Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Lofty Facts About Colorado

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Even if you’ve never visited, you might know a few things about Colorado: maybe that it was the 38th territory to gain statehood, that it inspired the timeless John Denver tune “Rocky Mountain High” (now one of two official state songs), or that it’s widely accepted as our nation’s reigning pot capital.

There’s a lot more to the Centennial State than its high peaks, though. As the nation’s eighth-largest state (despite being only the 22nd most populous), Colorado represents a huge slice of U.S. and North American history—one that’s brimming with dino discoveries, rock 'n’ roll debuts, renowned Native heritage, and even a headless chicken.

1. The mile-high metropolitan center of Colorado isn’t just putting on high-altitude airs with its nickname. Stand on the 13th step leading up to the state capital building in Denver and you’ll know what being exactly one mile above sea level feels like.

2. While you're feeling high-up at the state capital building, check out the building's interior, much of which is decked out in beautiful Colorado Rose Onyx—actually, in all of it that exists, as far as we know.

3. Colorado’s achievements for height don’t begin and end in Denver—not by a mile. The state also boasts the U.S.’s highest sand dunes, its highest paved road, the contiguous United States' highest mountain peaks (with several dozen clearing the 14,000-foot mark), its highest alligator park, and its highest auto tunnel, among many other things. The long list isn’t too surprising, perhaps, given that Colorado sports 75% of all U.S. terrain that’s 10,000 feet above sea level or higher.

4. But it also holds a record for depth. As Guinness World Records reported, the “mother spring” in the spa community of Pagosa Springs—just one of many in a vast developed network—is a lovely but unassuming pool “35 feet across with an average depth of 20-30 ft [with] a hole in the bottom of two feet in diameter.”

After Guinness reps sent a 1002-foot plumb line down that hole, however, they “watched and waited in anticipation as the line went down … and down … and down,” until, maybe ten minutes later, “the line ran out without hitting any obstacles, and a new Guinness World Records achievement was verified.” For all we know, then, that mother spring is bottomless.

5. Famous for their resourcefulness and determination, Coloradans have secured a healthy number of world records for their state, including one for a 124-dB bark that took a total of 76 canine volunteers. Residents have also achieved recognition for the highest-ever score in the game “Oil Tycoon” (by an enormous margin), the largest assembled group of persons in gorilla costumes, the world’s most environmentally friendly bomb-detector, and more.

6. In 1970, the International Olympics Committee awarded Denver the honor and undertaking of hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics, something that the state had lobbied hard for alongside other domestic and international locations. Come 1972, though, state residents had the opportunity to vote on whether or not they’d allow the state to take on this very costly and possibly environmentally damaging task; almost 60% of voters decided the venture wasn’t worth it, making Colorado the only state to ever turn down the opportunity.

7. The separate indigenous groups that constitute the nomadic Ute tribe are famous for the sophisticated horsemanship they developed hundreds of years ago. In Colorado’s rich, vast, and valley-filled terrain, this allowed a significant advantage for both hunting and fighting; they were accomplished riders before many of their original and European-émigré neighbors.

8. As European settlers encroached increasingly on Ute territory in Colorado, the tribe's different groups attempted to discourage the new agriculture developments (which displaced grazing lands for their horses) and government surveyors however they could; sometimes, the struggles ended in violence.

After the U.S. government finally suppressed the so-called Ute uprising with a larger presence of soldiers, Chief Ouray and his second wife, Chipeta, traveled to Washington D.C., where he spoke before Congress on behalf of his people and to explain the situation in his homeland. Ouray signed a treaty with government officials before returning home, but, very sadly, it did not allow Ute tribe-members to remain in Colorado as they wanted; instead, they were displaced to Utah reservations en masse.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

9. As Matthew McConaughey once observed, the "man who invented the hamburger was smart," but the "man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius." Several persons from various states have claimed the latter honor, but one of the top contenders of record is Louis Ballast of Denver, who began selling them in 1935 "at the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In near Federal and Speer boulevards" in a restaurant often "referred to as The Barrel because it looked like one." Ballast reportedly "first tried Hershey bars and peanut butter as burger toppings, but neither impressed the customers," according to the Denver Post.

