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125 amazing North Dakota facts for 125 years

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Happy 125th birthday, North Dakota!

With the quasquicentennial celebration of statehood fast approaching, The Forum has collected some factoids about the state – some of them even as amazing as this place we call home.

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So, you keepers of trivia and assorted minutiae, here are 125 conversation starters for the coffee shop, long car rides, dentist chair, football huddle, awkward silences during dates, or anywhere else you deem appropriate:

We’re No. 1!

1. At 2.7 percent, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the United States.

2. North Dakota produces more honey than any other state.

3. The state has sported the fastest-growing economy in the U.S. since 2010. In 2013, the state’s gross domestic product rose nearly 10 percent.

4. Snow fooling? North Dakota holds the Guinness World Record for the most snow angels made simultaneously in one place. On Feb. 17, 2007, 8,962 people made snow angels at the state Capitol grounds in Bismarck.

5. Salem Sue, standing near New Salem, is the World’s Largest Holstein Cow.

6. Sue, who honors the dairy industry, measures 38 feet high, 50 feet long and weighs 12,000 pounds.

7. Salem Sue even has a song, “Ballad of the Holstein (Mooo-d Music).”

8. “Geese in Flight,” which stands along the “Enchanted Highway” between Regent and Gladstone, holds the Guinness World Record as the largest scrap metal sculpture.

9. “Geese” was built by retired schoolteacher Gary Greff in 2001 to break up the tedium of the highway.

10. Greff’s work also includes metal grasshoppers, a pheasant family and Theodore Roosevelt on a horse.

11. North Dakota is the only state in the country with a state-owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota.

12. North Dakota also has a state-owned flour mill.

13. North Dakota farmers planted the most sunflowers in the nation this year.

What we hold dear

14. The state beverage is milk.

15. The state bird is the western meadowlark. It is not the mosquito. Mosquitoes only seem to get as big as birds.

16. The state dance is the square dance.

17. The state fish is the northern pike.

18. The state flower is the wild prairie rose.

19. The state fruit is the chokecherry.

20. The state insect is the convergent lady beetle (ladybug).

21. The state language is English.

22. The honorary state equine is the Nokota horse. Giddyup!

23. The state tree is the American elm. It is not the telephone pole. (But you can be forgiven the error.)

Oddball stuff

24. The North Dakota Great Seal is the state’s only symbol that is protected by state law.

25. An attempt to drop the word North from the state name was defeated by the 1947 Legislative Assembly.

26. To prove that bad ideas don’t die easily, in 1989, lawmakers rejected two resolutions intended to rename the state Dakota.

27. The geographic center of North America is 6 miles west of Balta and 15 miles southwest of Rugby. Rugby has claimed the title.

28. Jamestown is also known as Buffalo City. It is home to the “World’s Largest Buffalo.” The statue is 26 feet tall, 46 feet long and weighs 60 tons.

29. A herd of bison graze below the statue, including a rare albino named Mahpiya Ska, Lakota for “White Cloud.”

30. North Dakota’s state Capitol is 242 feet high. It is the third-tallest capitol building in the nation.

31. North America’s tallest structure is the 2,063-foot KVLY television tower near Blanchard.

32. The state’s tallest buildings are two buildings at the Antelope Valley power plant near Beulah. They stand 361 feet tall.

33. North Dakota’s deadliest tornado had winds of more than 300 mph. It struck north Fargo in 1957, killing 10 people and injuring 103.

34. The Fujita scale that rates the strength of tornadoes was developed with the help of information gleaned from the Fargo tornado.

35. The leading causes of death in North Dakota are, in descending order: heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, accidents, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, influenza or pneumonia, suicide, hypertension, cirrhosis, and arterial diseases and atheroschlerosis.

36. North Dakota has 39 million acres of farm and ranchland. About 87.7 percent of the state’s land is agricultural private property.

37. The longest river in the state is the Sheyenne River at 506 miles.

38. The smallest city in North Dakota is Ruso, with a population of four people (2010 Census).

39. North Dakota produces enough sugar beets to sweeten 27 billion gallons of Kool-Aid.

40. What is billed as the world’s largest French fry feed is held every year in Grand Forks during Potato Bowl USA. In September 2011, organizers served 5,010 pounds of French fries at the French fry frenzy. This record of golden goodness still stands.

41. Rhode Island, the smallest state in the U.S., could fit inside North Dakota nearly 46 times.

42. North Dakota has 63 national wildlife refuges, more than any other state. They encompass more than 290,000 acres.

43. North Dakota farmers and ranchers annually produce enough wheat for 13.5 billion loaves of bread and durum for 6.3 billion servings of spaghetti.

44. The state also produces enough potatoes for 192 million servings of French fries, and enough corn to make 418 million gallons of ethanol.

