35 Strange But True Facts About America

Much of what our country has achieved and experienced has gone down in history. But not even dedicated historians have managed to document all the secrets the United States has amassed in almost 250 years. Click through for a list of surprising American historical events, cultural traditions, and trends that you may never have read in a book or heard in a classroom.

  1. The True Heft of a Flag

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    The True Heft of a Flag

    Betsy Ross got the credit for designing the original 13-star version of the American flag, but the current flag was designed by Bob Heft, a plucky 17-year-old who dreamed up the 50-star flag in 1958 for a history project. Although Heft's teacher originally awarded the banner a B-minus, the grade was raised to an A after Heft successfully lobbied the White House to adopt the design as the official U.S. flag.

    Related: 9 Mistakes You Should Never Make with the American Flag

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  2. Going to Great Lengths

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    Going to Great Lengths

    The moniker "the Great Lakes" isn't an exaggeration. Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario make up 21 percent of the planet's surface fresh water. The largest of these, Lake Superior, contains enough water to cover all of North and South America in a foot of the wet stuff.

    Related: 35 Lake Towns for a Weekend Adventure

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  3. High Court Hoops

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    High Court Hoops

    Who said the Supreme Court was the highest court in the land? That honor actually belongs to a basketball court in the upstairs gym of the Supreme Court Building. While the court, appropriately nicknamed "The Highest Court in the Land," isn't open to the public, Justice Byron White (who played college football, basketball, and baseball) and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist are but a few of the distinguished players who have shot hoops on the court.

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  4. Postponed Patriotism

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    Postponed Patriotism

    Americans grill and chill every Fourth of July to celebrate the United States' independence from the British. But if you want to be authentic, you may want to hold your Independence Day party two days earlier next year: The Continental Congress actually voted to declare the nation's sovereignty from the British on July 2, 1776.

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  5. Pilgrim Progeny

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    Pilgrim Progeny

    Thanksgiving has always been a family affair, and it turns out that many of America's families have been celebrating this turkey-filled tradition for a long, long time. More than 10 million Americans are reportedly descendants of the 102 Pilgrims who survived the voyage of the Mayflower to the New World in 1620 and partook of the first Thanksgiving feast with the Wampanoag people in 1621. 

    Related: 13 Homes from the Original Colonies that Still Stand Today

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  6. Presidential Perils

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    Presidential Perils

    Aside from free rent and fancy dinners with foreign leaders, being president comes with an occupational hazard that should give future applicants pause. Four out of 45 presidents—or 9 percent—have been assassinated, making CEO of the country statistically the most deadly occupation in America.

    Related: 21 Crazy But True Facts About the White House

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  7. Senior Streams

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    Senior Streams

    Three out of five of the oldest rivers in the world snake through these 50 states. The New, Susquehanna, and French Broad rivers are thought to be between 265 and 325 million years old.

    Related: 15 Places Every American Should Visit at Least Once

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  8. A Lot of Alaska

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    A Lot of Alaska

    Alaska may have been the penultimate state to join the Union, but it boasts a coastline that's longer than the coastline of the other 49 states combined. In terms of landmass, "The Last Frontier," as Alaska is known, is 429 times larger than America's smallest state, Rhode Island.

    Related: 20 American Treasures to See Now—Before They Disappear

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  9. Pigskin Pays

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    Pigskin Pays

    Americans prize their pigskin so much that college football coaches are the highest-paid public employees in more than half of all 50 states. The three highest-paid college football coaches together raked in more than $21.9 million in earnings in 2016.

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  10. New York in Numbers

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    New York in Numbers

    It's no wonder you can never snag a table at Grand Central Market. The number of people living in the Big Apple is greater than the population of 38 states. And every square mile of New York City squeezes in over 27,000 people.

    Related: Extreme Urban Makeovers: 15 Cities That Are Nothing Like They Used To Be

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  11. Gong Goof

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    Gong Goof

    The famed crack in the Liberty Bell isn't its only flaw. Eagle-eyed visitors to the Liberty Bell Center will note that Pennsylvania, the icon's home since it was cast in 1752, is misspelled on the bell as "Pensylvania." Historians of orthography, however, will retort that the spelling was an acceptable variant in the 18th century.

