United States of America (USA)
A huge and varied country
Earthquakes and volcanoes
Farming and industry
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.
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
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
MississippiMissouri 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 79) and senior (grades 1012)
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
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
"Oxford Children`s Encyclopedia", OUP 96)
How much do know about the USA?
1. When has the USA
become the richest and most powerful country in the world?
muhammed + waldemar
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