Rhode Island Facts and Trivia

Rhode Island Facts and Trivia

Per square mile, Rhode Island has more shipwrecks than any other state, and other fascinating tidbits!

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  • Contrary to popular belief, Rhode Island is not located in New York. Or is it? Turns out there is actually a place in New York called Rhode Island. There's also one in Texas.

  • Rhode Island is one of only two states that begin with a double consonant. The other is Florida. (While it's true that the letter Y can be used as either a vowel or a consonant, in Wyoming it's a vowel).

  • Rhode Island's State Motto, "Hope," is the shortest of all of the states.

  • As most of us know, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union. 547.09 Rhode Islands could fit inside the biggest state, Alaska.

  • If the United States were divided into states the size of Rhode Island, we'd have 3,131.5 states.

  • While Rhode Island is only thirty-seven miles wide and forty-eight miles tall, its many bays, coves, and offshore islands give it a tidal shoreline that measures 384 miles in length. Forty miles of that is coastal, placing Rhode Island in twentieth place among the states.

  • Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state with an average of 1,021 persons per square mile (based on 2015 estimates). New Jersey ranks first with 1,218 persons per square mile.

  • About seventy-seven percent of Rhode Island's inhabitants live within a fifteen-mile radius of Providence, the capital city.

  • At only 4.56 acres, Roger Williams National Memorial is one of the country's smallest National Parks. Many people believe it's the smallest park, but it's not. That honor belongs to Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at only 2/100ths of an acre, or eighty square meters.

  • Providence's Benefit Street, known as the "Mile of History," is believed to contain the largest single collection of historic buildings at their original location in the nation.

  • Rhode Island contains forty-five (1.73%) of the 2,600 properties designated as National Historic Landmarks, placing it second only to the District of Columbia in landmarks per square mile (based on February 2017 figures).

  • Per square mile, Rhode Island has more shipwrecks than any other state. The Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association's shipwreck database includes 3,403 known maritime "incidents" as of 2020.

  • Rhode Island is one of five states—also including Arizona, California, Idaho, and Massachusetts—that does not have an official residence for its governor.

  • Rhode Island is one of only four states—also including Alaska, Maryland, and Delaware—where you can't buy alcohol in grocery stores.

  • America's first Baptist Church was established in Providence by Roger Williams in 1638.

  • The Rhode Island Greening Apple, our official state fruit, was developed around 1650 by a Mr. Green near Green's End in Newport. An alternate origin from local folklore has it descended from the Tree of Knowledge, gifted by a Persian king to the Rhode Islander who saved his son.

  • The first anti-slavery statute in the American Colonies was passed in Rhode Island in 1652. Sadly, it was never enforced.

  • The White Horse Tavern (c1673) in Newport is believed to be the oldest tavern building in the United States.

  • The first truly American breed of horse, the Narragansett Pacer, was developed in Rhode Island in the 1700s. It's purported that Paul Revere rode a Narragansett Pacer during his midnight ride.

  • Elisabeth Alden Pabodie (1623-1717), the first white girl born in New England, is buried in Little Compton.

  • The Redwood Library and Athenaeum, established in Newport in 1747, is the oldest community library still occupying its original building in the United States. It is also the first neoclassical public building in the country, and the oldest known surviving work by Peter Harrison, America's first professionally trained architect.

  • Newport's Touro Synagogue, built in 1763, is the oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States.

  • Before the Boston Tea Party (1773) and prior to "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" at Lexington (1775), Rhode Island patriots expressed their displeasure with British rule by burning the grounded British revenue schooner Gaspee at Namquit (now Gaspee) Point in 1772.

  • In 1774 Rhode Island became the first colony to ban the importation of slaves. Nice try, but Rhode Island merchants continued to sponsor slaving voyages into the beginning of the nineteenth century anyway.

  • The first circus in the country was held in Newport in 1774, when Newporter Christopher Gardner performed feats of horsemanship at his manege (riding circle) in the northern end of town.

  • On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island renounced allegiance to King George III of England, the first colony to make such a bold statement of independence.

