How the States Got Their Shapes

Use It or Lose It

Season 1, Ep 6, Aired 6/14/11
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  • Episode Description
  • Why did Washington, DC become our capital and not, say, St. Louis? And who took a bite out of the District of Columbia - which was planned as a perfect diamond? Political and legal decisions often overrule precedent and planning - and even reason. Will our map stay as it is today? Are our borders finally set in stone? Well, that's probably up to the politicians and the voters as much as anything else.moreless

  • Cast & Crew
  • Brian Unger


  • Timothy Dilworth

  • David Konschnik

  • Mark Stein (I)


  • H. W. Brands


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  • Trivia & Quotes
  • Quotes (10)

    • Brian: So, who drew the map of the United States? Well, we did. Whether we're declaring our independence, picking a new president or adding a new star to our flag, we've shaped our history and our states through the simple act of voting.

    • Brian: LA makes it so easy, it's hard to come up with an excuse for not voting.
      Max: Twenty minutes ago I was ... sitting in my house in my underwear and now I've voted. And, uh, I think if I can do that than that guy can vote, too.
      Brian: And you've just assured a place in this series, by the way.
      Max: Congratulations to me.
      Brian: Yeah, Max, you're definitely in this show.

    • H.W.: California filled up with people far faster than anybody knew that it would because of the discovery of gold there. There were a hundred thousand people in California banging to be admitted to the union.
      Brian: Californians joined the U.S. - but only on their terms. They drew their own oversized borders and told Congress "Take it or leave it". Why did Congress take it?
      Mark: There was tremendous fear that California, and with it probably all the land, uh, west of the ... Rocky Mountains, may go off and become its own republic, so they said to California "Okay, we'll accept your boundaries".
      Brian: Today, California is still a powerhouse. If it seceded, it would be the world's eighth largest economy.

    • Dr. Kern: When you get to Ohio, it is the very first state carved out of the public land system of the United States. Ohio was kind of a guinea pig for the country.
      Mark: The process for becoming a state is not in the constitution, and so there's a separate piece of legislation that they passed , the ordinance of 1787.
      Brian: This ordinance included the instruction manual for shaping states. First, there's a territory. Then, it can apply to become a state. This was a radical shift from everything that had been tried before.
      H. W.: This was novel and revolutionary - because - previously, when countries expanded, the new regions weren't admitted as the equals, they were created as colonies, they were subordinate.

    • Brian: Ohio, the heart of America. It's clearly a state, right? Well, according to some ... No. Why not? Well, Ohio was the first state created out of the new territory in the West; but to be an official state, you need some documents. It all came out in 1953. Ohio wanted to celebrate its 150th birthday - but the festivities took a strange turn. Officials discovered they'd never received something important : an official proclamation of their statehood. They wanted one - and fast.
      Dr. Kern: So you actually had Dwight David Eisenhower himself signing this, this document retroactively making Ohio a state in, in 1803.
      Brian: So, so what you're saying is that Ohio was missing its birth certificate?

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    Trivia (2)

    • Jennifer Brunner, who appears on the show to explain gerrymandering, is a former Secretary of State from host Brian Unger's home state - Ohio. Also appearing are Dr. Kevin F. Kern of the University of Akron; author Don Fabor; Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael B. Coleman; George Wunderlich of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine; urban explorer Vaughn Edelson; historian C.R. Gibbs and Mike Panetta, the "Shadow" Representative of Washington, D.C.

    • In addition to Lenny Williams and Chris Biondo, music for this episode was provided by Audio Network, Clean Cuts, Extreme Music, Jingle Punks, Music Box and Produkt Sound.

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