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The United States was originally populated by immigrant natives from Asia, between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago, some of whom developed more advanced societies and prospered. However, the discovery of the Caribbean islands off the east coast of North America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought with it a number of European diseases, such as smallpox. The natives had no resistance to these new diseases, resulting in millions of deaths among the indigenous tribes.

Over twenty years after Columbus, Ponce de Leon landed in Florida, and Spanish settlements and missions began sprouting throughout the southern portion of the continent. The French, profiting from the fur trade, moved southward from Canada, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming that territory for France.

Eventually, the English founded colonies in Virginia and up into the New England region, beginning in 1607. By 1614, the Dutch had planted their flag in the New World, as well, in the area that would become New York after they ceded it to England in 1674.

This helter-skelter colonization continued, with the British taking Canada from the French, while the population of the original 13 colonies grew to 2.6 million by 1770. In 1775, increased frustration at the taxation imposed by Britain, with no representation offered in the British Parliament, sparked the American Revolutionary War.

The Americans, with the aid of the French and the Spanish, finally won their freedom from British rule in 1781, and the process of building a central government was undertaken. By 1788, the new nation’s constitution was ratified and its first President, George Washington, took office the following year.

Expansion toward the vast open land to the west led to various Indian wars, and this expansive territory, along with the purchase of the French-owned Louisiana Territory, opened a floodgate of immigration from Europe. It also sparked the declaration of the War of 1812 by the Americans against the British, for a number of grievances. Although neither side emerged as a clear victor, the American’s sense of nationalism was bolstered.

In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S., in 1846, the Oregon Treaty with Britain awarded possession of the American Northwest Territory to the rapidly expanding nation and the gold rush of 1848-1849 brought hordes of new settlers t o the west coast in search of riches, land or adventure.

1860-1865 brought the Civil War, dividing families, decimating the male population and nearly destroying the national identity. The nation’s final mainland expansion came with the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. 1898 brought the annexation of Hawaii and victory in the Spanish American War, which firmly established the United States as a world power. Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands were annexed as a result of that war, as well.

In 1917, the U.S. joined the Allies in World War I, and women were finally allowed to vote just three years later. 1929 brought the Great Depression, which combined with the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s, impoverished the nation to unheard-of levels. Attempting to isolate itself, the U.S. declined to enter World War II, at least until a sneak attack by the Japanese forced its hand.

Post war U.S. grew rapidly, spurred by energetic investment and renewed national pride, and in 1950, the United States entered the Korean War against the communist forces of North Korea and China.

The Cold War (1947-1991) between the Soviet Union and the U.S., resulted in a great deal of military spending, as each side sought to build defenses and autonomy, while fighting a figurative war of attrition against the other. The U.S. later began a misguided overt military action in Vietnam, in a continued battle against communist expansion which lasted twenty years.

After the Soviet Union collapsed upon itself, a false sense of security led many to feel as though the country were virtually without enemies worthy of consideration. A swift, decisive victory against Iraq in the Gulf War reinforced that attitude.

When Islamic terrorists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001, the U.S. retaliated first against Afghanistan, where the responsible group was based, then expanded into Iraq to bring about a regime change there. To many, it probably seems as though the United States suffers from an addiction to warfare. The reality is that conflict has always generated more industry and economic growth, so in lean times, there’s little incentive to refrain from military action.


Unique Characteristics

The United States is the third largest nation in terms of land area, with the sixth highest GDP (PPP). It is also the third largest in the world, in terms of population.

Although English is the most widely used language in the U.S. and is used in all branches of government, the country has no official language designated.

The United States is home to more airports than any other country in the world, with 21,383. Only slightly more than 1,000 of those accept international flights, however.

The bottom 50% of the US population control only 2.5% of that nation’s wealth, with the top 1% controlling more than 1/3 of it.

