We know, we know -- your state is the best. Whether you hail from somewhere with the most exquisite coastline, the hippest art scene or the most sublime mountain range in the nation, we bet you've found at least one reason to be seriously proud of your home state. We did you a solid and found one more:
Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center, also called "the Rocket City," has played a vital role in the U.S. Space program since its beginnings. The Marshall Center developed the Saturn V rocket that sent America to the moon and spearheaded high-priority projects like The Hubble Space Telescope. The photo above depicts the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which was part of a series of Spacelab missions managed in Huntsville, Ala.
Indeed, the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is possibly the most patriotic landscape in the nation. The 48,000-acre sanctuary hosts some 3,000 bald eagles who gather between the months of October and February to enjoy the season's late salmon supply. It was established to protect Alaska's bald eagle population, and now boasts the largest concentration of the regal birds in the world.
The first drive-thru McDonalds opened in Sierra Vista in 1975. The drive-thru was established to accommodate off-duty soldiers from a nearby military base, as they were not allowed to leave their vehicles to enter a restaurant while wearing their uniforms. Of course, McDonald's would quickly discover that plenty of civilians also appreciate the convenience of a drive-thru.
In Arkansas, cheese dip is more than just an accessory to tortilla chips. While the rest of the world generally associates the dip with Mexican food, Arkansas restaurants offer the dip everywhere, from burger joints to cafes. One Arkansas lawyer and filmmaker, Nick Rogers, made a documentary, "In Queso Fever," tracking the history of cheese dip to an Arkansas restaurant called Little Mexico, circa 1935. Of course, some Texans would contest that claim. Regardless of its true origin, there's no doubt that Arkansas has turned cheese dip into a point of pride -- and into a global competition, with its World Cheese Dip Championship.
Norman Asing opened an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in San Francisco in 1849, which is believed to be the first Chinese restaurant in the U.S. Asing's restaurant, Macao and Woosung, offered an unlimited platter of deliciousness for the price of $1. That's the equivalent of about a $30 buffet nowadays. Eventually, this type of restaurant would spread deliciousness across the nation.
Just north of Denver, in Keenesburg, you'll find The Wild Animal Sanctuary, founded as The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, which calls itself the country's oldest wildlife sanctuary exclusively dedicated to carnivorous animals. Founded in 1980, the spacious wildlife preserve was created specifically to "prevent and alleviate cruelty to animals which are abandoned or that are subject to deprivation or neglect by providing care and boarding for such animals." The preserve has been a safe home to an enormous range of enormous (and some smaller) animals, like lions and wolves and emus. It currently accommodates over 290 carnivorous "residents."
Bristol is home to any thrill-seeking history buff's dream destination. We're talking, of course, of Lake Compounce, the oldest continuously operating amusement park in the United States! Lake Compounce opened in 1846 as merely a humble "picnic park" with a gazebo, a few rides and a public swimming pool. Today, the 332 acre-wide amusement park boasts 44 rides, a beach and a water park. How's that for progress?
This remarkable, architectural feat was made possible by over 500,000 Lego bricks and Delaware's truly dedicated Red Clay Consolidated School District. The tower earned the Guinness World Record in late 2013 for the "Tallest Structure Built with Interlocking Plastic Bricks." The impressive testament to Delaware's industrious youth stood at nearly 113-feet, or 11-stories tall, before being deconstructed.
It's not surprising to learn that the sweltering heat of the Sunshine State inspired one inventor to create the first-ever "comfort cooling" machine, the legendary precursor to the air conditioner. Indeed, Dr. John Gorrie of Appalachicola was convinced he could help bring down his patients' raging fevers if only he could cool down their hospital rooms. And so, as early as 1842, he constructed and operated the first refrigerating machine for "comfort cooling." This first "air-conditioning" machine eased the oppressive heat by blowing air over buckets of ice. Today, hot climate dwellers everywhere owe him their thanks -– perhaps none more so than his fellow Floridians.
The Cabbage Patch Kid was the brainchild of 21-year-old art student Xavier Roberts of Georgia, who was inspired by the German craft of needle molding, a kind of fabric sculpture. Little did he know that his dolls, originally billed as "Little People," would inspire one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the 1980s. According to the company, by the end of the decade, 65 million Cabbage Patch Kids had been sold. Today, Cleveland, Ga. is home to the Cabbage Patch Kid-themed Babyland General Hospital, where Cabbage Patch Kids continue to be "adopted."
