Our peculiar claim to greatness as a nation rests on the fact that we have done without many elements that might be thought of as marks of a great people, among them a myth of origin. Americans have been suckled by no wolf, sired by no Trojan fleeing Troy; they are not descended from the sun or from the dragon's teeth sown in the earth... Indeed... our greatness consists precisely in the fact that we are making it up as we go along – that we are perpetually in the process of devising ourselves as a people.
The United States of America is a group of regions bound together by a national identity and government. Whether you think of it as a conglomerate of oil-guzzling, fat, international bullies or a country of misunderstood, noble people with good intentions, you can't deny there's a lot to say about it.
Fifty states, the District of Columbia, and about a dozen other obscure territories or commonwealths make up the country. Each state and region, is in its own way a little country. Each state has its own history, heroes, geography and capital city. Many also have their own dialect, jokes and clothing.
When people from outside the US think about America, stereotypes of the South are what often pop to mind – probably in large part because many of those characteristics which seem to make Americans 'different' seem to be strongest there. The South is known for the strong influence fundamentalist Christianity has there, affecting everything from politics to education to gender and race issues. While the massive plantations and ranches seen in old films are run differently today, they still play a key role in the economy and lifestyle of the South.
Another characteristic which comes through is that of 'Southern hospitality' – more than anywhere else in the US, people in the South are known for welcoming strangers with open arms, friendly smiles, and tables laden with food. Those from outside the region are often confused (or even frightened) by how often complete strangers will smile and start up a conversation.
Alabama, known as the Heart of Dixie, is one of the classic Deep South states. The southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd sang a song about the state entitled 'Sweet Home Alabama'1 that expresses some detail about the state that this format cannot (we're trying to sing, we really are...). It is also the setting of the classic American novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is set. The largest city in the state is Birmingham, with about a quarter of a million people. Its capital city is Montgomery.
Arkansas, with a reputation for being less wealthy than other states, nevertheless has some of the nicest people you'll meet anywhere. It is called 'The Land of Opportunity' or 'The Natural State' and its eastern border is mostly formed by the Mississippi River. The largest city and capital is Little Rock, famous for the desegregation issue in the 1950s with The 'Little Rock Nine'.
Florida includes the longest peninsula of the United States, so that it is known as the 'Peninsula State' as well as the 'Sunshine State'. It has quite a few urban areas – the Tampa Bay Area, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Tallahassee. Lake Okeechobee is in the southern end of the peninsula, and the state capital Tallahassee is just about where the peninsula meets the panhandle.
Georgia, the Peach State, is one of the usual deep south states and one of the most important states in the Civil War – ironically as its founder James Oglethorpe originally planned for it to have no slavery. Macon, Savannah, Augusta and Atlanta are the larger urban areas, and Atlanta is the largest city and the capital city.
Kentucky, home of Mammoth Cave, the Kentucky Derby and bluegrass is a beautiful and historic state. The famous pioneer Daniel Boone founded Boonesborough in the state, and now a huge national forest is dedicated to him. There are also many lakes and natural attractions in the state. The cities of Lexington, Covington (opposite Cincinnati, Ohio) and Louisville are the major cities. The capital of the state is Frankfort in the northeast.
Louisiana, the 'Pelican State', has the distinction of being the only state to have parishes instead of counties. This state is where the Mississippi River, the most important river in North America, meets the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans is the last major city on the course of the river. New Orleans is between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi, and Baton Rouge (the state capital) lies on the river slightly northwest. Shreveport is in the northwest corner of the state.
Mississippi, the 'Magnolia State', is a classic old south state. The state bird is the Mockingbird. The largest city and capital is Jackson, in the southwest. Vicksburg, the site of the important Civil War battle is to the west of Jackson. The port city of Biloxi is to the south. Hattiesburg is in the southeast. The state is named after the Mississippi River, which forms the western border with Arkansas and Louisiana.
North Carolina, the 'Tar Heel state', is a beautiful place, known for its tobacco products and having the second most film and television output of the states (naturally after California). Cities include Fayetteville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Durham and the state capital of Raleigh.
