25 Facts About Missouri? Show Me!

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron / Chloe Effron

Established in 1821 as the 24th state as part of the Missouri Compromise, the "Show Me State" is known for its two major cities, its lush (man-made) lakes, and the fact that its own residents don't all pronounce its name the same way. Below, 25 facts about Missouri that you probably didn't learn in history class.

1. The small town of Ste. Genevieve in southeast Missouri was founded in 1735 as the first permanent settlement west of the Mississippi. It was settled by French-Canadian colonists who mined for salt, and though the original village was flooded and moved to higher ground, the area lays claim to "a large and rare collection of French vernacular vertical log houses," according to a National Park Service study. One of these homes, the Bequette-Ribault House from 1808, is one of only five remaining houses in the country to feature a "poteaux-en-terre" (meaning "post-in-ground") design.


2. Harry S Truman is the only U.S. president to hail from Missouri, but before he hit upon politics, he tried out a number of career paths like farming, railway work, and the army. Most interestingly, though, he and an army pal were briefly the owners of a haberdashery in downtown Kansas City. The store went under in 1922 during the recession, but Truman's commitment to tailored suits lasted a lifetime.

3. America's first public kindergarten was founded in September 1873 by Susan Blow in the St. Louis neighborhood of Carondelet. Ms. Blow was a wealthy, educated woman from a well-connected family, and after serving as her father's secretary in Brazil for a few months (where he was the American ambassador), she traveled to Germany. While there, she witnessed the relatively new concept of a kindergarten, and she took Frederick Froebel's ideas—which centered around using playtime and toys as tools for learning, and conceived of children as plants and teachers as the gardeners who must nurture them—and replicated them at the Des Peres School. (The building now houses the area's historical society.) Within a decade, St. Louis had a kindergarten in every public school, and the city became a model for early education.


4. As one of a handful of states with two major league baseball teams, Missouri has made more World Series appearances the past 10 years than any other state. The Kansas City Royals took the crown this year (while also playing in the final series in 2014), and the St. Louis Cardinals were the champs in 2006 and 2011 (they also played in 2013). And though the Royals and Cardinals don't play in the same division, they did have one infamous meeting 30 years ago. Dubbed the I-70 Series for the highway that connects the two towns, the teams played each other in the 1985 World Series, with KC coming out on top after seven games.

5. Think sliced bread is the greatest? You can thank Missouri for that. The Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe was the first place to install and use inventor Otto Rohwedder's creation in 1928. They knew they had a winner too; the local newspaper advertised it as "the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped."

6. Missouri is also responsible for another great bread product: instant pancake mix. Chris Rutt was the managing editor at a St. Joseph newspaper when he came up with the recipe for self-rising Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1889.

Missouri Division of Tourism via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

7. Carthage, Mo., a small town in the southwest corner of the state, not only houses the headquarters for Precious Moments—the company behind those cherubic porcelain figurines your great aunt loves so much—but also the Precious Moments Chapel, which features gardens with sculptures of the figures and a room of animatronic Precious Moments (like a Biblical "It's A Small World" ride). The centerpiece though is the actual chapel room, which has large paintings of the dolls in various Biblical settings, stained glass windows, and a large mural called "Hallelujah Square," which memorializes children whom artist Sam Butcher knew who had died (including his own son, Philip, who died as an adult but is painted as a child).

8. Missouri is often called the "Cave State" [PDF] because of the more than 6300 recorded caves within its borders. One of them, the Bridal Cave in Camdenton, actually hosts marriage ceremonies. The tradition started based on a (pretty unromantic) Native American legend of a wedding that took place there. But even if you aren't looking to get hitched, the Bridal Cave (and many, many other caves throughout the Ozark region) are open for tours.

John Olsen via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

9. Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton is known for his exaggerated Regionalism style. His most famous work, the large, multi-panel America Today from 1930-1931 was displayed in New York City for many years and is now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another of his works hangs in the Smithsonian. But the state capitol building in Jefferson City has an entire room covered in his art: a piece called A Social History of the State of Missouri [PDF]. And though various panels show imagery of Missouri legends, like the outlaw brothers Frank and Jesse James and fictional friends Huck Finn and Jim, Benton didn't shy away from showing the darker aspects of Missouri's history, like its use of slaves in the lead mines or its compulsory expulsion of Mormons in 1838.