The Pineapple Garden Maze, built at Hawaii's Dole Plantation, set the Guinness World Record for the "Largest Maze with a Permanent Hedge." Located in Wahiawa, the maze spans 3.15 acres and includes almost two and a half miles worth of paths. The maze opened in 1997 and was expanded in 2007.
Philo Farnsworth, the "Forgotten Father of Television," moved to a farm near Rigby, Idaho, when he was 13 years old. In 1927, Farnsworth conceived a model for a TV that reproduced images electronically on a screen, which he drew out in a diagram for his chemistry teacher.
The first American automobile race took place on Nov. 28, 1895. The contest, sponsored by the Chicago Times Herald, featured six contestants riding 54 miles from Chicago's Jackson Park to Evanston, Ill. and back. Of course, it was hardly as fast-paced as your NASCAR race of today: The winner clocked in at just over 10 hours, averaging a less-than-heart-pumping speed of 7.3 miles per hour.
Mike and Glenda Carmichael of Alexandria bill their roadside attraction as the "World's Largest Ball of Paint," which weighs in at over 4,000 pounds. Since 1977, the Carmichaels have covered a standard baseball in approximately 23,400 layers of paint. This super-sized ball of paint earned the couple a Guinness World Record in 2004 for the "Most Layers of Paint."
When he was just 16, Iowa native George Nissen created the first trampoline out of junkyard scraps in his parents' garage. Little did he know that this piece of canvas stretched over a rectangular steel frame would eventually bring countless of hours of joy to the world. The young gymnast continued to develop the invention while attending the University of Iowa, where he built the first successful version. While on tour with an acrobatic group in Mexico, he heard the Spanish word for diving board, el trampolin, and "the trampoline" as we know it today was born.
You’ll have to thank Omar Knedlik, one seriously creative Kansas Dairy Queen owner, for inventing this favorite iced soft drink in the late 1950s. Knedlik's Dairy Queen didn’t have a soda fountain, so he stored bottles of soda in his freezer. He began selling the soda bottles just after they'd first turned to ice, and customers loved the frozen delight. He spent five years developing and building the first ICEE machine. His legacy lives on today -- according to the ICEE company, some 500,000,000 of their beverages are sold every year. (And yes, Slurpees are ICEEs licensed out to 7-Eleven under a different name.)
Indeed, the Bluegrass State manufactures nearly all of the bourbon on the planet. In 2012, the state's inventory grew to 4.9 million barrels of bourbon, all aging to perfection in Kentucky. With a state population of almost 4.4 million, Kentucky actually has more barrels of bourbon than it has people.
Step aside, Los Angeles. Last year, Louisiana was the most popular location for U.S. film production, according to the 2013 Feature Film Production Society. The Society reported that 18 of the 108 major films of last year were filmed in Louisiana, while California and Canada tied for second with 15 films each. The Bayou State set the stage for some of 2013's major releases, like "Dallas Buyers Club."
Maine's official state treat is the whoopie pie, and their passion for the confection is inspiring. In 2011, the world's largest whoopie pie, shown above, was completed in South Portland. The cookie treat, also known as a "BFO," for "Big Fat Oreo," has never looked quite so gargantuan as on that day in Maine, weighing a record 1,062 pounds. There was also a big dose of heart behind the effort: Pieces of the whoopie pie were sold to raise money to send treats to soldiers serving abroad.
Baltimore dairy farmer Jacob Fussell first started making ice cream as a way to utilize his summertime supply of excess milk. Eventually, he opened the first ice cream factory in Baltimore in 1851, thus establishing himself in dessert history books as the Father of Ice Cream. At the time, ice cream had been a pricey indulgence. Fussell was the first to mass-produce ice cream and sell it at prices that were affordable to average Americans.
Ruth Wakefield changed American childhood forever when she baked the first chocolate chip cookie in the kitchen of her Toll House Restaurant in Whitman. Though it's rumored that the cookie was a happy accident, Wakefield claimed that the recipe was meticulously planned. The state thanked her for the groundbreaking confectionary invention in 1997 by declaring the chocolate chip cookie the Massachusetts state cookie.
Estimates vary as to the exact number of lighthouses still stationed across Michigan, though the U.S. Coast Guard tallies 90 of the luminous landmarks. They add a picturesque quality to the state's shore, which happens to be the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S. Just be careful if you visit one during winter!
Rollerblades first skated onto the footwear scene thanks to two hockey-loving brothers from Minnesota. In 1980, Scott and Brennan Olson remodeled a pair of old inline skates, replacing the blades with polyurethane rollers and attaching a rubber heel break. In doing so, they essentially reinvented travel for the '90s kid. They started Rollerblade Inc. out of their parents' basement and the design quickly swept the nation.
