Are you looking to learn some cool and interesting facts about the USA?
You have come to the right place.
As the United States of America is such a large and diverse country, there are lots of unique aspects about it that make it extra fascinating.
Some of them you may already know, after all, the country is on the news every day, but I guarantee there are lots of USA facts included in this list that you will have never heard of before. Let’s dive in.
- The US is the 3rd most visited country
- Everyone needs a pre-authorisation or visa
- Don’t confuse the state with the city
- City names are sometimes unoriginal
- The largest economy, but unevenly distributed
- 15% of the population live below the poverty line
- World’s largest polluter
- At the forefront of technology development
- The nucleus of most crises
- The government owns 32% of the land
- The birthplace of fast food (and obesity)
- Biggest cocaine market
- Four US Presidents were assassinated in office
- Most powerful army
- Many natural wonders
- And many stunning man-made wonders
- The US secret service was set up to fight counterfeiting
- The US has lots of unique museums
- The flag has had many versions
- Uncle Sam was a real person
- You can dig for your own diamonds
- Indulge in the world’s most expensive dessert
- The most important airline industry
- There are many active volcanoes
- Some Americans can’t vote
- You can’t drink until you are 21
- The US spans 21 time zones
- A very diverse society – E pluribus unum
- A third of Americans work in flexible arrangements
- Limited social benefits
- The highest number of prisoners
The US is the 3rd most visited country
The first USA fact that you need to know is that, as expected, the US is one of the most popular countries to visit, despite the visa requirements (see next section), and ranks number three in the world ranking after France and Spain who hold the top two spots.
However, it is important to note that the difference between the three is large. For example, France received 86 million visitors in 2017 and Spain 81 million whereas the US welcomed 76 million. The fourth on the list, China, is 16 million international arrivals behind at 60 million. For reference, the world’s most unknown countries receive less than 10,000 visitors a year.
Did this surprise you? Most people do not realize this is the case and find this a very interesting fact about the USA.
Unlike many countries, including all those in the European Union and most countries in Asia, who offer visa-free travel to citizens of many countries, the US requires all visitors to either obtain a visa or a pre-authorisation before they travel.
The US is the first country that started to use this electronic authorization program (or ESTA) that is now common across other countries like Australia and New Zealand and which the European Union is in the process of implementing.
To obtain this pre-authorization you just need to apply for an ESTA which is often granted immediately. You also need an ESTA transit for the USA if you are not spending time in the country because you will be forced to go through immigration even if you are continuing on to a different destination.
Still, having this pre-authorization does not mean you will be granted entry, the immigration officer at the border will decide but is a pre-requisite that may speed up your entry.
What makes the US visa requirements extra unique is the fact that there is a list of countries whose visits void the eligibility for an ESTA, even if you come from one of the visa waiver countries.
If, like me, you have visited any of these countries after 2011, you will not be eligible for an ESTA and will have to apply for a regular visa at the Embassy. This involves an online application, the payment of a much larger fee (depending on nationality and country of submission) plus an interview.
Don’t confuse the state with the city
Everybody knows that the White House is located in Washington, the capital of the US.
However, Washington the city is not in the state of Washington, which is in the western part of the country. It is best known for its most important city of Seattle, which in turn, is not the capital of the state either, that is Olympia.
There are more confusing situations like this.
The capital of New York State is not New York City, but Albany, a city of fewer than 100,000 people located 250 kilometers from New York City. However, New York City was the original capital of the US for five years from 1785 to 1790.
City names are sometimes unoriginal
Here is a fun fact about the USA and its naming conventions for places.
There are many cities in the US that have the same name as cities somewhere else around the world. This is because the immigrants that arrived used the names back home to name the new cities. I was quite surprised to find Toledo, the name for a UNESCO listed Spanish city, in Ohio.
The coincidences don’t end there.