10. During the presidential campaign of 1860, a 30-year-old Missouri farmer named Valentine Tapley—who was not a politician—was so opposed to Abraham Lincoln's campaign that he vowed to never shave again if Lincoln won. And even though Tapley became a historical footnote for following through with his pledge (his beard grew to 12.5 feet by the time of his death in 1910), it was really no more than an idle threat—Tapley had essentially never shaved in his life, and when Lincoln's first campaign was underway, Tapley's beard was already over 6 feet long. "He began to wear it inside his shirt," a local newspaper reported at the time. "The next provision was to wear it around his body beneath his clothes."

11. The notorious 1949 exorcism that spawned a book and the groundbreaking 1973 horror film did not originally take place in the D.C. suburb of Georgetown, as it did in the movie, but in a quiet residential St. Louis neighborhood about 10 minutes from the airport. Various paranormal investigators have filmed in the house since then, and though Father William S. Bowdern is claimed to have successfully exorcised the demon from 12-year-old Roland Doe in June 1949, many claim evil spirits still lurk in the house. Destination America streamed a live exorcism of the house the day before Halloween this year. It didn't work. But it hasn't scared people out of living there either. "I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around that," Exorcism: Live! creator Jodi Tovay told The Washington Post. "But it is a beautiful neighborhood with great schools."

12. Missouri shares a border with eight other states, including Tennessee, the only other state to boast that many. And though Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, and Illinois each account for the majority of Missouri's borders, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Tennessee each share roughly 50 miles worth of border space with Missouri as well.

13. The southeastern corner of Missouri is called the Bootheel, based on its, well, bootheel-esque shape. But don't be confused if some locals refer to it as the "boot hill"—that's their southern accent coming through, not an alternate name for the region.

14. Speaking of pronunciations, Missouri has quite a number of towns with internationally recognizable names, but these small communities have completely different ways of saying the town's name. Cairo, for example, is not pronounced like the Egyptian capital (even though it was named after it), but as CAY-ro. New Madrid is named for the Spanish city, but is pronounced New MAD-rid rather than Ma-DRID. Versailles is pronounced as Ver-SAILS, which sounds nothing like the famed French palace; Nevada is said Ne-VAY-da instead of like the state; and in Missouri, Lebanon is Lebah-nun.

The bullet hole in the wall of the Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, Mo. JeromeG111 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

15. Famed outlaw Jesse James and his older brother Frank were celebrities during their lifetimes, but Jesse's legend grew exponentially after he was killed in 1882 by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford, who was looking to collect a $10,000 reward offered by Missouri's governor. The house in St. Joseph where the assassination took place quickly became a tourist attraction, and the public and souvenir-seekers crowded into the tiny four-room home in order to inspect (and chip away at) the hole in the wall where the bullet reportedly went—after it exited Jesse's skull. The house is now a museum and on the National Register of Historic Places.

16. In 1990, Midwesterners were in a panic over a potential earthquake that was predicted to hit the New Madrid fault line, a region that runs through the lower southeastern corner of the bootheel, from Illinois down to northern Arkansas. A series of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the United States, which happened during the winter of 1811-1812, leveled the area, had witnesses saying they saw the ground "rolling in waves," and rang church bells as far away as Charleston, S.C. But the 1990 quake, which was foretold by a climatologist named Iben Browning (who also claimed to have predicted the explosion of Mount St. Helens and a 1989 earthquake near San Francisco), never happened. If nothing else, at least the false alarm made people aware of this seismic zone, which lies far away from any tectonic plates.

17. At one time, Missouri was the nation's second-largest producer of wine, just after California. The state's native Norton grape was cultivated by German immigrants, and after decades of production, Stone Hill Winery in Hermann was the third-largest winery in the world in 1900, shipping 1.25 million gallons of wine per year. And then Prohibition happened. The entirety of Missouri's vineyards were destroyed and many local economies were ruined. They never quite recovered. Today, there are plenty of small, local wineries (one exception: Stone Hill, which was bought and refurbished in the 1960s; they now produce 260,000 gallons a year). Though the state isn't the powerhouse it once was, it does have nine different wine trails you can tour to do tastings at multiple wineries.

