Geography of the United States
IN LESS THAN 400 YEARS, the United States of America (USA) has grown from wild countryside inhabited by native peoples to the world’s most powerful industrial nation. The country is made up of 50 states, including Alaska in the far north and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. There are two major mountain ranges, the Appalachians to the east and the Rockies to the west, while much of its center is covered by the gently sloping Great Plains. Vast supplies of coal, oil, and minerals, together with mass immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped business and industry grow fast. Today, American products and culture arer throughout the world.
PEOPLE OF THE US
People in the US belong to a wide range of different groups and races. Most are descended from immigrants – people who moved there from other parts of the world, such as Europe and Asia. Many African-Americans are descendants of slaves forced to the US in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Today, the population is increasingly Hispanic (Spanish speaking), Asian, and African-American. By 2050, these groups will make up almost half the population.
LIVING IN THE CITY
Almost 80 percent of Americans live in cities or the surrounding suburbs. Most people who live in the suburbs own their own homes and travel to work by car. New York is the biggest city, with more than 22 million inhabitants, followed by Los Angeles, and then Chicago. People from different backgrounds mingle in most cities. Often they have their own neighborhoods, with names such as Little italy or Chinatown. This view shows midtown Manhattan, New York.
The population of the US has always been mobile, moving to new states in search of work or a better lifestyle. Major events, such as the Great Depression in the 1930s, also forced people to move in the hope of finding work. The general pattern of movement since settlers first arrived is shown on this map. Over the past 30 years or so, more and more people have moved to the “Sun Belt” states of the South and West. These include California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
Large areas of the country’s most spectacular countryside are protected in more than 350 national parks. Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming and Montana, was the first park to open, in 1872. Yellowstone provides a safe environment for animals, including bison, elk, antelope, grizzly bear, moose, and deer.
The influence of US can be seen all overthe world. Fast foods, such as hamburgers, hot dogs,and soft drinks, as well ascharacters from films andTV shows, are recognizedin cities from Berlin toBeijing. This “selling of America” is a billion-dollar industry and plays a vital part in the US economy.
Baseball is the country’s national sport. The first game played between two organized teams took place in New Jersey in 1846.
The National League was formed in 1876, theAmerican League in 1901,and today baseball is the most popular spectator sport in the US. It is traditional for the president to pitch the first ball at the start of each new baseball season.
THE FIRST AMERICANS
Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the US, today make up less than 1 percent of the population. When Europeansa in the 1500s, Native American tribes were decimated by disease.
They lost many of their homelands and were forced over time to live on reservations – land allotted to them by the government. Despite these hardships, many tribalt and languages still survive.
This Zuni artist, a member of the Pueblo tribe,makes and sells silver and turquoise jewelry.
FROM THE ICY LANDSCAPE OF ALASKA, through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, to the semitropical islands of Hawaii, the western states cover a dramatic range of scenery. Along the West Coast, large cities such as Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco ship lumber, fish, and fruit all over the world. The West is also home to Hollywood, capital of the multimillion dollar movie industry, and Silicon Valley, a stretch of northern California that lies at the heart of the high-tech computer business. Sun Valley, in Idaho, ranks as one of the country’s leading ski and summer resorts.
People in California have to live with the constant threat
of earthquakes. The area lies on the boundary, or fault
line, between two plates of the Earth’s crust. When these
plates push and slide against each other, it causes
earthquakes, which can destroy roads and
homes. It is difficult to predict an earthquake, so
most people keep a survival kit in case they are
trapped or left without supplies. Some of the
items included in such a kit are displayed here.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER
The majority of immigrants living
in the western states come from
nearby Mexico. They are called
Hispanics because their ancestors
came from Spain and they speak
Spanish. Many still follow the
religion and festivals of Mexico.
Hispanics also arrive from Cuba,
Puerto Rico, and El Salvador.
The San Andreas
Fault runs for
750 miles (1,207 km)
passing through the
cities of San Francisco
and Los Angeles. There
are also hundreds of
other smaller faults
that constantly cause
When Henry Ford introduced the
first cheap car in 1910, it promised
freedom on the open road. Today,
there are more cars on the road in
the US than in any other country.
Networks of six-lane highways weave
across cities such as Los Angeles,
shown above. Fumes from the cars
contribute to city smog problems.