  • The First Rhode Island Regiment—the first black American army unit—was formed in Rhode Island in the Spring of 1778. They made a gallant stand against British forces in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778.

  • Since 1785 Bristol has been home to the country's longest running, unbroken series of 4th of July celebrations.

  • On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last of the thirteen original colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island's reluctance was due in part to the debate over the addition of a bill of rights to guarantee individual liberties; but once such a bill was proposed by Congress, Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution by a narrow margin (34 to 32). The fact that the new "more perfect union" would have treated Rhode Island as a foreign government if it had failed to ratify may also have had something to do with their change of heart.

  • On December 21, 1790, the first American cotton mill began operation in Pawtucket. Samuel Slater developed the first water-powered cotton mill, and is credited with starting the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

  • In the Fall of 1792, inventor Elijah Ormsbee piloted one of the first steam-powered boats, financed by David Wilkinson and dubbed the "Experiment," on a three-mile-an-hour trip between Pawtucket and Providence. Instead of paddle wheels it had hinged duck-like paddles that folded up on the forward stroke. Elements of the engine's design may later have influenced Robert Fulton in the building of his own steam boat.

  • The costume jewelry industry was begun in Providence in 1794 when two brothers, Nehemiah and Seril Dodge, developed a method of plating base metal with gold. By the end of the 1930s Rhode Island had become the Jewelry Capital of the World, producing eighty percent of the costume jewelry made in America.

  • David Melville installed the country's first gas street-lamp outside his home on Pelham Street in Newport in 1805. (Boston had the first oil-illuminated street lamps, in 1719.)

  • By the 1840s, Central Falls boasted the highest population density of any other U.S. city. This was due in large part to a steady influx of workers who were needed to run the many mills in the city. At its most populous, Central Falls packed almost 24,000 people into its diminutive 1.3 square mile area.

  • In 1854, Rhode Islander Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry led an historic voyage that opened up Japan to world trade after 220 years of isolation.

  • Prior to 1854, Rhode Island had five capitals, one in each county, and the government rotated between them. In 1854 the number was cut down to two (Providence and Newport), and then Providence became the sole seat of government in 1901.

  • In 1856, the B.B. & R. Knight Corporation, operating out of Pontiac Mills in Warwick, began producing bolts of cloth under the "Fruit of the Loom" label. You may have grown up wearing their underwear.

  • The United States one dollar bill was redesigned in 1869 to include a portrait of George Washington, based on the Athenaeum Portrait painted by Rhode Islander Gilbert Stuart in 1796.

  • Walter Scott originated the concept of the diner in 1872 with his horse-drawn Providence lunch cart, from which he sold sandwiches, pies, and coffee outside the Providence Journal offices.

  • The first natural-gas powered streetcar, No. 13, ran between the car barns and Olneyville Square in Providence in 1873. George B. Brayton of Boston, Massachusetts, held the patent on its design, which used a gas and air engine, compressed by separate pumps.

  • The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol built the nation's first primitive torpedo boat, Lightning, in 1876. She was primitive because the crew actually had to hold the charge on the end of a long pole and poke it at the target. It wasn't until 1887 that Herreshoff modified a boat to launch a self-propelled torpedo. Her name was Stiletto.

  • Watch Hill's The Flying Horse Carousel, manufactured by the Charles W.F. Dare Company around 1876, is the oldest operating chain-suspended carousel in the United States.

  • Rhode Island had 6,000 farms in 1880. In comparison, the number of Rhode Island "farm operations" reported by the USDA in 2020 was 1,100.

  • The first U.S. National Men's Tennis Championship took place at Newport Casino in August 1881.

  • Between 1893 and 1934, the America's Cup sailing competition was dominated by eight yachts built at Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol.

  • Up until 2020, Rhode Island was officially known as the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations—making it the smallest state with the longest name. Because of perceived associations with slavery, a push to remove the "and Providence Plantations" part began to gather momentum in the early twenty-first century. A 2010 public referendum failed 78% to 22%, but, in the wake of the George Floyd killing, a 2020 ballot question was approved 53% to 47%.

  • Bonus Fact: The passage of this ballot question marked the first time in United States history that a state changed its name.

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