We've finally settled into summer: Block parties are being thrown, fire hydrants are getting opened, and July 4th is just around the corner. That means it's time to get patriotic — even if you, like me, are someone who spends most of the year talking about how America could do better. But there are many things about each of our 50 states which, collectively, make America a place to be proud of. Whether a state was the first to grant a progressive freedom, the birthplace of a clever invention, or
simply radiates natural beauty, each state has contributed to a better America in a major way.
Personally, my own history with patriotism has fluctuated throughout the years. There are times, particularly during the last presidential campaign, that I feared I'd need to flee to Canada in a modern-day underground railroad. Luckily, that feeling usually passes, and a time comes where I find myself beaming with pride over a moment of persistence and justice, handled with elegance.
The truth is, America is a young country that has gone through significant changes and continues to change every day. This time of year, I like to focus less on the blemishes on American history, and more on what I'm proud of. One thing is for sure — we do have plenty of things to be proud of. Here are my picks for what makes each state most unique.
Alaska: Northern Lights
These breathtaking lights, which occur thanks to collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere, can be seen for over 200 days of the year. Though you can catch the Northern Lights in other states, Alaska will up your odds. After all, it has a prime spot in the auroral oval and minimal clouds to block your view.
Arkansas: America's First Toothbrush
Billy C (also known as former President Bill Clinton, of course) is my homeboy, but let's face it — there would be no smooches without the toothbrush! Thanks to Dupont Industries, we can all breathe a sigh of relief with fresh breath.
Alabama: First state to rescind a man's right to beat his wife
This state is home to one of the first pre-historical male skeletons, but rescinding the right of men to physically abuse their wives tops my list of this beautiful state's proudest moments.
Although it's home to Cesar Chavez, civil-rights activist-extraordinaire, the fact that Arizona has the largest amount of land set aside for Native Americans is even more impressive.
California: Avocado Capital of the World
You can thank California for all the delicious avocados that Fallbrook, California cranks out. Fallbrook is known as the 'Avocado Capital of the World,' producing more of this nutritious fruit than any other state.
Colorado: legalizing marijuana for adults
Whether you've never taken a puff or you are reading this while you puff, no one can deny that Colorado Amendment 64 was a big step forward for marijuana legalization. Colorado: Home of the largest flat-top mountain and chill vibes for responsible adults.
Connecticut: Home of the oldest continuously-published newspaper
Not only is the Hartford Courant still produced in this state, but Connecticut also gave us the first hamburger and first color TV.
Delaware: first state to ratify the constitution
Way to be a trend-setter, Delaware.
Florida: Inventor of Air-Conditioning Technology
There is no way my parents would have taken me to Disney World without air conditioning. Thank you, Florida.
Georgia: First state to approve anti-bullying laws
This protective law passed in 1999 made Georgia the first of 49 states to wake up to the dangers of bullying. Hats off, Georgia!
Yes, Hawaii can be proud that it is home to tasty frozen drinks, incredible beaches, and beautiful volcanoes, but all caffeine addicts should be most impressed by the fact that it's the only state that can grow coffee commercially.
Not only does this state give us some slammin' potatoes, but Idaho is also home to the star granite, which is only found in the Gem State.
Illinois: First State to abolish Slavery
After Illinois became the first state to abolish slavery in 1865, it built the world's first skyscraper in 1885, and went on to build the world's first aquarium in 1893. It's no surprise that the first black American president kicked off his career in this progressive state.
Indiana: Home of over 100 species of trees
This state's natural beauty cannot be denied, thanks to its plethora of wildlife and greenery. It's no surprise Lewis and Clarke came from such a lush environment.
Iowa: Highest Literacy Rate
With the highest literacy rate in America, Iowans read more books per capita than the rest of the country.
Kansas: Home to the first female mayor
In 1887, Argonia, Kansas made history by electing Susanna M. Salter, the first female mayor in the United States. This was long before the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote throughout the United States. Pat yourself on the back if your ancestors were from Kansas — this was seriously progressive thinking!
Kentucky: Home of Abe Lincoln
Honest Abe was born in this bluegrass state in 1809. Thanks to two creative sisters from Louisville, Kentucky, you can sing the Happy Birthday song to him every year on February 12th, because the Happy Birthday song was also invented in this bluegrass state.
Louisiana: Largest Capital Building in the Country
Think NYC has some giant buildings? This state has the largest capital building in the country.
Maine: Acadia National Park
Maine — renowned for its lighthouses, waterfronts, and epic winter hikes — is home to the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi River. This park has over 40 species of wildlife. Who knows? You may even run into Maine native Stephen King there.
Maryland: first naval academy
Maryland not only boasts the first naval academy, but also the first dental school. Personally? I'd be more proud to boast about the fact that Sysqo, Genuwine, and Mya all come from Maryland. After all, where would we be without the Thong Song?
Massachusetts: First State to Issue Marriage License to Same Sex Couples
In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, making it the 6th jurisdiction in the world to do so.
Michigan: First Rape Shield Law
Michigan passed the first rape shield law in 1974,which protects survivors from irrelevant questioning about his/her sexual history. Though this law is often ignored or abused by defense attorneys and judges, the fact that Michigan was the first state to begin protecting survivors of sexual assault should make those from the Wolverine State beam with pride this Independence Day.
Minnesota: First Charter School
Regardless of the different opinions on the effectiveness of charter schools (the laws vary state to state), this state took education to a new level by allowing publicly funded schools to act independently, often admitting gifted students from lower-income areas.
Mississippi: first lung transplant
The University of Mississippi successfully completed the world's first lung transplant in 1963. But Mississippi doctors weren't done — they executed the world's first heart transplant in 1964.
Missouri: First state to free its slaves
In 1865; Missouri became the first "slave state" to free its slaves, making this Midwestern state the "Show-Me-Freedom" state.
