Surprising things from every state

Written by:
December 14, 2017

Surprising things from every state

Each American state is known for producing something that's important to the rest of the country or world. Sometimes these contributions seem obvious, like Hawaiian pineapples or Georgia peaches. Other times, the businesses or products coming out of a state might not have such obvious associations—like the fact that the first ambulance service was established in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Scouring census data, state histories, and news reports, Stacker set out to find famous industries, inventions, foods, and products from each of the 50 states to prove that no one state is a one-trick pony. Read on to learn the unexpected gifts each state has to offer.

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Alabama - Fire hydrants

Albertville, Ala. has the distinction of being the “Fire Hydrant Capital of the World.” A nickel-plated fire hydrant standing outside the Mueller Company plant there marks the millionth hydrant produced by the factory since 1975. In 2016 the company surpassed 4 million hydrants manufactured and is well on its way to its next milestone, as the plant produces around 800 hydrants daily.

Alaska - Hidden Valley Ranch

Given its 6,640 miles of coastline, Alaska is king of the fishing industry and especially famous for its salmon. But seafood isn't the only culinary delight from America’s Last Frontier. While Hidden Valley Ranch is named for a California ranch purchased by the dressing's inventor, Steve Henson, the recipe was perfected in Alaska where he and his wife lived five years prior. Henson worked in Alaska as a plumbing contractor and cook. To keep his crew well-fed (and ensure they enjoyed eating their greens), he made and refined an experimental dressing with the buttermilk, mayonnaise, herbs, and spices he had on hand.

Arizona - PetSmart

Arizona may be renowned for its five Cs—copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate—but animal-lovers will be thrilled to know PetSmart started in Phoenix. This one-stop-shop for grooming, animal boarding, and doggie daycare was founded in 1986 as PetFood Warehouse. Twenty years later, it boasted $7 billion in annual revenue in 2016. PetSmart Charities, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for animals in need, was formed in 1994.

Arkansas - Tyson

While most people associate Arkansas with Walmart, understandable since it's the world’s largest company (by revenue) with $485 billion in sales, the state is also home to Tyson Foods. This food giant includes grocery staples like Ball Park, Jimmy Dean, and Hillshire Farm. Tyson is the largest meat processor in the United States and recently expanded its investments to include plant-based meat substitutes.

California - Milk

California is home to a variety of industries—entertainment, technology, and agriculture—ultimately accounting for 53 of the Fortune 500 companies. Yet California is also the largest milk producer in the country, with more than 40 billion pounds of milk produced in 2016. In fact, California beats famed dairy competitor Wisconsin by 35%.

Colorado - Chipotle

Though known for economic strongholds in mining and agriculture, not everyone knows that the first Chipotle—now an international chain—opened its doors in Denver in 1993. Founder Steve Ells loved San Francisco's “mission-style” burritos and used them to start a revolution in fast-casual dining. Chipotle would continue to expand throughout Colorado before eventually opening its menu to the world.

Connecticut - Submarines

Connecticut is home to massive financial-sector headquarters like Aetna, The Hartford, and Cigna; but the Nutmeg State also makes major contributions to the U.S. military with its production of world-class submarines. Beginning with the USS Holland in 1899, General Dynamics Electric Boat has been a leading manufacturer of undersea vehicles including the Virginia, Seawolf, and Los Angeles-class submarines. Electric Boat recently received a $5 billion contract to design the Columbia-class submarine, the newest generation of ballistic-missile submarines for the U.S. Navy.

Delaware - Space suits

Florida’s Kennedy Space Center was the launchpad for the Apollo 11 moon mission, and Mission Control in Houston was responsible for fixing any problem along the way. But without Delaware, Neil Armstrong would never have been able to take his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Frederica-based ILC Dover is the only company to make a space suit (or Planetary EVA suit) successfully used on another planetary body: the moon. It’s still in the space suit business, outfitting trips to the International Space Station.

Florida - Burger King

Florida is famous for its abundant citrus farms, Disney World, and beach tourism—and Burger King, founded in 1954 in Jacksonville. Burger King started out offering 18-cent hamburgers and milkshakes and has since expanded to nearly 16,000 locations around the world.

