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50 Things Turning 50 This Year

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Back in January, we looked at 30 things turning 30 this year. Now let's see who's joining the half-century club in 2014.

1. Jeopardy!

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The quiz show, originally hosted by the late Art Fleming, seems to have been going forever. Not quite … but close enough. It's still beloved today, despite being cancelled three times in the past.

2. Buffalo wings

These spicy chicken wings were invented by Teresa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. Her husband later said that she devised the now-famous hot sauce and cooking technique in desperation after the restaurant was sent an over-supply of chicken wings.

3. Hess Truck

HessToyTruck.com

This annual holiday toy and promotional device was first released in 1964. The original truck cost $1.29 at Hess filling stations and had an operable water hose. Recent incarnations have included helicopters and planes, and are promoted with holiday television commercials that feature a teeth-grindingly catchy jingle. See, it's in your head already.

4. “Smoking may be harmful”

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Surgeon General Luther Leonidas Terry released Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States, a landmark report detailing the risks of cigarette smoking. The tobacco industry was none too pleased.

5. The British Invasion

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This was when America finally met the Beatles. The Fab Four took the states by storm, famously driving audiences wild on The Ed Sullivan Show and landing six number one songs on the U.S. singles charts. Other British bands followed, including a fairly new group called the Rolling Stones (who had their first UK number one single with “Little Red Rooster”). The so-called “British Invasion” had begun.

6. The Ford Mustang

The first of the “pony cars,” the 1965 Mustang (introduced in April 1964, and so nicknamed the “1964½” model by aficionados) was Ford’s most successful launch since the Model A in 1927.

7. Sandra Bullock

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The Oscar-winning star is one of many celebrities and notables to turn 50 this year—along with Jeff Bezos, Juliette Binoche, Dan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Courteney Cox, Russell Crowe, Matt Dillon, Christopher Eccleston, Janeane Garofalo, Melinda Gates, Diana Krall, Courtney Love, Rob Lowe, Elle Macpherson, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, and Joss Whedon.

8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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Roald Dahl's classic children's tale about a poor boy's tour through an eccentric candy maker's magical factory was published in the U.S. 50 years ago. It initially received mixed reviews but its popularity prevailed, leading to multiple movie adaptations and a real-life Wonka candy company.

9. Plasma display screens

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Though the cathode-ray screen would still be the most common TV screen for a few decades, the plasma display panel of today’s flat-screen televisions was invented in July 1964 at the University of Illinois.

10. Liquid crystal display

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LCD screens also turn 50 this year. Stable liquid crystals were invented some years earlier by a Scotsman, Professor George Gray, but Princeton scientist George H. Heilmeier discovered the dynamic scattering mode (DSM) in 1964, leading to the first working liquid crystal displays. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, there are now more LCD screens in the world than people.

11. Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film about nuclear war starred Peter Sellers in three roles and proved that anything, no matter how terrifying or depressing, can be fodder for comedy.

12. Daredevil

Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel Comics were on a roll in the early '60s, having introduced numerous popular superheroes (from the Fantastic Four to Iron Man) over the past three years. In April 1964 they introduced Daredevil, an athletic, blind superhero, whose other senses were superhumanly enhanced. The year also saw the introduction of Hawkeye and Black Widow—best known from The Avengers—who both started as villains.

13. Draft-Card Burning

Berkeley Library

There had been smaller protests in England and Australia, but nothing like the scene in New York on May 2, when 1000 students marched from Times Square to the United Nations to protest the escalation of the Vietnam War. Ten days later, 12 students in New York burned their draft cards as a form of protest. This was done by others throughout the conflict, often leading to prosecution and prison time.

14. The Underdog Show

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Underdog (and his mild-mannered secret identity, Shoeshine Boy) was created in 1959 as a breakfast cereal mascot for General Mills. Though little more than a canine copy of Superman, he was popular enough to inspire a cartoon series that would last for nine years.

15. The 8-track cartridge

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This magnetic audio-tape system was the most popular non-vinyl music medium from the mid-1960s (outselling the less compact, less convenient reel-to-reel tape recorders) to the early 1980s, when compact cassettes took over.

