How All 50 State Capitals Got Their Names

istock
istock

Want to know which state capital's name means "a good place to dig wild potatoes?" Or which cities in the United States were almost called Pig's Eye, Pumpkinville, and Algebra? We've traced the strange and fascinating histories behind each state capital's naming process. Read on to find out how all 50 state capitals got their names.

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

Founded in 1819, Montgomery is named for General Richard Montgomery, a Revolutionary War officer killed in the attack on Quebec. Though Montgomery passed away nearly 45 years before Alabama’s capital was established, he was thrust back in the news in 1819 when his home state of New York successfully convinced Quebec to return his remains. It's unclear why a Southern settlement decided to name their city after a New York war hero, though the fact that several of the settlement's original founders hailed from New England may have played some role in the decision-making.

In a strange coincidence, Alabama’s capital is located in Montgomery County, but though city and county share a moniker, they're named for completely different people. While Montgomery city is named after Richard Montgomery, the county is named for Major Lemuel Montgomery, who died in 1814 while fighting the Creek Indians under Andrew Jackson. In a final twist, historians now believe the two Montgomerys may have been distantly related.

JUNEAU, ALASKA

iStock

Still a rough-and-tumble mining town when it was named in 1881, Juneau is named for Joseph Juneau, a gold prospector who reportedly bribed his fellow miners with alcohol or money to vote to name the settlement for him. About a year after the vote was taken, Joe Juneau split town, leaving behind nothing but his name. Before the gold rush brought miners streaming into the region the area that would become Juneau was known as Dzantik’i Heeni, or Gold Creek, and was a popular Tlingit fishing spot in the summer months. 

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

Built atop the Pueblo Grande ruins, Phoenix was named to evoke a sense of a great new city rising from the ashes of an old one. Inhabited between 700 A.D. and 1400 A.D. by an indigenous civilization now known as the Ho Ho Kam (“the people who have gone”), the Pueblo Grande ruins included the remnants of a sophisticated irrigation system stretching 135 miles. By the time the land around Phoenix was claimed by American settlers in the 19th century, the Ho Ho Kam were long gone, possibly expelled from their ancestral home by a particularly long drought. 

The name “Phoenix” was suggested by “Lord” Darrel Duppa, an alcoholic Englishman known for his Shakespeare recitations, and for habitually squandering the $3000 check he received every three months from his wealthy family. The well-read Duppa proposed the romantic image of the the Phoenix of Egyptian mythology, likening the American settlement to the great bird rising to life after being swallowed by flames. Before dubbing it Phoenix, the early settlers had called the town Pumpkinville. 

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS

Little Rock was named by French explorer Jean Baptist Bénard de La Harpe, who discovered two rocky outcroppings on the Arkansas River in 1722. The larger he called Le Rocher Francais (“The French Rock,” later called Big Rock) and the smaller he named La Petit Rocher (“The Little Rock). The city was built near, and named after, the smaller of the outcroppings. 

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

Sacramento, California was named after the Sacramento River, which was named for the Holy Sacrament, or Eucharist. Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga gave the river its name in 1808 while on an expedition to build a new Catholic mission in the area. 

DENVER, COLORADO

Denver was founded in 1858 by William H. Larimer, who chose the city's name to honor Kansas Governor James W. Denver. Larimer hoped to impress Governor Denver enough to get the city named county seat but, unbeknownst to Larimer, Governor Denver had already resigned by the time the town was named. 

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT

istock 

Originally called Newtowne, Hartford was settled in 1636 by friends Thomas Hooker and Reverend Samuel Stone. Born in Hertford, England in 1602, Stone was a Puritan minister who traveled to America in 1633 in search of religious freedom. Together, Stone and Hooker led a Puritan congregation from Boston to Newtowne, which they re-named Hartford after Stone’s birthplace. 

DOVER, DELAWARE

Dover was founded in 1683 by William Penn, who named the city after a port town in England’s county of Kent. He gave the county in which Delaware’s capital resides the same name. 

