1 Misconception About Each of the 50 States (and D.C.)
By Jon Mayer
What’s the biggest city in Wisconsin? If you said Mil-wah-kee, you might not fit in with the locals. The following list debunks one myth about each state in the U.S., from the Rocky Mountain not-so-high of Colorado to New Mexico. That’s right, New Mexico.
Buckle up for a rumor-busting road trip, adapted from an episode of Misconceptions on YouTube.
1. Misconception: Wyoming is the Equality State.
Does Wyoming live up to its nickname as the “Equality State”? It certainly seems to have earned the moniker, historically: it was the first state to permanently legalize women’s suffrage, and it had the country’s first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross. But in the present day, it’s not exactly a shining example of gender equality. Its state legislature has less gender parity than all but seven other states, and it hasn’t elected a female governor since Tayloe Ross almost a century ago.
And it’s not just in public office. A 2019 analysis from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey identified Wyoming as the worst state in the country for the gender wage gap, with women earning 68 cents for every dollar a man earns.
The state boasts some proud history, and its landscape looks like someone Google Image-searched “heaven,” but the “Equality State” nickname may be more aspirational than descriptive.
2. Misconception: Milwaukeeans pronounce the L.
The more common pronunciation drops the L sound, and might even smoosh the name into two syllables, so it sounds more like Mwah-kee. The name comes from an Indigenous language in the region and might have been pronounced more like Mill-ee-wau-kay or Minnow-wawkie “from terms originating in the Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Menominee languages,” according to the Milwaukee Public Library.
3. Misconception: West Virginia is part of Virginia.
West Virginia is not a part of “Regular Virginia.” West Virginia is a state, but you might not know why and how it came to be.
The part of Virginia that eventually became West Virginia is geographically distinct from its counterpart to the east. Instead of large swaths of flat land suitable for farming, West Virginia is dominated by mountain ranges: over 1000 named mountains are in the state. That innate difference helped lead to what many western Virginians in the 19th century felt was a political imbalance, with plantation owners in the flatter part of the state wielding most of the power. Western Virginians felt overtaxed and underserved. The Wheeling Convention in 1861 paved the way for a new state.
Virginia’s secession from the Union that year was the final blow in a geographic schism that had been developing for decades. On June 20, 1863, the federal government recognized West Virginia as a state. In his inaugural speech as its first governor, Arthur Boreman said of his former colleagues to the east, “They had an unjust majority in the legislature … and have clung to it with the utmost tenacity … they have collected heavy taxes from us, and have spent large sums in the construction of railroads and canals in the east, but have withheld appropriations from the west.”
Things might not be quite as heated today, but West Virginians would appreciate it if you would remember that they have their own state.
4. Misconception: All of Washington is rainy.
Seattle can definitely be rainy: on average, more than 40 percent of the days in a year see some precipitation. If you measure by total rainfall, though, its roughly 36 inches of annual precipitation is not that impressive. New York City sees around 50 inches of rain a year; Mobile, Alabama, has nearly 66.
But the eastern part of Washington is quite dry, with many areas seeing as little as 6 or 7 inches of rain a year. A town called Mattawa averaged less than 5 inches of rain between 2008 and 2020. That’s roughly on par with Las Vegas.
5. Misconception: Virginia is full of uneducated bumpkins.
Perhaps no southern state disproves the stereotype of the ignorant South as much as Virginia.
More than 38 percent of adults in the state have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher (the seventh-best rate in the country). The state also boasts impressive colleges and universities. The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, founded in 1693, is the second-oldest institute of higher learning in the U.S. and counts some Founders among its alumni, including Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Then there’s the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson; Hampton University, one of the country’s top-rated HBCUs; VCU, Virginia Tech … the list goes on.
Virginia’s students do well on standardized tests, too, with above-average participation rates and scores on the SATs.
6. Misconception: Vermont is pushing wealthy people out.
Vermont has been called America’s “most European” state. It elected Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist senator, for example, and boasts a relatively strong social safety net that has contributed to high rates of childhood health and well-being. To fund that safety net, Vermonters “pay more in taxes on average than residents of any other state,” according to USA Today.
Vermont’s population has been static or declining for years. Some point towards those high taxes as a reason. As State Senator Anthony Pollina said, “I constantly hear stories in committee and on the floor of the Senate that we’re pushing wealthier people out.”
Actually, the opposite is true; the state is hemorrhaging low- and middle-income residents. According to an analysis conducted by the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office, Vermont saw a net gain of 126 high-income taxpayers between 2012 and 2016, while the highest rate of emigration occurred in 45- to 64-year-olds who make between $25,000 and $75,000 a year. It’s hard to pin down any one reason for this trend, though an informal survey on Facebook saw former Vermonters mention taxes, the weather, job opportunities, and more as reasons for their move.