Georgia - The Home Depot

Georgia is home to corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta, and also substantially contributes to the nation's agricultural output with peanuts, pecans, and peaches. One of the state's lesser-known origin stories is The Home Depot, opened in Atlanta in 1979. The Home Depot was a new retail experience that paired massive hardware inventory with sales associates that were fluent in do-it-yourself projects. The Home Depot now has 2,200 stores in three countries and brings in nearly $90 billion in annual revenue.

Hawaii - Honeybees

Hawaii’s tropical climate enables farmers to grow a variety of produce like pineapples, papayas, sugarcane, and exotic flowers. But one of Hawaii’s most pound-for-pound valuable exports isn't a fruit—it's the honeybee. A typical 170-milligram queen honeybee sells for anywhere from $17 to $25.

Idaho - Gemstones

Idaho might be best known for its potatoes, but it earned its nickname as the Gem State for a reason. In 2017, it produced the third-largest quantity of gems in the country. The state gem, the star garnet, can only be found in India and the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, where visitors can pay a small fee to collect some of these rare beauties.

Illinois - Cell Phone

Many businesses—like Boeing, Walgreens, and Caterpillar—thrive in Illinois, but 75% of the state’s land area is dedicated to farming corn, soybeans, livestock, and wheat. Beyond the fields and the boardroom, Illinois' claim to fame extends to a device ubiquitous in modern life: the mobile phone. Motorola engineer Marty Cooper developed it, famously making the first mobile phonecall to a rival engineer at AT&T.

Indiana - Wonder Bread

Indianapolis residents found themselves scratching their heads in 1921 at mysterious advertisements in The Indianapolis Star that simply said, “Wonder.” Taggart Baking Company put the first loves of Wonder Bread on shelves a few days later. The company was purchased by Continental Baking Company four years after that, introducing the rest of the country to “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

Iowa - Pork

It isn't corn or soybeans at the top of the economic food chain in Iowa, but pork. Iowa leads the country in pig farming, setting a record with 23.6 million on farms as of September 2018.

Kansas - Airplane parts

Kansas is an agrarian state, with cattle, sheep, wheat, and corn among its largest exports. It may be surprising, then, to learn that Kansas is also a huge producer of airplanes and related parts. Cessna, Beech, and Airbus have significant operations in the area, and Wichita is considered the “Air Capital of the World.”

Kentucky - Disco balls

Bourbon isn’t the only fun thing from Kentucky. Some of the everyday items made there include Reynolds Wrap, Fruit of the Loom, Hot Pockets, Pop Tarts, L'Oreal, Mentos, and Dixie cups. In the 1970s, 90% of the country’s disco balls were made by Omega National Products in Louisville. Output, as one might imagine, has dropped off significantly in the years since. 

Louisiana - Tabasco

There are so many wonderful things to eat in Louisiananot limited to beignets, pralines, and Creole food. One other product from Louisiana is a staple in nearly every kitchen: Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce. This fiery blend is produced by McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana, and a Bloody Mary just isn’t the same without it.

Maine - L.L. Bean

Beyond Maine's natural abundance of food—blueberries, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and lobster among them—the Pine Tree State is also home to clothing and outdoor recreation company L.L. Bean. Founded in 1912, L.L. Bean began with a focus on waterproof boots for outdoorsmen. Today, the company has $1.6 billion in annual revenue.

Maryland - Ouija boards

Blue crab, clams, and other delights from the sea have given Maryland a seafood industry worth more than $600 million. There is a darker export with origins in the Old Line State, however. Amid the popularity of spiritualism came the patent and production of the Ouija board, by the Baltimore-based Kennard Novelty Company. Each board is printed with a series of letters and numbers, and comes with a marker that's moved around by the participants—or perhaps the influence of an otherworldly force.

Massachusetts - Necco Wafers

A diverse roster of industries flourishes in Massachusetts, from venture capitalism to academia. But the state treasure is a beloved candy that originated in 1847: the Necco Wafer. The candy's manufacturer closed up shop over the summer, but nostalgic wafer-lovers have much to celebrate since Necco Wafers were rescued by Spangler Candy Co.

Michigan - Gerber

Cars are the chief export in Michigan, but baby food is an immensely popular product as well. Gerber Products Company, headquartered in Fremont, Mich., has been manufacturing baby food since 1927. The company began with six varieties and now holds 61% of the baby food market in the U.S.

