51 or 52 United States?

By | 14 November 13

United States on a global map.Many people recall the United States including 51 or 52 states, not 50.

The interesting point is that the memories are fairly consistent, and include Puerto Rico as a state. One teacher suggested this is a common misunderstanding. The daughter of a teacher said that she clearly recalls her mother teaching students that the 52 states included Puerto Rico.

So, is this simple confusion or a glimpse into alternate geography in another timestream?

Ben Conroy said:

My experience doesnt involve a memory as much as a strange coincidence. For years I firmly believed there to be 52 states in America. Quite a shock when I found out there was only 50,

After this, I must have asked 25-30 people (in Europe, as I’m Irish), literally everbody I met, how many states in America. Every one said 52. After I said there was 50, their reaction remained ‘oh yea. wierd.’

Maybe theres another explanation for it, but occasionally I still ask and hear 52!

I encourage anybody reading this to ask people away from America (who wouldn’t know as readily) and see how many times 52 is replied!

Joy replied:

I’m from Portugal, and I thought it was 52 states in America too!

Victor agreed:

What the heck? I always thought there were 52 States in America. I’m from Brazil btw.

Jasper Allen (in the U.K.) said the same:

I was also taught at school that America had 52 states.

Siphakeme said:

i grew studying that the US has 52 states too

Kassia said:

52 States (I am European),etc, etc.

aragami agreed:

52 states in the US

miss_fionna said:

I also remember being taught that there was 52 states with Alaska being number 51 (even though at this point I only remember there being 50, and that was over ten years ago.

Kate said:

I seem to have a fuzzy memory of 52 states as well. And i remembered it was 52, because it was the same as the number of cards in a deck. Suddenly at some point it was 50, and I remember thinking…I ‘know’ it was 52. Suddenly teachers were telling me…’You’re confusing this with the number of cards in a deck” which I thought was weird because that’s how we remembered it as kids.

Pam said:

I can say that I live in the US and for some reason I could swear that 52 states has a familiarity. I know I have a couple times had to really think before I said 52 or 52 because I knew it was off somehow. Or I would reword my phrase to not mention a number because I just was not sure anymore.

David (who has an alternate Mandela memory) confirmed confusion about the states:

I am US History teacher in the US and my American students often mistakenly think there are 51 or 52 states at which I just shake my head and say,”kids today.”
I think it’s because there was a lot of talk about Puerto Rico becoming a state, which would have been the 51st… but it hasn’t happened yet.

L. said:

Also, I remember my mother always saying 52 states instead of 50 when I was growing up and getting annoyed because she was a teacher and thats such common knowledge.

Josh asked:

To the people who remember being taught about 52 States, do you remember the names of the other two?

miss_fiona said:

I remember arguing with our teacher over the number because I had been taught that there was fifty until that point. According to her Hawaii was the 51st state, but I don’t remember what she said was the 52nd.

Hoss listed the 52 states as he recalls them, including Puerto Rico and D.C.:

1. Alabama, 2. Alaska, 3. Arizona, 4. Arkansas 5. Colorado 6. California, 7. Connecticut, 8. Delaware, 9. Florida, 10. Georgia, 11. Hawaii, 12. Illinois, 13. Indiana, 14. Idaho, 15. Iowa, 16. Kentucky, 17. Kansas, 18. Louisiana, 19. Massachusetts, 20. Maryland, 21. Mississippi, 22. Maine, 23. Missouri, 24. Michigan 25. Minnesota, 26. Montana, 27. New Jersey, 28. New York, 29. North Carolina 30. New Hampshire, 31. Nevada, 32. Nebraska, 33. North Dakota 34. New Mexico, 35. Oklahoma, 36. Ohio, 37. Oregon, 38. Pennsylvania, 39. Puerto Rico. 40. Rhode Island 41. South Carolina, 42. South Dakota, 43. Tennessee, 44. Texas, 45. Utah, 46. Virginia, 47. Vermont, 48. Wisconsin, 49. West Virginia, 50. Washington, 51. Wyoming, 52. Washington DC

So, I think the question really is: In an alternate timeline, did Puerto Rico already become a state? Or, did the District of Columbia become one, separately or as well?

Or, is this simply confusion over districts, territories, and states?

Illustration credit: Addicted04, at Wikipedia.

28 thoughts on “51 or 52 United States?

  1. Will

    It sounds like teachers outside of the US do not address the difference in rights between a Federal US territory and a State US territory. Instead they call the US territories states.
    Americans call Canadian and Australian territories states too, but we don’t bother with remembering the number of them because we can count them with our fingers.

    Reply
    1. Fiona Broome Post author

      Will, it sounds like you have more fingers than I do, unless you’re not counting Canadian provinces at all. That would be odd, but technically correct if you’re focusing on territories.

      Of course, some Americans don’t realize how neighboring countries are organised.

      Regarding Canadian provinces and territories, here’s what Wikipedia says: “Canada’s external borders have changed several times. It has grown from four initial provinces to ten provinces and three territories as of 1999. The ten provinces are Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The three territories are Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.”