7. Misconception: Everyone in Utah is a bigamy-practicing Mormon.
Like a lot of these misconceptions, this one begins with an element of truth. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints obviously play a big role in the Beehive State, but not quite as big as they once did. Back in 1990, 72 percent of Utahans were Mormon; today, that number is more like 62 percent percent.
And this demographic shift is more pronounced in cities. By 2018, the population of Salt Lake County became majority non-Mormon for the first time since at least the 1930s.
And the notion of “sister wives” is not a complete fabrication, but it’s also far from the norm. In the late 1800s, the church was under increasing pressure from the federal government. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 took aim at polygamy and specifically disincorporated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its stance on the practice. Facing the loss of its property, and jail time for practicing polygamists (who were probably a small minority of Mormons even then), President Wilford Woodruff issued the so-called “manifesto” officially banning polygamy in the church. A later “second manifesto” strengthened that position. Church members who violate the prohibition can be excommunicated. It’s estimated that around 40,000 fundamentalist Mormons still engage in the illegal practice.
8. Misconception: Texas is full of cowboys.
Not everyone in Texas wears 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots and cooks beans around the campfire. In cosmopolitan Austin, farming and ranching don’t crack the top 50 most popular jobs.
Whether they work on a ranch or not, plenty of Texans sport the boots/denim/hat trio you probably have in your mind, thanks to the combined influence of local style and Mexican vaquero culture. And with some 13 million cattle in the state, many people make their living off that multibillion-dollar industry. Still, agriculture accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s GDP, much less than oil and gas. Texas also boasts growing sectors in technology, business services, and education. And lots of cowboys don’t even wear boots.
9. Misconception: Tennessee is all country, all the time.
Some people call Nashville the country music capital of the world, but its other nickname—Music City—may be more fitting. Local luminaries span practically every musical genre: Bessie Smith, the empress of the blues; pop acts like Justin Timberlake; hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia of Hustle & Flow fame; not to mention the iconic Tina Turner.
Because it’s home to the Ryman Auditorium, which has been called “the mother church of country music,” it’s easy to see why people associate the state with country, but Tennessee’s rich music culture has always been about more than just one genre.
10. Misconception: South Dakota’s only geographic rivalry is with North Dakota.
South Dakota is not part of the same state as North Dakota: apparently that mistake is common enough for people to be sick of hearing it.
But people in South Dakota also have a bit of an east-west rivalry. The dividing line is the Missouri River, which splits the state roughly in half. “East River” tends to have more farms, while West River has more ranches (think “corn vs. cows”). West River tends to lean more into its “Wild West” heritage—Deadwood, the town that inspired the TV show, is at the far western side of the state. East River is flatter and slightly more urbanized.
11. Misconception: South Carolina’s military history started at Fort Sumter.
South Carolina played a key role in the American Civil War. It was the first state to secede from the Union, and when Abraham Lincoln tried to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861, it became the site of the first military engagement between northern and southern soldiers. The battle pitted Union forces led by Major Robert Anderson against Brigadier General P.G.T Beauregard’s Confederate troops.
South Carolina was also the setting for more than 200 battles during the Revolutionary War, by some accounts more than any other colony. Many were smaller skirmishes, but major turning points like the Battle of Cowpens and the Battle of Kings Mountain—the latter of which Thomas Jefferson called the “turn of the tide of success”—took place there. In total, around 20 percent of the war’s battlefield deaths happened in South Carolina.
12. Misconception: Rhode Island is a part of New York.
Apparently, people in Rhode Island are sick of hearing that they are part of New York State—presumably people are confusing it with Long Island. But rest assured, Rhode Island is its own (very tiny) state.
Bonus misconception: Rhode Island is not actually an island. There are some islands that make up its landmass, though— mostly Aquidneck Island, where the coastal towns of Portsmouth, Middleton, and Newport are located.
13. Misconception: Pennsylvania is uniquely Amish.
The phrase “Pennsylvania Dutch” could lead you to believe that it’s the “most Amish” state in the country. But with an Amish population of about 81,000 people, Pennsylvania is only 0.6 percent Amish. That’s about a fifth of the state’s Puerto Rican population, for example. The Amish culture may have a disproportionate visibility in the state, but it’s far from a significant portion of the population.
