It just seems too convenient -50 is just such a nice number, and graphical representations of the states (e.g. the fifty stars on the flag) are just so nicely symmetrical.
I've always wondered what it would take for the US to add more states from the very adequate list of territories (e.g. Puerto Rico, Guam, The Virgin Islands, American Samoa...Guam, etc), as this would potentially disrupt some pretty important stuff (like having to make a new flag!).
It does seem a bit suspicious that it's been so long since we've changed off of a nice round number, though. It got me to wondering about if there were other numbers that the United States stayed with for a while during the slow growth of the nation. Let's take a quick look:
You can see that the United States has stuck with 50 states for a while now (about a quarter of the time there have been states), and they had been at 48 for a while as well. If we're looking at numbers that end in 5 or 0 as those that fit the criteria of big and round, you can see that the US also spent a brief time (around 1900) at the 45 mark.
Other than that, though, things seem to be pretty random. There's some periods of time where the number of states was constant for a while, but none of those numbers seem to be big or round.
Bit of trivia, by the way - all states except two have a well-established order in which they were admitted into the United States. States admitted on the same day are often ordered by what sequence the president officially signed them into statehood. President Harrison intentionally shuffled up the paperwork for two states, signed them in a thereby random order, and took the secret of the order to his grave. Which two states?
North and South Dakota.
Before we move on to thinking outside of the states, I have another graph that I made to see what it would look like, and figured it was worth sharing. It's the same graph as above, but takes into account that a number of states removed themselves from the US roster during the Civil War. They weren't all readmitted immediately following the end of the war - they were readmitted over a period of a few years.
Anyway, here's what it looks like if we take the Civil War into account:
Beyond this, I started to wonder if other countries naturally settled into nice round numbers that help out with building their flags, etc.
Before we move on, let's have a quick quiz. How many provinces does Canada have? Does Mexico call their state-like things states or provinces? How many of them do they have?
Let's start with Canada. If you totally blanked on your quiz, they have 10 provinces. Here's how that has played out historically:
You can see from this that Canada has actually spent more time at 10 provinces than the US has spent at 50 states. Provinces have been added fairly slowly, but Canada has also only added only a fifth as many as the US. The bottom line would seem to be that they haven't made any changes in quite a while. Right?
Well, no. Some of you might be clever enough (or Canadian enough) to point out the fact that Canada has some territories that are much more like provinces than US territories are like states. They're also contiguous, which helps to create an overall 'picture' of Canada that includes them.
Putting them on the graph as well produces this:
By the way, if you live in the US and have no idea of what Canada did to change things up in 1999 you should spend a bit of time on the Googles.
Which brings us to Mexico. Mexico has 31 states. If you had no idea of that - or have no idea of what any of them might even be named - maybe you should head over to wikipedia for a bit.
Here's the historical punchline:
Mexico spent a decent amount of time with 20 states (a nice round number), but only a little with 25, and jumped past 30 altogether! Like Canada, they've also made more recent changes to their state makeup when compared to the US.
I kind of feel that these graphs are interesting enough in and of themselves, but I just had to push myself a little farther. What other countries are large and have a number of internal divisions?
Who else is wondering how the graph for the People's Republic of China (PRC) would look?
If you know as much about China as you know about Mexico or Canada you may be unaware (as I will admit I was) of the number of different divisional concepts that the PRC has moved through in 60 or so years.
First off, the PRC started with some provinces already established from the prior several thousand years of civilization. Most proximal are those that were in place in the preceding Republic of China (the remnants of which are now confined to Taiwan).
The PRC calls all of their divisional concepts (like states, etc) provinces, but one of the things on that list of provinces is also province - the kind that's most like states. If we only look at things that the PRC call 'provinces' within the larger concept of provinces, we can start by making something like this:
If you're thinking about things too much from a US perspective you might be wondering if some provinces seceded or something. Nope. The PRC is simply a lot more likely than the US to shift things around and redraw - or divide or combine - provinces as they see the need.
This might make things look as if not much goes on in terms of China adding/removing provinces, but things couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, a ton of shuffling has gone on over the last half century.
Let's add in all the other things that are in that big category of provinces. This includes 'Greater Administrative Areas', 'Provinces', 'Autonomous Regions', 'Municipalities', 'Special Administrative Regions', 'Regions', 'Territories', and 'Administrative Territories'.
If you're interested, the best source of information that I could find was actually on wikipedia (yes, yes, sources, etc), and specifically the article here:
It's also the first time on this blog that I've been unable to get all my numbers to match up. The numbers work out against source for that last graph, but they don't for the next two. They're close, but all the double-checking I've done has not revealed the small mistake I may have in there.
That said, if you check out that wikipedia page you can see how difficult it is to systematically track the progression of these state-like things through all the different terminologies, as well as through all the mergers, dissolutions, and reinstatements. At the end of the day, my take is that if I have any Chinese readers I would absolutely love to sit down and get some input on the last 60 years of your history.
You're waiting for the chart, so here it is:
You can see that there were a lot of changes to things in the 50s, as there seemed to be a drive to simplify some of the naming and state-like things. To really paint this picture I think it's more interesting to look at the same graph set up like this:
The blue line, then, is really the difference between the red and yellow/orange lines. You might be tempted to say that the PRC hasn't changed anything in a while, but keep note of the different scale of time we're talking about. Like Canada, they were doing things up into the 90s.
It's hard to imagine a US where this much shuffling took place, but it's a good example of a country not getting stuck on one number or another. Mexico is similar with their 31 states. Canada is interesting, as they seem to be pretty stuck on 10 provinces but willing to toss around territories all willy-nilly. Perhaps my many Canadian readers can illuminate me on what makes their territories different from their provinces.
Perhaps someday the US will follow Mexico's lead and head on up to 51 states. My advice? Start working on 51 through 55 star flags right now so you can win the new flag competition post-haste when it's introduced. Because seriously, isn't that the important part of all of this?