Oklahoma, originally Indian land2, is now the 'Sooner State'. It is shaped like a very deep frying pan that perhaps is melting at the bottom, because of the curves of the Red River. The largest city and capital is Oklahoma City, and the other large city is Tulsa.
South Carolina, the 'Palmetto State', is remembered for being the birthplace of the Confederacy – the first state to secede from the Union. It has generally beautiful conditions, and many beautiful cities. Charleston, one of the most pleasant cities in the US, sits on the Atlantic shore of the state, and is the state capital and largest city, Columbia is in roughly the centre of the state.
Tennessee is nicknamed the 'Volunteer State', after a group of Tennessee volunteer soldiers under Andrew Jackson who won the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. The largest city is Memphis, where Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley is. Nashville is the capital and Chattanooga and Knoxville are other important cities.
Texas... Texas, Texas. What can you say about Texas? Texas is huge. Ann Richards, a former governor once had this to say about the state-
I thought I knew Texas pretty well, but I had no notion of its size until I campaigned it.
Texas won Independence from Mexico in 1836 and in 1846 became a slave state – but even after it joined the US it was always a somewhat independent place. It fought on the Confederate side in the American Civil War. It grew very quickly, and by the 1990s became the second most populous state, passing New York. Large cities include Houston, the largest, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Lubbock, Corpus Cristi, Galveston and Austin, which is the capital.
Virginia is one of the most historic states, especially during the Revolutionary war, Civil War, and the colonial times. American heroes, such as George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson and Robert E Lee came from the state. The largest city is Virginia Beach, and other urban areas include Norfolk, Petersburg, Arlington, Roanoke and Richmond – which is the capital (and served as the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War).
West Virginia is made up of land from Virginia that left the state during the Civil War to join the Union. The nickname is the 'Mountain State', and it is well known for coal mining. The capital and largest city is Charleston, and Wheeling is in the northern panhandle.
The Midwest is known for several things, but two of the most enduring may seem a bit disparate – widespread farmland and industrial unions. Much of the Midwest is covered in large farms – while corn fields may be what many people think of first, large tracts of soybean and wheat fields are seen as well. Once upon a time, these were mostly smallish, family-owned farms – but today, increasing proportions of the farmland is owned and managed by large corporations. Historically, the American automakers union has been associated with Detroit – this and other industrial unions in the Midwest have had substantial impacts on local and national politics. Over the years, however, both the automakers and the unions have faced some significant declines.
Perhaps more than any other region of the country, the Midwest has been known as a place where the urban areas are fiercely different than the rest of each state, with the urban areas heavily liberal and influenced by unions, and the rural areas staunchly conservative and dominated by farming interests. Recent years have seen many changes in these patterns, however, especially as many high-tech companies have migrated to formerly farmland towns to escape urban prices, and industrial workers have seen more and more of their jobs leave for other countries.
Illinois, the 'Prairie State' or 'Land of Lincoln', is a pretty normal industrial midwestern state. To the north on Lake Michigan is Chicago, the largest city of the state and the country's third largest city. Abraham Lincoln helped relocate the state capital to its present place in Springfield in the early 1800s. Peoria, Decatur and East St Louis are other large cities. The western border of the state is formed by the Mississippi River, and the southern border by Ohio River.
Indiana, the 'Hoosier State', is in fact full of Hoosiers3. The largest city is Indianapolis in the centre of the state, and is also the capital. Gary sits on Lake Michigan near Chicago. Evansville is on the Ohio River, the southern border of the state, and other areas include Fort Wayne, South Bend and Terre Haute.
Iowa, the 'Hawkeye State', is one of the classic agricultural midwest states. However, there are a few urban areas – Des Moines is the largest and capital city, and also Davenport, Iowa, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City and Waterloo. Iowa is perhaps the most politically important small state for anyone who wants to become president of the USA – it is the first state to hold primary elections. Conventional wisdom tells candidates to court the state's voters heavily in order to gain the momentum to grab their party's nomination.
Kansas, called the Sunflower State, is an almost rectangular state of agriculture. Kansas City is in the east of the state, though the bulk of the area is in Missouri, curiously. Topeka, the capital city, is the site of the Brown vs Board of Education decision, and Wichita is the only other major city in Kansas. Of course, it is also home to the Second Largest Ball of Twine in the world.