Edward Barq Sr., founder of Barq's Root Beer, moved to the beachside town of Biloxi and opened Biloxi Artesian Bottling Works. There, in 1898, he bottled and sold his first root beer. The Barq family maintained ownership of Barq's Root Beer for almost 80 years before selling it in 1976. Though the company's new owners moved the Barq's headquarters to New Orleans, La., Billoxi continues to commemorate its special place in soda pop history.
Hallmark was founded in Kansas City, Mo. by Joyce Clyde Hall. Inspired by the popularity of postcards in the early 20th century, Hall moved to Kansas City with two boxes of postcards and one bold dream. Though he lacked a formal education, he was a shrewd businessman, and he built an enduring legacy in the greeting card industry. Today, Hallmark boasts a nearly $4 billion business.
Montanans can celebrate the fact that snowflakes practically the size of those paper ones you made as a kid actually fell upon their home state. In January 1887, in Fort Keogh, a 15-inch snowflake was recorded, with one rancher saying the snowflakes that day were "larger than milk pans."
Cornhusker Edwin E. Perkins invented Kool-Aid in 1927. Due to the immense love of the drink, a Kool-Aid Days Festival is now held in his hometown of Hastings. The Nebraska government named Kool-Aid the state's official "soft drink" in 1998.
In 1873, Nevadan tailor Jacob Davis successfully partnered with Levi Strauss to receive a patent for riveted pants that would end up being called the blue jean. According to the Reno-Gazette Journal, the first contemporary jeans were made to accommodate the rigors of chopping wood.
Although the Segway has yet to prove itself as a world-changer, the delightfully dorky mode of transportation should still be a point of pride for New Hampshirites. New Hampshire inventor Dean Kamen came up with the Segway, which is still one of the most recognizable inventions of the 21st century. It's too bad its progress seems to be stuck in arrested development.
Henry Ruschmann of Bernardsville invented contemporary glitter in 1934. American partying was never the same. The company still exists today, with the slogan, "Our glitter covers the world."
New Mexicans have a whole town devoted to pie! For some unknown reason, Pie Town isn't the capital of the state, but it is supposedly as delicious as it sounds. The pie-conomy of the town was established in the 1920s and this U.S. Route 60 stop is still home to pie masters like the Pie-O-Neer and Good Pie Cafe.
Nippletop Mountain is located in the Adirondacks and has an elevation of 4,620 feet. Apparently, Nippletop is known for being particularly wet, so if you plan on hiking to the tip, make sure to dress appropriately. If you do manage to summit Nippletop, we recommend you take a moment after and purchase this patch for only $6.
Pretty jealous of Tar Heelers for this one. The rules of the Krispy Kreme Challenge are straightforward in their awesomeness: "2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour." Invented by a group of students at North Carolina State University in 2004 as a dare, the challenge now attracts thousands of racers every year. Before you get too worried about celebrating a huge brand, know that proceeds go to charity. And for what it's worth, Krispy Kreme (which was founded in North Carolina) does make a tasty doughnut.
North Dakotans can get so fresh and so clean. Although the exact origins of who invented the contemporary bubble bath are as murky as soapy water, the most popular bubble bath mix, Mr. Bubble, came straight out of North Dakota. In 2011, Mr. Bubble Day was even declared a state holiday.
In 1965, Cincinnati resident Noah McVicker and his nephew, Joe, successfully received a patent for the "soft, pliable plastic modeling composition" we all know as Play-Doh. Originally the modeling product was intended to be used as a wallpaper cleaner, but, unlike the colorful clay, that never stuck. Maybe they should have called it Play-Dohio! (Or not.)
In 2007, Oklahoma decided watermelon was going to be its official state vegetable. The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Don Barrington, explained that watermelon is, of course, a fruit, "but it's also a vegetable because it's a member of the cucumber family." They are both a part of the Cucurbitaceae family.
In what might be the most Portland thing ever, the city boasts the world's "smallest park" which is also home to the only "leprechaun colony west of Ireland." Mills End Park became officially recognized as a city park on St. Patrick's Day in 1976, but had been created by writer Dick Fagan back in 1948. Fagan was a journalist for the Oregon Journal, and after planting flowers in an abandoned hole intended for a light post outside of his office, he began writing about the travails of a small leprechaun colony in the park, headed by a leader named Patrick O'Toole. Nowadays the park is regularly decorated to make things nicer for the leprechauns, although the park was "occupied" in 2011 by toy soldiers.