Fun Facts

The tales of U.S. streets paved in gold are greatly exaggerated, but there is at least one - US Highway 550, near Durango and Silverton, Colorado, that’s paved with low grade gold ore in the road bed, which is how it earned its nickname, the Million Dollar Highway.

Somehow, the streets in Virginia City, Nevada were once inadvertently paved with silver ore.  When this was learned, frenzied locals tore up the streets in under two days.

Both the northeastern United States and its northern neighbor, Canada, experienced cold and snow throughout the entire summer of 1816. The year was dubbed the "Year Without Summer", with the phenomenon attributed to a volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies.

Winslow, Arizona is home to the largest meteorite crater in the world, measuring nearly a mile across and 550 feet deep. The impact is estimated to have occurred about 50,000 years ago, with the force of the impact equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT.

In 1968, Lake Havasu, Arizona also became the new home to the London Bridge, originally built in London about 160 years prior.

The largest man-made waterfall in the world is the spillway of Shasta Dam in California, where water cascades 438 feet.

It’s not necessary to travel to Egypt to see all its wonders. Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,000 year old stone obelisk, was transplanted to New York City’s Central Park in 1879 as a gift of friendship.

There are 140 U.S. towns and cities with the word Christmas in their names.

The Minnesota River Valley boasts the oldest exposed rock to be found on Earth, at 3.8 billion years of age.
Top Destinations

  1. Yellowstone National Park – Home to a diverse selection of ecosystems, Yellowstone is a goldmine for any tourist with an adventuresome spirit. Native Americans occupied the region for over 11,000 years and the area is teeming with archeological wonders. Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every 91 minutes, is one of the park’s most famous features.
  2. Grand Canyon – This natural phenomenon is 277 miles long, with a width of up to 18 miles and reaching a depth of up to 6,000 feet. Carved by the rushing Colorado River over 17 million years or more, it is nothing short of breathtaking.
  3. Four Corners area – the region where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah converge, can leave one undecided about what to see next. Nestled between the Navajo Nation and the Ute Tribe territory, the area is loaded with interesting sights and memorable experiences.
  4. Carlsbad Caverns – Home to the seventh largest single open room in the world, this is a maze of beautiful limestone stalagmites and stalactites of monstrous proportions. A must see, if you plan to pass through the Southwest.
  5. New Orleans, Louisiana – If you go during Mardi Gras, be prepared to party hearty! But if not, you’ll still be in for a treat, as New Orleans offers some of the most exquisite restaurants and live music to be found anywhere. Bring your dancing shoes.
  6. San Antonio, Texas – This city has long been considered one of the cleanest cities in the country. Home to five major military bases and dozens of colleges, universities and trade schools, San Antonio has a diverse culture and a rich heritage. While you’re there, don’t fail to visit the Alamo and the River Walk.
  7. Washington D.C. – The nation’s capital, Washington DC has much to offer the discerning tourist. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian Institute are just a few of the sights every visitor should catch.
  8. Theme parks – If you’re traveling with children, there are many well known theme parks located across the country. Some have multiple locations, such as Disney, Six Flags, Sea World and others.
  9. Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico -  This US Territory is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and clearest snorkeling or scuba diving waters in the world.
  10. Inland Passage, Alaska – There are many cruise lines that provide Inland Passage cruises, which offer some spectacular sights of glaciers and scenery that will leave you breathless.

How to Get Cash

There are a number of ways to acquire cash in the U.S., aside from what you bring into the country with you:

  • Nearly any bank will change foreign currency into dollars. There are also currency exchanges located in most international airports.
  • ATM (debit) - Many banks house ATMs which will allow withdrawals in US dollars, from off-shore accounts. Maximum daily withdrawal rates will apply and may vary.
  • Credit card (cash advance) – Many banks will be able to accommodate a cash advance against your credit card, depending upon their interbank agreements.
  • Western Union has working agreements with many international fund transfer services, should you need money sent by someone at home. They will be able to provide you with specific instructions, depending upon the origin of your fund transfer.

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