10. Infamous horror actor Lon Chaney, Sr., a.k.a. the "Man With a Thousand Faces," was born in Colorado Springs in 1883; just 70 years later, comedian Tim Allen came into the world in Denver. Which career best reflects the spirit of the Centennial State? Hard to say.

Getty Images // Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

11. M. P. Felch discovered the first known remains of a Stegosaurus hidden in Colorado's mountainous terrain in 1876, and the state also gave us the most complete Stegosaurus skeleton even found—nicknamed "Spike"—in 1992.

12. While all dinos do not get equal press, former residents of Colorado (based on fossil finds) include species such as Allosaurus, Amphicoelias, Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus,  Ceratosaurus, Cionodon, Denversaurus, Diplodocus, Dryosaurus, Epanterias, Haplocanthosaurus, Marshosaurus, Nanosaurus, Ornithomimus, Othnielia, Polyonax, Supersaurus, Torvosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Ultrasauros.

13. Led Zeppelin made their American debut in front of Colorado rock fans. According to promoter Barry Fey, organizers weren't sure how this British band—then relatively unknown in the U.S.—would play to crowds at Auditorium Arena in Denver on December 26, 1968. Nevertheless, it went off without a hitch; Fey recalled that, after the band's intro of, “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!”:

There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. Frankly, I don’t know how [the next band, Spirit] went on after that. You didn’t have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!

14. Setting aside the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872, Colorado has produced plenty of real, gem-quality and industrial-quality diamonds in its day, many near "Diamond Peak."

15. It was also the site of a huge silver boom. After the precious metal was discovered near Leadville in 1879, prospectors rushed the region hoping to find their own fortunes. Many did, too: by the time the price of silver collapsed in the early 1890s, over $80 million worth of silver had been dug up.

16. As a result of these booms, Colorado has almost as many "dead" towns as live ones. In addition to the discovery of silver and diamonds, Colorado also drew waves of settlers and fortune-seekers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Settlements and trading posts sprang up to support gold miners, fur trappers, and various other entrepreneurial types; by the time the dust had mostly settled in the mid-20th century, however, Coloradans found themselves left with as many as 500 ghost settlements

Wikimedia Commons // CC 2.0

17. According to some, access to the massive amount of oil shale under Colorado and Utah's Rocky Mountains could make the U.S. one of the top two oil-producers in the world. Understandably, though, Coloradans and environmentalists around the country still have some concerns.

18. Marijuana was legalized there in 2014, but if pot's not your thing, the state is also a beer-drinker's paradise. At last count, the state housed 289 different breweries, the third-highest number in the country. It also hosts the annual Great American Beer Festival, a three-day event in which hundreds of beer experts and thousands of fans flock to Denver from around the world in shared appreciation of real liquid gold: beer. 

19. Daveco Liquors in Thornton, Colorado, prides itself on being the "World's Largest Liquor Store." The shop covers an area of 100,073.1 square feet (almost 2.3 acres). So, if you're the indecisive type, maybe skip a visit to Daveco before your next Colorado barbeque.

20. Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken was born in the state … and lost his head there, too. Also known as Miracle Mike, this special chicken met his end in 1945 when Fruita, CO farmer Lloyd Olsen set out to kill the bird for his and his wife's evening meal. When Olsen chopped off Mike's head, though (which he later saved as proof), he missed Mike's jugular vein and left one ear and most of Mike's brain stem intact. From then on, the chicken was (mostly) able to function as his kind usually do.

Over the next 18 months, Miracle Mike—who was fed through the throat with a dropper by the Olsens and his manager—toured the nation, earning a quarter per viewer for his owners and even putting on several pounds post-decapitation. Sadly, Mike finally choked to death in a hotel room one night, but he otherwise spent the last, fame-filled period of his life as a "robust chicken—a fine specimen of a chicken except for not having a head," according to Olsen. 

21. Wellesley professor Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write “America the Beautiful,” a poem that would evolve into the famous tune, while “[celebrating] the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike’s Peak” in 1893. They made the ascent by prairie wagon. Moved by “the sea-like expanse of fertile country ... under those ample skies,” she said, “the opening lines of the hymn floated into [her] mind.” 

