the entire Alabama Confederate Army.
  • The first city on the American continent to celebrate Mardi Gras was Mobile… in 1703, fifteen-years before New Orleans!
  • Alabama was the first US state to declare Christmas a legal holiday. The year was 1836.
  • The world’s first electric trolley system was introduced in Montgomery in 1886.
  • Space Camp and the world’s biggest space museum are located in Huntsville. Known as “The Rocket City,” Huntsville is also home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where many of the rockets which put humans on the moon were made.
  • In Birmingham there is the world’s largest cast iron statue: The Vulcan. Made of 100,000 pounds of iron, the Vulcan stands 56 feet tall.
  • The first 911 call in the US was made from Haleyville on February 16, 1968.

FAMOUS ALABAMIANS: Hank Williams, Nat King Cole (singer) – Helen Keller – Willie Mays, Hank Aaron (baseball) – Joe Louis (boxer) – Jesse Owens (Olympic track and filed medalist) – Rosa Parks (Civil Rights activist) – Booker T. Washington (educator, activist) – Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy).


Spanish explorers arrived at Mobile Bay in 1519. In 1540, the territory was visited by explorer Hernando de Soto, however, not until 1702 was the first permanent European settlement in Alabama founded, that being Fort Louis de la Mobile established by the French. The British gained control of the area in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, but had to cede almost all the Alabama region to the US after the American Revolution.

As for the name Alabama, while certainly of Native American origin, there is debate over the precise tribe or word root. One popular theory links two words in the Choctaw language —alba and amo — which when fused together translate to “vegetation gatherer” and was applied to certain native Indians in the region. Amongst other less certain origins, a leading contender is from a tribe of the Creek Confederacy called the Alabamas or Alibamons, from whom possibly came the name of the Alabama River, as they lived on the upper reaches of the river.

Alabama for the general territory was first recorded in three separate accounts by Hernando de Soto during his 1540 expedition. Subsequent explorers recorded slight variations in the spelling —Alibamu, Alabamo, Albama, Alebamon, Alibama, Alibamou, Alabamu, Allibamou— but all are clearly the same root word. By 1702, the French called the Creek tribe Alibamon and established the name of the Alabama River, albeit with the French twist Rivière des Alibamons.


Abbreviation — WA
Capital — Olympia
Statehood — November 11, 1889
State Motto — “By and by”
State Nickname — Evergreen State
State Bird — Willow Goldfinch
State Flower — Coast Rhododendron


  • Washington is the largest producer of apples in the US.
  • The nickname Evergreen State was given by Seattle pioneer and historian C.T. Conover for the abundance of its evergreen forests.
  • The only rainforest located in the continental US is on the Olympic Peninsula, one of the rainiest places in the world.
  • Starbucks, the world’s largest coffeehouse chain, was founded in Seattle in 1971. The original Starbuck’s cafe is open to this day, located near the waterfront in Pike Place Market.
  • The world’s largest building by volume is the Boeing assembly plant in Everett. It covers 4.3 million square feet and encompasses 472 million cubic feet of space.
  • Harbor Island located in the mouth of Duwamish Waterway in Seattle is the largest man-made island in the US.
  • Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. It remains the deadliest volcano eruption in US recorded history. 57 people died, 4 billion feet of timber was destroyed, 1,131 feet of the mountain was lost, debris and ash amounting to some one-cubic-mile covered the entire northwest region of the US, and billions of dollars in damages resulted from the blast. Currently quiet, Mount St. Helens is still an active volcano.
  • Seattle boasts the largest houseboat population east of the Orient.
  • Puget Sound has 786 islands, which are serviced by the largest fleet of ferries in the US.

FAMOUS WASHINGTONIANS: Ray Charles, Kenny Loggins, Kurt Cobain (singers) – Bing Crosby (singer, actor) – Bill Gates (Microsoft founder) – Jimi Hendrix (rock singer and guitarist) – Gary Larson (“The Far Side” cartoonist) – Adam West (actor) – Bob Barker (game show host) – John Elway (football).


As part of the vast Oregon Country, Washington territory was visited by numerous Spanish, American, and British explorers before Lewis and Clark explored the region for the US in 1805. The entire area was contested between Britain and the US, armed conflict narrowly avoided with the 1846 Oregon Treaty. That year the first Washington settlement was established: New Market (now known as Tumwater).

This is one state name with no debates or mysteries to the origin. It was named to honor the first president of the United States, George Washington. Residents favored naming the state Columbia, but Congress decided on Washington. It is the only state named for a US president.


Abbreviation — NE
Capital — Lincoln
Statehood — March 1, 1867
State Motto — “Equality before the law”
State Nickname — Cornhusker State
State Bird — Western Meadowlark
State Flower — Goldenrod


  • Nebraska is the only US state with a unicameral legislature, meaning a single legislative chamber, as opposed to the standard bicameral with a House of Representatives and a Senate.
  • The nickname Cornhusker State refers to the way corn (a leading product of the state) was most commonly harvested —husking by hand— before the invention of husking machinery.
  • Nebraska has more miles of river than any other state.
  • Arbor Day was started in Nebraska City in 1872 by Sterling Morton to encourage the planting of trees. At that first event on April 10, 1872 an estimated one-million trees were planted in Nebraska.
  • Kool-Aid was invented in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in Hastings.
  • Nebraska has more underground water reserves than any other state in the continental US. The Ogalala aquifer is the largest.
  • Since 1950, Omaha has been home of the College World Series.
  • Boys Town was founded by Father Edward J. Flanagan in 1917, a safe haven for orphaned boys. Today the organization, still headquartered at Boys Town in Nebraska, provides for abused and orphaned boys and girls, and also for families in need.
  • The transcontinental railroad built by the Union Pacific began at Omaha in 1865.

