Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Neat Facts About Nebraska

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

From Charles Lindbergh's first flying lessons to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, a lot of big things have come from small towns in Nebraska—and those are just a couple of the many things you probably didn't know about the Cornhusker State.

1. The city that would become Nebraska’s capital was originally named Lancaster, after the town in Pennsylvania. It was renamed to honor Abraham Lincoln after his assassination, but there was also an ulterior motive. There was talk of moving the state capital from Omaha to Lancaster in 1867, and because much of the state had supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, a Nebraska legislator who wanted to keep the capital in Omaha decided to “honor” Lincoln by renaming Lancaster. He was also counting on Confederate sympathizers to vote against moving the state capital to a town named after the man who ended slavery. His plan failed.

2. Remember that little yellow-and-black booklet that got you through Julius Caesar? You have a Nebraskan to thank for those. Clifton Hillegass was a manager at Nebraska Book Company in 1958, when he bought a series of notes on Shakespeare from a Canadian book company owner named Jack Cole. Hillegass expanded the idea well beyond the Bard and eventually changed the name from “Cole’s Notes” to “CliffsNotes.”

3. Covering 1.5 acres, the eight-story-tall Lied Jungle at the Henry Doorly Zoo is the largest indoor rainforest in the U.S. You’ll find everything from pygmy hippos to Malayan tapirs and capuchin monkeys.

4. The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ football stadium holds more than 90,000 people. On game day, that makes it the third most populated place in the state, second only to Omaha (434,000) and Lincoln (268,000). Coming in a distant fourth is Bellevue, Nebraska, with a population of approximately 54,000.

BobakHa'Eri via Wikimedia Commons //CC BY 3.0

5. Before their distinctive nickname stuck, the University of Nebraska’s football team was known as the Old Gold Knights, the Antelopes, the Rattlesnake Boys, and the Bugeaters. Apparently tired of referring to his team as “the Bugeaters," a Nebraska sportswriter borrowed "Cornhusker," a term used by a team in the neighboring state of Iowa. But no hard feelings—Iowa seemed to prefer “the Hawkeyes” anyway.

6. Arbor Day started in 1854 with a pioneer named J. Sterling Morton. An agriculture enthusiast, Morton immediately saw the need for more trees on the prairie when he moved from Detroit to Nebraska. By 1872, he had convinced the State Board of Agriculture to promote a day for everyone to plant trees “both forest and fruit.” The first Arbor Day was celebrated that year with more than a million trees planted in Nebraska alone.

7. You can still see evidence of Oregon Trail travelers. The wagon roadbed is still visible at Scotts Bluff National Monument, though the actual ruts were lost to erosion a long time ago. You can also hike about a half-mile on the actual route.

8. Speaking of Oregon Trail landmarks, one of them seems to be dwindling due to erosion. Chimney Rock, a prominent rock formation near Bayard, Nebraska, was another important marker for the covered wagon set. It’s a good thing the the geologic wonder has been preserved on the state quarter, because it’s not quite as impressive as it once was, having lost more than 30 feet in the past 150 years. 

U.S. National Archives and Records Administrationvia Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

9. If you’ve always wanted to see 39 automobiles arranged like Stonehenge, you’re in luck. Alliance, Nebraska, is home to just such a site. "Carhenge" is the brainchild of artist Jim Reinders, who made the sculpture to honor his deceased father. "It took a lot of blood, sweat, and beers," Reinders said.

Stacy Conradt

10. Berkshire Hathaway and its chairman, Warren Buffett, are both based out of Omaha—and neither will be leaving anytime soon. "There's plenty of other places I like, but the one I love is Omaha," Buffett said. "The weather may be a little better some other place else, but that really doesn't make much difference to me in terms of how I feel about enjoying life."

11. Nebraska doesn’t have an official state food, but if it did, Runzas would be the winner. Runza is a fast food chain whose bread and butter, so to speak, is ground beef and cabbage. The stinky combo is stuffed into a pastry shell and served hot. The whole thing is called a “Runza,” and it's beloved by Nebraskans. Runza's 82 restaurants are almost exclusively in the Cornhusker State, with just one in Colorado, two in Iowa, and two in Kansas.

12. While it doesn’t have an official state food, Nebraska does have an official state soft drink: Kool-Aid. Originally called “Fruit Smack,” Kool-Aid was invented by a man named Edwin Perkins who ran a small mail-order business out of Hastings, Nebraska. Though the Fruit Smack concentrate syrup was one of his most popular products, the glass bottles often broke in transit. Perkins invented a powder concentrate in 1927 to solve the problem, and Kool-Aid was born.