I am sure you have watched at least one episode of The Simpsons in your life. The characters in this TV series live in Springfield. This name was chosen because it is one of the most common names for a place in the US, although not the most common, names like Riverside outnumber Springfield, so it could feel familiar for many people. There are also lots of US cities with Washington in their name.
The largest economy, but unevenly distributed
The US currently has the largest economy in the world, but China took over once purchase parity figures are considered in 2014. Income disparity means that the average GDP per capita is only $59,000 which ranks number 19 in the world behind countries like Singapore or Qatar.
This is aided by the fact that it is the world’s third-largest country by size, after Russia and Canada, also it has the world’s third-largest population with almost 330 million, although that is more than a billion less than China and India.
However, the population density is very low on paper, yet very high in the main urban centers. More people live in New York City than in 40 out of the 50 states of the union, and some states have more cows than people (like Faroe Islands have more sheep than humans) or more whiskey barrels than people in the case of Kentucky.
Additionally, wealth is not evenly distributed and the top 1% controls 30% of the wealth, a figure which has been increasing since the 1990s. The poor get poorer and the rich get even richer.
15% of the population live below the poverty line
The country is an undisputed world power and its economic influence is a well-known fact about the USA.
However, despite being at the forefront of innovation and industrial output, 15% of the population in the USA live below the poverty line defined as anyone living on less than $1.9 a day.
For comparison, 10% of the world’s population lives under the poverty line that is, the US has 50% more people than the worldwide average.
World’s largest polluter
In fact, President Trump did not ratify the Climate Change Kyoto Protocol and is not doing much to reverse climate change, although emissions seem to have stabilized.
At the forefront of technology development
It is also the birthplace and headquarters of some of the world’s most well-known, largest and valuable public companies as well as the world’s most thriving startup ecosystems in New York and Silicon Valley.
More than 25% of Forbes’ 2,000 world’s largest companies are in the US and the world’s most valuable public company by capitalization is American (a title disputed between Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet in the last few years).
The nucleus of most crises
With great growth also comes the risk of great falls and the US is also the nucleus of most financial crises, from the 1930s Great Depression to the 2002 Dot Com Bubble, or the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Crisis.
The only major global crisis not to start in the US was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which started in Asia before its rippling effect reached across the rest of the world.
The government owns 32% of the land
For a country that is all about the free market, it will surprise you to know that the US government owns 32% of the land in the country.
This is because it owns most of the national parks, of which there are many, and lots of military facilities and other strategic points. For example, it owns almost 84% of Nevada and almost 70% of Alaska.
The birthplace of fast food (and obesity)
With all the scientific developments the USA pioneered have also come some efficient yet possibly detrimental-to-our-health, inventions. I am referring to fast food, which the country is at the forefront of where one in seven Americans eating it every day.
McDonalds employs 1,5 million people across its outlets in 100 countries making it one of the world’s top-5 largest employers and the second-largest private employer after Walmart. For reference, more people work for Mcdonalds than live in Barcelona.
Americans are also one of the largest consumers of pizza, there is even a US National pizza month (October), National pizza day (5 February) and even other even more niche celebrations like National pepperoni pizza day and (20 September).
The US also eats several different styles of pizza depending on where you order it (New York City is thin, Chicago has deep-dish pizza).
Sadly, this fast-food craze (coupled with many other social, cultural and financial aspects) has its consequences. The World Health Organisation estimates that almost 67% of Americans are obese, the largest in absolute terms in the world.
Biggest cocaine market
Cocaine consumption in the US, and the need to transport it from Colombia and other producing nations is the reason why many cities in Central America suffer from high crime and murder rates, something which is especially grave in El Salvador or Mexico’s border towns.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the US is the largest consumer of drugs, especially cocaine This is a topic that has inspired many movies and Netflix series, and created celebrities in the form of drug lords. There is also the large amount of amphetamines or cannabis (Second after Israel).