45. North Dakota’s soybean crop could make 251 billion crayons.

46. The state raises enough beef for 113 million hamburgers and enough hogs for 57 million pork chops.

47. North Dakota’s annual wool output can make 513,000 sweaters.

48. Got milk? Yepper. North Dakota cows make 1 billion glasses worth of it a year.

49. North Dakota State University’s Hettinger Research Center is the largest state-owned sheep research center in the United States. Not too baaaaaaad, eh?

50. There are still more cows than people in North Dakota, about 880,000 at last count. The most popular breed is Angus, followed by Simmental and Hereford.

Cold enough for ya?

51. The average yearly temperature ranges from 37 degrees Fahrenheit in the northeast to 43 degrees in the south.

52. The all-time high was 121 degrees at Steele on July 6, 1936.

53. The all-time low was minus-60 degrees at Parshall on Feb. 15, 1936.

54. The difference between the record high and record low is the widest swing in the 50 states.

55. North Dakota gets a higher percentage of possible sunshine and more hours of sunshine annually than any other state along the Canadian border – 58 to 62 percent of possible sunshine.

56. July is the sunniest month, with three-quarters of total possible sunshine recorded.

What do they call ya?

57. Welcome to the Peace Garden State! The International Peace Garden straddles the border between Dunseith, N.D., and Boissevain, Manitoba.

58. Flickertail State. A flickertail is a Richardson ground squirrel. The animal flicks or jerks its tail while running or just before entering its burrow.

59. Until 1930, the University of North Dakota mascot was the Flickertail.

60. The state march is the “Flickertail March.”

61. The Roughrider State. The name comes from a tourism drive of the 1960s and ’70s. It refers to the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, the “Roughriders,” which Theodore Roosevelt organized to fight in the Spanish-American War.

62. The “Roughriders,” which included several North Dakota cowboys, fought dismounted in Cuba due to logistical problems.

63. Quirky city and place names in North Dakota include Antler, Buttzville, Cannon Ball, Concrete, Flasher, Medicine Hole, On-a-Slant Village, Ops, Three V Crossing and Zap.

Just a ways back

64. During most of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras (570 million to 65 million years ago), North Dakota was covered all or in part by shallow, warm seas.

65. Skeletons of mosasaurs, huge predatory marine lizards that grew to 40 feet, have been found here, along with sharks and the xiphactinus, a tarpon-like 18-foot-long bony fish.

66. The Hell Creek fossil beds in western North Dakota hold remains of some of the last dinosaurs: triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, hadrosaurs, pachycephalosaurs, dromaeosaurs and others.

67. Over tens of millions of years, boundless forests and verdant vegetation eventually was buried and turned into lignite coal, oil and natural gas.

68. The state fossil is Teredo-bored petrified wood.

The land we tread upon

69. The Badlands of western North Dakota were carved by the Little Missouri River 600,000 years ago after it was diverted by a glacier from what had previously been its northward course.

70. Erosion in the Badlands creates rock-capped pillars, known as hoodoos.

71. The Badlands were called “makosika,” or “land bad,” by the Sioux Indian tribes.

72. Lying just under the surface of western North Dakota is about 25 billion tons of lignite, enough to supply the region’s coal needs for more than 800 years.

73. A 2013 estimate pegged the amount of oil in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota at 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

74. Crude oil production in the North Dakota part of the Bakken shale formation in the Williston Basin averaged 1.1 million barrels a day in June.

75. North Dakota is now the second-highest oil-producing state behind Texas. It is 11th in natural gas reserves.

76. The Red River Valley is the lakebed of Glacial Lake Agassiz, created when the last of the glaciers in this area started retreating north.

77. Fargo is a city on “stilts.” If you want to build a bridge or high-rise in this part of the Red River Valley, you have to build concrete piers or drive steel pilings about 100 feet down to get to rock hard enough to hold heavy weights.

78. The highest point in North Dakota is White Butte at 3,506 feet. It is near Amidon in western North Dakota.

To boldly go!

79. The first people in North Dakota were big-game hunters who came to the area after the retreat of the glaciers around 10,000 B.C. They hunted animals like wooly mammoths and giant bison.

80. Hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies have existed here since 2,000 B.C.

81. French Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye in 1738 led the first group of Europeans to explore what is now North Dakota.

82. The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804-05 here, the longest amount of time in North Dakota compared with any other state. They built Fort Mandan near where Stanton is now.

83. The Corps of Discovery enjoyed its best relationships with Native Americans among the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes of North Dakota.

84. That’s where they met Sakakawea, a young Shoshoni woman. She was the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, a trader and fur trapper who signed on as an interpreter.

85. Sakakawea had a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, in February 1805. He was nicknamed “Pomp” by William Clark.

86. The expedition encountered its first grizzly bears in North Dakota.

87. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer commanded the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment. He and his men were stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan.