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA

Tallahassee is an Apalachee word meaning “old fields” or “old town.” It was given its name by Octavia Walton, the teenage daughter of Florida’s territorial secretary George Walton, who believed it meant “beautiful land.” In fact, though Walton is credited with officially suggesting the name in the 1824, the Apalache had been calling the area Tallahassee since the 16th century. The city was chosen as Florida’s capital for its location midway between St. Augustine and Pensacola, two major population centers at the time. The young Octavia Walton, meanwhile, went on to become a prominent 19th century writer and socialite, known by the more exotic nom-de-plume Madame Le Vert. 

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Initially a Creek trading post, Georgia’s capital was called Standing Peach Tree, Whitehall, Terminus, and Marthasville before being named Atlanta (after the Atlantic Ocean) in 1845. Each of the city’s previous names reflected its changing status as a settlement: As a trading post, it was Standing Peach Tree; as white settlers began to set up permanent residence in the region, it became known as Whitehall. Then, when the railroad reached the region in the 1830s, it became known as Terminus—the last stop on the Western and Atlantic Railroad line. In the 1840s, when it began to look as though the railroad might continue on past the town after all, residents decided to rename it yet again. 

They chose the name Marthasville, after 16-year-old Martha Lumpkin, daughter of Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin. Then, just a few years later, town officials began to feel that Marthasville was too plebeian a name for a growing town, and started discussing more “elegant” monikers. It was ultimately Georgia Railroad engineer J. Edgar Thompson who came up with the name Atlanta, writing to city leaders, “The railroad from Charleston and Savannah has met the road just emerging from the wilds of the northwest. Eureka—Atlanta, the terminus of the Western Atlantic Railroad. Atlantic, masculine; Atlanta, feminine. A coined word, but if you think it will suit, adopt it.” 

Slightly miffed at the name change, Wilson Lumpkin told anyone who would listen that the name "Atlanta" still honored his daughter Martha, whose middle name, he explained, was the similar-sounding "Atalanta." Martha, meanwhile, dismissed her father's claim, calling the similarity to her middle name no more than "a very peculiar coincidence."

HONOLULU, HAWAII

istock

While popular legend has it that Honolulu is Hawaiian for “fair haven,” that explanation actually conflates two separate moments in the city’s history. While the port was referred to as Fair Haven in English in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the region’s original indigenous name, “Honolulu,” more accurately translates to “sheltered bay” or “protected bay.” Honolulu is the only state capital with an autochthonous name, and was founded by the indigenous people of Hawaii as long as 2000 years ago.

BOISE, IDAHO

Boise takes its name from the tree-lined Boise River, which was likely named in the 19th century by French Canadian fur trappers, using the French word for “wooded.” Popular legend has it that, after traveling through dusty flatlands all summer, French explorer B.L.E. Bonneville was so excited to find the river, and especially the forested area that surrounded it, that he exclaimed, “Les bois, les bois! Moyes les bois!” 

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

Originally called Springfield for the nearby Spring Creek, the city was briefly renamed Calhoun in the 1820s, for politician John C. Calhoun. But the name never caught on with the city’s residents, who continued to call the city Springfield, either out of distaste for the politician or simply out of habit. Eventually, giving in to local pressure, the city was officially re-named Springfield in 1833

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Indianapolis is a portmanteau, combining the name of the state with the Greek word polis, which means “city.” Though that may sound like a pretty benign choice of name, it was actually surprisingly controversial when it was chosen in 1821. The name Indianapolis, which was proposed by Judge Jeremiah Sullivan, beat out the names Tecumseh (the name of an Indian chief) and Suwarrow (a European name). Supporters of the other names were so appalled by Indianapolis as the name of the city, one newspaper even called the decision “one of the most ludicrous acts” and called Indianapolis “not as a name for man, woman or child; for empire, city, mountain, or morass; for bird, beast, fish nor creeping thing.” 

DES MOINES, IOWA

The city of Des Moines is named for the nearby Des Moines River, but the etymological of origins of Des Moines River are contested: While many believe the river took its name from a nearby Indian tribe called the Moingonas, others think the name refers to a group of Trappist monks who once lived at the mouth of the river (moines is the French word for monks).

