The armpit of America. The Dirty Jerz. The Garden State. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that New Jersey has character. Get to know our nation’s scrappiest state with these 25 fresh facts.
1. Of all New Jersey’s nicknames, "The Garden State" may be the most hotly debated. In 1954, Governor Robert Meyner was none too pleased when the state legislature passed a bill to add “The Garden State” to license plates. “I do not believe that the average citizen of New Jersey regards his state as more peculiarly identifiable with gardening for farming than any of its other industries or occupations," he said, before vetoing the bill. Legislators overrode the veto. The bill passed.
Image Credit: Joshua Davis via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
2. The state seashell is the knobbed whelk (Busycon carica). This large, predatory sea snail is probably better known for its meat, which is served in N.J. restaurants as the Italian dish called scungilli.
3. The first Miss America pageant was held on the Atlantic City boardwalk in September of 1921. The winner was 16-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington D.C., who took home a $100 prize and a Golden Mermaid trophy. Legendary labor union leader Samuel Gompers was there for the contest and was creepily effusive about the teenage winner: “She represents the type of womanhood America needs—strong, red blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests."
4. New Jersey has its own volcano. Experts estimate that the Beemerville volcano, in Sussex County, went out about 440 million years ago. The real estate surrounding the volcano has become a hot commodity. People have built houses all the way up the slope, right to the summit.
5. The state’s reputation as the pugnacious little brother of New York is well earned. Even the official state slogan has a chip on its shoulder: “Come See for Yourself.”
6. New Jersey played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War. More battles were fought in New Jersey than in any other colony, and General George Washington’s wins in the battles of Trenton and Princeton were major strategic turning points. Washington outfitted his troops in beige and dark blue, colors that would later be adopted for the New Jersey state flag.
7. New Jerseyans are a tough people, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. The state is the birthplace of countless funny people, including (but definitely not limited to) Paul Rudd, Flip Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jane Krakowski, Jon Stewart, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofolo, and both Abbott and Costello.
8. The Statue of Liberty is kind of in New Jersey. It’s also kind of in New York. The land on which the statue stands is owned by the state of New York, but the waters surrounding the island belong to Jersey City. So who owns it? It depends who you ask. New York says “New York.” New Jersey says, “We share it.” The federal government hedges its bets. A question on the citizenship exam asks, “Where is the Statue of Liberty?” Acceptable answers include “New York,” “near New York City,” and “New Jersey.”
9. According the State of New Jersey's official site, the state boasts more horses per square mile than any other. Of course, it also boasts more people: N.J. is more densely populated than China, and almost as crowded as India.
10. New Jersey is the only state without a state song—in part because the frontrunner was deemed too obnoxious. Songwriter Red Mascara penned “I’m From New Jersey” in 1960 and spent the next 55 years lobbying to make it official. Unfortunately, Mascara’s song was a bit of a dud, as was his campaign to sway legislators with regular visits to the state house, where he'd hand out gumdrops. “If there is one thing worse than the song ‘I’m From New Jersey,’” Governor William Cahill reportedly declared in 1970, “it is Red Mascara singing ‘I’m from New Jersey.’” Mascara passed away in June 2015 at the age of 92, his quest unfulfilled.
11. The famous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey. Today, history buffs can visit the duel site and even see the rock where a wounded Hamilton supposedly drew his last breath.
12. Only two of Jersey Shore’s eight cast members were actually from New Jersey (almost all the others are from New York). And the show was none too popular among native New Jerseyans. “It’s bad for New Jersey,” Governor Chris Christie said in a 2011 interview, adding that Jersey Shore “does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens.” Cast member Snooki fired back a characteristically nonsensical rebuttal. “It’s the Jersey Shore,” she told NJ.com. “We’re not trying to represent Jersey.”
Image Credit: Philadelphia Post via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
13. According to local legend, the Jersey Devil burst into the world in the Pine Barrens on a black and stormy night in 1735. The 13th child of a bitter woman, the monster was reportedly born with a horse’s head, hooves, long back legs, stubby front legs, glowing red eyes, and an ear-splitting screech. Just after birth, the beast flew up the chimney and vanished. To this day, people still report seeing a winged, goat-like monster flying through the Pine Barrens.
Image Credit: Doug Kerr via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
14. Despite its small size, New Jersey has a big appetite. The state is often called the “diner capital of the world” for the hundreds of classic diners that pepper the state’s roadways.
15. The New York Jets, the New York Giants, and the New York Red Bulls are all actually based in New Jersey. The Jets and Giants share MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, and the Red Bulls play at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison.
16. The state fish of New Jersey is the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). The brook trout is like a fishy canary in a coal mine. Because the brook trout can’t survive in polluted water, spotting one is a sign that the water is clean.
17. New Jersey was home to all kinds of historical firsts, including the first American brewery (Hoboken, 1642), organized baseball game (Hoboken, 1846), boardwalk (Atlantic City, 1870), professional basketball game (Trenton, 1876), and submarine (Passaic County, 1878).
18. New Jersey owes much of its cuisine to Jewish and Italian immigrants, but the pork roll is a Garden State original. Pork roll (also known as “Taylor Ham”) is a processed meat that’s sliced thin, pan-fried, and served on sandwiches. The sandwich called a “Jersey Breakfast” is pork roll, egg, and cheese, served on a hard roll. New Jerseyans love their pork roll, and there are two separate festivals dedicated to it each year.
19. President James Garfield was shot twice by an assassin in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1881. Nearly two months later, he was still alive, but it didn’t look good, and the heat in D.C. wasn’t helping. Garfield’s doctors transferred him to a seaside cottage in Elberon, New Jersey, in the hopes that the sea air would aid his recovery. Garfield’s doctors went to great lengths to preserve his life—perhaps too great. Garfield died in Elberon September 19, 1881, just two months before his 50th birthday, and historians believe the president might have lived if it weren’t for his doctors' misguided efforts.
20. The beloved HBO series The Sopranos was Jersey to the bone. The show was shot on location in the Garden State. Even the “Bada Bing” strip club is a real place: the Satin Dolls club in Lodi.
21. New Jersey’s state dinosaur is the hadrosaur, which is generally agreed to be the most important dinosaur found in North America. William Parker Foulke first found a partial skeleton of what would become Hadrosaurus foulkii in Haddonfield, New Jersey, in 1858. The dinosaur nearly lost its crown in 2006, when a paleontologist argued that the hadrosaurus bones could have come from some other dinosaur. By 2011, he had changed his mind, and the reign of H. foulkii was restored.
22. Thomas Alva Edison may not have been the most moral of inventors, and detractors today argue that he ripped off better thinkers like Nikola Tesla and Georges Méliés. Still, history books will tell you that Edison was responsible for inventing the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the movie—and all of those took shape in his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
23. It may not be full of gardens, but New Jersey isn’t just pavement, either. A full 45 percent of the state’s area is covered in forest [PDF].
24. The 1937 wreck of the Hindenburg left a vivid and shocking impression on the American people. While trying to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airship caught fire and went down in a raging ball of flame. Despite this, more than half of the airship’s passengers and crew made it out alive.
25. What’s a list of Jersey information that doesn’t include a fact about The Boss? Here’s one: E Street—as in The E Street Band—is a real place in Belmar, New Jersey. The band used to rehearse there, in a house owned by the keyboard player’s mother.