      That’s a total of 13, as I count them.

      Reply
      1. Eric

        I learned in school Canada was 4 provinces (rectangles of roughly the same size), a “northern territory” across the top of them from Atlantic across hudson bay to the pacific, and that’s it.

        I just looked on Wikipedia and that map isn’t even like “I was close and remember that wrong” or “some area became its own province”. That is a COMPLETELY different Canada then mine,

        Reply
  2. Karenanne

    I am from England and I thought there were 50 states and then they added Alaska and Hawaii, making 52.

    Reply
  3. Lusanda

    I am from South Africa and one of my favourite things in the 4th grade was drawing flags. I always drew the american flag with 51 stars because that is what I was taught. I also just asked my husband who says he was taught there were 52 states. We are both equally shocked that there are actually 50 states.

    Reply
  4. efstajas

    I asked around 20 people in school today.

    No one said 50. Some said 51, some 52.

    And one guy actually said: “everybody thinks there’s 50, but there’s actually 52!”

    at that point I was too creeped out to continue.

    Reply
  5. Sammy

    I live in Europe and would have answered 52. I’m 31 years old, so “kids today” doesn’t apply to me. I was very good at school, got straight A’s in geography and history. I also would NOT have included Puerto Rico in my 52 states.

    Reply
    1. Julia

      Sammy – I’m an American who will be 50 in March. I’ve always know the flag had 50 stars and known there were 50 states but I vaguely remember people talking about 50 states plus 2 – which I would have thought were U.S. territories, but that doesn’t make sense since there are more than 2 territories, 6 I believe. What would really be fascinating is if some who remember 52 could remember names of the additional two states. My mind would officially be blown – okay, it’s already been blown by my vague memories of Mandela dying and sharper memories of Billy Graham dying.

      Reply
  6. Fiona Broome Post author

    Note: More than other topics, this one seems to generate many comments along the lines of “you must have been confused,” or “my education was better than yours.”

    I have just deleted another of several insulting comments.

    I will not approve further ethnocentric comments suggesting the problem is educational, or that no American would make this “mistake.”

    In the quote in my article, above, American teacher David (in the U.S., teaching U.S. history) has already confirmed that some American students believe there are 51 or 52 states, due to an educational error.

    So, that point has been raised and confirmed. Some confusion may be educational. Clearly, that’s not unique to or exclusive of the U.S. After all, American commenter Will (above) seemed to suggest that Canada has so few state-like entities (provinces and territories), they can be counted on his fingers. (Canada has 10 provinces and three territories. That’s a total of 13, more than the number of fingers most people have.)

    In general, I’ve tried to make it clear that the Mandela Effect is most often reported by intelligent, well-read, and well-educated people. In most cases, we don’t lack resources for independent research, looking for possible points of confusion. That’s been ruled out, before leaving a first-person report or comment here.

    However, some visitors continue to explain (gently or not-so-gently) that the problem is entirely educational, and all Americans know there are only 50 states. Both of those assertions are in error. Comments like them have no place here.

    I don’t mean to sound harsh. I just want to spare well-meaning visitors the time and effort of leaving comments that are, themselves, mistaken. And, in general, arrogant, ethnocentric, and insulting comments are never approved.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      I have only just stumbled on this site after a friend emailed me an article about alternate memories on the spelling of Stan and Jan Berenst_in. This particular topic caught my attention. I am an American. I was in elementary school in the 80’s and very clearly remember learning there were 52 states. I was and always have been obsessed with history and knowledge and was a very good student, especially in topics surrounding history. I vividly remember having an argument with a fellow student over the number of states. I believed there were 52. He maintained there were 50 and eventually showed me in a text book the number of states in writing. I had no choice but to let go of my previous education. I did not consider it again until reading this article. I can not recall what the other 2 states were. Like many others I believed them to be Hawaii and Alaska, but did not learn Puerto Rico was a state. I distinctly remember learning the difference between states and territories. I have to say, I’m a tad relieved. I had put it out of my mind, but I remember being completely thrown off by the proof that there were not 52 states. It was however the driving force behind falling in love with research.

      Reply
  7. walter

    People think there are 52 because I think a lot of times people think there are 48 “continental” states plus Hawaii and Alaska which make 50. If you think 50 continental states plus Hawaii and Alaska I could see how you could misconstrue it to be 52.

    Reply
    1. Fiona Broome Post author

      Walter,

      I think many people recognize that as a way the numbers could be confusing. It’s a good point but it’s not the source of most of the reports I’ve read, at or related to this website.

      Sincerely,
      Fiona

      Reply
    2. Julia

      Just to clarify, Fiona, in case you were responding to my comment and not all the comments in general, I meant that in MY reality, I’ve always known there to be 50 states, but I didn’t mean that there might not have been 52 in someone else’s reality, even if they were also American. (I wouldn’t have believed that possible 5 weeks ago or so.) I mentioned my nationality because I think it’s interesting to pinpoint where people are coming from with their respective information, not to be ethnocentric.