Linguist Michael McCafferty, who specializes in the Miami-Illinois language, meanwhile, claims to have come across a 330-year-old story that explains the name Des Moines just a little bit differently. According to that legend, Peoria Indians told French explorer Jacques Marquette that “Moingonas” was the name of a nearby tribe as a joke. The word “Moingonas,” according to McCafferty, comes from “mooyiinkweena,” which translates roughly to “the excrement-faces.” 

TOPEKA, KANSAS

istock

Topeka likely means “wild potato,” or possibly “a good place to dig wild potatoes,” in Shawnee. But Topeka’s founders didn’t know that when they named the town in 1854. They just thought Topeka was a unique name, and that it had a nice ring to it. The name was proposed by one of the city’s founders, Reverend S.Y. Lum, who claimed it was “a name not found in the list of post offices in the United States, nor in any lexicon of the English language. It was novel, of Indian origin and euphonious of sound." The name was immediately popular with the other city founders, who liked that it was easy to pronounce. 

It’s unclear where Reverend S.Y. Lum heard the word “Topeka” in the first place, though it seems likely he read it at some point on one of the maps drawn by missionary Johnston Lykins, who documented the geography of the region. 

FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY

Historians aren’t certain where Frankfort got its name, but most people believe the name memorializes an early settler named Stephen Frank, who was killed by Native Americans near a river crossing. The crossing came to be known as Frank’s Ford, later shortened to Frankfort. Frankfort is located in similarly named Franklin County, named for Benjamin Franklin. 

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA

Baton Rouge is French for “red pole” or “red stick.” The region was given its name by French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who discovered that the Houma and Bayogoula tribes in the area would delineate the boundaries of their hunting grounds with poles stacked with fish and animal heads. Iberville first took note of the practice in 1699, and named the whole region after those boundary-marking sticks; then, when a fort was built in the area in 1721, it, too, was called Baton Rouge.

AUGUSTA, MAINE

Augusta was once part of a larger settlement, called Hallowell, but split off to become its own town in 1797. Initially called Harrington, town officials requested that the name be changed to Augusta less than a year after the new town was founded. Apparently, Hallowell residents wouldn't stop teasing the people of Harrington, calling the town "Herringtown" after the pungent fish. 

But while the rationale for Harrington's name change is clear, the origins of Augusta are unknown: Some believe the city was named after a previous settlement, destroyed by Native Americans in the 18th century. Others think Augusta was named after Pamela Augusta Dearborn, the daughter of Revolutionary War officer Henry Dearborn. Still others think Augusta refers to Caesar Augustus, who founded the Roman Empire. 

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND

Dubbed "Providence" by the Puritans, Annapolis was renamed in 1694 to honor Princess Anne, heir to the English throne, and later Queen of England. To this day, Queen Anne’s royal badge, with a crown hovering above entwined thistle and rose (symbols of Scotland and England), appears on the Annapolis flag. 

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Boston was given its name in 1630 by Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor, John Winthrop, who named it after his hometown, Boston in Lincolnshire. The name was popular with Bostonians from the start, since many of them were also from the Lincolnshire region of England. 

LANSING, MICHIGAN

In 1848, Lansing, Michigan was named after Lansing, New York, which was named for John Lansing Jr., a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention. A little under a year earlier, officials had named the city Michigan after Michigan state, but soon decided against the eponymous title, changing its name following the wishes of some of the town’s earliest settlers, who were originally from Lansing, New York.

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA

iStock

St. Paul didn’t receive its elegant sounding moniker until 1849. Before that, it was called Pig’s Eye, after a local tavern owner named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant. Parrant was an unlikely inspiration for a town name: He had a bad reputation and was said to be a coarse, uncouth man whose bad eye lent his face a piggish expression. But according to legend, a customer at Parrant’s tavern gave “Pig’s Eye” as the return address on a letter he was sending, and from then on, the town was known as Pig’s Eye. 

St. Paul might have been known as Pig’s Eye forever, if not for the arrival of a Catholic priest named Father Lucien Galtier, who established the chapel of St. Paul in the region in 1840. Nine years later, the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Minnesota, presumably weighing the pros and cons of naming the town after a licentious tavern owner or a Catholic saint, officially named the settlement St. Paul.

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI 

Jackson was named for Andrew Jackson in 1821. At the time, Andrew Jackson was a celebrated major general in the U.S. Army; just seven short years later, he’d be elected president.

JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI

City of Jefferson (colloquially called Jefferson City) was named for Thomas Jefferson, whose Louisiana Purchase secured the region that would become Missouri. A close runner up: Missouriopolis. One extremely enthusiastic local newspaper wrote, in defense of the name,

“Men of letters throughout Europe and Americas, hearing it pronounced, will know what is spoken of and where it is. Letters started from London, Paris or Boston, will arrive at their destination without mistakes, and without the circumlocution of a tedious address, without making a pilgrimage to forty places of like names, or having a treatise of geography written on their backs to keep on the right road.” But despite that passionate plea, officials decided Jefferson was a more fitting name.

HELENA, MONTANA

Helena, Montana takes its name from Saint Helena, Minnesota. Many of the miners who inhabited the town in the 1860s were from Minnesota, and so, when discussing possible names, began throwing around the names of their hometowns. The names Winona and Rochester were also discussed, as were Pumpkinville and Squashtown (the meeting took place on the day before Halloween), but, in the end, Helena won out.

Before it was officially named Helena, the settlement was at one time called Last Chance Gulch, and later, Crabtown, after one of its founders, John Crab. 

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA

Originally called Lancaster, the city was renamed Lincoln after Abraham Lincoln in 1867. The name Capital City was also considered, but discarded—presumably for being just a bit too on the nose. 

CARSON CITY, NEVADA

Previously known as Eagle Ranch, Carson City was named after the nearby Carson River. The river, meanwhile, was named by explorer John C. Fremont after famed frontiersman Kit Carson, who, at one point, worked as Fremont’s scout through the Rocky Mountains.

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Concord was named and founded in the spirit of conflict resolution, and refers to the desire for harmony between the feuding towns of Bow and Rumford. In the 18th century, when the two towns were founded, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were a little bit hazy on their official state boundaries, so when Bow and Rumford were founded on the border between the two states, conflicting land grants from the two states created some confusion about what land belonged to which town. Eventually, New Hampshire carved a bit of land out of the town of Bow, creating a brand new parish town called Concord to promote peace and harmony.

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY

iStock

Trenton was named for William Trent by William Trent. An early settler to New Jersey, Trent built a summer house in the area around 1719, and subsequently founded a settlement, naming it for himself. The name eventually evolved from “Trent-towne” to “Trenton.” 

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

Santa Fe was originally called “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis,” which means “The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.” Founded in 1610, it was likely given its name by provincial governor Pedro de Peralta to honor Catholicism and communicate the Spaniards’ desire to convert the indigenous peoples of the region. The name also implicitly referred to the city of Santa Fe in Spain.

ALBANY, NEW YORK

Originally ruled by the Dutch and called Beverwyck, Albany was taken over by the British in 1664, along with other Dutch lands in North America. King Charles II gifted a broad swath of territory to his brother James, the Duke of York and Albany. Once under British control, Beverwyck was renamed Albany in James’ honor. Before either the Dutch or British took over the region, the area was called Pempotowwuthut-Muhhcanneuw, meaning "the fireplace of the Mahikan nation," by the Mohicans. 

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

Raleigh, North Carolina was named in commemoration of the capital of Sir Walter Raleigh’s planned colony, “Cittie of Raleigh,” which was founded in 1587 and mysteriously disappeared a few short years later. Today, the lost town is known as the Lost Colony at Roanoke. 

BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA

Bismarck was named after Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck in an attempt to attract German investors to the Northern Pacific Railroad, for which Bismarck served as terminus. While the bid for investors was unsuccessful, Bismarck sent the railroad an autographed note of acknowledgement. 

COLUMBUS, OHIO

Alcohol has played some small role in several of the stories so far, and Columbus is no exception. Almost called Ohio City, Columbus was, of course, named after Christopher Columbus. The name was suggested by General Joseph Foos, a state legislator and local tavern owner who, according to legend, got his fellow legislators drunk at his tavern in order to sway their vote toward Columbus. The Ohio General Assembly officially named the town Columbus on February 20, 1812. 

