Special Report

This Is the Largest State in America

The United States is the fourth largest county in the world, based on square miles. At 3,618,783 square miles, it comes in behind Russia, Canada and China. About 96% of the U.S.’s total area is land, and the balance is water. In many analyses of the numbers, figures are then broken into states, provinces, and territories. The largest state in America is Alaska.

Not all states are as large. In some states, people can travel from one border to another in an hour or two. Rhode Island only covers 1,545 square miles, according to the Census Bureau. Most of the smallest states by square miles are in the Northeast, and they range from Vermont and New Hampshire as far south as Delaware. (Geographical size does not always matter when it comes to the size of the economy. These are America’s largest and smallest state economies.)

Throughout much of the nation’s history, the largest states and territories were Texas (268,596 sq. miles), California (163,695 sq. miles) and several Plains states that include Montana (147,040 sq. miles). 

This ranking changed substantially when Alaska became a state on Jan. 3, 1959. It is the largest state, by a large margin, at 665,384 square miles. Of that, 570,641 sq. miles are land and 245,383 sq. miles are water.

Alaska also has the lowest population density at 1.3 people per sq. mile of land. It ranks 48th among all states by population at only 733,391, based on the 2020 census results. It is also one of the slowest growing. Alaska’s population rose by only 3.3% from 2010. By contrast, the population density of New Jersey is 1,252.4 per sq. mile. (By population, these are the 50 largest cities in America.)

Among the problems created by Alaska’s huge size is the maintenance of infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Report Card for America’s Infrastructure: “Many of Alaska’s remote communities are still in need of water and wastewater systems that are safe, efficient, and sustainable, while even our most populated areas are still learning how best to handle everyday solid waste in a subarctic environment.”

Unless there is a large investment in this infrastructure, these problems almost certainly will persist.

To find the largest state in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Census Bureau area measurements data that were derived from the Census Bureau’s Master Address File/Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing database. The boundaries of the states are as of Jan. 1, 2010. We also calculated the percentage of land and water area for each state.

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