How the States Got Their Shapes and Other Cool Facts

If you look at a map of the United States, you might find yourself wondering what people were thinking when they were creating the shapes of some of the states.

Curving Boundaries

If you look at the 13 original states and many other Eastern and Midwestern states, you’ll see that they mostly have irregular shapes.

Straight Lines

As America expanded westward, the federal government drew most state boundaries along lines of latitude and longitude. That’s why, with some exceptions, Western and some Midwestern states tend to look more rectangular.


During the period of railroad expansion, rail lines also played a role in boundary drawing. They often defined where one state ended and another began.

The Erie Canal

In a similar way, the construction of the Erie Canal had an influence on the shapes of states. That was over a much smaller area, of course.

The Oklahoma Panhandle

This is the sliver between Colorado and Texas. Why isn’t it part of one of those two? There’s a joke that Colorado asked not to share a border with Texas, but the reality has to do with slavery.

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