22. San Francisco's Lombard Street may be extra-twisty, but it's small potatoes (curly fries?) compared to the 26.5-mile stretch of Denver's Colfax Avenue, the longest continuous street in America

23. With its rich history of horsemanship, it's no surprise that Colorado held the first-ever rodeo on record in Deer Trail on the Fourth of July, 1869, or that the state continues to host the most rodeo events per year in the country.

24. Would-be cowboys better be sober. In this state, riding a horse while intoxicated is considered a traffic offense (not to mention dangerous, and pretty rude to the horse).

25. Coloradans take the treatment of the environment seriously too. In Colorado, it is reportedly unlawful for any person to "willfully mar, mutilate, deface, disfigure, or injure beyond normal use any rocks, trees, shrubbery, wild flowers, or other features of the natural environment in recreation areas of the state." All things considered, it seems like a pretty reasonable request (as does the bylaw that restricts llamas from being grazed in public areas).

Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
14 Facts About Mathew Brady
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

When you think of the Civil War, the images you think of are most likely the work of Mathew Brady and his associates. One of the most successful early photographers in American history, Brady was responsible for bringing images of the Civil War to a nation split in two—a project that would ultimately be his undoing. Here are some camera-ready facts about Mathew Brady.


Most details of Brady’s early life are unknown. He was born in either 1822 or 1823 to Andrew and Julia Brady, who were Irish. On pre-war census records and 1863 draft forms Brady stated that he was born in Ireland, but some historians speculate he changed his birthplace to Johnsburg, New York, after he became famous due to anti-Irish sentiment.

Brady had no children, and though he is believed to have married a woman named Julia Handy in 1851, there is no official record of the marriage.


When he was 16 or 17, Brady followed artist William Page to New York City after Page had given him some drawing lessons. But that potential career was derailed when he got work as a clerk in the A.T. Stewart department store [PDF] and began manufacturing leather (and sometimes paper) cases for local photographers, including Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of Morse Code.

Morse, who had learned the early photographic method of creating Daguerreotypes from Parisian inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839, brought the method back to the United States and opened a studio in 1840. Brady was one of his early students.


Brady eventually took what he learned from Morse and opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844, earning the nickname “Brady of Broadway.” His renown grew due to a mix of his knack for enticing celebrities to sit for his camera—James Knox Polk and a young Henry James (with his father, Henry James Sr.) both sat for him—as well as a flair for the dramatic: In 1856, he placed an ad in the New York Daily Tribune urging readers to sit for a portrait that warned, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

His rapidly-expanding operation forced him to open a branch of his studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1849, and then move his New York studio uptown to 785 Broadway in 1860.


In 1850, Brady published The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a collection of lithographs based on his daguerreotypes of a dozen famous Americans (he had intended to do 24, but due to costs, that never happened). The volume, and a feature profile [PDF] in the inaugural 1851 issue of the Photographic Art-Journal that described Brady as the “fountain-head” of a new artistic movement, made him a celebrity even outside of America. “We are not aware that any man has devoted himself to [the Daguerreotype art] with so much earnestness, or expended upon its development so much time and expense," the profile opined. "He has merited the eminence he has acquired; for, from the time he first began to devote himself to it, he has adhered to his early purpose with the firmest resolution, and the most unyielding tenacity.” Later that year, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, Brady was awarded one of three gold medals for his daguerreotypes.


The one that got away was William Henry Harrison—he died only a month after his inauguration in 1841.


When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, he was dismissed as an odd-looking country bumpkin. But Brady’s stately portrait of the candidate, snapped after he addressed a Republican audience at Cooper Union in New York, effectively solidified Lincoln as a legitimate candidate in the minds of the American populace. (After he was elected, Lincoln supposedly told a friend, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.”) It was one of the first times such widespread campaign photography was used to support a presidential candidate.


A researcher holding one of America's most priceless negatives, the glass plate made by famous civil war photographer Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 just before he was assassinated.
Three Lions, Getty Images

On February 9, 1864, Lincoln sat for a portrait session with Anthony Berger, the manager of Brady’s Washington studio. The session yielded both images of Lincoln that would go on the modern iterations of the $5 bill.