18. St. Louis might have gotten the official "Gateway to the West" title because of its prominence as a river port, but the western side of the state claims the starting points for three major trails to the west: the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express, and the Santa Fe Trail. You might remember from the computer game that Kansas City suburb Independence was the launching point for the Oregon Trail, and St. Joseph, a city roughly an hour north of there, was the headquarters and start of the short-lived Pony Express (once the transcontinental telegraph was completed in 1861, there was no need for long-distance horse delivery anymore). The tiny town of Franklin was the beginning point for the Santa Fe commerce wagon route from 1821 until roughly 1880 when the railroad was completed.

19. "King of Ragtime Writers" Scott Joplin wasn't a native Missourian, but he did spend a significant amount of time in Sedalia, where he wrote many of his early pieces, including "Maple Leaf Rag" (he later moved to St. Louis, where his other opus, "The Entertainer," was written). Sedalia now hosts an annual Scott Joplin Festival each summer.

20. For 100 years between 1904-2004, Missouri was considered a "bellwether" political state, meaning it didn't adhere to voting strictly blue or red in national elections. During that timeframe, Missouri's voters ultimately chose the next president in all but the 1956 race. And though it has lost a bit of its swing-state status in recent years (President Obama lost Missouri to John McCain by only 4000 votes in 2008, and lost the state to Mitt Romney in 2012), Missouri still split its current senate representation in D.C. down the middle—it currently has one Democrat and one Republican senator.

21. Most major cities host marathons, but when you have one of the country's largest rivers cutting straight across 340 miles of your state, what would you host? This year marked the 10th annual MR340, a canoe and kayak race where participants are given no more than 88 hours to traverse the muddy Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles—though the most competitive tend to take only a couple of short breaks and finish in half that time. More than 500 people took the grueling challenge this past summer, and the winning tandem team finished in 34 and a half hours.

22. Missouri's favorite son, Samuel Clemens—more popularly known as Mark Twain—grew up in Hannibal. The town is now a playground for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn fans as many of the spots mentioned in those two novels are based on locations in and around Hannibal. But Clemens had always been fascinated by the Mississippi River, which flowed alongside the town, and when he was in his early 20s, he spent two years training for his riverboat pilot's license. He supposedly gained something even more valuable during that timeframe—his pen name. To "mark twain," one story goes, was a term used by rivermen to confirm that the depth was at least two fathoms deep (the clearance needed to pass safely). But a more recent theory suggests that the savvy writer concocted that origin story as a way to "promote his Missouri roots."

23. The University of Missouri originated the now-universal tradition of Homecoming in 1911. (A couple of other universities contend that they began it, but Mizzou has Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit in its corner.) The story goes that the school's athletic director urged alumni to "come home" for a big rivalry game against the University of Kansas. The parade, pep rallies, and bonfire paid off in terms of turnout—some 9000 people showed up for the late-November game. The game itself was a bit of a bust though—the teams tied 3-3.

24. Author Gillian Flynn is originally from Kansas City, but when she set her best-selling 2012 novel Gone Girl in the fictional town of North Carthage, Mo, she pulled enough authentic details from the state to make her descriptions of small-town life and Midwestern-nice all too real. So when it came time for David Fincher to starting filming his blockbuster movie adaptation, Flynn wrote the script and much of the filming took place in Cape Girardeau, a river town about two hours south of St. Louis. The aftermath became known as the "Gone Girl Effect"—the local economy received a $7 million boost based on the months of filming, and the town now has added tourist appeal for fans who want to see the Dunne household, Nick's bar, or the courthouse gazebo.

25. The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, and they've become a St. Louis staple and world-wide attraction ever since. The Anheuser-Busch company owns approximately 200 of the large-breed horses, with one of the primary breeders located in Boonville, Mo. The Budweiser "prep" school for the show horses is housed at Grant's Farm, which also doubles as a children's petting zoo. The "gentle giants," as they're known, have also starred in many of the most critically-acclaimed and beloved Super Bowl commercials, including one particularly heartfelt ad following 9/11.