Four US Presidents were assassinated in office
The most famous US presidents of our time, who were killed while in office, were John F. Kennedy, who was also the youngest elected US President (Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest to serve), but there was also Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield.
This may seem like a lot but there are many other countries whose heads of state have been assassinated when in power. For example, five of France’s heads of state were killed in office and even peaceful Denmark had four.
There are four other presidents who died while in office, although of natural causes, and only one who resigned from office, Nixon.
Perhaps the most surprising fact about the USA is the number of presidents to have died on the 4th of July, the national day of independence. Jefferson, Adams and Monroe all died on this same day of the year, Jefferson and Adams both in 1826.
US Presidents had other quirks. Adams, Jefferson and Washington liked to play marbles. Quincy Adams liked to take a naked swim in the Potomac River every morning.
Most powerful army
Although the number of soldiers and size of the army has decreased by 30% since the 90s, the US still has the most powerful army, albeit not the largest, a title that goes to North Korea when active military personnel are used as a measure.
The US spent almost 650 billion in 2018, a sizeable percentage of its GDP, on defense and has intervened in many countries’ national and international conflicts in the last two decades. The US expenditure is almost 4 times that of China, the second largest.
The US also has the most aircraft carriers, military aircrafts and almost the highest number of submarines, I once had the chance to visit one when it was stationed in Singapore and it was a fascinating experience.
Sadly, the US is also the first country to have developed a nuclear weapon, and the only one to have used it, in Hiroshima, in what is considered to have triggered the victory of the Allied Forces during the war.
To protect its borders, the US holds naval bases in several parts around the world, most notable are Guantanamo in Cuba, the large naval base in Guam or the one in the Gulf of Aden, in Djibouti, both of which I could experience first hand when visiting.
Many natural wonders
Being such a large and explored country, the US is home to some truly amazing natural wonders, some of which you may have never heard of before. Let’s take a look into my favorite kind of fascinating fact about the USA.
You may think that Everest is the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848m, and that is true if measurements are taken from sea level, but if the absolute height is used, Mauna Kena in Hawaii measures over 10,000 meters from its floor in the Pacific Ocean.
The US is home to the world’s longest known cave system called Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, which stretches for 650km, and the largest lava tube cave in Hawaii.
Bracken Cave, near San Antonio in California, is the largest bat cave welcoming 15 million bats in season in what is also the largest concentration of mammals in the world, comparable to the Great Migration which is spread over a much larger area.
The world’s tallest trees, Redwood trees, can grow to over 125m in height and can live hundreds of years. You can find them in the national parks of Redwood, look out for the Avenue of the Giants, a stretch of road with many on each side.
You may already be familiar with Niagara Falls which is on the border with Canada, they are also the most powerful waterfalls, albeit not the largest on the planet. On the topic of water, Yellowstone has the largest concentration of Geysers in the world and is a pretty impressive UNESCO site.
The world’s largest freshwater lake is also near Niagara Falls. Lake Superior has 10% of the world’s freshwater and covers over 80,000 square kilometers.
The US is possibly the world’s most developed country but, owing to its size, it still has lots of remote and uninhabited areas, at Cherry Springs Park you can see the nucleus of the Milky Way and thousands of stars as the area is classified as an International Gold Class Dark Sky Reserve.
And many stunning man-made wonders
Culturally and architecturally speaking, the country is home to many firsts, tallest, largest, longest, etc. which make for very interesting facts about the USA.
The US Library of Congress is the largest in the world by volume with 167 million items. It was opened in 1800 and burned down by British troops in 1814 only to be expanded again with Jefferson’s personal book collection. The library received 15,000 items every working day.
Just for fun, the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park has the world’s highest single roller coaster, where the double or duelling roller coaster record goes to Singapore on Sentosa Island. The US is also home to the Guinness World record holder for the world’s longest bar, standing at 123 meters.
The US, and Chicago in particular, placed home to the world’s first ferris wheel although that was during the 1893 World Fair and the wheel was dismantled after.
