How the States Got their Shapes Viewing Guide









Fort Montgomery





Louisiana Purchase



Mason-Dixon Line

Missouri Compromise

Civil War









New Mexico




Ellis Island


  1. Midwest: Ohio and Michigan both wanted the same land in an area called the Toledo Strip.
  2. water: The Eerie Canal opened an interstate highway system through the Great Lakes in 1820. A ship could travel all the way from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Water was once commerce, transportation, and everything a people needed for an economy and country. People have always fought for lakefront property.
  3. Michigan: Ohioans called Michiganians Wolverines out of contempt, but the nickname stuck. Rivalry between Ohioans and Michiganians still exists today. Michigan probably ended up with the better end of the deal because it got the Upper Peninsula, a piece of land that was 16,000 square miles and increased the size of the State to a total of 56,000 square miles. At the time, MIchiganians in downstate Michigan did not want this land, but it was later discovered that the Upper Peninsula is rich with natural resources.
  4. Ohio: In 1835, Ohio fought Michigan each other in the Toledo War over a strip of land called Toledo. Since Ohio was a State, it had more political power because it had representation in Congress. Ohioans won the port of Toledo, which now ships 11 million tons of goods each year.
  5. border: The demand for water-front property shaped State borders all over the map. Ports and rivers were once the avenues of commerce. Nevada needed a port and was given a border with the Colorado River. Borders sometimes cause people not to get along.
  6. Jefferson: He wanted to take the map and divide the Midwest into ten equal States. Everything was boxy, but his plan of ignoring the mountains, rivers, and lakes was rejected.
  7. Vermont: Ethan Allen threatened to join Canada if the Republic of Vermont did not become an American State. In 1791, it became the fourteenth state. Derby Line is a city that borders Stanstead, Quebec. Security measures were taken after 9/11 that now divides some communities. In 1763, King George III and his council had control over borderlines and drew up a lot of colonial borders. Both New York and New Hampshire once had claims to this land and this conflict led to a border with a straight line.
  8. Quebec: This is a French-speaking province of Canada that was once controlled by France.
  9. Fort Montgomery: America was not always good friends with Canada. This fort was built to defend a strategic location in America. The United States did invade Canada a few times. It was built to withstand a siege from both water and land. This American fort was supposed to be built on the 45th Parallel, but mistakenly was built in Canada. The fort earned the nickname Fort Blunder and reshaped the Canadian border.
  10. surveyor: These people determine accurate positions. Surveyors are supposed to follow in the footsteps of earlier surveyors. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, were land surveyors. These people were very educated and often the leaders in the development of early America. Open-sight compasses are tools that were used to carve out State borders. Most surveyor chains were either 33 or 66 feet long and used to measure distances. The United States was once measured 33 feet at a time.
  11. Franklin: This was a territory that wanted to become the fourteenth State. This State lasted for four years, but is now part of Tennessee. Davy Crockett was born in this region, which broke off from North Carolina. The potential State that was named after Benjamin Franklin did have its own governor, legislator, constitution, and militia. John Sevier and John Tipton wanted this region to become a State and even threatened to form an alliance with Spain to gain independence.
  12. territory: Some States once had land claims all the way to the Mississippi River. They agreed to give land to help the new national government pay off its debt. The United States Congress sold a lot of this land to Americans who moved to the western territories.
  13. empires: England, France, and Spain once claimed most of North America.
  14. Louisiana Purchase: This territory was purchased for 15 million in 1803 from France. The purchase doubled the size of America; it also removed France from North America. Haiti was once the crown jewel of France and supplied a lot of sugar and money to the country. France left North America partly because Haitians gained independence.
  15. French: St. Genevieve, Missouri is a city where Americans are proud of their French heritage. Some homes in this city were built in the 1790s. France once claimed half of the United States.
  16. Kaskaskia: This was the original gateway to the West, long before St. Louis. Ten States line the borders of the mighty Mississippi River. This was once the capital of Illinois, but constant flooding caused the city to be moved across the river. The population of the city is now nine residents. Islanders have an Illinois driver’s license, but a Missouri zip code. The town's church was built in 1675. King Louis XV gave a Liberty Bell eleven years prior to the bell located in Philadelphia.
  17. Mason-Dixon Line: Some colonial charters had conflicting borders. According to a charter established by the monarchy, Philadelphia was located in Maryland. Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware agreed to settle their border disputes by hiring two surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. The surveyors spent five years with a team of up to 115 men surveying and establishing the final state borders.This line is often referred to as the divide between the North and South.