16. Jonny Quest

Collider

The animated adventure series started in 1964 as a short-lived prime-time show before it was revived three years later on CBS's Saturday afternoons. In the first season, Jonny and his gang come across a werewolf, a gung-ho general, an invisible giant, and plenty of dinosaurs.

17. Moon photos

Four years after President Kennedy put the plan in motion for humans to visit the moon, the U.S. satellite Ranger 7 captured the first pictures of the moon’s surface taken by a spacecraft.

18. “You Really Got Me” 

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The third single (and first major hit) by the Kinks is famous for its sharp opening guitar riff. Chances are you're grunting it right now.

19. The Addams Family

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The legendary sitcom, based on the family featured in the macabre New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, was never a major ratings hit, but it won a huge cult following. Addams, with his warped sense of humor, would probably like the idea that the series was “cursed”—most of the cast was dead within 20 years. John Astin, who played the ever-smiling Gomez, and Felix Silla, who starred as Cousin Itt, are the only adult cast members still alive.

20. The Munsters

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Which macabre family sitcom came first: The Munsters or The Addams Family? The competing shows were both in production at the same time, so their respective networks rushed them to broadcast. The Addams Family premiered on ABC on September 18 while The Munsters followed on September 24. Though it was beaten by a week, The Munsters had slightly better ratings. It also lasted 70 episodes—six more than The Addams Family.

21. G.I. Joe

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Hasbro launched the first “action figures,” a line of four World War II-themed G.I. Joe dolls—one for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

22. Permanent press

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This wrinkle-free treatment, a godsend to snappy dressers, was invented by chemist Ruth Rogan Benerito, who died in October last year, aged 97.

23. Carbon dioxide laser

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One of the earliest gas lasers, and still one of the most useful, was invented in 1964 by C. Kumar N. Patel of Bell Labs. Carbon dioxide lasers are used for cutting, welding, and in medical procedures.

24. U.S. State Lottery

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Sweepstake tickets for the first state lottery went on sale in New Hampshire in 1964.

25. The Good Friday Earthquake

U.S. Geological Survey

This tragedy devastated south-central Alaska on March 27, 1964, and had a magnitude of 9.2 (the second largest recorded in history). The earthquake caused 143 deaths, some from landslides and tsunamis. The disaster literally changed the landscape of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

26. Gilligan’s Island

This kitschy series lasted 98 episodes, spun off into telemovies and two animated series, and has become pop culture canon. According to one far-out (and fun) theory, the seven stranded castaways represent the Seven Deadly Sins: The Skipper (wrath or gluttony), the millionaire (greed), his wife (sloth), the movie star (lust), the Professor (pride) and Mary Ann (envy). And Gilligan? Well, he always wore a red top, so he is cast as the devil.

27. Zambia

The southern African country became independent on October 24, and prime minister Kenneth Kaunda became its first president—a position he would keep for 27 years until he was forced out after some unpopular policies (such as his plan to give a quarter of the nation’s land to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, so that the Maharishi could create “heaven on Earth”).

28. Lenny Bruce's prosecution

From a previous arrest in San Francisco, via Wikimedia Commons

After finishing one of his classic, raunchy sets at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested by undercover detectives for obscenity. The trial that followed was a landmark in the battle for free speech, and Bruce was found guilty. He died during the appeals process and was pardoned posthumously in 2003 by New York Governor George Pataki.

29. Hello, Dolly!

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The musical debuted on Broadway on January 16, 1964 and starred Carol Channing in the title role. Dolly! went on to sweep the Tonys and won a record ten awards.

30. Nelson Mandela’s prison sentence

The Guardian

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela began his lengthy jail sentence at Robben Island in 1964. He was eventually released in 1990 and in 1994 was elected to lead the nation that had placed him in a eight-by-seven-foot cell three decades prior. 

31. Bewitched

The long-running sitcom about the domestic life of a witch and her mortal husband began in September. It would last 254 episodes.

32. Italy asks how to stop the Tower of Pisa from leaning

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In February 1964, the Italian government officially asked other countries if they could help out with the Tower of Pisa's little leaning problem. The centuries-old structure had veered 17 feet past its base and was in danger of toppling over for good. Engineers bored holes in the ground around it, used lead counterweights, and did everything else they could think of. Today, a soil eradication process has helped to stabilize it, hopefully for at least the next 200 to 300 years.