Today there are ferris wheels in major cities such as the London Eye, the Singapore Flyer or the soon to open Dubai Eye. There is also an indoor ferris wheel in Ashgabat and an eight-shaped one in Macau.
Although the Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous American landmarks and a visit is possibly the most popular thing to do in New York, it is worth noting that it is not officially in the city but in New Jersey.
The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building and it was built in 1943, as the name indicates, everything is five.
The US secret service was set up to fight counterfeiting
Although today it is at the center of many suspenseful thrillers, when Lincoln created the US Secret Service in 1865, he did so with the objective to fight currency counterfeiting.
Later on, in 1867 the scope was expanded to include other threats to government and after the assassination of McKinley in 1901, the organization’s focus changed to the protection of the President.
The US has lots of unique museums
It is fair to assume that Americans have a good sense of humor, are creative and entrepreneurial at heart, coming up with the most unique, absurd, silly, fun and niche museums.
Forget the MOMA and read about other more interesting museums across America.
If you are interested in death, there is a Museum of Death in Los Angeles. In Florida, there is a Coral Castle Museum housed in a castle that was silently and patiently carved over 25 years from a coral rock. And there is a museum dedicated to ventriloquism in Kentucky.
The flag has had many versions
The American flag was first designed in 1777 with 13 stripes and 13 stars. However, it changed several times until 1960 when it acquired today’s version with 50 stars to represent the 50 states and the 13 horizontal red and white stripes which represent the original 13 colonies.
The history of the American flag is that of a changing and growing country and has become one of the most well-known US identity elements, along with the anthem. The flag is amicably referred to as Old Glory and flown permanently at several locations in the US including the White House and the US Customs ports of entry.
Uncle Sam was a real person
The character that you will see in many US memorabilia, commercials, packaging and even souvenirs, the wrinkly and stern-looking Uncle Sam, who calls you to serve your country and reminds you that “You” are wanted, was a real person.
Uncle Sam was a military meat inspector during the 1812 War but his initials match those of the country, so he used to joke that the meat barrels that were delivered with the seal US were actually bearing his name.
The two names eventually were used as synonymous and he was identified as an emblem of the country. He even has a day dedicated to him.
You can dig for your own diamonds
The American Dream is nowhere as plausible as at Crater Diamonds State Park, the only public space in the world where you can go looking for your own diamond.
This was where the US’s largest diamond measuring over forty carats, Uncle Sam, was discovered and there are many others to be found.
Indulge in the world’s most expensive dessert
The Frrrozen Haute Chocolate ice cream sundae in the video above comes with a crystal goblet, a gold bracelet and a diamond and gold spoon all of which you can take home and costs $25,000.
The most important airline industry
The US tops the airline industry by far. It has the highest number of airlines, with more than 90, which is more than twice as many as any other country. It is also home to the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger numbers, Atlanta, which has held the top spot for years.
American airlines carry more passengers than any other country at 880 million passengers a year in 2018, that is 250 million more than Chinese airlines and five times more than the UK. The world’s largest airline by passenger number is also American, Delta Airlines.
The US also has more passenger departures than any other country with almost 10 million scheduled departures in 2018.
Fun fact: Did you know that there are 5 countries, all of them in Europe, without an airport? Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican, Lichsteinstein and San Marino can only be reached by road from neighboring countries.
There are many active volcanoes
The US suffers from natural disasters every year, from hurricanes to tornados, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and floods, but did you know that it is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes?
Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii has been exploding lava since 1983 and is a major tourist attraction, much like Mount Etna in Sicily or Acatenango in Guatemala. The US also has many historically active volcanoes including the world’s largest, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington, which are not only explosive but also near urban centers.
St Helens 1980 eruption caused massive destruction and the volcano regularly erupts in smaller ways. Mount Rainier is considered a supervolcano and worries scientists the most because an eruption could melt the glaciers at the top.