In 1928, Walter Diemer invented the first commercially sold bubble gum while working at the Philadelphia-based Fleer Chewing Gum Company. According to Diemer, the gum got its iconic color because "pink food coloring was the only thing I had on hand."
Rhode Islanders are lucky enough to get regularly treated to coffee milk, which became the state drink in 1993. Why this drink hasn't taken off around the rest of the country is certainly a mystery, as you'd think coffee-obsessed Americans would go crazy over this godly nectar. For now, Rhode Islanders can be proud of their Autocrat coffee syrup, a key ingredient in coffee milk, and laugh at the rest of the country for being so naive.
Popularized in 1923 by a song called "The Charleston," the dance with the same name took off throughout the '20s across the states. The flappers, who totally "demoralized" the country, raised Charleston's global profile, and no other dance as popular has been named after a U.S. city since.
Rising 28 feet and weighing 22 tons, the world's largest pheasant towers over the town of Huron. According to legend, an extremely large pheasant also towered over the early South Dakotan settlers, leaving footprints that formed creeks and river valleys, but today this bird is rooted pretty firmly to its perch off Highway 14.
Contemporary cotton candy was invented in 1897 by a dentist and candy maker out of Nashville. The sugary substance was originally called "fairy floss."
Created by inventor George Carter, the "Photon" gaming center became the first laser tag center in the world when it opened in 1984. It began a craze that still continues today. Around the same time, another laser tag-like facility was founded in Texas called Star Laser Force, but the Laser Tag Museum has confirmed with the founders and a Certificate of Occupancy that Photon came first. Star Laser Force did up end selling its technology to a toy company, however, and therefore was the first to get involved in the "home laser tag" market. Regardless, laser tag is a product of Texas.
The Beehive Cluster is the astronomical symbol of Utahns. It's a bright cluster that's located near the middle of the Cancer constellation. Utah is super buzzy: The state insect is the honey bee and the state emblem is the beehive.
The "Harry Potter" series may have been set across the pond, but the world can thank Vermonters for the real-life World Cup of Quidditch. Students from Middlebury College created a muggle-version of the fantastical sport that now even has its own official sports association, the International Quidditch Association. For years, the World Cup would take place in Vermont, but the 16th annual tournament is taking place in Myrtle Beach, S.C..
One of the Middlebury Quidditch founders and now current commissioner of the IQA, Alex Benepe, gave HuffPost this great explanation of how the idea came about:
We had an exceptionally athletic and creative student body, and we wanted to create a new sport - so why not try making quidditch real? Harry Potter is like the Star Wars of our generation, a global cultural access point. With a few adjustments to the rules, including a human snitch, and throwing in some dodgeballs and brooms, we had a real game with a literary background, that was fully embraced by the local community. It was only a matter of time before it exploded to include official club sport teams at hundreds of college campuses.
Phoenix Jones leads a real-life superhero team called the Rain City Superhero Movement, which is comprised of costumed "former MMA fighters, police, medical professionals, ex-military, active military and professional camera men." The costumes aren't just for show -- in fact Jones wears a $10,000 masterpiece made of bulletproof kevlar. Besides fighting crime, Jones and his wife, "Purple Reign," give anti-bullying talks at local schools and raise awareness for other anti-abuse campaigns.
West Virginians know how to appreciate their mothers. In 1912, they became the first state to designate the Mother's Day holiday, with the rest of the country quickly following. Unfortunately, the creation of the holiday wasn't entirely joyful, as the original advocate for the occasion ended up becoming extremely distraught that Mother's Day morphed into something so commercial.
Cheeseheads know how to deal with crap. The annual Cow Chip Festival in Sauk Prairie (Prairie du Sac) challenges participants to throw cow excrement as far as they can. In 2013, the farthest cow chip throw measured 169.6 feet. According to the Cow Chip Festival's website, the Wisconsin State Legislature declared the "cow chip" to be the unofficial state muffin in 1989. Yum.
Wyoming has some small towns. Both Lost Springs and PhinDeli Town Buford have single digit populations, but the latter has something extra special. Seemingly by magic (well, it's not exactly magic), a tree is growing out of a rock in the small town, which has a population of one, plus the tree.
Washingtonians drank on average about 26 liters of wine per person in 2013, beating out every state by a significant margin. This was according to a report by Business Insider, which found second place to be New Hampshire at 19.6 liters per person and last place to be West Virginia at 2.4. Although you should always drink responsibly, drinking wine may have some benefits for your health.
This piece has been updated with additional information about the history of The Wild Animal Sanctuary.