Michigan is a manufacturing and industrial state made up of two peninsulas – the upper and the lower, connected with the Mackinaw Bridge. Known as the 'Wolverine State', its capital is Lansing and Detroit is its largest city. Detroit, bordering Canada and Lake Saint Clair, is known for producing automobiles and Motown music. Grand Rapids is in the western part of the lower peninsula. Ann Arbor is southwest of Detroit. Saginaw is just off Saginaw bay – which forms the area between the thumb and the rest of the fingers (if the lower peninsula were a hand).
Minnesota, the 'Land of a Thousand Lakes', is rich with resources. The Mississippi River, the life source of the western part of the country, begins in Minnesota. It has a rather large urban area around Minneapolis and St Paul – the latter being the capital of the state and the former being the largest city. These two are so close they are referred to as the Twin Cities.
Missouri Missouri is a state of marked contrast, with swampy lowlands in the southeast, the Ozark Plateau in the south and rolling prairies in the north. The state's two primary cities were built to take advantage of river travel – Kansas City in the west on the Missouri River and St Louis in the east just south of the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi. Industry has replaced agriculture as the bedrock of the state's economy. Missouri produces nearly half of all the beer consumed in the United States, has more naturally occurring caves than any other state (over 5,500), is home to the world's first ice cream cone, first hot dog on a bun, first iced tea and first cotton candy. The most recognisable monument is the Gateway Arch in St Louis. The state capital is Jefferson City.
Nebraska, appropriately called the 'Cornhusker State', is notable for its large production of corn and beef. It is in the great plains, and was once considered to be useless land but it is now a useful agricultural state. Some consider Nebraska to be a gateway to the west, with the Midwestern state of Iowa to the east and the western states of Colorado and Wyoming to the west. The largest city in the state is Omaha, and the capital is Lincoln.
North Dakota is perhaps notable for its lack of anything notable. While there is certainly nothing wrong with the people or the state itself, it lacks landmarks, and it has to be said, excitement (unlike its southern twin, which at least fulfils the landmark part, with Mount Rushmore). It is somewhat known for the Battle of Little Bighorn, or 'Custer's Last Stand'. The largest city is Fargo to the east and the capital is Bismarck.
Ohio, known as the 'Buckeye state' for the presence of Buckeyes there, is an industrial and agricultural midwestern state. Its name is from the Ohio River, which forms its southern border with Kentucky and West Virginia. Cities in Ohio include Cleveland, which sits on Lake Erie, the capital of Columbus, which is near the geographic centre of the state, Cincinnati, which is on the Ohio, Dayton, which is northeast of Cincinnati, Toledo, on Lake Erie, Youngstown in the Northeast, and Akron – the rubber capital of the world.
South Dakota, the 'Coyote State', is much like North Dakota with a few notable exceptions. There are quite a few Indian Reservations, and of course Mount Rushmore is carved into a South Dakota mountain. Sioux Falls to the east is the largest city, and Pierre is the state capital, in roughly the centre of the state.
Wisconsin, called the 'Badger State', has a reputation for cheese and dairy. There is a large bay formed by the outwardly jutting Door Peninsula called Green Bay. Green Bay is named for it, at the end of the bay. The largest city, Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan. Madison, the state capital, is in the south of the state.
In many ways, New England is still defined by its role in history. The landmark events of early American history are often indelibly linked to the region, as if Colonial History = New England. Despite this perception, many of the key events during this time period actually occurred in Middle Atlantic states, or even in the South. And while historical landmarks may be one of the greatest tourist draws to this region, there is still much more that makes this region unique.
Two things New England is known for are a somewhat more formal social atmosphere than most of the United States, and a closer cultural tie to the European roots of the population. The region is also seen as being among the wealthiest in the country, while also tending to be liberal in politics. As with most regional stereotypes, there is some truth behind these, but they are far from universal. The region is also home to many of the nation's most prestigious universities and boarding schools, including four of the eight Ivy League universities (Brown, Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard).
