Are There 50 or 52 States in America?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:53:09 PM ET
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The United States has 50 states but also has 14 territories that it oversees. This includes a federal district and some minor islands. The first state in the U.S. was Delaware, and it was established in 1787. Hawaii is the newest to become a state in the U.S., which occurred in 1959. 

Of the 50 states in America, 48 of them are contiguous, otherwise meaning they are connected or touching. The two states that are not contiguous to the others are Alaska and Hawaii. 

It is often mistaken that the U.S. has 52 states. The most common mistake with saying the U.S. has 52 states is people, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., also known as the District of Columbia, in the total.

The First States in America

Between 1797 to 1790, 13 states were ratified to the U.S., these were also known as the 13 Colonies. In addition to Delaware, the other states ― listed in the order they were formed ― include New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.

Some of the states are in the northeast region of the U.S. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia are part of what is known as the mid-Atlantic region while Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are considered part of the southern region.

The Last States to Join America

From the time the first state was established in the U.S. until the last state was added, 172 years had passed. In 1959, the last two states ― Alaska and Hawaii ― entered the union. Prior to 1959, the previous states admitted to the union were New Mexico and Arizona, which occurred in 1912. 

The District of Columbia

The District of Columbia is not considered to be one of the states or a territory of the U.S. It is a federal district and is home to the U.S. capital city ― Washington, D.C. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a federal district is defined as "a district set apart as the seat of the central government of a federation." The District of Columbia has its own council and mayor, but the U.S. Congress has jurisdiction over the district.

US Territories

There are 14 territories that are part of the United States. Some of these are inhabited, and some are not. The inhabited territories include Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. Midway Atoll and Palmyra Atoll are also inhabited but have populations of less than 100 people. 

The uninhabited territories of the U.S. included Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Wake Island, and Navassa Island. The majority of these territories are in the Pacific Ocean. 

Puerto Rico

Many people mistake Puerto Rico as being one of the states of the U.S., but it is only a territory. The island of Puerto Rico is located in the northeast area of the Caribbean Sea. This territory includes the main island, which is inhabited by nearly 4 million people. There are several smaller islands just off the main island of Puerto Rico. These include Culebra, Mona, and Vieques. Although Puerto Rico is a territory, its residents hold American citizenship.