FAMOUS NEBRASKANS: President Gerald Ford – William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (wild west showman) – Johnny Carson (TV host) – Fred Astaire (dancer, actor) – Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda (actors) – Nicholas Sparks (author) – Malcolm X (civil rights activist).


French fur traders first visited Nebraska in the late 1600s. Eastern Nebraska was acquired in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and the first permanent white settlement was established at Bellevue in 1823. Western Nebraska was acquired by treaty after the Mexican War in 1848.

The name Nebraska comes from the Otoe Indian word nebrathka —meaning “flat water” —referring to the Platte River, which flows east-west through the entire state.


Abbreviation — MN
Capital — St. Paul
Statehood — May 11, 1858
State Motto — “The North Star”
State Nickname — North Star State, Land of 10,000 Lakes
State Bird — Common Loon
State Flower — Lady’s Slipper


  • The nickname North Star State is from the French phrase L’Étoile du Nord translated precisely as “The Star of the North.” The motto was chosen by the first Minnesotan governor, Henry Sibley, and adopted in 1861 as Minnesota is the northernmost state in the contiguous US. The motto is the only state motto in French.
  • The Mall of America in Minneapolis suburb Bloomington, at 9.5 million square feet, was once the largest mall in the world. While since supplanted by the mall in Dubai and a couple others, it is still one of the biggest malls in the world and remains the largest mall in the US.
  • The Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester.
  • Tonka trucks were invented and are still manufactured in Minnetonka. Minnesota is also home to Green Giant vegetables and Greyhound Lines (the first bus line in the US).
  • There are so many lakes in Minnesota (hence the Land of 10,000 Lakes nickname) that one out of six Minnesotans own a boat. According to legend, all of those lakes were made by the footprints of Paul Bunyan’s giant ox, Babe. To be precise, there are 11,842 lakes in Minnesota.
  • The first Target store opened in Roseville on May 1, 1962.

FAMOUS MINNESOTANS: F. Scott Fitzgerald (author) – Bob Dylan, Prince (singer, songwriter) – Charles Schultz (“Peanuts” cartoonist) – Judy Garland (singer, actress) – Jessica Lange (actress).


Minnesota was discovered by French explorers and trappers, France claiming the territory in 1679. Portions now comprising eastern Minnesota were acquired from Britain after the Revolutionary War, and the western portion was purchased from France in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

The name Minnesota comes from the Native American Dakota Sioux word mni sota, meaning “water that reflects the sky” or “sky-tinted water” or simply “clear blue water.”


Abbreviation — UT
Capital — Salt Lake City
Statehood — January 4, 1896
State Motto — “Industry”
State Nickname — Beehive State
State Bird — California Gull
State Flower — Sega Lily


  • The Great Salt Lake is the largest lake west of the Mississippi River. As the name implies, the lake is salty, in fact the salt content is up to seven times more than the ocean.
  • The Mormons settled in Utah in 1847, the first to permanently settle in the territory. The nickname Beehive State comes from a Mormon symbol for industry, thrift, and perseverance. Approximately 62% of Utah residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
  • Utah is one of the Four Corner states —along with Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico— the only location in the United States where four states intersect at a single point.
  • As noted previously, the Union Pacific First Transcontinental Railroad was begun at Omaha in Nebraska in 1865, and was completed at Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869. It was a major event billed as the “Wedding of the Rails” as it saw the joining of the Union Pacific Railroad with the central Pacific Railroad.
  • The average snowfall in the mountains near Salt Lake City is 500 inches. Not surprisingly, there are 14 alpine ski resorts operating in Utah.

FAMOUS UTAHANS: Butch Cassidy (outlaw) – John Moses Browning (gunsmith) – Willard Marriott (hotel chain founder) – Donny & Marie Osmond (entertainers) – Brigham Young (religious leader) – James Woods, Loretta Young (actors) – Roseanne Barr (comedian) – Steve Young (football).


The Utah region was first explored for Spain by Franciscan friars Escalante and Dominguez in 1776. In 1821, Mexico gained independence of Spain and took control of Utah. American frontiersman Jim Bridger discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824. As noted above, Mormons were the first to settle in the area, and at the end of the Mexican War in 1848, Utah came under US control.

There are two theories on the origination of the state name Utah. The prevailing theory is that it originates from the Native American Ute tribe, the name meaning “people of the mountains.” Questions arise because the Utes refer to themselves as Noochee, although the similarity between Ute and Utah is difficult to ignore! The second theory is from an Apache word yuttahih, meaning “higher up; those that are higher up.” In Spanish, yuttahih is pronounced “Yuta,” which is also quite similar to Utah. In any case, the state name Utah is inarguably of Native American origin.

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



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I’m so glad you have the state map at the top of these posts as part of my enjoyment is finding the featured states. Now if I could just remember where they are!

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