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

istock

The word Oklahoma combines the Choctaw words ukla (person) and huma (red). Oklahoma City, meanwhile, started out as little more than a railway stop, established in 1887 and called Oklahoma Station. In 1889, when white settlers began moving in, people started calling the settlement Oklahoma City. The city officially adopted the name Oklahoma City in 1923. 

SALEM, OREGON

The origins of Salem’s name are the subject of some debate. Some historians believe its name is biblical in origin, borrowing the last five letters from the word Jerusalem, and serving as an Anglicized version of the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “peace.” Others believe it was named by missionary David Leslie, who named the city after his hometown, Salem, Massachusetts. Either way, Salem was officially named in 1850. Other names that were considered and discarded included: Chemeketa (a Kalapuya word of unknown meaning), Valena, Multnomah, Willametta, Valleyopolis, and Algebra. 

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA

Harrisburg began as a ferry stop and trading post, run by John Harris Sr., and colloquially known as Harris Ferry. Briefly renamed Louisbourg after Louis XVI of France, the town's founder (and son of John Harris Sr.) John Harris Jr. insisted the town be renamed after his father, the first white settler in the region—and so, Harrisburg was founded.

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

Providence was founded by Protestant pastor Roger Williams in 1636, and the name means “divine care.” Williams was a campaigner for religious liberty and had been expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his radical religious and political beliefs (he argued for the division between Church and State). Williams and his followers purchased the settlement from the Narragansett Indians, and Williams named it in gratitude to “God’s merciful providence unto me in my distresse.” He later said, “I desired it might be a shelter for persons distressed of conscience.” 

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

Columbia is the feminized version of Columbus, and was named to honor explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbia became South Carolina’s capital in 1786, and, apparently, there was significant disagreement over what to call the new city. The other contender in the debate? Washington. One 1932 historian observed, “There seems no reason for the name ‘Columbia,’ except that it was at that time popular.” 

PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA

Originally called Matto, from the Dakota name ma-to-nakpa, meaning “Bear’s Ear,” Pierre was renamed in honor of 19th century settler and fur trader Pierre Chouteau in 1880. Brothers Anson and John D. Hilger pushed to rename the city for Chouteau, who helped create a booming fur trade in the region, and built a trading post called Fort Pierre Chouteau not far from present-day Pierre. 

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

istock

Nashville, Tennessee is named after Revolutionary War General Francis Nash. Originally called Nashborough, it was deemed too English-sounding in the wake of the Revolutionary War, and was renamed Nashville in honor of the French in 1784. 

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Austin was established as the state capital by the Republic of Texas in 1839, and named after Stephen F. Austin, who was considered the “founder of Anglo-American Texas.” 

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

Founded by Mormon settlers led by Brigham Young in 1847, Salt Lake City was originally called “City of the Great Salt Lake,” after the nearby Great Salt Lake. The word “Great” was officially dropped from the city’s name in 1868. The city’s eponymous lake, meanwhile, was named by explorer John C. Fremont—the same explorer who named Carson River, after which Nevada’s capital is named. 

MONTPELIER, VERMONT

The name of Vermont’s capital city was bestowed by Colonel Jacob Davis in 1781. Disdainful of the then-popular trend of naming a new settlement after the towns in the state in which one previously resided, Davis chose to name his new town after the French city of Montpelier. Davis wasn’t just bucking a trend, however: He was also concerned about the confusion that would arise if too many towns ended up sharing the same name.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

Richmond, Virginia was given its name by William Byrd II who, upon looking out at the James River from atop Church Hill, thought the region looked a bit like Richmond-upon-Thames in Surrey County, England.

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON

Olympia, Washington was named after the nearby Olympic Mountains, themselves named for Mount Olympus of Greek legend. The mountains were named in 1788 by explorer John Meares, who exclaimed, “If that be not the home where dwell the Gods, it is beautiful enough to be, and I therefore call it Mount Olympus.” 

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA

iStock

Charleston was named by town founder George Clendenin for his father, Charles Clendenin. Originally spelled “Charlestown,” Charleston was previously called “Clendenin’s Settlement,” or simply “the town at the mouth of the Elk.” 