      Reply
      1. Fiona Broome Post author

        Hi, Julia,

        I apologize. I should have been clearer in my earlier comment, and I’ll edit it. I was reacting to a particularly insulting comment that I did not approve. This topic seems to get more than its share of comments that claim superior knowledge or education based on nationality or language. Those same comments insist that the 52-states issue is simply a misunderstanding based on a poor education.

        The deleted comment was so insulting, I still had steam coming out of my ears when I posted my response. I didn’t phrase it as well as I might have.

        The good news is: Since posting that comment, I’ve seen zero deliberately insulting, ethnocentric comments here.

        Cheerfully,
        Fiona

        Reply
    3. rg

      >>>People think there are 52 because I think a lot of times people think there are 48 “continental” states plus Hawaii and Alaska which make 50. If you think 50 continental states plus Hawaii and Alaska I could see how you could misconstrue it to be 52.

      But how did Obama misconstrue it to be 57 states?

      Reply
  8. Julia

    No problem, Fiona! Sometimes I wonder if what I write is taken the way I mean it, so I just wanted to clarify. Even off-line, I worry about saying that right thing, but on a message board, it can be especially hard to be sure you were not misunderstood. Guess that why emoticons were born!

    Reply
  9. Diana

    I started thinking maybe people were getting confused because there are more than 50 Miss America contestants, but there are actually 53 of them. I am remembering 52 US states.

    Reply
  10. anon

    I seem to remember 51 states, never 50. BUT, another important thing I remember is there used to be 52 states, but one seceded or was merged, maybe Hawaii? This site is creeping me out right now, Im sure there never were less than 51 states in my lifetime until maybe a year or two ago? I seem to have a lot of other timeshifted memories too :/

    Reply
  11. Derek

    I personally remember 50 states throughout my lifetime (46 years old, and lived all of that time in the United States). But I find it fascinating how widespread the notion of 52 states apparently is. Although I can imagine ways an individual person might be confused, I can’t come up with a plausible explanation for how so many people might remember it differently (and the same way)..

    It especially baffles me that the two “extra” states cited consistently seem to be the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. I guess I could understand miscommunication about D.C., but the really weird one is Puerto Rico. I mean, if it were a mundane explanation, why single out only that one territory (among the several U.S. territories)? Yes, it’s had the strongest push for statehood among the territories, but that wouldn’t explain it being grouped with D.C. (which isn’t a territory, and which I’ve never heard any serious statehood push for).

    To make a short story long, it just doesn’t seem explainable to me as some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication, because there really isn’t any logical reason to mistake both of those areas for states in any sort of linked and widespread way. Weird…

    Reply
  12. David

    Hi. just bumped into this. I’m from Brazil and remember there were always 50 States, Hawaii being the fiftieth – when I was a kid I remember Hawaii FIVE-0 on tv. ;-)

    Reply
  13. Bill in Tennessee

    President Obama notably said in the last campaign that there were 57 states. Is he from an alternate universe? Hmmm, that might explain a LOT.

    Reply
  14. Patch

    I always remembered USA having 51 or 49 states but the funniest part is the way I remembered it, was that it was one away from 50!

    Reply
  15. anon

    dc is a district and puerto rico is a province. im canadian trust me

    Reply
  16. Vivii

    This is really creeping me out. All my life I was sure there were 51 states (I’m European, the 51st was Hawaii in my opinion). Just a few days ago I read an article mentioning the 50 states. I was confused, looked it up on wikipedia and couldn’t believe my eyes.
    I even remember an interview or a speech from George W. Bush saying there were 50 states and the media ripping into him for weeks for getting it wrong. How could i have imagined all that??

    Reply
  17. Jono

    I have always thought there were 52 states Hawaii and Alaska making up 51 and 52. Until I lived with an American who corrected this thought. I’m not sure why but this seems like a common misconception in Europe.

    I’ve always wondered why this mistake is so common. I thought this could be because people are just getting the number of states wrong and repeating this error to others, or they are getting the number of states mixed up with the territories. However, when I investigated how many territories there are this didn’t quite add up. Even though I know there are only 50 states, 52 still feels right to me. The Mandela Effect seems to offers a reasonable explanation.

    I really like the idea that these alternative memories are happenings leaching through from different time streams/universes.
    This got me thinking. If there are an infinite number universes with an infinite amount of possibilities, and there is no reason why the time streams in these universes run in sync. Is it feasible to consider that somewhere in the infinite number of universes there is an average universe influenced by the rest? In a constant state of flux at any one point along its own time stream, until the majority of universes have past that point. The inhabitants of such a universe would never be consciously aware of events changing, however may have remnant memories of events before they changed.

    For example, Mandela may have died in prison. This is until the majority of universes have played out their version of events. In which the majority of universes had Mandela passing in 2013. The memories of Mandela passing in prison are perhaps remnant memories before the change.

    Could this be the universe we inhabit? Could this offer an alternative explanation to the Mandela Effect?
    It would be great to hear everyone’s thoughts.

    Reply

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