Minnesota - Medical needles

Minnesota is home to Target, General Mills, Buffalo Wild Wings, My Pillow, and Pillsbury. The state's biggest export, however, is hypodermic needles and other medical equipment that save lives every day. These important items are worth $864.1 million to the state's economy.

Mississippi - Barq's

Edward C. Barq Sr. founded his eponymous root beer in Biloxi, Miss., in 1898. The distinctly flavored soda rose to prominence along with other soft drinks during Prohibition, as consumers and manufacturers searched for new, non-alcoholic beverage options.

Missouri - TUMS

Beneath St. Louis' Gateway Arch lies a bustling city with a unique history of innovation: a better breast pump, African-American hair products, and kindergarten in the U.S. all got their start in the city. TUMS is another Missouri original, invented in 1921 by pharmacist James Howe to treat his wife's indigestion. Now "America's #1 antacid," TUMS primary production facility still calls downtown St. Louis home

Montana - First woman in Congress

From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, Montana is known for its diverse terrains and rich mineral reserves. Coal mining is still an economic staple in Big Sky Country, as are cattle, wheat, and timber production. But one of the state’s greatest contributions was a politician: Montana was the first state to elect a woman to Congress. Jeannette Rankin earned a spot on the House of Representatives in 1916 and cast her first vote against the U.S. involvement in WWI.

Nebraska - Kool-Aid

It's no surprise the Cornhusker State's biggest export is corn. But there's another big product here: Kool-Aid, invented in Nebraska in 1927 by Edwin Perkins and Kitty Hastings. Today the brand has more than 40 flavors and more than $300 million in annual sales.

Nevada - Zappos

The Silver State may count gold and silver among its top exports, but it's also the source of hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes shipped from Zappos' worldwide headquarters each year. Founded in 1999 in Henderson, Nev., Zappos was eventually acquired by Amazon for more than $1 billion in stock and is now among the nation’s top shoe retailers.

New Hampshire - The Segway

The two-wheeled phenomenon that is the Segway was invented in Bedford, N.H., and introduced to the world in 2001. After investments from Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, the former predicting cities would be redesigned around the gadget, the glorified scooter never quite caught on.

New Jersey - Salt water taffy

Like many states, petroleum production and agriculture are big in New Jersey. Few know that salt water taffy was first manufactured and sold in the Garden State. Legend has it the timeless treat was born when a storm flooded a coastal Jersey candy store and soaked the taffy with ocean water.

New Mexico - Smokey the Bear

Smokey The Bear, who educates the American public on preventing forest fires, was first designed in New Mexico following the Capitan Gap Fire. This massive wildfire destroyed thousands of acres in Lincoln National Forest. Smokey was based on a real bear who was saved during the fire, and lived out his days at Washington D.C.’s National Zoo.

New York - Teddy bears

The Empire State has been home to countless innovations over the years, but one you may not know about is the teddy bear. After a political cartoonist depicted Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a trapped bear while on a hunting trip, a Brooklyn candy shop owner licensed the image and created the first stuffed bear, branded “Teddy Bear.” The toy quickly caught on around the country and became a childhood staple.

North Carolina - Putt Putt

North Carolina is home to excellent golf courses, but did you know the first Putt-Putt course can be traced back to the state? In 1916, James Wells Barber built the first known miniature golf course: Thistle Dhu in Pinehurst, N.C.

North Dakota - Cream of Wheat

If you've ever wondered where Cream of Wheat comes from, it's the Roughrider State. First released in 1893, Cream of Wheat paved the way for the waves of hot and cold breakfast cereals that dominated American breakfasts throughout the 20th century.

Ohio - Superman

The Man of Steel was first written and created in Cleveland, Ohio, in the late 1930s. It's easy to forget the internationally renowned franchise all started with a small-time comic book about Clark Kent.

Oklahoma - Hobby Lobby

Crafters, artists, and students alike can thank founder and Oklahoma native David Green for Hobby Lobby. Today the chain is the largest and most successful hobby shop in the country with more than 300 U.S. locations—but it started in the '70s as a 300-square-foot store in Oklahoma City.

Oregon - Hacky sack

This 1970s phenomenon was started by two young men in Portland. Though few kids born today are likely to take up this quirky sport, it was a mainstay through the '80s and even gave way to tournaments across the country.