And while New England is home to the four most densely populated states in the country, truly rural areas are to be found as well, especially in northern New England. The urban areas, especially, are known for the cultural opportunities; the rural areas, on the other hand, draw visitors looking for relaxation or outdoor activities. And regardless of where you go in New England, seafood is likely to be on the menu, especially in the form of lobster and clam chowder.
Connecticut, divided into only eight counties and only about 5,000 square miles is a rather populous and historical state. Known as the Constitution state, it has a lot of urban areas – Stamford, Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, Danbury, Waterbury, Norwich and Norwalk. Bridgeport is the largest, and Hartford is the capital.
Maine, originally part of Massachusetts, is full of trees, so the nickname for it is the 'Pine Tree State'. There aren't any major cities in the state, but the largest city is Portland and the capital Augusta. The 20th Maine and its Commander Joshua Chamberlain were well known and important soldiers in the American Civil War. The state is also home to a large fishing and lobstering industry. In fact, the crustaceans are so common there that you may be able to purchase a lobster meal at the fast food chain McDonalds. You may also encounter proof of the origins of the LL Bean Company in Maine, as its outlet store is on Route 1 in the state.
Massachusetts is a unique, very historic state. The city of Boston – the capital and largest city today – was one of the strongest supporters of American independence, and has always had a unique brand of politicians and a very liberal outlook. Springfield is in fact the largest Springfield of all the dozens of Springfields in America. Leominster was the birthplace of the legendary Johnny Appleseed. Salem was where the famous witch trials took place. The state produced great numbers of famous American figures – Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, etc. To the east lies Cape Cod, a popular vacationing spot for people of the state.
New Hampshire is a New England State, called the 'Granite State' for the granite quarries that used to be very common throughout the state. It is notable for having the first primary election to decide candidates of a party of all the states. The capital is Concord in the south-central part of the state and the largest city Manchester, south of Concord.
Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union, is known as the 'Ocean State' or sometimes 'Little Rhody'. It is not actually an island – most of it is connected to the rest of the country, but there are quite a few islands in the area. It was founded by clergyman Roger Williams in 1636, after he was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious beliefs. The largest city and capital is Providence. Newport is also home of several great mansions and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Vermont is the 'Green Mountain State', and is best known for maple syrup and dairy. The landscapes and winter conditions make it a popular weekend and vacation place. The largest city is Burlington, near Lake Champlain and the capital is Montpelier.
Delaware, the first state to join the Union, is one of the smallest and least populous states. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in history. The largest city is Wilmington and the capital city is Dover. Dover Air Force Base is one of the largest air bases in the United States, and serves as the entry point and morgue for American soldiers who die overseas. Delaware does not have a sales tax, which makes its shopping outlets a popular destination for citizens from all over the area.
Maryland is a uniquely shaped state, an eastern part on a peninsula in between Delaware and Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River separating the southwest from Virginia. Perhaps it was the strange borders that give it the nickname 'The Old Line State'4? The largest city, Baltimore, sits on Chesapeake bay, whose harbour was where the National Anthem was written. The state capital Annapolis is a bit more southerly. Some of the state was given to make Washington DC, and the surrounding lands are one of the most urban areas in the state.
New Jersey, called the 'Garden State', is probably called that because it has no room for farms. Ranked 47th in the country for area, it is ninth in the country for population size, resulting in the highest population density in the Union. To the northeast is Jersey City, Newark (the largest city), Hackensack and Elizabeth, just a stone's throw from New York City. Just west of centre is Trenton, the capital city. In the southeast is Atlantic city – the closest thing to Las Vegas on the east coast, whose streets were the basis of the board game Monopoly. Also, opposite the Delaware River from Philadelphia is Camden. Its eastern border is the coastline, which is a hugely popular tourist destination among people in the area. Another interesting tourist destination is Lucy, the tin-covered elephant.
New York, first used by the Dutch in the 1600s, is one of the most important and historic of the states. It contains New York City – the largest city in the country and one of the largest in the world, and the suburbs on Long Island and upstate. Although it has such a huge city in the south, most of the rest of the state isn't very dense, with Buffalo being the notable exception. A huge piece of land in the north is the Adirondack Park, and a smaller piece of land down south is the Catskill Park. The capital of the state is Albany.
