Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Major Facts About Mississippi

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

When people think of the deep south, Mississippi is among the first states mentioned. A region rich in culture (and controversy), there are lots of stories to be told about the people, music, geography, and politics of the state. To pique your interest, here are 25 things you may not know about Mississippi.

1. Mississippi became the 20th state to join the Union on December 10, 1817. Despite launching a large promotional campaign with buttons, posters, and thousands of postcards, the state’s centennial celebration was canceled in 1917 because of the start of World War I. Preparations for the bicentennial are already under way; events will include a "Capitol for a Day" initiative, as well as the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.

2. The state is named after the Mississippi River. The native word for the river (coined by the Ojibwa tribe) was messipi, which means “Big River.” 

3. Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, is named after General Andrew Jackson in honor of his victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815.

4. Root beer was invented in Biloxi in 1898 by Edward Adolf Barq, Sr. of Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works. The Barq’s Root Beer company is now owned by Coca-Cola and is based in Atlanta.

Dyxie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

5. Blues music was born in the Mississippi Delta, the northwest section of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Iconic blues musicians who hail from the state include B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, and Little Freddie King, just to name a few.

6. The University of Mississippi is home to the Marijuana Research Project, the only federally-funded center devoted to growing cannabis and investigating the plant's medical effects. Just this March, the National Institute for Health earmarked $68.8 million for the center's efforts.

Mississippi has more churches per capita than any other state in the country, and they’re not just buildings taking up space; a 2009 Gallup poll found that people in the state actually go to church more frequently than residents of any other state. 

8. According to a 2011 report by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, 63 percent of the state’s land area is covered in forest, which amounts to 19.5 million acres.

9. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, was not ratified by Mississippi until 2013. In 1995, lawmakers had finally voted to ratify the amendment, but the paperwork was never sent to the U.S. Archivist to be made official.

10. The term “teddy bear” originated in Mississippi when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to kill a trapped bear during a hunting trip near Onward, Mississippi in 1902. A Brooklyn candy shop owner saw a political cartoon depicting Roosevelt and the bear and was inspired to create a stuffed animal that he called “Teddy’s Bear.”

Clifford Kennedy Berryman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

11. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson was born in Greenville and spent his childhood in Leland, Mississippi. The town still honors Henson’s Mississippi roots with the Birthplace of Kermit the Frog Museum and the Rainbow Connection Bridge.

12. The late '80s-early '90s drama series In the Heat of the Night (based on a film and book of the same title) was set in the fictionalized town of Sparta, Mississippi. There is a real Sparta, but the television show was filmed elsewhere, in Hammond, Louisiana, and Covington, Georgia.

13. Ridgeland, Mississippi, may be home to the country's most picturesque (not to mention patriotic) cell phone towers: a structure shaped like the Washington Monument

14. Pine Sol, the cleaning and deodorizing product, was developed in 1929 by chemist Harry A. Cole, who lived in a pine forest near Jackson, Mississippi.

15. Mississippi is the farm-raised catfish capital of the United States, with over 100,000 acres of catfish ponds.

16. In 1963, Dr. James Hardy at the University of Mississippi performed the first human lung transplant. One year later, he performed the first animal-human heart transplant. The patient, who received a chimpanzee heart, lived 90 minutes after the operation.

17. Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta in 1866, but it was only sold as a fountain drink for nearly 30 years. Joseph Biedenharn decided to bottle the drink for the first time in 1894 at a plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Fuzzy Gerdes, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

18. In the 1940s, the town of Pascagoula had a hard time figuring out the mystery of the bizarre “Phantom Barber.” The serial hair-snipper would break into homes to steal locks of hair and then slip away into the night. When it was all said and done, a man named William Dolan was caught and charged with attempted murder. But after serving six years of his 10-year sentence, Dolan passed a lie detector test and was set free.

19. On April 12, 1974, the state officially named the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) its state shell, becoming one of only 14 states to have one.

20. The magnolia is both the state flower and the state tree of Mississippi, thanks to two separate elections by schoolchildren.

21. In 2002, 48-year-old marathon swimmer Martin Strel swam the entire length of the Mississippi River. The 2,414-mile swim took a total of 68 days to complete.

Strel World Swim on YouTube

22. Mark Twain had a literary love affair with the Mississippi River and wrote about it often. One of his most famous works centered around the river and places along its path is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

23. The 26-mile section of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that stretches from Biloxi to Henderson Point is the longest man-made beach in the world.