The first, from a three-quarter length portrait featuring Lincoln seated and facing right, was used on the bill design from 1914 to 2000. When U.S. currency was redesigned that year, government officials chose another image Berger took at Brady’s studio of Lincoln. This time, the president is seen facing left with his head turned more to the left.

According to Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf, when the president was sitting for portraits, “Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required.”


At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady decided to use his many employees and his own money to attempt to make a complete photographic record of the conflict, dispatching 20 photographers to capture images in different war zones. Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan were both in the field for Brady. Both of them eventually quit because Brady didn’t give individual credit.

Brady likely did take photos himself on battlefields like Bull Run and Gettysburg (although not necessarily during the actual battle). The photographer later boasted, “I had men in all parts of the army, like a rich newspaper.”


Brady's eyes had plagued him since childhood—in his youth, he was reportedly nearly blind, and he wore thick, blue-tinted glasses as an adult. Brady's real reason for relying less and less on his own expertise might have been because of his failing eyesight, which had started to deteriorate in the 1850s.


War photographer Mathew Brady's buggy was converted into a mobile darkroom and travelling studio, or, Whatizzit Wagon, during the American Civil War.
Mathew B Brady, Getty Images

The group of Brady photographers that scoured the American north and south to capture images of the Civil War traveled in what became known as “Whatizzit Wagons,” which were horse-drawn wagons filled with chemicals and mobile darkrooms so they could get close to battles and develop photographs as quickly as possible.

Brady’s 1862 New York gallery exhibit, "The Dead of Antietam,” featured then-unseen photographs of some of the 23,000 victims of the war’s bloodiest day, which shocked American society. “Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war," a New York Times reviewer wrote. "If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”


Brady and his associates couldn't just wander out onto the battlefield with cameras—the photographer needed to obtain permission. So he set up a portrait session with Winfield Scott, the Union general in charge of the Army. The story goes that as he photographed the general—who was posed shirtless as a Roman warrior—Brady laid out his plan to send his fleet of photographers to tell the visual story of the war unlike any previous attempts in history. Then the photographer gifted the general some ducks. Scott was finally convinced, and he approved Brady’s plan in a letter to General Irvin McDowell. (Scott's Roman warrior portrait is, unfortunately, now lost.)


Brady’s first foray into documenting the Civil War was the First Battle of Bull Run. Though he had approved of Brady's plan, General McDowell did not appreciate the photographers' presence during the battle.

Brady himself was supposedly near the front lines when the fighting began, and quickly became separated from his companions. During the battle, he was forced to take shelter in nearby woods, and slept there overnight on a bag of oats. He eventually met back up with the Army and made his way to Washington, where rumors swelled that his equipment caused a panic that was responsible for the Union’s defeat at the battle. “Some pretend, indeed, that it was the mysterious and formidable-looking instrument that produced the panic!” one observer noted. “The runaways, it is said, mistook it for the great steam gun discharging 500 balls a minute, and took to their heels when they got within its focus!”


Before, after, and occasionally during the Civil War, Brady and Co. also photographed members of the Confederate side, such as Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee after he returned to Richmond following his surrender at Appomattox Court House. “It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit,” Brady said later. “I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.”


Union troops with a field gun during the American Civil War.
Mathew Brady, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence,” Brady told an interviewer in 1891. Their instincts were right.

Brady invested nearly $100,000 of his own money in the Civil War project in hopes that the government would buy his photo record of the war after it was all said and done. But once the Union prevailed, a public reeling from years of grueling conflict showed no interest in Brady's grim photos.

After the financial panic of 1873 he declared bankruptcy, and he lost his New York studio. The War Department eventually bought over 6000 negatives from Brady’s collection—which are now housed in the National Archives—for only $2840 total.

Despite being responsible for some of the most iconic images of the era, Brady never regained his financial footing, and he died alone in New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 after being hit by a streetcar.

General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.


The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.


Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.


Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.


In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.


Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.


Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.


Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.


Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.


MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.


Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.


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