On the other hand, the state currently edges out Ohio for the largest Amish population in the country. Ohio’s Holmes County does have the single largest concentration of Amish people in any one county—beating the more famous Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And, Indiana actually has the largest percentage of residents belonging to an Amish community, with an estimated 0.9 percent.
And despite the common usage, Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish aren’t actually synonymous—not to mention the “Pennsylvania Dutch” were actually German-speaking immigrants from central Europe.
14. Misconception: Oregon is blue, through and through.
The last time Oregon voted for the Republican candidate for president was 1984, so there’s definitely some truth to the idea that Oregon leans Democratic.
But large swaths of the state are solidly conservative, especially in the least-populated counties in the southern and eastern regions of the state, some of which voted for Donald Trump by a three-to-one margin in the 2020 presidential election. If your only sense of Oregon comes from Portlandia, you’re probably mischaracterizing a large portion of the state.
15. Misconception: Oklahoma has the highest percentage of Native American residents.
After the 1830 Indian Removal Act, members of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole nations were forcibly relocated to present-day Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory. Today, the U.S. Census indicates that about 13 percent of the state’s population is Native American, which includes residents from these five tribes and others.
But this misconception hinges on the fact that Native American is only one label of many used to describe Indigenous peoples. Alaska has a considerably larger percentage of Indigenous residents. Native American and Alaska Native peoples—including Aleut, Iñupiat, Yup’ik, Athabascan, Tlingit, Haida, and others—make up about 15 percent of the state’s population.
16. Misconception: Cleveland is Ohio’s biggest city.
Cleveland has professional baseball, basketball, and football teams, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and an art museum with works by Botticelli, van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock. But it’s less than half the size of Columbus, by population, and the gap is only growing. Cleveland hasn’t been Ohio’s most populous city since the 1980s.
At this point, it seems more likely that Cincinnati, the state’s third most populous city, will surpass Cleveland, rather than Cleveland retaking the top spot in Ohio. While Cleveland’s population continues to shrink, Cincinnati’s is growing, despite the existence of Skyline Chili.
17. Misconception: Fargo takes place in North Dakota.
The movie Fargo takes place, with the exception of one scene, in the state of Minnesota. The city Fargo is in North Dakota.
The Coen brothers, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, are from Minnesota, and originally were set to call the movie Brainerd, where much of the action in their 1996 masterpiece takes place. As the filmmakers correctly deduced, though, Brainerd does not sound like a cool film. Fargo does.
And the dialect the movie made famous—to the extent that it really exists anywhere—is more a product of the whole Upper Midwest than anything specific to North Dakota.
18. Misconception: North Carolinians smoke ‘em since they got ‘em.
North Carolina leads the country in tobacco production, with about twice as much output as its closest competitor, Kentucky. But that doesn’t mean everyone in the Tarheel State is constantly puffing or chewing away. North Carolina doesn’t even crack the top 10 states in rates of cigarette smoking or smokeless tobacco use. Still, about 14,000 people in North Carolina die of smoking-related illnesses each year. Hopefully, those consumption numbers will decrease.
19. Misconception: New York is one big city.
New York is not all subways and tall buildings, and it's definitely not all contained on one island at the bottom of the state. There are four cities of 100,000 people or more (Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Syracuse) north of New York City. Buffalo is about half a day’s drive from the New York City but only half an hour away from Canada. Plenty of New York counties are closer to Montreal than any of the five boroughs.
The state is home to more than 30,000 family farms, while the landmass of Manhattan comprises only one-twentieth of 1 percent of the state’s total area. And just to make things confusing, a sizable portion of New Yorkers will tell you that anything north of the city is “upstate.”
20. Misconception: New Mexico is part of Mexico.
The area that eventually became our 47th state once was part of Mexico. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, ceded most of the land to the United States. The rest of present-day New Mexico’s land was acquired by the U.S. later in the Gadsden Purchase.
Maybe people hear the word Mexico and jump to erroneous conclusions. The mix-up is so common that New Mexico Magazine has a long-running monthly piece called “One of Our 50 Is Missing,” highlighting stories of this particular brand of geographical confusion.
21. Misconception: New Jersey is mostly gardens.
Businessman and politician Abraham Browning is sometimes credited with coining New Jersey’s “Garden State” nickname. In the late 1800s, when he came up with it, the name was apt: the state was roughly two-thirds farmland.
Today, though, a more fitting nickname might be the “Vaccine State.” The biggest industry in New Jersey is pharmaceuticals; companies like Johnson & Johnson and Merck are based there. And though farming is still a major industry in Jersey—specifically cranberries, spinach, and bell peppers—only 15 percent of the state is used for agriculture.