Pennsylvania, the 'Keystone State', is a historic and industrial state in the Appalachian Mountain Range. It was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, and served as a unique home for Quakers, the Amish and the group called the Pennsylvania Dutch. The largest city is Philadelphia, with other urban areas being Pittsburgh, Harrisburg (the capital), Scranton and Allentown.
The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79.
Rocky Mountain States
Such places of stunning beauty are the Rocky Mountain States, that it is difficult to write about anything else. The people are avowedly independent in these states, a fact borne of an extremely low population density. One can travel all day without seeing another human being in many parts out here, but there are pockets of urban development and, as some would say, 'civilization'. As turbulent as the politics and populace residing on it have been over the past couple of thousand of years (from the present day USA to way back before Europeans had ever been to the area), the land has remained indifferent, almost aloof. Old and elegant, the rocky mountain peaks, high and low deserts, long winding rivers, deep canyons, massive forests and wide flat grasslands have all conspired to wear the chaos of the people living on it like a well-worn cloak that, despite slight changes over the years, never really goes out of style, and still does a reasonable job protecting against the elements. Respect for the land isn't so much taught out there as learned. Maybe that's why it remains the least populated area of the USA.
Arizona, gained from Mexico in the Mexican cession, is one of the more scenic states in the Union. It contains the Grand Canyon and the beautiful Colorado River. Acknowledging its most famous feature, it is often called the Grand Canyon state. The major cities of Phoenix and Tucson are in the southern part of the state, with Phoenix being the capital and largest city.
Colorado is the quintessential Rocky Mountains state. It was admitted to the Union in 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, hence its nickname 'The Centennial State'. Much of the population centres around Denver, which is the capital and largest city.
Idaho is shaped almost like an L with an oversized bottom line. Known for its potatoes, but curiously called the Gem State, Idaho is one of the least urbanized states in America, with its only largish cities being Pocatello and Boise.
Montana, 'Big Sky Country', is one of the few places you can still see cowboys – with a large portion of its economy devoted to cattle. It has a relatively well preserved environment, and wide open country. Despite its huge size (it's the fourth largest state) and plenty of usable land, it has a very small population.
Nevada is famous for deserts, Lake Tahoe and glittering Las Vegas. Nevada is the only state in the Union in which prostitution is legal – but contrary to popular belief, in the county that Las Vegas is in, Clark County, prostitution is illegal. Carson City, the capital, is near Lake Tahoe and the border with California, and Reno is north of the capital.
New Mexico, the 'Land of Enchantment', shares its southern border with Mexico. It has large portions of its land used as national forests – such as Gila National Forest to the southwest and Carson and Santa Fe National Forest to the north – and quite a lot of land as Indian Reservations. Its largest city is Albuquerque, and its capital is Santa Fe.
Utah called the 'Beehive State', is best known for the Great Salt Lake and the presence of a dominant Mormon community there. The Great Salt Lake is just as it sounds – great, as in huge, and it is filled with saltwater. Salt Lake city, the state's capital and largest city sits near the lake, and Provo sits on the lesser known Utah lake.
Wyoming, like Montana, is full of wide skies and equally wide spaces – and its nickname is the 'Equality State'. You can find Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming as well as a number of forests and an Indian Reservations. The capital and largest city is Cheyenne, in the southeast.
The Pacific states are known as being rather more liberal than most of the country in many areas, tending to be more open than most states to 'liberal' ideas such as gay marriage, medical use of marijuana, protection of the environment, and universal health care. On the other hand, this is far from true across the board – each of these states has large and powerful conservative contingents as well, with an especial focus on issues such as access to natural resources and combatting illegal immigration.
More than anything, though, the Pacific states are known for their weather and their scenery. California and Hawaii are known for the sunshine and the beaches; Oregon and Washington are known for forests, mountains, and rain; and Alaska is known for the glaciers, mountains, and snow. It shouldn't be surprising that tourism is a big industry in this region.
