Special Report

How Each State Got Its Shape

Each of the 50 states that comprise the United States of America has its own shape. How their shapes were determined provides insight into how the United States became a nation like no other.

24/7 Tempo has taken a look at how each state got its shape. We reviewed materials such as Mark Stein’s book “How the States Got Their Shapes” to find out how each state’s contours fit into the grand puzzle that is the United States of America.

Click here to read how each state got its shape.

According to Stein, the most important influences that determined the shapes of the states were the American Revolution, the construction of railroads, the proposal for the Erie Canal, and the issue of slavery.

The American Revolution helped to define the shapes of the original 13 colonies. The outlines of the earliest states were often shaped by geographic boundaries, such as rivers. These are the oldest historic towns in every state.

The original 13 colonies vary in shape and size. This did not please Thomas Jefferson, who suggested that Congress create future states equal in size based upon latitude and longitude coordinates.

The construction of cross-country railroads and the Erie Canal helped dictate the contours of states where those modes of transport traversed.

The issue of slavery also helped shape states in the territory that was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The Missouri Compromise of 1818 solidified the practice of determining state boundaries in the region based on where slavery was legal.

The two largest contiguous states, California and Texas, determined their own borders because of the political power they wielded and the concern that they might secede from the U.S. if a territorial dispute arose. As it turned out, Texas did end up seceding from the Union. Here’s how your state was founded.