Fun Facts About North Carolina

There are a ton of amazing and fun facts about North Carolina. Some may be familiar, but there are probably a few you didn’t know.

I dug through the data, weeded out the myths, and provided the details. Sit back, relax, and learn a few fun tidbits about North Carolina.

Important Moments in History

The First English-Born Child in America

Virginia Dare was born in Roanoke, North Carolina on August 18, 1587.

Her birth was noted when her grandfather, John White, traveled back to England in 1587 for supplies. Upon his return to Roanoke three years later, he found the entire colony gone.

The First Successful Flight of an Airplane

There’s quite a bit of debate about where “first in flight” belongs, so we’ll just say the first successful flight of an airplane took place in Kitty Hawk, NC on December 17, 1903, lasting 12 seconds.

Stone at Wright Brother Memorial noting details of first flight.

“Successful flight of an airplane” is defined as flight of a powered, heavier-than-air, controlled device.  

The controversy arose because the Wright brothers were from Ohio and that’s where the technology, testing, and plane construction were completed.

We’re not delving into Connecticut’s claim that Gustave Whitehead was the first in 1901 here because that’s a deep rabbit hole that I’ll leave to the historians.   

First State to Declare Independence from England

On April 12, 1776, North Carolina became the first colony to declare freedom from British rule.

UNC-Chapel Hill is the Oldest Public University in the United States

Technically, it shares this title with the University of Georgia in Athens and the College of William and Mary in Virginia. However, UNC Chapel Hill was the first to hold classes and accept graduate students.

Bennet Place in Durham is the Site of a Pivotal Surrender in the Civil War

On April 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph Johnston surrendered to Union General William Sherman at Bennett Place Farmhouse in Durham, NC. This surrender occurred after the famous signing between Generals Lee and Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse.

Johnston’s signature effectively surrendered all Confederate troops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In the following weeks, the remaining southern troops also surrendered.

North Carolina is Home to the First Gold Rush in the United States

When you think “gold rush”, California often comes to mind, but North Carolina started the whole thing. On March 19, 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed went fishing in Little Meadow Creek and found a 17-pound gold nugget. 

His family used the nugget as a doorstop until his father took it to a jeweler in 1802 and things snowballed from there.

North Carolina Record Breakers and Sites of Note

Tallest Brick Lighthouse in America

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse holds the record as the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Since it was set on a low-lying beach, it needed 198 feet to extend the range of light. In 1990, the lighthouse was moved to a new location due to erosion.

Largest Private Estate in the United States

Asheville, North Carolina is home to the famous Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in America. Built by George Vanderbilt, it may also be the most recognized home in the US.

Its stunning 175,000 square feet houses 250 rooms, including an indoor pool. Imagine living with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Plus, there are gardens, hiking trails, a bass pond, and additional acres of forest land.

The Highest Peak in the Eastern United States

Mount Mitchell, along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi river at 6684 feet.

Woman standing next to sign noting Mount Mitchell isi highest peak east of Mississippi river with elevation 6684 feet.

Now part of a North Carolina State Park, you can drive to the top and enjoy the views from the observation tower. If you’re up for a challenge, start at the bottom and climb 5.6 miles up.  This is a steep, strenuous hike on rough terrain.

North Carolina is Home to the Oldest Mountains in North America

The oldest mountains in North America can be found 150 miles from the coast. Believe it or not, it’s not in the Appalachian Mountain chain. It’s our humble Uwharries.

While the Uwharries top out at around 1100 feet now, they were 20,000 feet in elevation at one time. 500 million years ago, the Uwharries were part of a tectonic plate. Due to the rising of the eastern seabed through a process called “isostasy”, and general erosion, they are now eclipsed by larger mountain ranges.

I’m going to go on record here to say this fact is contested. Some scientists now believe the Blue Ridge Mountains may be 1 billion years old. But it’s still pretty cool to think that 20,000-foot mountains which once existed along our coast are now one of the best backpacker playgrounds in the state.

North Carolina is Home to a Recognized UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve

The Southern Appalachia UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve includes Grandfather Mountain, the Great Smokey Mountains, and others in the area. This area is known for its diverse ecological areas and being home to many endangered species.

Tallest Dam in the Eastern United States

North Carolina’s Fontana Dam, at 480 feet, is the tallest dam in the eastern US. It’s the 20th largest dam in the entire United States.

To give you an idea, Hoover Dam, which is ranked second tallest in the US, is 726 feet tall.

Tallest Waterfall East of the Rockies

This was a tough nut to crack (aka verify). It seems everyone thinks their waterfall is the tallest, but according to the US Forest Service, Upper White Water Falls in North Carolina is indeed the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies with a 411-foot drop.

Upper and Lower whitewater falls in spring with green trees surrounding them.

What makes it confusing is the waterfall is split in two. Upper Whitewater with its 411-foot drop lives in North Carolina. The second half of the waterfall, Lower Whitewater, with a 400-foot drop lives in South Carolina. That’s right, the waterfall crosses state lines halfway down.

