United States of America (USA)


Introduction
A huge and varied country
Rivers
Earthquakes and volcanoes
Landscapes
People
Cities
Communications
Leisure
Farming and industry
Education
Politics

Exercises



During the 20th century the USA has become the richest and most powerful country in the world. It is the fourth largest country by land area and the third largest by population. Russia, Canada and China have more land, and China and India have more people.

The USA is often called just the United States, or more simply ‘America’, and the people ‘Americans’. But this is a mistake, since ‘Americans’ could be any people living in North, South or Central America, from Canadians to Brazilians.
Forty-eight of the USA's 50 states make up the main landmass between Canada and Mexico. Alaska, the 49th state, is separated from the rest by Canada. Hawaii was the last state to be made part of the USA. It is in the Pacific Ocean, over 3700 kilometres west of California.

The USA has a federal government that organizes the whole country and conducts the USA's business with other countries, but each state also has its own government. These state governments set their own taxes and make their own laws. Alcoholic drinks are not allowed to be sold in parts of Alabama and Georgia, for example. In the states of California, Florida and Kentucky, the death penalty can be given for very serious crimes, but in Iowa, Maine and Minnesota it cannot.

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A huge and varied country

The mainland area of the USA is nearly 40 times the size of the United Kingdom. It is so large that there is a time difference of six hours between its westernmost point in Alaska and the most easterly spot in the state of Maine. The country includes regions with almost every type of landscape and climate on Earth.

In the north, Americans face the possibility of frostbite each winter, while in the south many of their fellow citizens enjoy a subtropical climate where palm trees grow. In Colorado skiing is popular in the Rocky mountains, while tourists in search of sandy beaches and warm seas head for the holiday resorts of Florida. You can see glaciers in Montana, geysers and hot springs in Wyoming, and white dunes made not of sand but of calcium sulphate (gypsum) in New Mexico. In the state of Arizona you can marvel at petrified forests which are 225 million years old and a meteorite crater 1265 m in diameter.

In the south-west there are large areas of desert. In the north-west the states of Washington and Oregon have vast forests of beech, chestnut, maple, pine trees and Douglas fir. Some of the southern states, such as Louisiana, have large areas of swamp land, whereas in the states of the north-east, such as Maine, forests of oak, chestnut and yellow poplar trees abound.

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Rivers

The Missouri River is the largest river in the USA. It rises in the northern state of Montana and flows into the Mississippi. The Mississippi, in turn, flows south to the Gulf of Mexico. Together, the Mississippi–Missouri make the fourth longest river system in the world. Both rivers have had serious floods in the past, and now many dams have been built along their course which helps control the flow of water.

Another of North America's major rivers, the Colorado, rises in the Rocky mountains in the state of Colorado and flows south-west to the Gulf of California in Mexico. On the way, the river flows through a spectacular gorge known as the Grand Canyon. Each year nearly three 3 million people visit this canyon in the desert to marvel at the mighty work of nature. It is 350 kilometres long and at its deepest point the river is 1870 metres below the surrounding landscape. In some places the gorge is 29 kilometres wide. Downstream of the Grand Canyon the Colorado river is dammed by the Hoover Dam and several others. The waters of the Colorado are used for many irrigation schemes in south-western USA, and arrangements have been made so that there is enough water left in the river for Mexico to use when it crosses the border.

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Earthquakes and volcanoes

The whole west coast of North America is at the edge of two of the great plates which make up the Earth's crust: the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. This means that the region suffers from earthquakes and, less often, volcanoes. From the air you can see a long line in the landscape stretching from San Francisco all the way to the Gulf of California. This is a fault line called the San Andreas fault. The worst earthquakes happen here. In 1906 an earthquake started a fire in San Francisco which destroyed much of the city and killed 700 people. In 1994 another struck Los Angeles, killing 61 people, destroying 6000 buildings and causing damage costing $20 billion.
There are many extinct volcanoes along the coast. But one exploded unexpectedly in the state of Washington in 1980. This was Mount St Helens. The eruption was very violent and it blew the top 400 metres off the mountain. Sixty-five people were killed and forests were destroyed by the blast up to 20 kilometres away.

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Landscapes

Mountains dominate the landscape of the western states but large parts of the middle of the USA are vast, flat plains. Two hundred years ago these huge plains were grasslands where thousands of bison (‘buffalo’) grazed. Today there are few bison left in the USA. Most of them have been shot for their meat and skins. The grasslands have been ploughed up and planted with crops, especially wheat. The USA is the world's largest exporter of wheat.
The Appalachian Mountains have some important coal deposits and are heavily forested. They stretch up to the St Lawrence river in Canada. This river drains into the Atlantic Ocean from a series of five connected lakes known as the Great Lakes. One of these lakes, Lake Michigan, lies totally within the USA, while the other four are shared by the USA and Canada, the border running through their waters.

The south-east of the USA, around the Gulf of Mexico, has a humid and subtropical climate. The peninsula that sticks out from this part of the country forms the state of Florida. In the south of the state is a subtropical wilderness known as the Everglades, an area of wetlands which includes forests, and swamps with alligators and elegant white birds called ibises.
Further west, on the Mexican border, is Texas, the USA's second largest state after Alaska. Cattle graze the dry interior and half the nation's cotton is grown on irrigated fields. In many parts, the landscape is dominated by oil and gas rigs.