33. Comics conventions

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Well before the crowded extravaganzas of San Diego Comic Con, the first comics convention was a low-key Monday afternoon event in New York City, organized by Bernie Bubnis. Called "Tri-State Con," this meeting of fans and artists set the groundwork for the massive events of today.

34. Flipper

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Based on a 1963 film, Flipper added a bottle-nosed dolphin to the ranks of TV’s animal heroes.

35. Mary Poppins

British musical star Julie Andrews had played Eliza Doolittle to acclaim in countless theater performances of My Fair Lady. Her reward: she was replaced in the movie version by Audrey Hepburn, a more marketable star who didn’t even do her own singing. As a consolation, Disney cast Andrews in the title role in their film adaptation of Mary Poppins.

36. The Jackson 5

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Fronted by 5-year-old Michael Jackson, this quintet from Gary, Indiana would eventually sell 150 million records worldwide (which is a pittance, of course, compared to Michael’s solo sales). 

37. Lucky Charms

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General Mills launched this sugary cereal in 1964 and introduced kids to Lucky, the hyperactive and paranoid leprechaun mascot with a persecution complex.

38. The Houston Astros

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Houston's ball club was only three years old when it changed its name from the Houston Colt .45s to the Astros in December 1964. The switch came after they moved from Colt Stadium to the city's new, massive domed park (soon dubbed The Astrodome).

39. Goldfinger

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The third Bond movie is, according to many, the best of the lot. Its most famous scene, in which poor Jill Masterson’s gold-painted corpse lay in bed, made Shirley Eaton one of the most memorable Bond girls despite her very small role. It also led to the urban legend that the actress died of asphyxiation because of the full body paint. Not true—and not even plausible.

40. BASIC

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Gen-X kids studying computers in 1980s high schools learned this early computer language, just as everyone a decade later would be learning HTML. It lived up to its name, both in ease of use and limits of capacity, but it taught computer lingo to a generation. BASIC was invented in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Tom Kurtz.

41. Sri Chinmoy in America

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Brought up in a Bengali ashram, the poet, essayist, songwriter, musician, artist, and fitness guru arrived in the U.S. on April 13. By 1970, at the invitation of Secretary General U Thant, he had a regular gig holding meditations for diplomats and staff at the United Nations.

42. The Moog synthesizer

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Dr. Robert Moog made his first synthesizers in 1964. They wouldn’t win attention as hit-making instruments until the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and Wendy Carlos’ 1968 album Switched-On Bach.

43. Ali versus Liston

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Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) proved that he wasn’t just a braggart when he pulled off one of the sport’s great upsets, beating the favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

44. After the Fall

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On January 23, Arthur Miller's play After the Fall debuted off-Broadway. Starring Barbara Loden and Jason Robards, Jr., the play was a semi-autobiographical account of Miller's life with late ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, who had died in 1962. Not only did pulling from his own life with Monroe prove controversial, but reviews were not good: New Republic's Robert Brustein said that the play was "a three and one half hour breach of taste, a confessional autobiography of embarrassing explicitness ... there is a misogynistic strain in the play which the author does not seem to recognize. ... He has created a shameless piece of tabloid gossip, an act of exhibitionism which makes us all voyeurs ... a wretched piece of dramatic writing."

45. Satellites broadcasting live TV to the U.S.

A later-generation Syncom satellite, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tokyo Olympics were broadcast live on American shores with the help of Syncom 3, a telecommunications satellite that was launched in 1964. It was the first ever geostationary communication satellite, meaning it stayed in orbit at a point above earth as it rotated with our planet.

46. “Daisy”

One of the most famous television ads in American history shows a little girl in a daisy field, pulling petals from a stem. Soon after she counts “ten,” there is a terrifying mushroom cloud and the final message: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” It was shown only once as a paid ad (during an NBC movie on September 7), allowing controversy and workplace discussion to do the rest. Johnson was comfortably elected.

47. A Fistful of Dollars

The first of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns” was released in November. Producers had sought veteran star Henry Fonda to play The Man With No Name, but he was too expensive.