MADISON, WISCONSIN

James Duane Doty, a territorial judge and land speculator, named Madison after the recently deceased President James Madison in 1836. Doty, who co-owned 1000 acres of land where downtown Madison now stands, lobbied aggressively to have Madison declared state capital, even going as far as trying to bribe legislators with high quality buffalo robes. Doty also named the streets in his new town after the other 38 signers of the U.S. Constitution.

CHEYENNE, WYOMING

Cheyenne was named in tribute to the local indigenous people, the Cheyennes. According to Colonel A.B. Coleman, who claimed to have helped choose the name, it was chosen “in hopes of conciliating the interesting Savages.” Unbeknownst to Coleman and the other town officials, the word Cheyenne was not what the tribe called themselves, and was likely the French spelling of a Sioux word meaning “people who speak a foreign language.” The western boom town was named during a full day of drunken festivities in July of 1867, during which everything from “The Embryo City of Cheyenne” to the “health of the mule train” were toasted.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

A Brief History of Mashed Potatoes

mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus
mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus

During the Seven Years War of the mid-1700s, a French army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was captured by Prussian soldiers. As a prisoner of war, he was forced to live on rations of potatoes. In mid-18th century France, this would practically qualify as cruel and unusual punishment: potatoes were thought of as feed for livestock, and they were believed to cause leprosy in humans. The fear was so widespread that the French passed a law against them in 1748.

But as Parmentier discovered in prison, potatoes weren’t deadly. In fact, they were pretty tasty. Following his release at the end of the war, the pharmacist began to proselytize to his countrymen about the wonders of the tuber. One way he did this was by demonstrating all the delicious ways it could be served, including mashed. By 1772, France had lifted its potato ban. Centuries later, you can order mashed potatoes in dozens of countries, in restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining.

The story of mashed potatoes takes 10,000 years and traverses the mountains of Peru and the Irish countryside; it features cameos from Thomas Jefferson and a food scientist who helped invent a ubiquitous snack food. Before we get to them, though, let’s go back to the beginning.

The Origins of the Potato

Potatoes aren’t native to Ireland—or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. They were most likely domesticated in the Andes mountains of Peru and northwest Bolivia, where they were being used for food at least as far back as 8000 BCE.

These early potatoes were very different from the potatoes we know today. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes and had a bitter taste that no amount of cooking could get rid of. They were also slightly poisonous. To combat this toxicity, wild relatives of the llama would lick clay before eating them. The toxins in the potatoes would stick to the clay particles, allowing the animals to consume them safely. People in the Andes noticed this and started dunking their potatoes in a mixture of clay and water—not the most appetizing gravy, perhaps, but an ingenious solution to their potato problem. Even today, when selective breeding has made most potato varieties safe to eat, some poisonous varieties can still be bought in Andean markets, where they're sold alongside digestion-aiding clay dust.

By the time Spanish explorers brought the first potatoes to Europe from South America in the 16th century, they had been bred into a fully edible plant. It took them a while to catch on overseas, though. By some accounts, European farmers were suspicious of plants that weren’t mentioned in the Bible; others say it was the fact that potatoes grow from tubers, rather than seeds.

Modern potato historians debate these points, though. Cabbage’s omission from the Bible didn’t seem to hurt its popularity, and tulip cultivation, using bulbs instead of seeds, was happening at the same time. It may have just been a horticultural problem. The South American climates potatoes thrived in were unlike those found in Europe, especially in terms of hours of daylight in a day. In Europe, potatoes grew leaves and flowers, which botanists readily studied, but the tubers they produced remained small even after months of growing. This particular problem began to be remedied when the Spanish started growing potatoes on the Canary Islands, which functioned as a sort of middle ground between equatorial South America and more northerly European climes.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that there is some evidence for the cultural concerns mentioned earlier. There are clear references to people in the Scottish Highlands disliking that potatoes weren’t mentioned in the Bible, and customs like planting potatoes on Good Friday and sometimes sprinkling them with holy water suggest some kind of fraught relationship to potato consumption. They were becoming increasingly common, but not without controversy. As time went on, concerns about potatoes causing leprosy severely damaged their reputation.