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People

The people of the USA are descended from peoples who migrated to the USA from all over the world. The USA is young for a country and much of the population has grandparents and other relatives who live in other continents including Europe, South America and Asia.
There are also many black Americans whose ancestors lived in Africa and were brought to what is now the USA as slaves. All these people have migrated to the USA to live in the last 400 years. But this land was the home of Native Americans (‘Indians’) for over 25,000 years before people began to arrive from Europe and Africa.

Since people began arriving in the USA they have continued to move about the country. Every high school student learns of the migration of people from the east towards the ‘wild west’ in the 19th century. Covered wagons, new farmsteads, towns and cowboys have become part of an American legend and the subject of many Hollywood cowboy films. Many Americans are still moving today. As people get older, some who have worked in the colder north choose to retire to the sunny south. Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and California are the most popular destinations. Whole new towns have been founded since the 1950s. The largest of these is Sun City in Arizona. Sixty thousand retired people live here, and there are no children.

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Cities

Many of the people arriving in the USA in the last 100 years would have landed in New York, today the USA's biggest city. One of the first sights seen by the people crowded onto the ships would have been the Statue of Liberty, a gigantic figure of a woman holding a burning torch to the skies, at the entrance to New York harbour.

Although English is the official language of the country, many other languages are spoken. New York has a number of areas where people have decided to live together because they all originally came from the same country. One part is known as Little Italy. Here people speak Italian. Another area is called Chinatown, where the signs to the shops and restaurants are written in Chinese and the shops sell many Chinese products. The person behind the counter is usually of Chinese descent and speaks Chinese and English. Similar areas can be found in many cities. Miami, a city in Florida, has a large population from Cuba who speak Spanish and read local newspapers printed in Spanish. These and other Spanish-speakers are called Hispanics, and most are from Mexico, Puerto Rico and other countries in Central America. Large populations of Hispanics live in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other Californian cities. Cleveland, Ohio, has more people of Hungarian descent than any other city outside Hungary's capital Budapest.

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Communications

Communications inside the USA are extremely good. On average there is one telephone for nearly every person. Most families have a car and some have two or even more. In many cities people can drive to a bank and get money from a machine through the window of their automobile. There are drive-in shops and fast-food restaurants selling hamburgers and milk shakes. There is an excellent air transport network in the USA. If you add up the distances flown by all the aeroplanes in the USA the distance is over 4000 million km each year. This is more than 10 times as far as the aeroplanes of any other country.

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Leisure

Almost every home has at least one television set, and there is a wide variety of channels which can be watched by paying a fee to receive them from a satellite or through a special cable. Some channels present nothing but music. Others show films, and some show news 24 hours a day. Television is one way in which the USA's culture is exported all over the world. Another is cinema. India's film industry is bigger but the USA's films are watched almost everywhere. The movie business is often named after the place where many of the big companies started: Hollywood, part of Los Angeles. In fact the studios have now mostly moved to other parts of the city, but the name has stayed the same. Coca-Cola is another popular American export. The drink was invented in the USA and today it is drunk in nearly every country.

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Farming and industry

The USA produces all kinds of agricultural goods. It is a major world producer of maize, soya beans, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, cheese, beef and chickens. The country has deposits of most of the minerals useful to modern society. It mines more coal, copper, gypsum, salt, phosphates, and sulphur than any other country. The aluminium, iron and steel, and automobile industries are among the biggest in the world.

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Education

At the age of six children enter the first grade of elementary schools and stay there up to the age of 12 (sixth grade). Secondary education is usually divided into junior (grades 7–9) and senior (grades 10–12) high schools, but in some communities there is a single high school. After graduating from high school over 60 per cent of students go to college. Every state in the USA has at least one university, and in total there are over 3000 universities and colleges in the country.

The USA has produced some great scientists. They have won more than twice as many Nobel prizes as any other country. Scientists in the USA were the first to build an atom bomb and the first to build a spaceship able to take a man to the Moon and back in 1969.

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Politics

In the USA people can vote on lots of issues. They have separate votes for their president and for their parliament, which is called Congress. The president and the Congress choose the Supreme Court judges, who look after the Constitution and important laws. Americans also elect state politicians and city and county officials. Almost all politicians come from one of two parties, called Democrats and Republicans. Also, some states have propositions to be voted on. These may ask for such things as an extra tax to pay for more police officers or a ban on smoking in public places. A voter can spend 20 minutes making all these decisions in the polling place.

The military forces of the USA are the most powerful in the world. The USA often sends its forces to other parts of the world to protect its own interests or those of its allies. Its troops have helped the United Nations in Somalia and in the former Yugoslavia. They removed leaders hostile to the USA in Haiti, Grenada and Panama. From 1955 to 1973 they fought against communists in Vietnam but were unable to defeat them. In 1991 the USA led a coalition of 28 countries which forced Iraq's army out of Kuwait. This was called the Gulf War and many Americans feel that it restored their country's pride.

(taken from "Oxford Children`s Encyclopedia", OUP 96)

Exercises

How much do know about the USA?
Answer Muhammed`s and Waldemar`s questions!

1. When has the USA become the richest and most powerful country in the world?
2. How large is the USA compared to the United Kingdom?
3. Which river is the largest in the USA?
4. What do you know about the whole west coast of North America?
5. What happened in San Francisco in 1906?
6. How many people were killed by the earthquake?
7. Are there many extinct volcanoes along the coast?
8. Which mountains have some important coal deposits and are heavily forested?
9. What climate can you find in the south-east of the USA?
10. Where are the Everglades?
11. What are the Everglades?
12. What can you say about the ancestors of black Americans?
13. Is New York the biggest city in the USA?


muhammed + waldemar

 Muhammed and Waldemar

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