48. The Wizard of Id

Johnny Hart and Brant Parker introduced the short and petulant King of Id, his court wizard, the wizard’s fearsome wife Blanche, the luckless Sir Rodney and a host of other characters in 1964. Though both creators died in 2007, the comic strip—set in a pseudo-medieval kingdom of dragons and fair maidens—still reflects modern society and current affairs.

49. The Warren Report

Chief Justice Earl Warren had a distinguished career, but he is perhaps best remembered as chair of a commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. The 880-page report, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, is one of the most controversial documents in U.S. political history.

50. The U.S. Civil Rights Act

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Completing the work begun by his predecessor, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in July to end racial discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, union membership, and federally funded programs. “Let us close the springs of racial poison,” said Johnson. It was the most far-reaching set of civil rights laws in American history.

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5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

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The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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geography
The Funniest Town Name in All 50 States
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You can send your Christmas wish list to Santa Claus, Indiana, or get a refill in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Whether honoring its founders, a local landmark, or its reputation for rowdy bar-brawling, the funniest town names in all 50 states show a sense of humor and personality.

1. ALABAMA // SCREAMER

Screamer, an unincorporated community in southeastern Alabama, has a noisy history. According to a local historian, the name may have two origins. In one version of the story, it comes from the fact that 19th century Native Americans used to loudly heckle white train travelers as they passed by what was then a reservation. The "screaming" could have also referred to the din made by local bears, panthers, and wildcats.

2. ALASKA // UNALASKA

unalaska, alaska
Weston Renoud, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Don’t let the name fool you; Unalaska is as Alaskan as it comes. With a little more than 4500 residents, Unalaska is the largest city in the Aleutian Islands. Originally, Unangan residents named it Agunalaksh, a word that means "near the peninsula." As Russian fur traders arrived, the spelling morphed into Ounalashka, which eventually became Unalaska.

3. ARIZONA // WHY

Why call a town "Why?" This teeny-tiny community near the U.S.-Mexico border is named after the Y-shaped intersection of two nearby highways. But because of an Arizona law requiring place names have at least three letters, "Y" became the much more existential "Why."

4. ARKANSAS // SMACKOVER

This town of 1800 people in southern Arkansas, at one point one of the nation’s biggest oil producers, was settled by French trappers in the early 19th century. The name Smackover may have come from the French name for the local creek, Chemin Couvert, which means "covered way"—and "sumac couvert" means a covering of sumac trees, a local plant. Alternate theories trace the name back to the legend of oil streaming "smack over the derrick" or a settler jumping "smack over the creek," according to the state’s website.

5. CALIFORNIA // ROUGH AND READY

rough n ready california
Isaac Crumm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The early residents of Rough and Ready, California, were prepared to get down and dirty for their independence. Named after a mining company with the same moniker, the town—with a current population of about 1581—was the first to secede from the Union and become its own “republic” in 1850 as a protest against mining taxes, prohibition mandates, and laws that weren’t enforced. Though their rebellion was laughably short-lived (the town rejoined the United States three months later), its residents still pay homage to Rough and Ready’s spirited past with a celebration on the last Saturday in June.

6. COLORADO // NO NAME

What started out as a temporary solution has become a point of pride for locals (currently fewer than 200 in number) in No Name, Colorado. According to reports, a government official first marked a newly constructed exit off I-70 with a sign reading “No Name” as a placeholder. By the time officials got around officially labeling it, “No Name” had the support of the community and it stuck. Visitors can find the spot near the No Name tunnels, No Name Creek, and the No Name hiking trail.

7. CONNECTICUT // HAZARDVILLE

Hazardville, Connecticut, began as a 19th-century industrial village that made gunpowder. Thankfully, that’s not how it got its moniker: The town was named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard, who purchased and expanded the company in 1837.

8. DELAWARE // CORNER KETCH

It’s rumored that Corner Ketch—an unincorporated community in New Castle County, Delaware—got its name from a rough-and-tumble local bar, whose patrons were so quarrelsome that townspeople would warn strangers, "They'll ketch ye at the corner."

9. FLORIDA // TWO EGG

Two Egg, Florida, got its name during the Great Depression. According to local lore, two young boys were so strapped for cash that they paid a local shopkeeper for sugar by giving them two eggs. These make-do business transactions occurred so regularly that patrons began referring to the establishment as a “two egg store.” Eventually, the name caught on with traveling salesmen, who spread it to other towns.