Some Americans can’t vote
The US political situation is complex and, in my opinion, one of the most unique facts about the USA. It is one of the few countries in the world with citizens without the right to vote.
This is because several parts of the US, such as Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, are dependent territories, not states. The citizens of these territories have US citizenship and American passports but no right to vote.
They have the freedom to govern their territory’s internal matters independently and collect their own taxes, and the right to designate a representative in Congress as an observer.
The central government also supports them financially, since some of these territories have limited resources and infrastructure, and the US takes care of their defense. This also means that they have the right to serve in the army, and some of them, such as American Samoa, have the largest % of enrolment.
There are also other dependent territories that are uninhabited, like Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island (near Haiti), Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island (near the Marshall Islands).
I bet you had never heard of some of these before. This is because many of them are really small islands in the Pacific, some are uninhabited, most (with the exception of Guam and Puerto Rico) are hard to reach and rarely visited.
You can’t drink until you are 21
Perhaps one of the most interesting USA facts for students is the fact that the legal drinking age is 21, not 18 or less like in all European countries.
There are 96 countries without a minimum drinking age and 14 countries that are dry, that is, you cannot find alcohol. Among the countries with a minimum drinking age, the US has the highest, along with another 19 countries.
The US spans 21 time zones
Continental US spans 4 time zones but the number rises to six if Hawaii is included. However, when all the territories are taken into account the US practically covers all time zones, how is that for an interesting fact about the USA.
Because of the faraway territories such as Guam or American Samoa that are part of the US, the US territory spans 21 times zones, from Guam which lies at GMT+10 and is where the US sun rises, to American Samoa which is GMT-11 and is where the sun sets in the US every day.
Few other countries span many time zones, although French Polynesia is technically part of France, gives the country a very wide time zone span as well and Russia occupying nine contiguous time zones.
A very diverse society – E pluribus unum
“E pluribus unum”, or “Out of many, one” in Latin, is an accurate way to define the US, a country which was founded by immigrants and which still has, almost 250 years later, the highest number of immigrants in the world at 48 million, or 15% of the population.
Despite interracial marriage being banned from 1776 until 1967, the US Census results show that almost 40% of Americans are not just white, a multi-cultural landscape that is more accentuated in the Western part of the country.
Around 16% of Americans are of Latino descent making it the largest ethnic group in the US, and another 13% are black or African American.
Although the US does not have an official language, English is the most widely spoken closely followed by Spanish.
A third of Americans work in flexible arrangements
We often think about the American Dream and of Wall Street or Silicon Valley when talking about the US economy. And this has also brought with it a series of other interesting facts about the USA from the point of view of the workforce.
For example, a third of the employed work in flexible work arrangements, that is, they work from home, flexible hours, remotely, etc. And this has been facilitated by the “gig economy” which employs almost 2 million people in the US alone.
As the ultimate free market economy at the other end of socialism, one of the most unique facts about the USA is the lack of any safety net to fall back on in case of unemployment.
The US is the only rich country without paid maternity leave (although most large companies will offer some kind of benefit in their contracts) and one of only two countries without any policy on the matter, the other being Papua New Guinea.
The US is also one of the few places without restrictions on firing people and ranks at the bottom of OECD’s Strictness of Employment Protection. Most employees work “at will” which means they can be working today and be fired without notice other than what’s on your contract tomorrow.
At the same time, the US has over 20 million veterans, or 10% of the adult population, who receive healthcare benefits after serving their country.
The highest number of prisoners
The US has the largest prisoner population in the world with over 2 million people locked behind bars representing also the highest rate in the world with 655 people in jail for every 100,000. It also has the largest correctional population which includes not only those imprisoned but also those under probation or parole. The topic is complex but the good news is that it is improving.
The US is the only Western nation with the death penalty, 70% of the countries have abolished it. According to Amnesty International, the US executed 25 people in 2018, ranking it no 7th worldwide.