Now, if you want to look at the tallest cascading waterfall rather than a single drop, that would be Crabtree Falls in Virginia with a whopping total of 1000 feet of falls. It’s often credited as being 1200 feet, but a topographical survey puts it at 1000. Regardless, it’s still amazing.

Odd Facts about North Carolina

North Carolina is the Number 1 Producer of Sweet Potatoes in the United States

North Carolina has been the number 1 producer of sweet potatoes in the United States for over 50 years, producing around 64% of the nation’s sweet potatoes. And yes, this is something the USDA actually measures.

California and Mississippi are in second and third place respectively. But, good ‘ole NC has held the lead since 1971 and is the far front-runner.  

Babe Ruth His First Professional Homerun in North Carolina

On March 7, 1915, George Herman Ruth, Jr. hit his first home run as a professional. He was with the Baltimore Orioles at the time playing an exhibition game at the Cape Fear Fairgrounds in Fayetteville, NC.

He was also given the nickname Babe while in Fayetteville after antics playing in the elevators, and when teammates found out he had been adopted by their manager.

The Venus Flytrap is a Native Plant of North Carolina

Well, this was news to me, and I will be more careful in humid, boggy areas. Wait. Isn’t that all of North Carolina?

Group of venus flytrap plants growing in the wild.

Luckily, the Venus Flytrap only grows natively within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington, NC. North and South Carolina are the only states in the US where the plant is native.

Just when you thought the beach was safer than the mountains.

Roanoke Island is Home to the Oldest Grapevine in North America

The large grapevine on Roanoke Island is thought to be over 400 years old and the first grapevine in North America. It’s not clear if it was planted by Croatan Native Americans or members of the Lost Colony.

Currently, it resides on private property, but the owners encourage visitors. The vine produces scuppernong grapes, a variety of muscadine.

Blackbeard and North Carolina

Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, was known to hide out along North Carolina’s coast. It’s rumored he may have lived for a time in Ocracoke, and Bath, NC.

He was killed by the British Navy on the orders of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood in 1718.

Dinosaur Bones in Sampson County

In the late 1860s, Washington Carruthers Kerr found fossils from a dinosaur known as Hypsibema crassicauda in Sampson County, North Carolina.

While it was long thought dinosaurs inhabited North Carolina, the land and population growth made it difficult to locate fossils. Heavy vegetation led to rich soil formation which destroys fossils.

Early Astronauts Learned Navigation at UNC-Chapel Hill

Opening in 1949, the Morehead planetarium at UNC-Chapel Hill was the first planetarium in the south. It was also run by a smart man, Tony Jenzano. After leaving the planetarium, he had an idea and, in 1950, pitched a training program to NASA.

His premise was to use Morehead Planetarium to train astronauts how to navigate using stars, like the old mariners. This would be a backup means of navigation if the instrumentation was not working properly.

NASA loved the idea. Astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs all trained at Morehead.

The training came in handy on several missions, including the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission where all navigation systems went out and Gordon Cooper was forced to use the stars to navigate his re-entry.

Later, in 1969, lightning struck Apollo 12 right after liftoff, taking out the navigation systems. The astronauts successfully used their training to realign the onboard navigation once safely in orbit.

State With the Most American Idol Winners

Yep, we hold the current record with three American Idol Winners. Fantasia Barrino, Scotty McCreery, and Caleb Johnson all claim North Carolina as their home. And if you just look at famous contestants, we can add Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, and Kellie Pickler.

Home to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry

Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and used the town as inspiration for Mayberry. While the show was filmed in California, you’ll find a few familiar locations in Mt. Airy.

The town also takes pride in its history and has replicated places from the old Mayberry set. You can visit Mt. Airy and experience “Mayberry”. There’s even an annual festival.

The White House has Selected More Christmas Trees from North Carolina than any other US State

North Carolina is known for its Christmas tree farms so it’s no surprise that the White House has chosen 14 fresh-cut trees from the state since the 1960s. This surpasses every other state.

Home to the Furniture Capital of the World

High Point, North Carolina is known as the furniture capital of the world. Back in the late 1950s, almost 60% of all bedroom and living room furniture in the US was produced in a 100-mile radius of High Point.

Over time, much of the manufacturing moved away, but the city pivoted and is now known as the furniture capital for its businesses in presenting, showing, and debuting furniture. In April and October, global furniture experts and designers head to High Point for the biannual showcases.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic

I’m not sure if this is something we want to be known for, but the Outer Banks of North Carolina has the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. It’s thought that over 5000 shipwrecks have wrecked in this area since 1596.

The waters around the area are treacherous thanks to shifting sands and inlets. This is what made it a great place for pirates like Blackbeard to hide.

Winston-Salem is Home to the Prototype for the Empire State Building

Completed in 1929, the Reynolds Building is a 314-foot skyscraper in Winston-Salem. It was originally built as the headquarters for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

The building is known for being the design inspiration for its larger sibling, the Empire State Building built in 1931.