24. The Nina Simone song "Mississippi Goddamn" was written and composed in an hour. The song was a response to violence against Blacks in the South, prompted by the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi on June 12, 1963 and the bombing of a church in Birmingham. The song was named one of the top 20 protest songs of all time by The New Statesman in 2010.

25. No one seems to know the origin of using the word “Mississippi” to count seconds, and even people outside of the United States were taught to use the state’s name. “I was taught ‘one Mississippi’ etc. even in England,” wrote one person on a blog titled Separated by a Common Language. In a similar thread on reddit, someone wrote, “Australian, I go ‘One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,’ but also did Mississippi growing up.”

25 Wild Facts About Alaska

Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.


3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

Mike Juvrud, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.


24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.

Chloe Effron
25 Transportable Facts About Michigan
Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

It's hard to ignore the hugely influential part Michigan has played in 20th century engineering, music, and natural resources. Take a look at 25 facts that prove the Wolverine State—which is celebrating its 180th birthday today—is more than the sum of its auto parts.

1. Recognized as the 26th state in the union in 1837, Michigan is taken from the Indian word Michigama: it means a "large lake."

2. They almost went to war with Ohio. Prior to becoming a state, the Michigan territory took issue with Ohio claiming the mouth of the Maumee River in Toledo as its own property. Things came to a head in 1836, when militia forces from both sides marched into the wilderness to oppose one another. They never came in contact; blood was drawn only when the son of one Ohio military officer tried to rescue his father from a Michigan jail by stabbing a sheriff in the thigh. Congress insisted Michigan accept the boundary line and cede Toledo in order to gain statehood—they reluctantly agreed.

3. When Michigan was a new state in 1837, they immediately set about constructing railroads, river transportation, and other infrastructure to make shipping goods easier. Part of this was facilitated by President Andrew Jackson’s sour attitude toward bankers and lack of formal regulation. The state let virtually anyone open their own bank; land speculation ran rampant, leading to institutional failures and nearly bankrupting the state before it had even gotten started.


4. Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty. After Detroit bar owner Stephen Simmons was hanged for murdering his wife in 1830, newspapers and religious leaders began to criticize the brutal practice and petitioned for its abolishment. When another hanged man was later found to be innocent, the public movement became so influential that state legislature banned the practice in 1847. (You could still, however, be executed for treason through 1963.)

5. Michigan was an early and outspoken opponent of slavery and welcomed refugees from the Underground Railroad. When former slave Adam Crosswhite fled Kentucky in 1843, he settled in Marshall. When Kentuckians came to the state in 1847 searching for Crosswhite, citizens intervened and had the mob jailed while Crosswhite headed for Canada.

6. Battle Creek was once the unofficial capital of breakfast cereal. When physician John Harvey Kellogg assumed duties at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in the late 1800s, he advised a strict diet and exercise regimen, including a flaked cereal he developed called Granose. When businessman C.W. Post visited the center in 1891 and tried to convince Kellogg to market his cereal, Kellogg wasn’t interested—so Post came up with some of his own, including Grape Nuts. The Kellogg family later started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906, ushering in the modern age of soggy carb-and-milk bowls.

7. Michigan’s thriving lumber industry meant the state's economy became inextricably tied to the manufacture of carriages and wagons, which soon would give way to the automobile. Henry Ford’s Model T became the standard for carmakers to follow, with reasonable production prices and satisfied consumers. (At under $300, the vehicle was half the price of the competition.) Introduced in 1908, it led the way for Ford Motors to claim over half of all auto sales by the 1920s.


8. Ford’s assembly-line ingenuity and production cleverness came at a price: workers in his Detroit-area factories experienced a high turnover due to the repetitive nature of their tasks. Eager to keep employees happy, Ford paid them $5 a day, double what a typical auto plant worker made in 1913. They now earned enough to actually buy a Model T of their own.

9. The auto workers wouldn’t stay placated forever. As labor unions began to gain momentum in the industry, workers at General Motors engaged in a sit-down strike in 1936. They wanted to be represented in negotiations by the United Auto Workers, which GM resisted. For 44 days, employees occupied the Flint plant; GM tried turning off the heat and enlisted help of local police, to little avail. The workers had succeeded in turning off the spigot of production, with the company going from 50,000 cars in December to 125 in February. President Franklin Roosevelt advised the sides to make peace: GM eventually relented, with the UAW insisting on salary increases and better working conditions.

