United States Encyclopedia for Kids

United States of America

Huge spaces and immense resources

A gigantic country, the United States has drawn from its enormous size, incomparable with that of the small European states, its extraordinary economic and political power. These dimensions have also posed challenges, problems to be overcome, objectives to be achieved, progress to be made: starting with the great challenge of making an immigrant population from the four corners of the earth homogeneous. Dealing with these problems has allowed us to put into practice many of the ideals of freedom that were the basis of the very birth of the United States and to spread behaviors that today constitute a model for almost all of humanity.

A country as diverse as a continent

The territory of the United States encompasses a huge and extremely varied space. Only for very large lines, therefore, it is possible to distinguish two areas with quite distinct shapes, corresponding to the sides – Pacific and Atlantic – towards which the waters descend.

In the west, a mountainous and rugged region, extending over about a third of the country, rises from the Pacific coast towards the Rocky Mountains, including depressions and arid plateaus and numerous minor ranges, parallel to the ocean shore, but also – towards the north and east – the most extensive forests in the country. The continental divide runs across the Rocky Mountains.

To the east, the altitude gradually drops towards the Great Plains, a vast swath of plateaus that fade into the great valley of the Mississippi-Missouri system and into the coastal plains along the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Ocean; behind the Atlantic coast, the long and low ranges of the Appalachians (2,037 m) separate the East coast of the first colonial settlements from the Midwest occupied in the nineteenth century; further north is the Great Lakes complex, shared with Canada and drained by the San Lorenzo.

The climate is also much more varied than one might say. The large central flat area has a relatively humid continental climate, in which the effect of latitude prevails: low temperatures in the north and moderate temperatures in the center; towards the coast of the Gulf of Mexico the climate becomes subtropical: semi-arid in inland Texas and humid in the coastal plain. The effect of latitude is also noticeable on the coasts: the peaceful one has a temperate humid climate in the north, Mediterranean or arid going south; the Atlantic climate is a humid temperate climate in the north (with cold winters), a humid subtropical south of Cape Hatteras, a humid tropical climate in Florida. The climate of the western mountainous region is continental and very arid, except in the Rocky Mountains, where humidity is higher.

American gigantism

Completely separate, and entirely different, are two states: Alaska, at the northwestern end of the continent, with a subarctic and predominantly mountainous climate (the 6,194 m of McKinley is the highest elevation in North America); and the Hawaiian Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, of volcanic formation and subtropical climate. But the differences are also strong among the 49 continental states.

Taken as a whole, the US territory can be defined as extremely rich from the point of view of natural productions: it has productive forests among the largest (especially conifers, in the northern states); agricultural land which, according to the areas, produces practically anything (starting with maize and wheat); minerals of all kinds; huge energy resources (oil, hydroelectricity). Obviously, it also has completely unproductive areas, regions without water, areas that are too cold or too hot to be populated: the fact is that, in the immensity of US space, these areas are very vast; that the distances to be covered to carry water, for example, from one place to another can be prohibitive; that an unfavorable climatic conjuncture can affect very large spaces at once.

With these resources and these problems, the United States has measured itself since independence, making the ability to harness so many resources and cope with such great problems an essential ingredient of being American. The country’s ‘gigantism’ has prompted a corresponding gigantism in initiatives and achievements, of which the citizens of the United States are understandably very proud.

The challenge of the population

One aspect – not the least – of this enormity of proportions is the history of the population of the United States. At the time of independence, only the territories east of the Appalachians were populated – the thirteen colonies – where about 4 million people lived, including at least 700,000 slaves imported from Africa. A few hundreds of thousands of Redskins lived throughout the territories to the west. In 1820 the residents were about 10 million and the lands as far as Mississippi – hence the Redskins they had been eliminated or deported – they were in the process of being occupied. In 1860 the residents were 31 million, including about 4 of slaves; in those years the importation of slaves ceased altogether (whose descendants are now over 30 million). In 1890 the occupation of the West was completed, the Redskins exterminated, the great railways that joined the two coasts opened and the population was 63 million people: the United States was by now the largest developed market that existed on the face of the Earth., industrialization had taken off for some time, technological innovation – also necessary to cope with the constant lack of manpower – was continuous, natural resources exploited at full capacity, an imperialist policy was born. In 1910 the population reached 92 million people,

Most of the population increases were obviously due to intense immigration, initially from Great Britain and north-central Europe, then from Ireland, southern Europe (including millions of Italians) and East Asia.. In recent decades, the origins have changed: immigration continues from Asia and Latin America.

The great variety of ethnic, linguistic and religious origins of the residents required to ‘blend’ these contributions and make them all American.

The great power

The process of forming a homogeneous population still continues today, but certainly the kind of life, the expectations, the cultural level, the economic conditions of a large part of the population today respond to a model (the American way of life ” American living “) widely spread. However, the most recent immigrants, a part of the black population and even some sectors of the white population – both in the big cities and in the remote countryside – live in below average conditions: poor, unemployed and marginalized are numerous.

The US manufacturing system, however, is by far the most powerful on Earth, and alone generates nearly a quarter of the planet’s total wealth. The American armed forces, engaged on all continents, are the most powerful. The banking, financial and commercial system controlled by US companies is almost equivalent to that of the rest of the world. Scientific research, cultural processing, technological innovation have impressive resources at their disposal and obtain results in proportion. The political choices of the United States influence those of all other states and large international organizations. The behavioral models, the consumption, the ideology of the Americans have become the reference points for a very large part of humanity.

United States Encyclopedia for Kids