Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Facts About Oklahoma (Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain)

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

The Sooner State received its nickname from the settlers who went just a little bit earlier than they were supposed to in order to claim the territory's newly-available land. From Girl Scout cookies to parking meters, Oklahomans have had a long history of notable firsts ever since. Here are 25 remarkable facts about the panhandle state. 

1. Located at the western-most tip of Oklahoma’s panhandle, Cimarron County holds the distinction of being the only county in the U.S. to border four other states (Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico). 

2. In 1983, native Oklahoman Gordon Matthews patented his "voice message exchange" which Forbes described at the time as "a computerized telephone message storage and retrieval system with greater capacity than a tape recorder and a novel ability to reroute and replicate messages." Today we know know it as voicemail. 

3. Okies are so proud of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical bearing their state’s name that “Oklahoma!” is the official state song. But this choice wasn’t met without opposition—when the bill to change the state song was introduced in 1953, an older legislator responded by walking up to the podium, softly singing the old state song “Oklahoma—A Toast,” and breaking into tears. The house responded with a roar of applause. To counter that, the legislator behind the new bill assembled a choir from the Oklahoma College for Women and returned later to give a rendition of his own. The performance was so impressive that the bill was passed through. 

4. Girl Scout cookies were first sold by the Mistletoe Troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1917.

5. Appropriately, it was an Oklahoma City Girl Scout by the name of Katie Francis who shattered the organization’s previous records when she sold over 20,000 boxes of cookies in 2014. After asking potential customers if they were interested in buying, her strategy was to tug on their heartstrings by performing an impromptu song and dance number.

6. Collectively, Oklahomans spend about 3.5 million days hunting each year.

7. The first-ever shopping carts were introduced to Oklahoma City’s Humpty Dumpy supermarket chain in 1937. While they were initially a flop amongst shoppers, they gained popularity after the inventor hired models to push them around his stores.

8. The town of Beaver, Oklahoma, prides itself on being the cow chip throwing capital of the world. Every year it hosts the World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest where participants compete to see who can hurl their dried cow pats the farthest. The winner of the 2014 competition cleared 149 feet 10 inches.

Mike Petrucci, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

9. Located along the infamous Tornado Alley, Oklahoma is the most tornado-prone region in the country. Over 3500 recorded storms touched down in the state between 1950 and 2014.

10. The state capitol building in Oklahoma City is the only capitol located directly above an active oil well.

11. Oklahoma’s official state poem is titled “Howdy, Folks!” It was penned by Oklahoma native and cowboy icon Will Rogers.

12. Visitors to Oklahoma City can check out the American Pigeon Museum. In addition to providing an extensive history of the birds’ roles in both World Wars I and II, the museum also includes pigeon-themed paintings, sculptures, and even live flight shows.

13. Whaling is illegal in Oklahoma. There is at least one whale located in the land-locked state, but the Route 66 attraction known as the Blue Whale of Catoosa is made of cement.

Ayleen Gaspar, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

14. Despite its distance from the ocean, Oklahoma boasts approximately 55,646 miles of shoreline. Much of this is made up by its over 200 manmade lakes—more than can be found in any other state.

15. Oklahoma has been located above water for the major part of the past 300 million years, making it an ideal spot for fossil discovery. Since 2000 the state’s official fossil has been the 50-foot-long predator Saurophaganax maximus, whose name means “greatest king of reptile eaters.”

16. During World War II, Boise City was the only U.S. town to have a bomb dropped on them via airplane. What made this case even more remarkable was that the perpetrators weren’t German or Japanese forces but American troops who had botched a training exercise. Though several buildings were damaged in the town’s center, thankfully no citizens were harmed. In line with the patriotic climate of the time, the mayor issued a statement the following morning praising the bombers for their accuracy.

17. The world’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.

18. Computer pioneer Edward Roberts attended Oklahoma State University to study electrical engineering. He eventually abandoned his college career and instead went on to develop the world’s first personal computer in the mid-'70s.

19. Bluegrass and folk fans, take note: The American Banjo Museum, which hosts the largest collection of the instruments on public display in the world, is located in downtown Oklahoma City.

20. Oklahoma is home to the Will Rogers World Airport and the Wiley Post Airport. The two famous Oklahomans both died in the same plane crash.

21. On the grounds of the Oklahoma governor’s mansion is a panhandled swimming pool in the shape of the state's boundary lines. 

Google Maps

22. Oklahoma City is the site of the historic National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Notable items include pieces donated from the personal collection of John Wayne, who was a member of the museum’s board of trustees from 1968 till his death in 1979.  

23. Oklahoma boasts the highest density of indigenous languages in the U.S. There are over 40 distinct Native American languages spoken in the state.

24. Oklahoma is the only state that produces iodine—an important element used in various types of medicine. It’s a byproduct of the state’s natural gas wells, which draw up iodine-rich brine water from the salt deposits deep beneath the surface. They produce so much of it that the U.S. is third behind only Chile and Japan in terms of iodine production.

25. Oklahoma’s official state meal is truly a gut-buster: it consists of squash, corn bread, fried okra, barbecue pork, grits, biscuits, sausage and gravy, corn, strawberries, chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas, and pecan pie. 

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”


More from mental floss studios