Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Brilliant Facts About North Carolina

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

With its sandy beaches, rolling mountains, and bustling cities, North Carolina has natural beauty, culture, and industry in spades. Here are 25 things you might not have known about the 12th state of the Union.

1. North Carolina’s most common nickname is the “Tar Heel State.” Historians don’t quite know how it got the moniker, but they think it might stem from the state’s legacy as a leading producer of tar, pitch, rosin, and turpentine. Other nicknames for North Carolina include the Old North State, the Land of the Sky, and the Rip Van Winkle State. 

2. The Wright Brothers tested various prototypes for a flying machine in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, because the remote location provided them with privacy, soft grounds, and steady winds. In 1903, the siblings finally achieved their dream of building a heavier-than-air flying machine with their Wright Flyer. Today, North Carolina license plates boast that their state was “First In Flight”—a claim that rankles Ohio residents, who argue that the Wright Brothers mostly lived and worked in their state.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

3. John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Billy Taylor, and Nina Simone are just a sampling of legendary jazz artists who were born in North Carolina.

4. Speaking of musicians, more American Idol finalists are from North Carolina than any other state. A few ordinary Tarheels whose lives were changed after they appeared on the hit reality TV show include Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino, and Chris Daughtry. 

5. Asheville, North Carolina, is a mecca for craft beer lovers. According to one recent report, the mountain getaway boasts the largest number of breweries per capita of any city in the United States, including Wicked Weed Brewing, Green Man Brewery, and Highland Brewing Company

6. Asheville is also home to America’s largest mansion, the Biltmore Estate, which was built by wealthy railroad scion George Washington Vanderbilt II in the late 19th century. Tourists from across the world flock to the 255-room abode to enjoy its winery, lush gardens, and French chateau-inspired architecture. 

7. North Carolina’s state song is “The Old North State,” its state bird is the cardinal, and its state motto is Esse quam videri, which means “To be, rather than to seem.” 

8. Founded in 1798, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is the nation’s oldest public university—according to UNC, at least. (The University of Georgia and The College of William & Mary also lay claim to the title.)

9. In 1954, a Fayetteville, North Carolina resident named Don Clayton created Putt-Putt golf as a no-frills alternative to windmill-filled, obstacle-ridden mini-golf courses.

10. In 1893, one of the world’s most famous soft drinks was born in New Bern, North Carolina. A drugstore clerk named Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi, which he originally called “Brad’s Drink.” The former doctor-in-training believed his syrupy concoction aided digestion, and re-named the drink “Pepsi-Cola ” in 1898 after the word “dyspepsia.”  

11. Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore, but he made history in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when he hit his first professional home run on March 7, 1914. 

12. U.S. Presidents James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, and Andrew Johnson were all from North Carolina

13. Dellview, North Carolina is North Carolina’s smallest municipality, and is considered to be one of America’s tiniest incorporated towns. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it had only 13 residents as of 2010. 

14. North Carolina’s Outer Banks are beautiful for tourists, but deadly for sailors. The region is nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” thanks to a series of sandbars and strong currents that have sent countless ships to a watery grave. According to records, more than 1000 vessels have sunk in the region since 1526.

15. North Carolina’s coast was also a favorite haunt of the infamous pirate Blackbeard. The outlaw spent years plundering ships and holding hostages for ransom before he was finally killed by British naval forces in a battle off Ocracoke Island in 1718. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

16. On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to join the Union—and as of May 20, 1861, it became the tenth state to secede from it

17. Thanks to its rich land and mild climate, North Carolina produces more sweet potatoes than any other state in the nation. 

18. If North Carolina ever runs out of sweet potatoes, it still has its Christmas tree industry. The state produces between 15 and 20 percent of the nation's real Christmas trees, including the popular North Carolina Fraser fir [PDF]. 

19. For centuries, historians have been captivated by the lost English colony of Roanoke Island. In 1587, the colony was established by the English gentleman Sir Walter Raleigh, and was settled by a group of 117 men, women, and children. After three months, the colony’s governor, John White, made the trip back to England for supplies. Thanks to the country’s war with Spain, Britain was short on ships, and White’s return was delayed. When he came back to Roanoke Island three years later, he found that its inhabitants had mysteriously disappeared. The only trace he found of the colonists were the word “cro” etched into a tree, and “croatan” carved into a fence post. 

20. High Point, North Carolina, is known as a major furniture manufacturing city. Thanks to this credential, it's branded itself as the "Furniture Capital of the World." 

21. On average, North Carolina is hit by a hurricane every 3.44 yearsIs it any wonder, then, that Raleigh's professional ice hockey team is called the Carolina Hurricanes

22. North Carolina's state capital is Raleigh. With an estimated population of 439,896 people, it's smaller than Charlotte, North Carolina, which has more than 800,000 residents. However, data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that both urban areas rank among America's fastest-growing cities. 

23. Three prominent universities—the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina State University—anchor what's known as the Research Triangle, an area in the state's Piedmont region. It's home to Research Triangle Park, which was founded in 1959 to encourage top students to find local jobs. One of the largest research parks in the world, it boasts multiple companies and institutions, including Cisco, the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

24. If you're visiting North Carolina and you're not a beach person, just head inland. Multiple sub-ranges of the Appalachian Mountains—including the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains—stretch across the state's western region. 

25. In 1937, a man named Vernon Rudolph established the small, Winston-Salem-based business that would eventually balloon into one of the world's biggest pastry behemoths: Krispy Kreme doughnuts. 

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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