Legend goes that every year the Empire State Building sends the Reynolds Building a Father’s Day card. This was proven false by both parties. There was a one-time anniversary card sent in 1979, but no Father’s Day cards. 

North Carolina has Alligators

Yes, we have alligators. Currently, North Carolina is the northernmost location where alligators are natively found. They tend to hover around the North Carolina and Virginia Border. You can find them in Great Dismal Swamp and Merchants Millpond State Park.

Lassiter Mill swamp with algae covered water and large cypress trees.

With temperatures warming, this may change in the next few years, but for now, they seem to stay out of Virginia.

Products Made in North Carolina

Pepsi Cola

We’ve all seen the “Born in the Carolinas” commercials so it’s no surprise that New Bern, North Carolina is the official birthplace of Pepsi.

Initially called “Brad’s Drink”, it was sold in 1893 at the New Bern Drug Store. Five years later, it was renamed “Pepsi-Cola” from the pepsin and kola nut ingredients that were thought to help digestion.

Pepsi-Cola was officially incorporated as a company in 1902.

Bojangles

If you’re not from the south then you may not be familiar with Bojangles. Home to fried chicken, biscuits, and the Boberry biscuit, it’s a southern staple.

Charlotte, North Carolina is home to the first Bojangles which opened in 1977. A year later, it grew as it began franchising.

Cheerwine

This is another “if you’re not from around here you probably haven’t heard about it.” Despite its name, there is no wine or alcohol in Cheerwine. It’s a cherry cola. Actually, it’s what every other cherry cola product should strive to be when they grow up.

Created in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1917, Cheerwine is most notable for its nuclear pink color which is partially how it got its name.

Salisbury hosts a Cheerwine festival every May. It’s one of the best festivals in North Carolina.

Krispy Kreme Donuts

In 1937, Vernon Rudolph opened the first Krispy Kreme donuts in Winston-Salem. He had bought a secret yeast-raised recipe from a New Orleans Chef.

He meant to sell the donuts to local grocery stores, but passers-by smelled the cooking doughnuts from the street and asked if they could buy them. Ever the businessman, Vernon cut a hole in the wall and started selling the doughnuts directly to consumers.

Mt. Olive Pickle Company

Initially, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company was meant to take wasted cucumber crops from area farmers, brine them, and sell the brine to other pickling firms. When this didn’t work out, the company pivoted and started processing and packing its own pickles.

The city of Mount Olive hosts the annual Pickle Festival, a fun event for the family.

Crowd by the mural of pickle jars on teh side of a pink building

Fun fact, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company sits at the corner of Cucumber and Vine. The Gift shop is at One Cucumber Blvd. 

RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company

R.J. Reynolds was founded in 1875 as a chewing-tobacco manufacturer in Winton, NC. Winston eventually merged with Salem to become Winston-Salem.

This shouldn’t be too surprising considering North Carolina was once the tobacco king of the United States.

Wrangler Jeans

In 1904, C.C. Hudson and his brother, Homer, formed the Hudson Overall Company in Greensboro, North Carolina. They changed the name to Blue Bell Overall Company in 1919 and were purchased by Big Ben Manufacturing which kept the Blue Bell name after the merger. They maintained the headquarters in Greensboro.

Fast forward to 1943 when Blue Bell acquired the Casey Jones Company along with the rights to the rarely used brand name, Wrangler.

Texas Pete Hot Sauce

Texas Pete Hot Sauce was created in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (I’m sensing a trend here). In 1929 Thad Garner bought the Dixie Pig barbecue stand had inherited a spicy sauce with the restaurant. When the restaurant went under, Thad, his father, Sam, and two brothers realized people still wanted the sauce so they continued to make it.

The name came from “Texas” to describe the spicy flavor and “Pete” the nickname of the youngest brother, Harold.

Vicks VapoRub

Back in 1894, Lunsford Richardson, a pharmacist in Selma, North Carolina noticed that customers using Ben-Gay reported it cleared their sinuses. Richardson began experimenting and added menthol to petroleum jelly. He teamed up with his physician brother-in-law, Joshua Vicks to create the Vicks Family Remedies Company. 

The brand began to take off when Vicks moved to Greensboro. They sold the product to Procter & Gamble in 1985.

Putt-Putt Golf

I’m going to be careful here. Miniature golf and several minigolf courses were around for years. But Putt-Putt is an actual company that took minigolf and made it possible for good golfers to hit a hole-in-one by adding bumpers around the edges of the holes and grading them appropriately. The specific design of the course is what makes it “Putt-Putt,” and the name is trademarked.

During the great depression of the 1930s, almost all existing minigolf courses were demolished. To date, there’s one known surviving location.

The Taylor brothers from Binghamton, NY brought back minigolf golf in 1938 as things improved. Then, in the 1950s, Don Clayton invented the Putt-Putt brand, building his first Putt-Putt course in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Interestingly, one of the first standardized minigolf courses used for commercial mass production was the Thistle Dhu (This’ll Do) course built in 1916 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

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