Alaska was purchased from Russia by William Seward, and it was initially known as 'Seward's Folly'. Today it is known as 'The Last Frontier' officially, as it was proved Seward's investment paid off. The largest city is Anchorage, and the capital is Juneau – located on the Alexander Archipelago which borders British Columbia of Canada. The highest peak in the United States, Mount McKinley and the northernmost point of the country Point Barrow (the lesser known, colder twin of Key West) are both in Alaska.
California's first European settlers were Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century, who built an impressive network of missions down the California coastline. The area remained sparsely inhabited, though, until gold was discovered near Sacramento (the current capital city) in 1848. The US government rushed to incorporate California into the Union shortly thereafter, and as a result people from the eastern United States flooded 'out west' to California in the gold rush of around 1849-51. These immigrants of the 19th Century, and others in later years from across the Pacific Ocean, make California the most populous state today. It is famous for its lovely beaches, the Hollywood movie industry, Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, the major cities of Los Angeles and San Diego and the hip and happening neighbourhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Hawaii – the Aloha State – is the most recent state to be added to the Union, becoming a state in 1959. It is made up of eight smallish islands – Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau. Oahu is the most populous island – with nearly one million citizens. Honolulu, the capital, is positioned on Oahu, next to Pearl Harbor where the infamous World War II attack occurred.
Oregon, the 'Beaver State', is a beautiful, arable country that caused many people in the east to migrate to it in the 19th Century – forming the famous Oregon Trail. One interesting feature is Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the country, formed by the collapse of a volcano. The largest city is Portland, on the Columbia River, and the capital is Salem.
Washington is the 'Evergreen State', and is known for its trees and the Cascade Mountains. It is the only state named after a President – George Washington, and his likeness appears on its state seal and flag. It has quite a few large national parks and Indian Reservations, as well as the Puget sound, where Seattle, the largest city, Tacoma and the capital of Olympia sit. Spokane is also a large city, located in the east.
Nothing is wrong with California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure.
America has a lot of stuff. The urban areas of the country are absolutely packed with stuff – and some of it is very neat. There are amazing buildings and important of landmarks. Big buildings and art abound.
Some of the country's landmarks include-
The Statue of Liberty – it stands in New York Harbor, as a symbol of America and its principles to many.
The Empire State Building – also in New York City, it is one of the most famous buildings in the world, famous for being, at one time, the tallest building in the world. Its architecture is well known to many.
The city of Boston itself represents the American Independence movement, and the Paul Revere House, Old North Church and Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall represent that in Boston.
The White House, in Washington DC, is the symbol and home of the Executive Branch in America. It is the office and living quarters provided for the President of America.
In Washington DC, just as each current president is honoured by having an office in the White House, many past presidents are still revered in the capital city. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ulysses S Grant have memorials and monuments for them.
The US Congress is housed in the US Capitol Building in Washington DC, which symbolizes the entire US Government.
Chicago houses Sears Tower, another of the most famous towers in the world.
The Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri is meant to represent the importance of St Louis as the gateway to the Western lands of North America.
Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota, is a mountain with the faces of four American Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
The Grand Canyon in Arizona, formed by the erosion of the Colorado River, is among the most majestic and magnificent natural wonders in the world.
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States. Its unusual landscape was formed by a massive volcano explosion many, many years before Americans found it. Because of this, unusual features, like geysers – especially the famous 'Old Faithful' – still dazzle visitors.
The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco is the most famous bridge in the United States. Red in colour, it is a beautiful bridge, spanning one of the most beautiful straits – the 'Golden Gate' – in the world.
As has been mentioned, it's an American thing to want to make a buck. One simple and lucrative way to do that is to bring tourists in to see something and charge them for souvenirs or the sights. If you don't have the Grand Canyon or a Civil War battle site in your backyard, chances are you'll just have to make something up yourself.
Thus was born the novelty roadside shows of America. The idea is that if a family is on a trip, they might want to stop at something interesting or fun... like say a giant ball of twine? If you're moving around the country, there are hundreds of such strange things that people make their living from.
From two-story outhouses (yes, you read that right) to a flying saucer gas station, from Mike the Headless Chicken to a big donut, there are more weird sites in America than you would ever want or care to see. America's great, ain't it?