22. Misconception: New Hampshire has no taxes.
New Hampshire residents pay no sales tax nor state income tax on wages, one of only two states in the country where that’s true.
New Hampshire’s property taxes are among the top 10 highest in the country, though. It works out to an effective average tax burden of around 6.4 percent—considerably lower than nearby Vermont, but higher than a handful of other states.
23. Misconception: It’s typical for Nevadans to live on the Las Vegas Strip.
When you hear someone lives in Nevada—especially if they’re in Las Vegas—you might picture someone curling up to sleep in the shadow of the Paris Las Vegas’s Eiffel Tower replica.
The Las Vegas Strip may be iconic, but it's not a common spot to reside for Nevada’s roughly 3 million residents. About 75 percent of those people live in the greater Las Vegas area, and only a tiny percentage calls the Strip home.
24. Misconception: Nebraska is a fly-over state.
For some, the phrase “fly-over state” can be interpreted as uninformed coastal elitism. In Nebraska, you’ve got vibrant cities like Omaha and Lincoln, natural wonders like Chimney Rock, and unique cultural phenomena such as the runza, a kind of stuffed pocket sandwich.
But if we take the term “fly-over state” a bit more literally, we could define it as states that you’re more likely to literally fly over on the way to somewhere else. The travel company ChampionTraveler analyzed hundreds of thousands of flights and came up with ratios of “flights over” to “flights to” to quantify which states really are the most flown over. On that metric, Nebraska isn’t even in the top 10. The clear winner—or loser, depending on how you look at it—was West Virginia, with almost 200 flights over the state for every one that landed there.
25. Misconception: No one survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn pitted the U.S. Army against members of several Native tribes in present-day Montana. The fight ended in a rout for the Native forces, which points to the most obvious way this misconception is false: Though the story is often told from the perspective of the losers, there were plenty of Native survivors of the battle.
Lieutenant Colonel George Custer died in the battle, as did every soldier in the five companies he commanded, with more than 200 lives lost. But companies under Marcus A. Reno and Frederick W. Benteen, which had split off from Custer’s men, participated in the battle and survived.
There was also a pair of couriers, Daniel Kanipe and John Martin, who were part of Custer’s battalion; Captain Benteen held the messengers away from the fighting and saved their lives (though recent scholarship has questioned Kanipe’s story).
Many people later claimed to be survivors who had fought directly under Custer that day. Most of those claims were definitively debunked, but one—that of Frank Finkel—remains contentious to this day. Finkel didn’t come forward with his story until 1920, and some of the details—involving name changes and falsified places of birth—are a bit suspicious. Other facts he offered, from the type of horse he rode to his recollection of the terrain, did seem to match what a survivor would have known.
There was also, famously, an equine member of the U.S. Army who survived. The horse, named Comanche, ended up living out the rest of his days away from the battlefield. When he died, he was put on display at the Chicago Exposition of 1893.
26: Misconception: Missouri doesn’t exist.
One of the quizzes on the website Sporcle asks people to list the 50 states against a ticking clock. Over millions of attempts, the most commonly forgotten state on that quiz is Missouri, with nearly a quarter of players forgetting about the Show Me State.
27. Misconception: Illiteracy is spelled M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.
People in Mississippi are sick of hearing about how they can’t read. And for what it’s worth, they’re not in the top five states in adult illiteracy. According to World Population Review, California and New York have the lowest literacy rates in the country, partly due to immigrant populations who primarily speak languages other than English.
To the extent that Mississippi, like a lot of other states in our country, is facing a challenge with low levels of literacy, it’s not something to laugh about. Adult literacy is the function of many interrelated factors. To name just a few: socioeconomic status, family situation, and whether you’re a native speaker or learning a second language (especially if you’re measuring illiteracy specifically in English, as states in the U.S. often do). Low literacy is associated with poorer employment prospects, higher incarceration rates, and health issues, from increased stress to problems taking medication as directed.
28. Misconception: Minnesota is Canada’s southernmost province.
When people refer to Minnesota as Canada's 11th province, they’re generally just having some fun with the similarities between the state and its neighbor to the north. Many parts of Canada—especially the prairie provinces—have a similar climate to the Gopher State, so it’s no surprise that they share cultural touchstones like ice fishing and hockey.
It’s not rare for a Minnesotan to be misidentified as a Canadian, so let us share one particularly odd aspect of the cross-country relationship.
After the American Revolution, diplomats tried to set the border between British Canada and the U.S. They intended to draw a straight line due west between the northwest corner of Lake of the Woods and the Mississippi River. The problem is that no such straight line exists—the Mississippi is south of where the officials had thought it was.