    Related: From Bridges to Stadiums: 13 U.S. Icons That Are Falling Apart

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  12. Distinguished Dam

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    Distinguished Dam

    Not simply one of the world's foremost tourist attractions, the Hoover Dam also competes with the Seven Wonders of the World in scale. The dam is greater in volume than the Great Pyramid of Giza but required one-twentieth of the manpower to construct. It holds enough concrete to construct a two-lane highway running from San Francisco to New York City.

    Related: These Are the Places with the Best Weather in America

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  13. Wheat Wonder

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    Wheat Wonder

    First planted on American soil as a hobby crop in 1777, wheat is now grown in 42 states. True to its moniker of "The Wheat State," Kansas grows enough wheat each year to feed all 7.6 billion people in the world for a fortnight!

    Related: Our 12 Favorite Farmhouses Across America

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  14. Confidential Code

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    Confidential Code

    The United States has 42,000 ZIP codes, and you can look up all but one: the president's secret ZIP code. The U.S. Postal Service issues a new personal ZIP code to each incoming president to help manage the large volume of correspondence that the first family receives. The special code ensures that important and personal mail reaches the president and his family. 

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  15. Ample Accommodations

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    Ample Accommodations

    If you need a place to hit the hay for a night in Nevada, you'll hit the jackpot in Las Vegas. The City of Lights is home to more than 151,000 hotel rooms; crashing in a different room every night would keep you busy for around 413 years.

    Related: The 18 Most Infamous Hotels in America

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  16. Cavernous Crater

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    Cavernous Crater

    Crater Lake in Oregon has the distinction of being the deepest in the country and the second-deepest on the continent. The lake is deep enough to submerge six Statues of Liberty stacked end to end!

    Related: 10 National Parks That Look More Stunning in the Snow

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  17. Endless Reads

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    Endless Reads

    Since its opening in 1800, the Library of Congress has grown from a respectable 6,487 books to a bookworm's dream collection of over 16 million books. The library boasts 838 miles of bookshelves in total—more than enough to span the distance from Houston to Chicago.

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  18. The West Coast's Wallet

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    The West Coast's Wallet

    California's latest GDP of around $2.7 trillion surpasses that of the entire United Kingdom. This means that if the Golden State were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world.

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  19. Another Day, Another Dollar

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    Another Day, Another Dollar

    Famed songwriter Ray Henderson might have gotten it wrong when he wrote his 1927 hit "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Watching the sunrise from Haleakalā National Park in Maui is such a popular bucket list item for travelers to Hawaii that it comes with a price tag of $1.50 per car.

    Related: The Very Best Campgrounds from Coast to Coast

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  20. A Penchant for Pizza

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    A Penchant for Pizza

    Up there with baseball and apple pie, one of America's most popular pastimes is polishing off a pizza. The equivalent of one hundred acres of the cheesy pies is eaten every day in the United States.

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  21. The Dark Side of D.C.

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    The Dark Side of D.C.

    Over its relatively short history, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., has hosted distinguished bishops, presidents, and, since the 1980s, a gargoyle in the image of Darth Vader. The imposing addition, inspired by a drawing from a Star Wars-loving child artist, can be spotted via binoculars on a gablet below a pinnacle on the northwest tower of the cathedral.

    Wikimedia Commons via Cyraxote

  22. Symbolic Species

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    Symbolic Species

    The legislatures of many states have adopted animals as state symbols. In some instances, these animals have since been dispelled from their natural habitats or hunted to the point of near (or actual) extinction. For example, the iconic California grizzly that graces that state's flag is now extinct. Grizzlies haven't been spotted in California—outside of zoos, that is—since the 1920s.

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  23. Next Stop: Santa Claus

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    Next Stop: Santa Claus

    The story of Santa Claus has its roots in Myra, an ancient town located in what is now modern-day Turkey. But in the 18th century, the story of Santa so ignited the imaginations of Americans that it inspired the name of three towns. Today you'll find a Santa Claus in Indiana, Arizona, and Georgia.