Montana: First Female Congresswoman
Montana elected the nation's first congresswoman in 1916. Said Jeanette Rankin after being elected, "I may be the first woman member of congress, but I won't be the last." I'm thrilled she was right. (Bonus Fact: Rankin was the only member of congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.)
Nebraska: Its State Motto
"Equality before the law." Now that is a statement that this freedom-lover can get down with. Feeling inspired? The next time you find yourself at a demonstration or rally, be sure to eat a reuban sandwich in this state's honor, since Nebraska is also the birthplace of this delicious sandwich.
Nevada: its Mountains
Any rock climber or hiker worth her salt knows that Nevada is one of the best spots to visit. Nevada has more mountains than any other state, and even if you aren't experienced, take a basic trail — Nevada has breathtaking tours that even your grandparents can enjoy.
New Hampshire: "Live Free or Die"
This will be one of the most aggressive statements you will see on a car in your lifetime.
New Jersey: Diner Capital of the Country
New Jersey has more diners than any other state. So next time you finish walking down the longest boardwalk in the world in Atlantic City, you will be pretty thankful that there will be a diner waiting for you with a full breakfast and dinner menu.
New Mexico: First Latina Female Governor
In 2010, New Mexico elected the first Hispanic female governor in the country. Susana Martinez is the great-granddaughter of a Mexican Revolutionary leader who clearly passed his history-making skills on.
New York: Diversity
Arguably, New York, New York is the birthplace of punk rock and certainly the birthplace of hip-hop. But the reason I am so proud to call this city my home is the multiculturalism that runs through all five boroughs. This is the place to be an individual, wear what you want, talk how you want, and believe what you want — the ultimate freedom.
North Carolina: FIRST AMERICAN BIRTH
Virginia Dare was the first English child born in what is now the United States. If she were born now instead of 1587, she would be calling North Carolina her home and get to enjoy a Krispy Kreme donut, which started in North Carolina.
North Dakota: Most Churches per capita than any State
North Dakota happens to have more church-goers than any other state, which definitely supports the fact that they have more churches per capita than the rest of the nation. Freedom of Worship at your fingertips!
Ohio: First black Mayor of a Major City
In 1967, the Black Panthers heightened their protests; the United States found all states that prohibited interracial marriage to be against the constitution; and race riots in New Jersey and Buffalo led to multiple deaths and arrests. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Ohio, Carl Stokes was elected the first African-American mayor of a major city in the country. Do your thing, Ohio, do your thing!
Oklahoma: Brad Pitt
Okay, Oklahomans, you may be the first state to successfully install a parking meter, but this is one fine achievement.
Oregon: Painted Hills
These brilliantly colored hills were a result of climate change and several volcano eruptions that occurred over 35 million years ago. Even if you haven't earned your doctorate as an vertebrate paleontologist, these hills will seriously impress you with it's unique color and feel. The bonus is that the Painted Hills is just one part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Pennsylvania: 1st American Flag
I pledge allegiance to the Keystone State, which is also home to the first computer built in 1946. Knowing that, it's unsurprising that Pennsylvania was also the first state to list their state's website on their license plate.
Rhode Island: Oldest Library
Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport is the United States' oldest library, lending books since 1946. Rhode Island can be proud of its love of sharing, as well as being the only state to not observe prohibition laws.
South Carolina: Largest Gingko Farm in the World
South Carolina has the largest ginkgo farm in the world, so Myrtle Beach spring breakers can stop off in Sumter, S.C., to get their memory back before returning to school!
South Dakota: Largest Petrified Wood Park
Think Mount Rushmore is the only reason you'll find yourself in South Dakota? You're wrong. You can also find some amazing history at the world's largest petrified wood park in Lemmon, South Dakota, which comes complete with 50 million-year-old remains.
Tennessee: Jack Daniels
Chances are you've shared an intimate moment with Jack; whether he made you incredibly angry for reasons unknown, or he made you forget all of your problems. But beyond being home to the popular whiskey, Tennessee is also the birthplace of country music and has over 3000 calves. And both of those are great with some Jack.
Texas: home to the Live Music Capital of the World
It's not just South By Southwest that has us all flocking to the Lone Star State. For some time now, Austin, Texas has been known as the live music capital of the world. This is quite a title to hold for a state capital in the second largest state in America which has over 200 music venues!
Utah: First State Department Store
This western state is not only home to five national parks, but gave us Zions, our first department store.
Vermont: The Only State without Billboards
If you are looking to take a drive this fall and enjoy some serious foliage, Vermont is the only state that does not allow billboards thus keeping your drive beautiful and scene.
Virginia: First state to apologize for its role in slavery
In 2007, the state of Virginia became the first state to apologize for past transgressions, acknowledging its unconstitutional role in a big blemish on United States History.
Washington: birth of the Grunge Movement
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, and Candlebox are just some of the names that Washington birthed in the early '90s. But it's not just grunge that Washington natives have influenced — Death Cab for Cutie, Jimi Hendrix, and Modest Mouse are just a few other Washington bands that are music to our ears.
West Virginia: Mothman
Whether it's a hoax or a real alien, the Mothman of West Virginia caused quite a stir in the mid-'60s with numerous claimed sightings. West Virginia held its first Mothman Festival in 2002, and, if you can stomach it, you can join the Mothman pancake-eating tournament at the weekend-long event.
Wisconsin: Home of the first Kindergarten
In 1856, Wisconsin debuted the nation's first kindergarten, putting education first and leading the rest of the country to do the same. I'm not alone in saying that kindergarten was my favorite grade, right?
Wyoming: First State to allow women to vote
In 1889, the Wyoming Convention voted in favor of giving women the right to vote long before 1920, when all states began to (or were forced) to grant women the same right.