Following the Louisiana Purchase, a new border was drawn between the two countries. It led to a geographical oddity that persists today: A little chunk of the U.S., known as the Northwest Angle, is connected only to Canada—not to any land belonging to the States. The Angle is home to only a few dozen Americans. For students who go to school elsewhere in Minnesota, it’s not uncommon to cross the U.S.-Canada border four times in a single day. They leave their homes in Minnesota, pass into Manitoba, then back into Minnesota to get to class in the mornings, with the reverse trip at the end of the day.
29. Misconception: Michigan is shaped like a mitten.
In 2009, the Michigan House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill requiring “any illustration, image, or depiction of the state of Michigan” made by the government to include both the lower and upper peninsulas.
The U.P., as it’s often called, is connected to the rest of the state by the nearly five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge. Bonus misconception: it’s pronounced Macki-naw.
Michiganders are sick and tired of people forgetting about a big chunk of their state. A Google office in Ann Arbor left the U.P. off a piece of wall art depicting the state; a graphic made by Mountain Dew (or, more likely, an overworked social media manager) labeled it as part of Wisconsin; back in 2020, a mis-infographic on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show ceded the Upper Peninsula to Canada.
The U.P.’s population has been dropping for years, but there are still about 300,000 Yoopers—most of whom would prefer not to be wiped off the map.
30. Misconception: Massachusetts is not a state.
As the State Library of Massachusetts explains, “Commonwealths are states, but the reverse is not true.” In the cases of Massachusetts, Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, their statuses as commonwealths reflect the language used in their state constitutions—there isn’t any legal distinction between a commonwealth and a state, and it’s accurate to use either label when discussing them.
For that matter, Puerto Rico is also called a commonwealth, and it doesn’t mean much in that context, either. For legal purposes, it’s more relevant that the island is considered a territory. Theoretically, Puerto Rico could one day become a state, cease being a territory, and continue being a commonwealth.
31. Misconception: Maryland is part of the South.
Sixty-five percent of Free Staters who responded to a Goucher College poll said they consider Maryland to be a northern state. The real misconception here, though, might be forcing Maryland into a southern or northern box. The state’s past and present seem to defy such categorization.
The state is below the Mason-Dixon line, often considered the dividing line between the North and South. At the outset of the American Civil War, it continued to permit slavery, but it never seceded from the Union. Thousands of Marylanders fought on either side of the war, sometimes against one another.
The U.S. Census Bureau classifies Maryland as part of the South, but let us also consider the definition offered by a user named MaliceTowardNone1 on Reddit: “It is neither south nor north. Maryland is considered a semi-autonomous crab republic.”
32. Misconception: Lobster > logger in Maine.
Maine is famous for its lobster. The industry contributes around $1 billion to the state’s economy and supports thousands of jobs, including around 4800 commercial lobstermen.
But as the most heavily forested state in the country, Maine actually creates much more economic output from logging and related industries. Paper manufacturing alone contributed to nearly 5000 jobs in 2019, with logging and related trucking activity also representing important economic engines in the state.
33. Misconception: Cajun and Creole are synonymous in Louisiana.
Louisiana is steeped in history, some of which has led to confusion in the present day. Is there a difference between the words Cajun and Creole, and if so, what is it?
Both terms are associated with the people and culture of Louisiana, and they’re often used interchangeably. Since there’s no universally accepted definition of the word Creole, it can be tough to pin down. But looking at the history of the terms suggests there is a meaningful distinction to make.
Cajun came about as a variation of Acadian, a word describing the people from the colony of Acadia in New France (present-day Nova Scotia). Those settlers started arriving in Louisiana in the mid- to late-1700s, and initially embraced the Creole designation. It came from the Spanish word criollo, and originally referred to someone in a given area, such as the Louisiana colony, who was of European descent but born in the colony. Today, somewhat confusingly, creole is often used to refer to people of more than one race or ethnicity, often people with a mix of white European and Black African heritage. Sometimes it’s applied as a catch-all term for anyone from the Caribbean.
When the word Creole started to be used in Louisiana, it generally implied that a person was French-speaking and of the Catholic faith, but it didn’t have the racial connotation that would later come to the fore. According to the Historic New Orleans Collection, “one could be of entirely European, entirely African, or of mixed ancestry and still be a Creole.”
After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws forced the region’s diverse population into a segregated framework that flattened more complicated familial histories. As Herman Fuselier, a specialist in Creole culture, told the Historic New Orleans Collection, “With some white Creoles, when they learned the word could be connected to [Black people], they dropped the term.”