10. All of those auto plants—Michigan held more than 75 percent of the world’s car factories—became crucial during World War II. Many automakers converted their resources into providing jeeps, tanks, and other combat tools to Allied forces. Over 350,000 people came into the state to fill labor openings; President Roosevelt declared Detroit the “Arsenal of Democracy.”  

11. One Michigan radio station emitted what’s believed to be the first news broadcast on radio. On August 31, 1920, the Detroit News aired a news segment reporting election results on company-owned station WWJ. The paper had bought the station (then known as 8MK) to offset concerns that the instant communication of a broadcast might eventually replace printed news.  

12. The state had a real problem with quicksand. In 1926, the Barnes-Hecker Mine in Ishpeming suffered a catastrophic collapse when an explosion opened up a tunnel to a nearby bit of swampland. Muddy, sandy soil poured in, killing all but one of the 52 miners working. It’s considered the worst industrial accident in the state’s history.


13. Berry Gordy founded Motown (“Motor Town”) Records in Detroit in 1959 using $800 he borrowed from his family. Gordy was influenced by his time as an assembly-line worker at Lincoln-Mercury, using the raw steel he saw transformed into sleek vehicles as a metaphor for the young talent he nurtured into massive successes. The label would go on to introduce some of the most influential artists of the century, including Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder.

14. Christmas, Michigan (pop. 400, not counting the numerous roadside Santa cutouts), was founded in 1938 after a man from nearby Munising opened up a roadside stand to sell holiday gifts.

15. Holiday spirit can also be found year-round in Frankenmuth, home of Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, the world's largest Christmas store. The retailer and its landscaped grounds cover a total of 27 acres.

16. Have a thing for beards and buffalo plaid? Mackinaw City hosts the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show, in which two woodsmen compete in events like log rolling, axe throwing, pole climbing, and, of course, wood and springboard chopping. 


17. It's home to a giant fist. To honor Detroit resident and heavyweight champion Joe Louis, the city displays a 24-foot long bronze arm and fist downtown. The sculpture was a gift from Sports Illustrated in 1987 to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

18. Tombstones in Forest Hill Cemetery and Schoolcraft's Harrison Cemetery have been known to emit eerie glows at night, with reports of the phenomenon dating back to the 19th century. The weirdest part: get too close, and the glow seems to fade. One 1988 investigation by a local journalist turned up nothing, after he ruled out, with help from experts, reflections from car headlights and surrounding buildings and "phosphorescent headstone materials." 

19. An ancient fungus known as Armillaria gallica was discovered in 1992 in Crystal Falls. The 37 acres of living organism could be up to 10,000 years old. An annual festival is held each year in the spore’s honor.

20. It hosted the body slam heard around the world. In 1987, Vince McMahon’s burgeoning WWF franchise hosted WrestleMania III in Detroit’s massive Pontiac Silverdome. In front of one of the largest indoor crowds ever assembled for a sporting (or sport-like) event, Hulk Hogan defeated Andre the Giant by heaving him nearly over his head and slamming him to the mat. Suffering from the neglect brought on by the city’s decaying economy, the Silverdome is scheduled to be demolished in 2016.

21. Lawmakers in Flint won’t tolerate saggy pants. The town passed an ordinance in 2008 barring residents from wearing anything that drops below the buttocks based on what then-police chief David Dicks dubbed “indecent exposure.” Violators could be arrested.

22. Residents like to call each other names: those living in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) are known as “Yoopers,” while those living under the Mackinac Bridge are affectionately (we think) called “trolls.”


23. It has a monorail. The Detroit “People Mover” was unveiled in the mid-1980s and runs across 2.9 miles, carrying passengers for free.  Because it was originally intended to be part of a larger public transport system that never materialized, the Mover has been criticized for its inadequate reach and general pointlessness. 

24. Colon, Michigan, is known as the magic capital of the world. The small town (pop. 1200) began to credit itself as a home base for illusionists after performers like Harry Blackstone and Percy Abbott took up residence there. Numerous magic supply stores sprung up, with many remaining to this day.


25. Mackinac Island has become an unlikely tourist destination. In 1979, parts of the island and the Grand Hotel were used to film Somewhere in Time, a fantasy-romance film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour: Reeve portrays a playwright who finds a way to travel back in time to meet an actress (Seymour) he saw in a portrait. Based on a story by Richard Matheson, the film was not an immediate commercial success but eventually developed a cult following. Fans gather on the island every year for a convention, with Seymour sometimes making appearances.

This article originally ran in 2015.


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