  18. Missouri Compromise: (45 minutes) Fourteen States were carved through bloody compromise. The St. Louis Arch is an iconic symbol of westward expansion, but Missouri was once a State that was very divided over the issue of slavery. Congress drew a line of compromise in 1820 that allowed slavery to exist in the southern regions, but it banned slavery in the northern regions above the 36°30′ line. This line is and was the real division between the North and South. Senator Charles Sumner was beaten in the Senate Chambers over the topic of slavery. Missouri was once a very divided region and dueling was commonplace.
  19. Civil War: The North felt that the South could not leave the Union. Some historians refer to the war as a four-year duel that left 650,000 Americans dead after the war. Duels were fought over honor. Congress had huge conflicts over what States would get to the west.
  20. Texas: It was originally called Tejas before gaining independence from Mexico in 1835. Texans then established the Republic of Texas and it remained its own country for nine years. Large amounts of debt caused Texas to join the United States in 1845. Congress tried to divide Texas into five states, but Texans refused. It did lose its panhandle before it could join the Union, as slavery was illegal in land located above the 36°30′ line. This became the northern border of Texas.
  21. California: The discovery of gold in 1848 led to the creation of the state borders. Greed or the quest for gold gave the State a distinct, crooked shape.
  22. Colorado: Gold was discovered in 1858 in the western end of Kansas and prospectors called it Jefferson Territory. Jefferson was scaled back by Congress and the state of Colorado was created from four separate territories.
  23. railroads: Trains set the shapes of many western States. Kansas and Nebraska are short and wide because that is where the railroads were supposed to go. Trains could extend anywhere and water become less important in the shaping of western states. It also led to more straight-line borders.
  24. gold: There is a good reason that Denver has a team called the Nuggets. Prospectors and miners helped form the state of Colorado. Prospectors in the 1870s looked for veins of gold on the surface and tunneled thousands of feet below to find more of it. "Don't yank my chain" is a statement dealing with mining toilets. Mining was tougher in Colorado than in California because drilling was done by hand and a miner had to go deeper into the earth. Small miners seldom got rich from mining gold because they made about $3 a day for ten hours of work. Rowdy prospectors and miners led Washington, Kansas, and Nebraska to give up part of their territories to newly formed States. Precious metals and the desire to attain helped form a lot of state borders. Silverton was a mining town.
  25. boundaries: Four Corners is the location where the borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico all meet. Congress might have went back to Jefferson's idea that all States should be equal when it created boxy shapes. It is easier to draw straight lines than to map out their geographic features. The world is not exactly round and therefore political boundaries are not always straight. The world bulges in the middle. Surveyors took great time to create accurate maps, but the actual boundaries or legal monuments slightly twist and turn.
  26. mountains: Idaho and Montana stand out among the boxy States. Both States began as the Idaho Territory, but in 1863, the Bitterroot Mountains separated the borders of Idaho and Montana. The People in West Virginia and Virginia are split by the Appalachian Mountains. It was difficult for West Virginians to interact with Virginians because it might take a month to travel over the Appalachians.
  27. notches: Missouri has a notch or bootheel because a wealthy man named John Hardeman Walker did not want to locate his property in Arkansas. Mr. Walker went to Washington and made sure his property was located in Missouri. Money often talks when determining borders. Massachusetts gave up the Boston Corner to New York because it had trouble governing this region. A person can only reach a part of Minnesota through Canada in a notch called the Northwest Angle.
  28. New Mexico: Santa Fe was established by Spain in 1610 and is the oldest capital in North America. In 1850, 90% of this region spoke Spanish. It has the only bilingual constitution in the United States.
  29. Louisiana: It was the first State carved from the Louisiana Purchase. The boundaries of this State were drawn up to include regions with the largest French populations.
  30. Deseret: Mormons proposed this territory to Congress. It was even larger than California. Congress gradually chipped off large portions of this territory before it finally became the state of Utah.
  31. Sequoyah: Native Americans lobbied hard for Congress to make the Oklahoma Territory into a State of their own.
  32. Ellis Island: For 62 years, New York Harbor was the gateway that welcomed twelve million immigrants. Half of all Americans can trace their ancestors to people who entered America through this island. New Jersey took New York to court in 1998 to claim ownership of this island. The Supreme Court gave New York control of the Great Hall; all newly created property was deeded to New Jersey.
  33. culture: The lines on the map not only tell us where we are, but who we are.
How the States Got their Shapes Viewing Guide