FIELDS OF PLENTY
Fertile soil, plenty of sunshine, and
water, diverted from rivers that
flow from the Sierra Nevada
Mountains, make California
the leading agricultural
state. The land is used to
grow more than 40 percent
of the fresh fruit and
vegetables eaten in the
US, such as peaches,
oranges, and strawberries,
as well as artichokes and
brussels sprouts. Mexicans
often cross into the country
illegally to find work on the
fruit farms. The Napa Valley,
north of San Francisco, is an
important grape-growing and
THE NORTHERN FORESTS
Great forests of pine, cedar, and fir trees
thrive in the wet climate near the coasts
of Oregon and Washington. These
states are the country’s major suppliers
of lumber and wood pulp. The trees are
cut into logs and transported by road to
the coast. Environmental groups are
now trying to protect the trees, many
of which are more than 200 years old.
Lightweight bag of emergency
items, including first-aid
supplies (not shown)
Bar of dried food
Mini rolls of
designed to reflect
work for 12
hours and do
Packet of pure
FAMOUS FOR COWBOYS AND CATTLE RANCHES, the
central states of the US are also the country’s
“bread basket” and oil refinery. This vast region
includes high mountains, fertile plains, and the
Mississippi River system. Texas and Oklahoma
have major oil and gas fields, while coal is mined
in Wyoming and Montana. The Rocky Mountains
contain important national parks, such as
Yellowstone and Glacier, and are rich in mineral
resources. Hot summers and cold winters, as well
as violent hailstorms and tornadoes, make the
region’s climate one of extremes.
From Minnesota in the north to its
enormous delta in the Gulf of Mexico, the
mighty Mississippi River flows through
the central states. It is one of the world’s
busiest waterways, suitable for cargo boats
for almost 1,802 miles (2,900 km). This
view of the river shows it flowing through
Iowa, where it forms a natural border with
Illinois and Wisconsin. In the south, severe
flooding often occurs after heavy rains.
CITIES OF THE DEAD
Cemeteries in New
Orleans are built
above ground to
protect them when
floods. The burial
grounds are called
Cities of the Dead.
Cattle are raised on the Great Plains and
foothills of the Rocky Mountains. In summer,
cowboys on horseback used to drive the
cattle to fresh pastures; in winter, they
herded them back to the ranch to be sold
at auction for food. Hollywood movies
turned cowboys into heroes, but life in
the saddle was not easy. Pay was poor,
and men often spent 15 hours a day on
horseback in scorching heat or driving
rain. Today, ranches are smaller and
cowboys and horses may be ferried from
ranch to pasture by truck and trailer.
Several hundred tornadoes a
year strike “Tornado Alley,”
an area that runs through
Kansas, Oklahoma, and
Missouri. They occur when
hot air from the Gulf of
Mexico hits cold, dry air
from Canada. The violent
storms, known as “twisters,”
cut through towns and
everything in their path. RURAL AMERICA
Today, most Americans live in cities
and towns, but at the start of the
20th century, two out of every five
adults lived on farms. There are still
many small towns with populations
of less than 10,000 people. These
towns are often in farming country
and are where people go for
supplies, to attend school, church,
or special events, such as this fair.
THE GREAT PLAINS
Once home to millions of buffalo, the vast open plains
between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River
are now planted with cereal grains. Farmers on the Great
Plains produce more wheat and corn than anywhere else
on Earth. Farming is highly mechanized, with huge
machines to harvest the grain. In drier parts, the land can
be farmed only if it is irrigated, often using water taken
from a natural underground reservoir, called an aquifer.
A twisting column of rising air forms beneath a thunder cloud.
Hats keep off the sun and the rain,and were once used to carry water.
Boots have to keep feet firmly in the stirrups.
Fringe helps to drain away any rainwater.
Chaps protect the rider from cattle horns.
A lasso is used to rope cattle.
Leather cuffs Sheaves of the type of wheat used for making bread
A wreath of flowers can travel at 112 mph (180 km/h).
The air spirals up the column and sucks
up dirt and objects in its way.
EXCELLENT HARBORS, FERTILE LAND, and rich mineral resources have made this region one of the most densely populated in the country. It was along the East Coast that the first settlers from Europe arrived in the 16th century. Today, the area includes some of the country’s largest cities, such as New York and Washington, DC, as well as the once-great centers of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland on the Great Lakes. Farther south, farmers use the land to cultivate cotton, tobacco, and vegetables grown for their oil. Hurricanes are a threat to people living on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
BIG BUSINESS IN NEW YORK
Originally a fur-trading post at the mouth of the, River New York is now the US’s financial capital. Wall Street, so called because it the line of the old city wall, is the home of the New York Stock Exchange. Financialdeals worth billions of dollars are made there every day. Nasdaq, short for National
Association of Securities Dealers Automated.Quotation System, based in New York, was the world’s first electronic stock market. Because it is a purely computer-based system, shares can be traded around the globe, 24 hours a day.
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