10. GEORGIA // CLIMAX

Founded in the 1880s, the tiny town of Climax, Georgia, got its name from its location: It sits at the highest point on the railroad between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River.

11. HAWAII // VOLCANO

A cozy little burg near Hilo, Volcano is adjacent to several volcano hot spots. (Sorry.) You can walk the dormant Kilauea Iki Trail, the site of a 1959 eruption, and then stop by the Lava Rock Café for a coffee before heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

12. IDAHO // SLICKPOO

Near Culdesac, Idaho, sits the multiple-house assembly of Slickpoo, a slice of real estate that may barely qualify as a town but was once a bustling village. Originally the site of a Catholic mission, it was said to have been gifted to the missionaries by landowner Josiah Slickpoo.

13. ILLINOIS // SANDWICH

No, it’s not named after the cold-cut concoction. Originally called Almon after land developer Almon Cage when it was founded in 1855, Sandwich got its name when a train stop liaison named it after his hometown of Sandwich, New Hampshire. It still capitalizes on the connotation, though: the town holds a Sandwich Festival annually.

14. INDIANA // SANTA CLAUS

santa claus indiana
Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It feels like Christmas every day in Santa Claus, Indiana. But the origin of the name wasn’t quite so festive. As the story goes, the town was first named Santa Fe. In 1896, when the town wanted to secure a post office, postal officials told it to pick another name since Santa Fe was already taken. Someone thought Santa Claus was an acceptable alternative, and the post office agreed. To their dismay, children began mailing letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, with regularity.

15. IOWA // WHAT CHEER

A former coal mining town in the southeast of the state, What Cheer was christened Petersburg by Peter Britton, who settled here in the 1850s. But enterprising shop owner Joseph Andrews, who created the town post office, suggested calling it What Cheer, possibly after an old English greeting. Britton protested, but the name stuck. Today What Cheer has about 600 residents—down from a peak of 5000—and hosts a seasonal flea market and musical events at its opera house.

16. KANSAS // GAS

The wags in Gas know what you're thinking. "You just passed Gas." "Gas Kan." "Get Gas!" The jokes write themselves. Gas got its name when, no surprise, natural gas was discovered in the area in 1898. Farmer E.K. Taylor promptly sold 60 acres of his land to industrial interests and subdivided the rest into lots, laying the groundwork for Gas (a.k.a. Gas City). Today it's home to around 600 people.

17. KENTUCKY // BUGTUSSLE

bugtussle kentucky
Brian Stansberry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The name of this tiny hamlet on the Kentucky-Tennessee border is an homage to, you guessed it, the local bug population. The town’s oldest residents say that when workers helped out during the harvest, they would sleep in barns—on hay that was infested with doodlebugs. Legend has it that the workers stayed so long that the bugs grew big enough to “tussle” for the prime napping spots.

18. LOUISIANA // UNEEDUS

The Lake Superior Piling Company established a settlement of model farms here in the 1920s, bringing prosperity to this corner of rural Louisiana. The company’s owners tweaked their corporate slogan, “you need us,” into the town’s new name—and apparently, the feeling was mutual. Residents allegedly founded another model farm community nearby and dubbed it Weneedu.

19. MAINE // BURNT PORCUPINE

It’s easy to imagine where this island off the coast of Maine got its unusual name—just squint at it. Located near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Burnt Porcupine has nearby sister islands with equally intriguing names: Bald Porcupine, Long Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine.

20. MARYLAND // BORING

The village of Boring could have avoided all of the jokes if they had just stuck with the town’s original name—Fairview. But there are a lot of other Fairviews in the U.S., so when a post office was established in the village in 1880, the postal service requested a rename. Residents voted to honor their first postmaster, David J. Boring—and he surely thought the recognition was anything but.

21. MASSACHUSETTS // BELCHERTOWN

While we had hoped that Belchertown was named for the aftermath of a particularly tasty meal, the real story is a bit less delicious: It’s named after Jonathan Belcher, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.