88. In 1876, Custer encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer then led five companies toward the village. That detachment was annihilated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also called Custer’s Last Stand.

89. About 38 percent of North Dakota’s immigrants were Scandinavians (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland). Most of that group, about 85 percent, were Norwegian.

90. About 43 percent of the newcomers were Germans or Germans from Russia.

91. About 7 percent of North Dakotans can claim Irish descent. Smaller numbers came from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Statehood

92. On March 2, 1861, President James Buchanan signed the bill creating the Dakota Territory, which included the area covered today by both Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

93. The name was taken from that of the Dakota or Sioux Indian tribe. It means friend or ally.

94. North Dakota became the 39th state in 1889. It was admitted the same day as South Dakota.

95. Both states wanted to be the first state admitted, so President Benjamin Harrison shuffled both sets of statehood papers and signed them without knowing which one was first. Because North Dakota is alphabetically before South Dakota, its proclamation was published first.

Teddy Roosevelt

96. In February 1884, Roosevelt’s first wife and his mother died within a day of each other. He then decided to spend the next two years on his ranch in the Badlands.

97. He had $40,000 in cattle on the Maltese Cross Ranch. He also started a second ranch, Elkhorn.

98. Roosevelt called the people of North Dakota, “The average American of the right type.”

99. Roosevelt said, “If it had not been for what I learned during the years I spent in North Dakota, I never in the world would have been president of the United States.”

100. Estimates of bison in America before 1600 range from 30 million to 40 million. By 1900, they had dwindled to about 1,000 animals.

101. Roosevelt spearheaded efforts to save the bison. Today, the North American bison herd is about 340,000. Go, Bison!

Famous sons

102. Bandleader Lawrence Welk, perhaps the state’s most famous son, was born in a sod house on a farm near Strasburg. He was one of eight children.

103. When he started, Welk played barn dances to get the cash to buy a professional accordion, later creating his own band.

104. Welk and his band first appeared on television in 1950 in Los Angeles. A few years later, he started a decades-long run with his national show “The Lawrence Welk Show,” which featured his “champagne music.”

105. Roger Maris, who was raised in Fargo, for decades held the record as baseball’s single-season home run king. He had edged out Babe Ruth by pounding 61 homers in 1961 with the New York Yankees.

106. Actress and singer Peggy Lee was no one-hit wonder. Her fame lingers with her rendition of “Fever,” but she had several hit songs and albums in the 1940s and ’50s. She earned three Grammy Awards and an Academy Award nomination, too.

107. Western author and screenwriter Louis L’Amour wrote more than 100 novels, 400 short stories, 65 television scripts and sold more than 30 stories to the motion picture industry, including “Hondo,” which starred John Wayne.

108. At age 15, L’Amour joined a circus and later worked in mining and lumber camps. He was also a prizefighter and later served as a tank officer in World War II.

109. Judge Ronald N. Davies was named a federal district judge in Fargo in 1955. Two years later, he was asked to work in the Deep South, where he ordered the integration of Little Rock (Ark.) Central High School.

110. Davies’ ruling was hailed as the “landmark decision on racial integration in our nation” by the New York Times.

111. In 1887, North Dakotan David Henderson Houston invented a camera. He named it by scrambling the first four letters of Dakota and adding a “K” to make Kodak.

112. Houston later sold the rights of the Kodak camera to George Eastman.

113. Cream of Wheat was invented in 1893 by Tom Amidon, the head miller at a small Grand Forks mill.

114. Out of this world: Astronaut Anthony “Tony” England grew up in West Fargo, astronaut James Buchli was born in New Rockford and astronaut Karen Nyberg is a University of North Dakota alumna.

Cinema history

115. The 1952 movie “Fargo” was a “B” Western starring “Wild” Bill Elliott.

116. The movie poster billed the city as “The Town The Law Forgot.”

117. John Wayne starred in the 1945 movie “Dakota” as a gambler who eloped with the daughter of a railroad tycoon and gets in a range war in Fargo. Bring the popcorn!

118. The 1996 dark comedy “Fargo” by Joel and Ethan Coen put the city on the national radar.

119. Not a scene from the movie was filmed in Fargo.

Fargo stuff

120. Fargo was originally called Centralia.

121. The city was named after Northern Pacific Railway director William George Fargo. He never visited Fargo.

122. As Fargo flourished, the city became known as “The Gateway to the West.”

123. During the 1880s, Fargo was also known as the “divorce capital” of the Midwest because of lenient laws.

124. The Great Fargo Fire occurred on June 7, 1893. One account has the fire starting in back of Herzman’s Dry Goods Store, near where the Island Park parking ramp now stands. Another account says it started when stove ashes were tossed from the Little Gem Restaurant across from Herzman’s.

125. The fire destroyed 31 blocks of the city and more than 350 buildings, including City Hall.

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Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.
(701) 241-5583
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