Nehrams2020 via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

13. First known as the “Old Glory Blowout,” Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was formed in the little town of North Platte, Nebraska. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s home there, Scout’s Ranch, still stands. Buffalo Bill State Historical Park now encompasses 25 of the original 4000 acres Cody owned.

14. Nebraska has the only unicameral legislature in the United States, meaning that it has a single-house system. It’s also nonpartisan—there are no party affiliations listed on voting ballots.

15. If the Ogallala Aquifer was spread evenly across the U.S., it would cover all 50 states with 1.5 feet of water. But the underground reservoir is disappearing fast, and once it’s gone, it’s gone: Scientists estimate it will take more than 6000 years to refill naturally.

16. You can thank Nebraska for the Reuben sandwich. Though its origins are hotly disputed, one of the most likely stories is this: In 1927, chef Bernard Schimmel was working at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha. Schimmel’s father played poker with some buddies at the hotel every Sunday night, and one night, a player named Reuben Kulakofsky asked the younger Schimmel for a sandwich with sauerkraut and corned beef. Rather than just slapping the requested items on some white bread, Schimmel combined the sauerkraut with Thousand Island dressing, then layered it with corned beef and Swiss cheese sandwiched between dark rye bread. It was such a hit that the Blackstone added it to the menu. Sadly, history remembers the sandwich as a Reuben instead of a Bernard.

17. Charles Lindbergh took his first flying lessons at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation flying school in Lincoln in 1922. He paid $300 [PDF] for 10 hours of instruction—a small fortune at the time. His instructors realized that Lucky Lindy was a natural, and let him eschew the last few flying lessons for parachute jumping practice.

18. The state is home to Archie, the biggest mammoth on display anywhere. This 14-foot fossil was found in 1922 by a rancher in Lincoln County. He turned Archie over to the University of Nebraska State Museum where he still lives today. The creature's name, by the way, comes from his scientific classification, Archidiskodon imperator maibeni.

19. A law written in the village of Lehigh back in the late 1800s forbade merchants from selling doughnut holes. A chairman of the village board said that “old-timers” considered them waste and believed bakers were selling the middle parts of the doughnut to make undue profit. Though the law was repealed in the 1990s, the delicious treats are still apparently hard to come by in Lehigh.


20. It’s a landlocked state, but Nebraska does, in fact, have a Navy. It was commissioned in 1931 by Lt. Governor T.W. Metcalfe, who wanted to gift his friends with ridiculous and meaningless government appointments. The rank of Admiral is awarded to people who have “contributed in some way to the state, promote the Good Life in Nebraska, and warrant recognition as determined by the governor. Admirals include Queen Elizabeth II, Captain Kangaroo, Big Bird, Dr. J., John Glenn, and Bill Murray (obviously).

21. The whole Navy thing is actually kind of appropriate, because "Nebraska" is derivative of Native American words for "flat water" or "great water." They were referring to the Platte River, a wide, shallow river that spans the length of the state..

22. Roy Rogers’ faithful horse, Trigger, died of natural causes in 1965—but you can still see him at RFD-TV in Omaha. Not a replica—the real Trigger. The stuffed and mounted horse was displayed at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri, until 2010, when he was sold at auction where he brought in a whopping $266,500. RFD-TV uses Trigger for promotional events, along with Rogers’ dog, Bullet.

23. It wasn’t just Pearl Harbor that was hit during WWII. On April 18, 1945, a Japanese balloon bomb exploded in the sky over Dundee, a section of Omaha. Fortunately, it didn’t do much damage, and the attempt was kept hush-hush until after the war was over.

24. Leslie Lynch King, Jr. was born in Nebraska. Who? Oh, right—you probably know him better as Gerald Ford. Ford’s mother, Dorothy, left his abusive biological father when the future president was just two weeks old. Dorothy moved from Omaha to live with her parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she eventually met her second husband, Gerald Rudolff Ford. In 1935, her son changed his name to Gerald Rudolph Ford to honor the only father he ever knew.

25. There's a six-foot-tall statue of Chef Boyardee in Omaha. No, he’s not from there (and yes, he was a real person). Until recently, Omaha was home to the headquarters of ConAgra Foods, Inc., a business that includes brands like Healthy Choice, Jiffy Pop, Reddi-Wip, Slim Jim, and Chef Boyardee. The man behind the canned pasta mascot was actually Hector Boiardi, who was a renowned chef long before his face graced cans of Spaghetti-Os.

You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]


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