22. MICHIGAN // HELL

Yes, there is a Hell on Earth, and it’s 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. There are several stories floating around about how this name came to be, but the one the town itself declares official is this: In the 1830s, the town settler, George Reeves, made a deal with local farmers to trade his homemade whiskey for the grain they grew. When the farmer’s wives knew their husbands were off dealing with Reeves, they were known to remark, “He’s gone to hell again.” The name stuck.

23. MINNESOTA // NIMROD

Nimrod Minnesota
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a pretty exclusive group of Minnesotans who can lay claim to being an official Nimrod: just 69 at last count. Though the town takes up just one square mile of the Gopher State, it’s got one big claim to fame—it’s the hometown of Dick Stigman, a pro baseball player who pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. As for the name itself, it’s a Biblical reference. In the book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” and is credited with overseeing the construction of the Tower of Babel.

24. MISSISSIPPI // HOT COFFEE

Back in the horse-and-carriage days, the spot where the town of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, now sits marked the midpoint between Natchez, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama—two popular travel destinations. In the late 1800s an inn was erected and, recognizing a good business opportunity when he saw one, a man named L.N. Davis built a store to replenish the supplies of weary travelers and hung a coffee pot outside, which advertised "the best hot coffee around.” His secret? He used spring water to brew New Orleans beans, then sweetened the drink with molasses drippings. Though the store is no longer there, Davis’s java made enough of an impression to become the town’s namesake.

25. MISSOURI // TIGHTWAD

Most legends surrounding the town’s name tend to trace it to a postmaster who was upset with a cheapskate watermelon farmer who sold a promised melon out from under him for an extra 50-cent profit. But these days, the main draw to this tiny town in central Missouri is its bank—customers from all over the country open accounts here just to be able to send checks with the Tightwad logo on them.

26. MONTANA // PRAY

While it’s true that you’ll likely spend more time staring at the heavens while in Big Sky Country, the town of Pray, Montana, wasn’t named as a religious suggestion. Founded in 1907, it was named for then-state representative Charles Nelson Pray.

27. NEBRASKA // MAGNET

magnet, NE
z2amiller, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After mapping out a town in northeast Nebraska, settler B.E. Smith was tasked with naming it. He wanted an attractive name for the community that would draw visitors across its borders, so he christened it Magnet in 1893. Today the locale is home to about 75 residents.

28. NEVADA // JIGGS

About 30 miles south of Elko, Nevada, sits the small town of Jiggs. In 1918, businessman Albert Hankins owned the local hotel, dance hall, and general store—which basically meant he owned the whole town. Looking for a new name for the place, he took a suggestion from his kids. “Jiggs” was the top hat-wearing, Irish-American protagonist of their favorite comic strip Bringing Up Father. Following the name change, the women’s organization in town dubbed itself Maggie’s Club after the character’s wife.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // SANDWICH

The Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, did more than invent a lunchtime staple. In 1763, he chartered a town between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And just like the edible kind of sandwich, the town of Sandwich was named after him. The earl also lent his title to the nearby Sandwich mountain range and Sandwich dome.

30. NEW JERSEY // LOVELADIES

loveladies new jersey
Lauren Spinelli

The town of Loveladies, New Jersey, was actually named after a man, not a group of women. Located on Long Beach Island, it got its start as one of the life-saving stations that appeared on the Jersey shore in the 1870s. The station borrowed its name from a nearby island owned by Thomas Lovelady, a local hunter and sportsman. When the community grew into a town it tested out several new titles, including Club House and Long Beach Park. In 1952, the early name of Loveladies became official.

31. NEW MEXICO // CANDY KITCHEN

Sandwiched between Zuni and Navajo reservations in western New Mexico, Candy Kitchen Ranch purportedly got its name when a local moonshine distiller needed a front to hide his illicit operations during Prohibition. To secure the sugar necessary to concoct barrels of hooch, the moonshiner established a confectionary that produced pinion nut candy on the side. Candy Kitchen isn’t the only sweet-toothed locale in this neck of rural New Mexico, either: 85 miles down the dusty trail sits a place called Pie Town!

