The Quick 10: 10 Extreme Points in the United States


We're working on planning our annual Halloween trip to Disney, but we're thinking about veering a little bit off of our usual trip this year to spend a couple of days in Key West. I was researching the city when I discovered that it's the southernmost point in the United States ... or is it?! See #7 for that little debate. Anyway, it made me wonder what other far-flung spots lie in the U.S., and here is the answer:

1. Point Barrow, Alaska - Northernmost Point in the U.S. Named for geographer Sir John Barrow, Point Barrow is often the starting point for Arctic expeditions. Sadly, it was also the ending point for entertainer Will Rogers and his pilot in 1935. Their airplane crashed near there on their way from Fairbanks. Point Barrow was also the test point for sounding rockets between 1965 and 1972.

2. Ka Lae, Hawaii - Southernmost Point in the 50 states. It's also known, fittingly, as South Point. But it might as well be known as Hawaii's Windy City, because this place is blustery. Some of the trees have been blown sideways for so long that they just grow that way now.

3. Peacock Point, Wake Island - First sunrise in all U.S. territories. It's actually an entire day ahead of the 50 states, so of course it has the first sunrise.

4. Cape Wrangell, Attu Island, Alaska - Last sunset in all U.S. territories. Attu Island is special for a few reasons. There's the last sunset thing, obviously, but it's also the westernmost point on all land on earth according to the path of the International Date Line. Finally, it was the site of the only battle during WWII to take place on American soil - that's the peace memorial there in the picture.

5. Mount Whitney, California - Highest elevation in the 48 contiguous states. You might think the highest elevation would be somewhere in Colorado, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the highest elevation is just 76 miles from the lowest elevation ...

6. Badwater Basin, Death Valley, California - Lowest elevation in all U.S. territories. Yep, California has it all. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is actually the lowest point in all of North America, not just the U.S. You can't actually get to the lowest point because it's so hazardous to get there, so the sign commemorating the spot is located at a spring-fed pool next to the road.

7. Western Dry Rocks, Florida - Southernmost point in the 48 contiguous states. It's still a part of Key West, I believe, but the southernmost point in the states isn't that big buoy-looking thing tourists like to get their pictures by in the town that Hemingway used to haunt. It's really the Western Dry Rocks, but maybe it doesn't really count since it's not always above land (it depends on the tide). Even if we don't count it, that buoy still isn't the southernmost point - that title belongs to a bit of land on the Truman Annex of Key West, but because that land belongs to the Navy and isn't accessible to the public, the photo op was created at the next-most southern point. I guess it wouldn't be quite as impressive if the buoy read, "The Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S.A. that's always above land and is accessible to the public."

8. Ipnavik River, Alaska - Most remote point in all U.S. territory. It's more than 120 miles away from the nearest sign of civilization and has been called "the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States." And I thought my in-laws were remote when they lived an hour from the nearest Wal-Mart!

9. Smith County, Kansas - the center of the 48 contiguous states. It's near the city of Lebanon and is almost in Nebraska. And hey, if you're doing a road trip of extreme points, take a quick jaunt over to Osborne County, which is right next door: it's home to the geodetic center. I had to look that one up too: it's the reference point for all land survey measurements. Read more about it here.

10. Belle Fourche, South Dakota - the center of all 50 states. OK, it's actually about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, but it's close enough that the town claims it.

The U.S.-Canada Border Runs Directly Through This Library

Though the Haskell Free Library and Opera House might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, it's undoubtedly one of America's most unique tourist attractions. Completed in 1904, the building is stationed directly between Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, with the official U.S.-Canada borderline running right across the library's floor.

Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, both Canadians, built the building as a tribute to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The family hoped that citizens from both countries would use it as a “center for learning and cultural enrichment,” according to the official Haskell Free Library website.

The Haskell is divided between the two countries. While the library’s official entrance is on the U.S. side of the building, most of the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house is similarly split, with most of its seats in the U.S. and its stage in Canada. As Atlas Obscura reported, it is often said that the Haskell is the only library in the U.S. with no books, and the only opera house in the country with no stage.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Andrew Mayer speaks to Nancy Rumery as he stands on the Canadian side of a line on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House that marks the border between the U.S. March 22, 2006 in Derby Line, Vermon
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Passports and other forms of identification aren’t required to cross from country to country in the library, though the Haskell’s website notes that the border inside the "building is real and it is enforced.” Visitors are expected to return to their side of the border after a visit; if they don’t, they risk possible detention and fines.

Even beyond the building's unique position, library director Nancy Rumery told CTV News that Haskell staffers—Canadian and American alike—consider the institution to be like any other library in the world.

"We're just trying to be the best library we can, and our community is made up of people from two different countries," she said. "We don't think of it in that big symbolic way that I think a lot of people do. These are all our neighbors and we do our very best to help them on their life-long learning journey."

This article originally ran in 2016.

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]