Cajun, which had once had a neutral if not derogatory connotation, was increasingly embraced, especially in the southern areas of the state that had been the center of the historic Francophone culture. In 1971, the state legislature recognized 22 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes under the newly created name of Acadiana, a nod to that French settler history.
Today, it’s difficult to say if there are any hard-and-fast rules for defining Cajun versus Creole. Generally, Cajun is applied to white Louisianans in the rural southern parts of the state, while Creole often refers to Black or mixed-race people, especially in and around New Orleans. Creole food is sometimes said to include more diverse cultural influences and, more specifically, tomatoes and tomato-based sauces; Cajun food is sometimes described as more rustic fare, perhaps with clearer lines back to its French Acadian origins. Still, Cajun cuisine’s unmissable African and Native American influences belie any effort to oversimplify this tricky cultural distinction.
34. Misconception: All bourbon comes from Kentucky.
To be clear, Kentucky is definitely bourbon country: 95 percent of all bourbon is made there, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association.
But 95 percent is not 100 percent. And that’s because there are no rules saying that all bourbon must be produced in Kentucky.
As Dana McMahan wrote for Louisville’s Courier Journal, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau's Beverage Alcohol Manual defines bourbon as, “Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80 percent alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5 percent alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers." No mention of Kentucky.
Today, you can sample smaller-batch bourbon—labeled bourbon—at venues like New Mexico’s Left Turn Distilling, Colorado’s Breckenridge Distillery, and New York’s Black Button Distilling, Hillrock Estate, and Taconic Distillery. Maybe not all on the same day, though.
35. Misconception: Kansas City is the biggest city in Kansas.
More than 500,000 people live in Kansas City. So how is Wichita, with a population of about 400,000, Kansas’s most populous city?
It’s a classic case of having fun with municipal boundaries. Kansas City exists in two states at once. The one that’s in Missouri is about three times as populated as the Kansas City in Kansas.
Kansas City, Missouri, actually predates the state of Kansas. Both take their name from the Kansas River, which got it from the Kanza people, now usually called the Kaw Nation.
A couple decades after the state was established, a number of smaller Kansas towns united to form Kansas City, Kansas. At the time, the city in Missouri was still known as the City of Kansas—not exactly the same thing.
Today, residents of Kansas City, Kansas, have a nickname to differentiate themselves from their interstate counterparts. Because their city is in Wyandotte County, they sometimes call themselves Dottes.
36. Misconception: Iowa is flatter than a (corn) pancake.
If you picture Iowa as miles of corn fields extending out in all directions, you’re ignoring large parts of the Hawkeye State. It’s true that parts of the state can be quite flat, and even where it’s not, we’re talking “rolling hills,” not “huge mountains.” The state’s highest point is Hawkeye Point, a less-than-staggering 1700 feet above sea level. But Iowa’s Loess Hills region is, well, hilly—as are some of the areas in the southern part of the state.
In fact, when a group of researchers from the University of Kansas set out to quantify the flattest states in the contiguous U.S., Iowa came in at number 18, less flat than about one-third of the states in the country. For the record, Florida was the flattest.
37. Misconception: Indiana is sparsely populated.
When you picture Indiana, you might think of big farms or Rust Belt towns with relatively few people.
You might not realize that Indiana is actually the 17th most populous state in the country. Only eight states have cities within them bigger than Indianapolis. And while farming is definitively a big part of the Hoosier State’s economy, the Rust Belt hasn’t quite rusted over everywhere. Indiana has been the country’s biggest steel producer for more than four decades—it’s responsible for about a quarter of U.S. steel production.
38. Misconception: Deep dish is the standard Illinois pizza order.
Deep dish pizza has been picked up by national chains and celebrated by Chicago mayors, but the more common choice for locals is probably a thin-crust pizza cut into squares, often called tavern-style or party-style pizza. Chicago-based food writer Kevin Pang went so far as to call deep-dish “tourist food—not that tourist food can’t be delicious—but it’s a dish most Chicagoans stay away from.”
That might be a slight exaggeration—it’s hard to imagine tourists alone could keep dozens of Lou Malnati’s locations in Chicagoland alive—but the numbers are pretty persuasive. According to ordering data compiled by Grubhub, deep dish and stuffed Chicago pizza account for only about 9 percent of all pizza orders in Chicago. (It’s harder to find data statewide, but it seems like a safe bet that Chicago deep dish isn’t going to be substantially more popular in the rest of Illinois.) Anecdotally, the rather passionate comments on Pang’s piece in the Takeout suggest that deep dish is a beloved part of Chicago cuisine, but more of a special occasion meal than a weekly dinner option.