32. NEW YORK // NEVERSINK

The old town of Neversink is currently sunk under about 175 feet of water. Named for the Neversink River, the longest tributary of the Delaware River, the city of 2000 was one of the unlucky Catskill towns flooded in the 1950s to make room for reservoirs that would provide water to New York City. Luckily, the town relocated in the 1950s shortly after its old Main Street was sunk for good. Not all neighboring locales were so fortunate, though. The flooding forced locals to give a bittersweet goodbye to the now-underwater town of … Bittersweet.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // WHYNOT

whynot, north carolina

Around 1860, residents living in the fertile heart of central North Carolina had no name for their home. But when the United States Post Office planned to put down roots in the area, the townspeople convened to decide on a name. Debate ensued: Why not name it this? Why not name it that? The discussion dragged on until one frustrated local butted in and said, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?” Ambivalence won the day.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // CANNON BALL

Cannon Ball, North Dakota gets its name not from a battle, but from geological curiosities called concretions. Millions of years ago, sediment naturally cemented around plants or shells in the Peace Garden State and hardened into rock, forming unusually perfect spheres that—you guessed it—resemble cannonballs. While these round rocks dot the local Cannonball River, you can ogle at more if you drive 170 miles west to the northern stretches of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

35. OHIO // KNOCKEMSTIFF

Though nobody can quite pinpoint when the town of Knockemstiff acquired its odd name, they can at least agree that it certainly earned it. Most of the stories about the area’s early days, before it got its foreboding name, involve bar brawls, moonshine, and other types of delinquency. The most famous origin tale, though, centers on the advice of a preacher. When approached by a woman asking him how to keep her cheating husband home and faithful, the preacher responded simply: “Knock ‘em stiff.” Take that advice however you want. The town received mainstream attention in 2008 when author Donald Ray Pollock, a native of Knockemstiff, published a book of 18 short stories that shine a gritty light on life in this rough Midwestern community.

36. OKLAHOMA // GENE AUTRY

The community formerly known as Berwyn, Oklahoma, took on the name of the famous singing cowboy after the man himself came to town and purchased a 1200-square-foot ranch that he would turn into the headquarters of his Flying A Ranch Rodeo. A few years after the purchase, Cecil Crosby, the deputy sheriff of Carter County, where Berwyn was located, suggested the town change its name to honor Autry. The town’s 227 residents all signed a petition in favor of the change, with the post office and railroad agreeing to alter their names soon after. On November 16, 1941, the town of Berwyn officially became Gene Autry, Oklahoma. Though Autry sold the Flying A ranch after World War II, the town that bears his name still recognizes the late cowboy actor with a museum and film festival in his honor.

37. OREGON // ZIGZAG

The unincorporated community of Zigzag, Oregon, is a scenic spot that rests in the middle of Mount Hood National Forest. The community itself is named after the Zigzag River, which drains from the Zigzag Glacier. Though the history of the name is unknown, it might be traced back to Joel Palmer, a pioneer of the Oregon territory, who described the erratic movements needed to descend through a ravine near Mount Hood: “The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred yards, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the bottom.” Though it was used to describe one particular ravine, the name stuck, and it eventually morphed into becoming a local community. In addition to a town, river, and glacier, Zigzag also lends its name to a volcanic mountain and canyon.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // INTERCOURSE

Ken Lund, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, village of Intercourse knows what you’re thinking. “It’s okay, you can giggle!” the village’s website says. “We’re happy with our name. It’s the perfect conversation starter.” Just how did the town by come its unusual moniker, which it adopted in 1814? There are several possibilities. According to one theory, the name came from the fact that the town—which was originally called Cross Keys after a local tavern when it was founded in 1754—was at the intersection of two major roads. Another theory posits that the name is an evolution from “Entercourse” because, at the time, the town was located next to the entrance of a racetrack. The final theory revolves around the original meaning of the word intercourse: “connection or dealings between persons or groups; exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” The sexual meaning of the word intercourse didn’t come into popular use until the late 18th century. Intercourse isn’t the only Pennsylvania town name likely to delight 12-year-olds: Less than 20 minutes up the road is the town Blue Ball. It was named after an 1850s inn.

