Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Star-Studded Facts About California

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

California occupies an outsized place in most minds. In the popular imagination, California is all palm trees, sunshine, and Hollywood starlets. But there’s more to the nation’s most populous state, and one of the world’s top 10 economies (it's currently neck and neck with Brazil), than just the film industry and temperate weather. 

1. According to one story, its name comes from a Spanish romance novel. Las Sergas de Esplandián, the fifth book in a romance series by Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, was published in the late 15th/early 16th centuries, a few decades before the Spaniards came upon California for the first time. California is described as an island inhabited only by black women, and ruled by Queen Calafia. 

Image Credit: Nicolas Sanson via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

2. And Europeans did initially think it was an island. Early maps depicted California as its own island off the coast of Mexico. It was only later that explorers discovered that what is now Baja California was a peninsula. The Mexican territory of Alta California, established in 1824, encompassed not only what is now known as California, but Nevada, Utah, parts of Wyoming, and other western states. 

3. It’s one of the only states that rests on two major tectonic plates. The San Andreas Fault, which runs up southern California through the San Francisco peninsula, separates the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Most of the U.S. is on the North American plate, though the Pacific Plate is also slipping beneath the North American plate in the Gulf of Alaska

4. Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes a year, though most of them are too small to feel. The earliest earthquake reported in the state was in 1769 near Los Angeles. 

5. The first state park was created there. President Abraham Lincoln signed the act granting the land within the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California in 1864. The land was eventually returned to the federal government to become part of Yosemite National Park. 

6. It’s home to the world’s largest living tree. General Sherman is a giant sequoia whose trunk volume is estimated to be about 52,500 cubic feet, and it’s 275 feet high. A naturalist named it in 1879 for his commanding officer in the Union cavalry during the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman. 

The Giant Artichoke's giant artichoke in Castroville, California. Image Credit: Dana Payne via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

7. It’s home to the world’s largest artichoke … made out of concrete. The 20-foot-tall artichoke statue is outside a restaurant called the Giant Artichoke in Castroville, a 6500-person town that grows nearly all of the state’s—and by extension, most of the nation’s—artichokes. The artichoke is such a big part of California's crop output that in 2013, the lieutenant governor made it the state vegetable. 

8. In 1947, Castroville hosted its inaugural Artichoke Festival, and, as a publicity stunt from which both parties would benefit, convinced a rising starlet to serve as its first Artichoke Queen. Her name? Marilyn Monroe.

9. It’s full of rocks. According to the California State Library, it’s home to a wider variety of rock types than any other state. It was the first state to name an official state rock, choosing the green-and-blue serpentine in 1965. In 2010, the California state legislature introduced a bill to strip the mineral of its designation, as serpentine is linked to asbestos. It did not pass. 

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park.Image Credit: iStock

10. It hosts an annual marathon race between the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States. Each year, runners compete in the Badwater 135, an ultramarathon that stretches across a 135-mile course from Death Valley’s Badwater Basin (elevation: 282 feet below sea level) to Mount Whitney (elevation: 14,505 feet). As the crow flies, the distance between the two is only 76 miles

11. It’s integral to space exploration. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located at the California Institute of Technology, is the leading center for the space agency’s robotic solar system exploration missions, like the Mars rover Curiosity. 

12. If you’re drinking craft beer, there’s a good chance it’s from California. The state has more craft breweries than any other, according to the Brewers Association, and makes more than 3.4 million barrels of craft beer per year. 

13. It produces a surprising amount of cheese. Wisconsin may be known as the cheese state, but California has been upping its cheese production steadily for the last few decades. The state produced 2.4 billion pounds of cheese in 2014, compared to Wisconsin’s 2.9 billion pounds.  

14. Happy cows come from California … or do they? Since 2000, the California Milk Advisory Board has been running commercials picturing cows hanging out in scenic California pastures. “Real cheese comes from happy cows,” the commercials repeat. “Happy cows come from California.” PETA later sued the organization saying that the board couldn’t prove that California cows were happy with industrial farming conditions. The lawsuit was tossed in 2012. 

15. It’s an anti-smoking pioneer. In 1990, the Californian city of San Luis Obispo became the first city to ban indoor smoking in all public spaces, even in bars and restaurants. In 1998, the rest of the state followed suit. 

16. It takes a progressive stance on other issues too. Recently, the state has become the first to ban the use of  “Redskins” as a public school mascot, single-use plastic bags (legislation that passed but is currently on hold), and is implementing new energy efficiency standards on power-guzzling plasma televisions

17. The hottest temperature ever officially recorded on earth was in California. In July 1913, temperatures in Death Valley National Park reached 134°F. 

18. The first Chinatown established in America was in San Francisco. Chinese immigrants flooded to the West Coast during the Gold Rush and the construction of the trans-continental railroad. Racism and exclusionary laws preventing Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens drove them to form their own community within the city. The original San Francisco neighborhood was destroyed in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, but was rebuilt into the tourist destination it has become today. 

19. The current governor was one of the youngest and the oldest in state history. Jerry Brown has been California’s governor since 2011, but he also ran the state from 1975 to 1983. A loophole in the 1990 law limiting a California governor to two terms allowed him (and the three other former governors still living at the time) to run for office again. When he was elected in 1974 at the age of 36, he was the youngest governor of the state since 1863. Now, at 77, he’s the nation's oldest governor

20. Only one president has been born there. Though President Ronald Reagan served as the state’s governor from 1967 to 1975, he was born in Illinois. The only Californian president was Richard Nixon, who was born and raised near Los Angeles. 

The Channel Islands. Image Credit: iStock

21. Some of the earliest human remains found in the Western Hemisphere have been discovered there. Named Arlington Springs Man, this individual’s remains were uncovered in 1959 on Santa Rosa Island, part of southern California’s Channel Islands. This person likely lived around 13,000 years ago, as scientists confirmed in 1999. 

22. It boasts some of the earliest evidence for a seafaring economy in North America. In 2011, researchers discovered the archaeological remains of sophisticated stone projectiles on the Channel Islands. The evidence points to a diverse ocean-based economy among the area’s inhabitants as much as 12,200 years ago. 

23. It has an ocean and a sea. Millions of years ago, the Salton Sea in Southern California was part of the Gulf of California (that strip of water that separates Baja from the rest of Mexico) but later was separated by silt from the Colorado River. Several ancient lakes occupied what was now the Salton Sea, but the body of water is actually quite modern. In the early 1900s, the Colorado River broke through the irrigation system of Imperial County, just next to the Mexican border, and flooded the area, which included a salt factory. The expansive salt deposits, in addition to salts from the river, made the new, 35-mile-wide “sea” salty. 

24. Samuel Clemens wasn’t born in California, but Mark Twain was. The Missouri-born Clemens headed to California in 1864, finding work at a San Francisco newspaper. During a winter sojourn at a cabin in Jackass Hill, Twain heard a story about a jumping frog. That tale became “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a story that made a name for the humor writer and convinced him that writing was his future. 

25. It’s home to two quintessentially American products: blue jeans and Barbie dolls

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Getty Images

Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”


According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.


Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”


Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.


It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.


Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.


Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."


A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.


If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.


Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.


According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.


Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.


It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”


In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.


Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.


In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.


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