39. Misconception: Potatoes are Idaho’s biggest agricultural product.
In Idaho, potatoes are no small potatoes. (Ahem.) The Gem State is responsible for almost a third of our country’s tater production, generating about a billion dollars per year. But the dairy and beef industries each generate considerably more money. In terms of acreage planted, wheat accounts for over three times as much land as potatoes.
The livestock industry also has contributed to the growth of hay as a cash crop. According to the USDA’s 2021 State Agriculture Overview, hay and haylage (another form of grass used to feed animals) narrowly surpassed potatoes for total monetary value of production. A lot of that hay goes straight to cattle ranches, where it becomes cow food, and then, indirectly, human food.
40. Misconception: A majority of Hawaii residents voted for statehood.
In June 1959, voters in Hawaii participated in a plebiscite: a direct vote, in this case on the question of whether the territory should become a state. With 132,773 votes in favor of statehood, and only 8000 or so opposed, Hawaii became the country’s 50th state. So where’s the misconception?
According to the 1960 Census, Hawaii had a population of a little over 630,000. It seems safe to assume that more than 50 percent of Hawaii voters didn’t vote in the election at all. In an op-ed for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, a group in favor of Hawaiian sovereignty estimated that only 27 percent of voters actually voted “yes” in the plebiscite.
And the controversy goes beyond simple turnout. Hawaii’s white population grew from about 29,000 in 1900 to more than 200,000 by 1960, meaning many of the voters in the plebiscite lacked longstanding ties to the islands. Residents were required to have lived in Hawaii for only one year to vote.
The history that led to those transplants ending up in Hawaii includes what many consider the illegal deposition of Queen Lili’uokalani in 1898. In 1993, President Bill Clinton actually signed an official resolution apologizing for overthrowing the sovereign government of Hawaii.
41. Misconception: Peaches are Georgia’s main crop.
There are dozens of streets in Atlanta with the word Peachtree in their names. Baseball legend Ty Cobb was known as the Georgia Peach. The Georgia Film Office incorporates a peach in that logo that gets slapped on the end of all those Marvel movies. Georgians like their peaches.
But the fruit isn’t Georgia’s biggest crop—that would be cotton. And while Georgia is the biggest producer of peanuts and pecans in the country, it isn’t the number one peach producer (it’s actually third, behind California and South Carolina).
42. Misconception: “Florida Man” is a reflection of Floridian character.
Florida has its fair share of eccentrics, but a couple of interesting factors suggest it isn’t Floridians’ innate instability that leads to all those “Florida Man” headlines. For one, Florida has the third-highest population of any state. With about 22 times the number of residents as Delaware, for example, it stands to reason that there are more opportunities for something outlandish to happen in the state.
Two, Florida also has “one of the most robust public records laws in the nation,” according to Treasure Coast Newspapers. The media, in general, has uncommonly easy access to arrest records and associated media—including video footage, which, unfortunately, does not include a man pausing his attempt to evade the police to steal a refreshing Capri-Sun (something which actually happened in the Sunshine State).
Three, Florida’s violent crime rate is almost exactly on par with the national average, so there’s surely a healthy dose of confirmation bias perpetuating the Florida Man archetype.
43. Misconception: The District of Columbia’s traffic circles are defense mechanisms.
Washington, D.C. is not a state—yet—but Washingtonians might be miffed if we left it off the list.
The nation’s capital has a lot of traffic circles for a U.S. city, which some sources have said were originally meant to house cannons to defend against enemy cavalry. That’s not the case.
Pierre Charles l’Enfant, a French architect who fought with Americans during the Revolutionary War, was asked by George Washington to design the new capital city on the Potomac River. The National Mall and Capitol Hill are just two of the many parts of the city that are still marked with his fingerprints.
L’Enfant initially envisioned the traffic circles as squares, with each one representing a different state of the union. Informal state embassies would be built nearby, and residents from the corresponding state would live in the surrounding area. That plan never quite came to be, but the traffic circles—sometimes maddening for drivers, but appreciated by locals—continue to be an important part of the cityscape.
44. Misconception: Incorporating in Delaware means other states’ laws don’t apply.
Relatively small Delaware is the legal home to more publicly traded companies than any other state. It also leads the country in out-of-state incorporations, in which a company has headquarters in one place but incorporates in another. More than 200,000 businesses list the address of a single office building in Wilmington as their official incorporation location. It’s safe to assume there are some business-friendly rules behind these trends.
