Fun North Carolina Facts for Kids and Adults
That same basketball champion, The University of North Carolina, in fact, was the first state university in United States History, founded in 1795. Two hundred years earlier, when the Europeans were first beginning to settle in North America, it was in the Roanoke Island colony of North Carolina in August of 1587 that the Virginia Dare was born, the first English child born in America. In 1903, as is memorialized on the state’s license plates, the Wright Brothers, originally in the bicycle business in Ohio, performed the first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. And at Reed Gold mine near Charlotte, the first real American gold rush began when the country’s first gold nugget was discovered. Like the professional football team in San Francisco, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s mascot is the Forty-Niner, named after the thousands who came to the area that year in search of a quick profit in the mining business.
North Carolina received its Old North State nickname when the Carolinas were divided into two colonies in the early eighteenth century. The state song has the same name and features the lines:
“Carolina! Carolina! heaven’s blessings attend her,
While we live we will cherish, protect, and defend her,
Tho’ the scorner may sneer at and witlings defame her,
Still our hearts swell with gladness when ever we name her.
Hurrah! Hurrah! the Old North State forever,
Hurrah! Hurrah! the gold Old North State.”
North Carolina’s more popular nickname, and the nickname of the University of North Carolina’s original branch in Chapel Hill, is the Tar Heel State. This arose during the civil war when, abandoned by soldiers from other states, a regiment from North Carolina was forced to battle the Union Soldiers alone. Someone suggested that the other states’ soldiers needed to have tar painted on their feet to make them stick better next time; Confederate General Robert E. Lee, upon hearing this, is said to have commented, “God bless the Tar Heel Boys,” and the name for North Carolina was born.
The birthplace of NASCAR, North Carolina is home to, among dozens of other celebrities, racing legends Dale Earnhardt and the Petty family (Richard, Kyle, and Lee). Richard Petty even once ran for governor! Among other North Carolinian celebrities are: NBA and NCAA basketball star Michael Jordan, evangelist Billy Graham, writer Thomas Wolfe, and musicians Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, James Taylor, and Doc Watson. Three American presidents were born in North Carolina: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson. Johnson was the successor to Abraham Lincoln, whose mother, some research suggests, may have come from from North Carolina as well.
The state bird is the cardinal, and the state flower is actually a tree: the dogwood. The actual state tree is the pine, which grows in abundance throughout North Carolina. North Carolina even has an official state beverage: milk. Fossils of at least three different kinds of dinosaur have been found in North Carolina, including Zatomus, a large, meat-eating reptile with blade-like teeth, resembling a primitive crocodile.
Today, North Carolina is known for its large and diverse economy. Charlotte, the state’s largest city, is one of the nation’s largest banking centers. Raleigh is at the heart of the Research Triangle, located in the northern-central part of the state and named so because, home to UNC, Duke University, NC State, Wake Forest, and UNC Greensboro, it is a hotbed for research and development in the areas of science, engineering, and medicine. Elsewhere North Carolina boasts miles of farmland, whose main products include tobacco, turkeys, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pigs.
Despite ranking just 28th in the nation in total square mileage, North Carolina’s 8 million people make it America’s tenth most populous state, due in fact to its fairly even population distribution: about fifty percent of North Carolinians live in cities, while fifty percent live in rural areas. North Carolina is home to the famous Outer Banks, the barrier islands who, in the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries caused so many shipwrecks that the area was nicknamed Graveyard of the Atlantic. The famous pirate Blackbeard sailed his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge in these vary same waters, and he made his home in historic Beaufort, North Carolina. Beaufort is just one of North Carolina’s cities that has been chosen as the location for a major motion picture: Mandy Moore starred in A Walk to Remember, which featured the tiny port city. Movies filmed Charlotte include those ranging from Eddie, starring Whoopi Goldberg, to Shallow Hal, starring Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow, and North Carolina is one of the most popular states in the nation for moviemakers.
In the western part of the state, North Carolina is bordered by the Appalachian Mountains, the oldest mountain range in the nation. Though lower in elevation than the Rockies, the Appalachians are far more ancient. When Europeans first settled in North America, many Scottish and Irish immigrants made their homes in this mountainous region of North Carolina. From the traditional folk songs and music they brought with them, Bluegrass music was born. One of bluegrass’s most revered musicians, guitarist Doc Watson, as well as his brother Merle, was born in this part of the state. The mountains of North Carolina are also home to a booming skiing industry; the highest elevation ski slopes east of the Mississippi are in Beech Mountain, also home to the highest elevation general store, Fred’s Mercantile. If you live in North Carolina, you can wake up in the morning at the beach, drive across the state, and be skiing by nightfall. Not many states can boast such a diverse geography.
North Carolina has one of the fastest-growing populations, as well as one of the fastest-growing economies, in the nation. In the past fifteen years, the state’s rise to national prominence has been marked by the arrival of four professional sports teams. The Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA in 1988 and spent fifteen years in Charlotte before relocating to New Orleans; their departure was followed by the arrival in Charlotte of the Bobcats, the NBA’s newest team. The NFL expanded to North Carolina by awarding the city of Charlotte the Carolina Panthers in 1995. The Panthers, in their short history, have already won two division titles, have won an NFC Championship, and have appeared in a Super Bowl, in which they lost one of the most exciting games in history to the New England Saints. North Carolina’s fourth professional sports team, the NHL’s Hurricanes, are the former Whalers, who relocated from Hartford, Connecticut. They received their name due to the large number of tropical storms and hurricanes that threaten the North Carolina coast annually.
A final fun fact about North Carolina: Home to a booming Christmas tree industry, the state is the birthplace of the North Carolina Fraser Fir, widely regarded as the best species of Christmas tree. North Carolina Fraser Firs have been selected as the official White House Christmas Tree nine times (1971, 1973, 1982, 1984, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2005), more than any other species.
So the next times someone mentions North Carolina, you don’t have to forget about basketball, but remember the diverse range of firsts and famous people, of pirates and pine trees, the wonderful abundance of fun facts to which North Carolina is home.