Pennsylvania - First electronic computer

The Quaker State is home to cheesesteaks, more than 50 Fortune 500 companies, and Hershey Park. Its most famous export, however, is the computer. The University of Pennsylvania is the birthplace of one of the world’s first electronic computers, the ENIAC, constructed on the campus in 1946.

Rhode Island - Hasbro

Rhode Island is known for its top-notch sailing and fishing, but it's a relatively unknown fact that the state is home to the company that brought us Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head, and G.I. Joe. Founded in 1923, Hasbro is the third-largest toy company in the world and headquartered in Pawtucket, R.I.

South Carolina - First public library

Home to a booming tourism industry, The Palmetto State is also a major manufacturing hub for companies like Boeing, which is the reason that the largest export from the state is civilian aircraft, engines, and parts. Few know that South Carolina was the birthplace of the first public library in the U.S., built in 1698 in Charles Town, S.C.

South Dakota - Super 8 Motels

South Dakota is one of the least densely populated states in the country, with a scant 11.3 people per square mile and agriculture representing more than 20% of economic activity there. South Dakota is also home to the first-ever Super 8 Motel, which opened in 1974 in Aberdeen with a nightly rate of just $8.88.

Tennessee - FedEx

The Volunteer State is known for its strong brown liquor and lively music scene, having been home to famous singers Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash. A little less exciting, but equally as important, is its shipping industry. FedEx is headquartered in Memphis and is one of the largest transportation companies in the world with nearly $50 billion in sales in 2016.

Texas - Barney

Los Angeles and New York City might be where humans head to get a “big break,” but the big purple dinosaur got his start in Lone Star State. Dreamed up by teacher Sheryl Leach to entertain her young son, she filmed and distributed it with two partners in the area before it was picked up by a PBS affiliate in Connecticut. Even after it hit the big time, "Barney & Friends" stayed put in the Dallas area. The show helped launch the careers of stars like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato.

Utah - Gold

Utah is well-known for its large Mormon population, but not so well-known for it's booming gold business. Gold is the state's biggest export and in 2016 represented more than $4.5 billion in production value.

Vermont - Snowboarding

Between ice cream and cheddar cheese, it's not surprising that dairy is the largest farming industry in Vermont. But the state is also famed for its snowboarding: Outdoor sports enthusiast Jake Burton Carpenter invented the first snowboard (which he called the Snurfer) in his barn in Londonderry in 1977. To this day, Manchester is home to Burton Snowboards, the world's first snowboard manufacturing company.

Virginia - Fraternities

While Virginia built itself up as a U.S. colony and eventually a state, another American institution was growing up alongside it: the college fraternity. America’s first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa (otherwise known as PBK), held its first meeting on the campus of the College of William and Mary Dec. 6, 1766. The club dropped its requirement for secrecy in 1831 and throughout the 19th century, other groups began copying the model. Today, PBK doesn’t look like the party-hard frats depicted on TV and in the news; it’s a co-ed honor society and invite-only membership.

Washington - Costco

Washington is a major agricultural exporter, particularity when it comes to apples, pears, and blueberries. But the state is also home to some of the most famous companies in the world, including Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon. One lesser-known company is the giant wholesaler Costco, founded in 1976 and headquartered in Issaquah, Wash. The company is the second-largest retailer in the world with more than 750 warehouses worldwide.

West Virginia - Pepperoni rolls

The Mountain State has several claims to fame, including the pepperoni roll. This simple savory pastry was first served in The People's Bakery in the 1930's, opened by Guiseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant. West Virginians enjoy these spicy treats to this day. 

Wisconsin - Harley Davidson

Thirty-six of Wisconsin's 37 largest industries are manufacturing-related, including paper mills, metal fabrication, and machining shops. It may come as no surprise that Milwaukee is home to Harley Davidson Motorcycles, founded in 1903. Today, the company operates multiple factories in Wisconsin and even has a museum.

Wyoming - JCPenney

JCPenney began as a small dry-goods store in Kemmerer, Wyo., called "The Golden Rule" due to its policy to treat others the way you want to be treated. The department store eventually expanded into the company we all know today, with more than 860 locations across the country and a headquarters in Texas.

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