39. RHODE ISLAND // WOONSOCKET

The sixth largest city in Rhode Island was historically known as la ville la plus française aux États-Unis, which translates to “the most French city in America.” Although during the Depression three-quarters of Woonsocket’s residents were of French-Canadian descent, by the 2000 census, that number had dipped to 46.1 percent. “Woonsocket,” though, does not come from French. Historians agree that the town’s whimsical name is a corruption of a word from a Native American language, but they don’t agree on the language, much less the word, from which it derives.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // KETCHUPTOWN

This Horry County town got its name from a country store built by Herbert Small in 1927, but not because of the condiments it sold. Every week, farmers would flock to Small’s store to “catch up” on news and gossip. As a town grew up around the store, the name stuck.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // MUD BUTTE

Mud Butte was named for a nearby barren butte – that is, an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top. In 1981, archeologists digging around in Mud Butte unearthed the sixth Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, after a local rancher finally got around to calling a museum about the dinosaur bones he’d seen jutting out of a cliff on his property for years.

42. TENNESSEE // DIFFICULT

There are competing theories on the genesis of Difficult’s name. One holds that when town residents applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service responded, “your name is difficult,” referring either to its pronunciation, spelling, or the handwriting on the application. Residents took the letter as an order, and accepted the name Difficult. The other theory goes that the town named itself Difficult out of spite after a postal official suggested its name was too hard to pronounce.

43. TEXAS // DING DONG

Upon learning that the town of Ding Dong is located in Bell County, Texas, you might reasonably conclude that the two facts are related. But you’d be wrong. The community was named after its founders, the Bell family—but they’re unrelated to Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, in whose honor the county was named.

44. UTAH // MEXICAN HAT

Visitors to Mexican Hat, Utah, never have to wonder how the community got its name. The answer is as plain as day: a 60-foot-wide, sombrero-shaped rock formation on the northeast side of town.

45. VERMONT // SATANS KINGDOM

If New England town names are any indication, Satan’s been awfully busy. The prince of darkness evidently has franchises in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont—the latter of which was purportedly named by a resentful settler who "expected fertile, rolling acres and had received rocks and hills instead."

46. VIRGINIA // BUMPASS

It’s pronounced “bump-iss,” the locals will tell you—if they tell you anything at all. Many Bumpass residents have developed a no-talking-to-strangers policy. Maybe they're just tired of being the butt of every joke.

47. WASHINGTON // HUMPTULIPS

humptulips washington

This tiny town, located about 25 miles north of Aberdeen (famous as Kurt Cobain's birthplace), was once a major logging center. Today it's better known for its unusual name, which comes from a local Native American word meaning "hard to pole." The phrase is a reference to the nearby Humptulips River, which Native Americans used to canoe by propelling themselves along with poles. The unusual-sounding term has brought the area a bit of fame: Humptulips is mentioned in the books Another Popular Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins and The Long World by Sir Terry Pratchett.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // LICK FORK

While the name of this unincorporated community might whet your appetite, it's likely named for a nearby salt lick, which was probably more appealing to horses and wild animals than humans. There's a Lick Fork creek, road, and more nearby, so there's no shortage of photo opportunities.

49. WISCONSIN // BOSSTOWN

This Richland County, Wisconsin, community reportedly takes its name from William Henry Dosch. Nickname: Boss. According to The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Dosch was sick as a boy, and he got so used to the attention he received while ill that he later became rather bossy with his family. Later, he owned a store on the site of an old saw mill.

50. WYOMING // CHUGWATER

It’s Chug-water, not Chug-water. The land that this tiny Wyoming town calls home was once the territory of the Mandan tribe, whose chief was reportedly injured during a buffalo hunt and sent his son to lead the hunting party in his place. According to Chugwater’s website, the son determined that the easiest way to kill the buffalo was to drive them off the local chalk cliffs. “The word ‘chug,’” the town’s website notes, “is said to describe the noise that the buffalo or the falling chalk made when it hit the ground or fell into the water under the bluff, depending on which version of the legend you wish to believe. Indians began to call the area ‘water at the place where the buffalo chug.’” When white settlers came to the area, they used the Native American terminology for the land, dubbing it Chug Springs. A local stream was named Chugwater Creek (after Chug Springs), and that’s where the town gets its name.

By Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, April Daley, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Jen Pinkowski, Lucas Reilly, Nico Rivero, Jake Rossen, Jay Serafino, and Jenn Wood.

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