    Related: Weird or Wonderful? 22 Homes That Are Anything But Ordinary

    Wikimedia Commons via Sarah Afshar

  24. The Cost of Coins

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    The Cost of Coins

    It takes a pretty penny for the U.S. government to mint a one-cent coin. In fact, it comes to 1.8 cents per penny—or nearly twice its face value. And while nickels are worth half as much as dimes, they cost about twice as much to make—9.4 cents versus 4.6 cents.

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  25. Aerial Abundance

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    Aerial Abundance

    Although roughly 9,800 pairs of nesting bald eagles call the skies above our 50 states their home, if you spot a graceful pair of wings above, they probably belong to something entirely different. At any given moment, five thousand commercial airplanes are flying over the United States. 

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  26. Croc Commune

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    Croc Commune

    Crocodiles and alligators both belong to the reptile order Crocodilia, but you won't find them fraternizing in most parts of the world. In fact, South Florida is the only place on the planet where the two ravenous reptile species coexist.

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  27. Astronomical Autograph

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    Astronomical Autograph

    The signatures on the Declaration of Independence certainly made a bigger impact on American history, but physically, the biggest signature in the country is the John Hancock of farmer Jimmie Luecke. The two-and-a-half-mile-long insignia across Luecke's farmland in Smithville, Texas, is so enormous that you can spot it from space.

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  28. Pint-Size Park

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    Pint-Size Park

    While Phoenix hosts the largest municipal park in the country (16,283-acre South Mountain Park), the title of tiniest city park belongs to Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon. Only watchful eyes will notice the diminutive two-foot-wide patch of green on Naito Parkway in Downtown Portland, planted in the 1940s by Oregon Journal columnist Dick Fagan.

    Related: 20 Weird and Wacky Destinations for a Family Road Trip

    Wikimedia Commons via EncMstr

  29. Hundreds in Hiding

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    Hundreds in Hiding

    The $100 bill, which dates back to the 1860s, has traveled far and wide during its lifetime. Benjamins are exported in such high quantities that only one-third of all available $100 bills are physically in the United States.

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  30. Burger Boss

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    Burger Boss

    Cheap cheeseburgers aren't the only reason that the famed golden arches of McDonald's have become a cornerstone of Americana. One out of eight Americans have been employed by the fast-food giant at some point.

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  31. Language Limbo

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    Language Limbo

    While both English and French are the official language of Canada, America has never declared a national language. English is the most commonly spoken language in the country, with 237.8 million speakers, followed by Spanish, with 40.8 million speakers.

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  32. The Birthplace of America

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    The Birthplace of America

    Chalk it up to coincidence, or perhaps even to fate, but more American presidents were born in Virginia, our capital's southern neighbor, than in any other state. Eight heads of state got their start in Virginia, aptly nicknamed "Mother of Presidents."

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  33. Singular Spirits

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    Singular Spirits

    Little do most Bourbon buffs know that the amber libation is also America's only native spirit. Congress designated bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States in 1964 in an effort to thwart competitors abroad from re-creating it. Today, Kentucky, the birthplace of the brew, is home to over 2 million more bourbon barrels than people and supplies more than 95 percent of the world's bourbon.

    Related: 10 "Sober" Alternative Uses for Alcohol at Home

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  34. Candy Barred

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    Candy Barred

    There's no food or drink permitted on the Senate floor, which means that the candy-filled desk that sits near the entrance to the chamber on the Republican side is off limits. California Senator George Murphy established the tempting tradition in 1964, but former Illinois Senator Mark Kirk most recently occupied the desk and maintained its drawer of delights.

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  35. Flag Fail

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    Flag Fail

    The stars-and-stripes-laden shirts, swimsuits, and hats that many wear on the Fourth of July technically break the U.S. Flag Code, which states that "no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform." That said, the code doesn't prescribe penalties for the act of flag misuse—it leaves that up to state governments and the federal government for offenses in the District of Columbia—so Uncle Sam probably won't pursue these fashion faux pas.

    Related: The 50 Strangest Laws in America

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  36. See the House of the Week

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    Discover and admire beautiful and innovative home architecture, from grand Victorians to quaint cabins and all the styles in between. Take a look at the latest images and inspiration!