Early Mashed Potato Recipes

A handful of potato advocates, including Parmentier, were able to turn the potato's image around. In her 18th-century recipe book The Art of Cookery, English author Hannah Glasse instructed readers to boil potatoes, peel them, put them into a saucepan, and mash them well with milk, butter, and a little salt. In the United States, Mary Randolph published a recipe for mashed potatoes in her book, The Virginia Housewife, that called for half an ounce of butter and a tablespoon of milk for a pound of potatoes.

But no country embraced the potato like Ireland. The hardy, nutrient-dense food seemed tailor-made for the island’s harsh winters. And wars between England and Ireland likely accelerated its adaptation there; since the important part grows underground, it had a better chance of surviving military activity. Irish people also liked their potatoes mashed, often with cabbage or kale in a dish known as colcannon. Potatoes were more than just a staple food there; they became part of the Irish identity.

But the miracle crop came with a major flaw: It’s susceptible to disease, particularly potato late blight, or Phytophtora infestans. When the microorganism invaded Ireland in the 1840s, farmers lost their livelihoods and many families lost their primary food source. The Irish Potato Famine killed a million people, or an eighth of the country’s population. The British government, for its part, offered little support to its Irish subjects.

One unexpected legacy of the Potato Famine was an explosion in agricultural science. Charles Darwin became intrigued by the problem of potato blight on a humanitarian and scientific level; he even personally funded a potato breeding program in Ireland. His was just one of many endeavors. Using potatoes that had survived the blight and new South American stock, European agriculturists were eventually able to breed healthy, resilient potato strains and rebuild the crop’s numbers. This development spurred more research into plant genetics, and was part of a broader scientific movement that included Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking work with garden peas.

Tools of the Mashed Potato Trade

Around the beginning of the 20th century, a tool called a ricer started appearing in home kitchens. It’s a metal contraption that resembles an oversized garlic press, and it has nothing to do with making rice. When cooked potatoes get squeezed through the tiny holes in the bottom of the press, they’re transformed into fine, rice-sized pieces.

The process is a lot less cumbersome than using an old-fashioned masher, and it yields more appetizing results. Mashing your potatoes into oblivion releases gelatinized starches from the plant cells that glom together to form a paste-like consistency. If you’ve ever tasted “gluey” mashed potatoes, over-mashing was likely the culprit. With a ricer, you don’t need to abuse your potatoes to get a smooth, lump-free texture. Some purists argue that mashed potatoes made this way aren’t really mashed at all—they’re riced—but let's not let pedantry get in the way of delicious carbohydrates.

The Evolution of Instant Mashed Potatoes

If mashed potato pedants have opinions about ricers, they’ll definitely have something to say about this next development. In the 1950s, researchers at what is today called the Eastern Regional Research Center, a United States Department of Agriculture facility outside of Philadelphia, developed a new method for dehydrating potatoes that led to potato flakes that could be quickly rehydrated at home. Soon after, modern instant mashed potatoes were born.

It’s worth pointing out that this was far from the first time potatoes had been dehydrated. Dating back to at least the time of the Incas, chuño is essentially a freeze-dried potato created through a combination of manual labor and environmental conditions. The Incas gave it to soldiers and used it to guard against crop shortages.

Experiments with industrial drying were gearing up in the late 1700s, with one 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson discussing a new invention where you grated the potato and pressed all the juices out, and the resulting cake could be kept for years. When rehydrated it was “like mashed potatoes” according to the letter. Sadly, the potatoes had a tendency to turn into purple, astringent-tasting cakes.

Interest in instant mashed potatoes resumed during the Second World War period, but those versions were a soggy mush or took forever. It wasn’t until the ERRC’s innovations in the 1950s that a palatable dried mashed potato could be produced. One of the key developments was finding a way to dry the cooked potatoes much faster, minimizing the amount of cell rupture and therefore the pastiness of the end-product. These potato flakes fit perfectly into the rise of so-called convenience foods at the time, and helped potato consumption rebound in the 1960s after a decline in prior years.

Instant mashed potatoes are a marvel of food science, but they’re not the only use scientists found for these new potato flakes. Miles Willard, one of the ERRC researchers, went on to work in the private sector, where his work helped contribute to new types of snacks using reconstituted potato flakes—including Pringles.