But if you operate a business in California—say, “Jimmy’s Uninsured Trampoline Park and Bar”—any lawsuits that might arise don’t get moved to Delaware’s jurisdiction just because you incorporated there.
If there’s a legal dispute among a company’s shareholders, though, that would be adjudicated in Delaware. And the state has relatively permissive privacy laws regarding incorporation. That’s probably what attracted drug lord El Chapo, Ponzi scheme convict Tim Durham, and Russian illegal arms dealer Viktor Bout to incorporate companies in the state.
45. Misconception: Everyone in Connecticut is wealthy.
When people associate Connecticut with big bucks, they’re probably thinking about towns likeNew Canaan or Darien, where the median household income surpasses $200,000 per year. The Nutmeg State is definitely on the wealthier end of the spectrum, but it’s more than just a few wealthy towns.
Connecticut is one of top five states in wealth inequality. In the capital city, Hartford, almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line. According to Feeding America, nearly 100,000 children—one in every eight kids—in Connecticut face hunger. So, while some people in the state are doing very well financially, it’s incorrect to assume everyone in Connecticut is rich.
46. Misconception: Colorado is the highest state.
Colorado does have the highest average elevation of any state (though Alaska has the highest peaks in the country, including Denali, the tallest mountain in North America).
But the misconception we’re addressing here is that everyone in Colorado is high on marijuana. The state was the first to establish a legal recreational cannabis market, but in terms of per capita usage, it’s edged out by Oregon. And even that doesn’t mean every Coloradan is consuming: about 28 percent of adults in the state reported using the drug within the last year.
Colorado doesn’t have the most marijuana dispensaries in the country, either: that distinction belongs to Oklahoma, where a laissez-faire medical marijuana program has spawned more than 2000 dispensaries.
47. Misconception: California’s beaches are perfect for swimming.
You’ve probably heard that people in Los Angeles can surf and ski all on the same day. But both will be unpleasantly cold: California beaches do not have particularly warm water temperatures.
That’s to be expected in the northern part of the state. Crescent City’s latitude is about the same as Chicago, for example. But even down in San Diego, ocean temperatures rarely peak into the 70s. In Santa Cruz, they’re usually in the mid-50s.
As KQED explained, “First, the California Current brings cold water from Alaska southward along the coast. And second, cold water from the deep ocean comes up to the surface through a process called upwelling.” That means summer ocean temperatures off the coast of Los Angeles are generally more in line with those found in Boston than in Myrtle Beach, even though the South Carolina resort destination is located at a similar latitude to LA.
48. Misconception: It’s illegal to mispronounce Arkansas.
Arkansas Code 1-04-105 declares that “confusion … has arisen in the pronunciation of the name of our state and it is deemed important that the true pronunciation should be determined for use in oral official proceedings.”
That’s led some people to say it’s illegal to mispronounce the state’s name. But that resolution is really just about clarifying the pronunciation (and maybe getting some free press). No one’s getting thrown in jail for saying ar-KAN-sass.
49. Misconception: Arizona is home to the world’s deepest canyon.
Arizona is home to one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the country, the Grand Canyon. And though many believe it’s the world’s deepest canyon, it’s not even the deepest in the U.S. The Grand Canyon ranges from 4000 to 6000 feet deep, with an average depth of approximately 5280 feet, or one mile. The deepest canyon in the States is the aptly named Hell’s Canyon, located on the border between Oregon and Idaho. It has a depth of approximately 8000 feet. The deepest canyon in the world is likely the Yarlung Zangbo canyon in Tibet, with a maximum depth of 17,490 feet.
50. Misconception: Alaska is a year-round winter wonderland.
While Alaska holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in the U.S., the picture of the whole state as a limitless snow-blanketed landscape is just wrong. Sure, the average high temperatures in some northern Alaska towns max out in the mid-40s, But the state’s weather varies drastically by region. Alaska’s interior averages 70°F in the summer, and temperatures can often fluctuate into the 90s. Alaska actually reached a record high of 100°F in the summer of 1915.
51. Misconception: The University of Alabama enrolls mostly Alabamans.
About 42 percent of students at the University of Alabama are considered Alabama residents. Recruiting by the school's famous sports program contributes to that imbalance.
So does an apparent effort to attract out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition than in-state residents. According to a 2019 report conducted by researchers from UCLA and the University of Arizona, U of A made 10 times more school visits to out-of-state high schools compared to schools in its own state. The university argued that recruiting visits are just one piece of outreach, but in the 15 years between 2003 and 2018, the number of non-resident freshmen at Alabama nearly quadrupled.