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Surprising Things from Every State

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    Surprising Things from Every State

    Each state is known for providing something important to the rest of the country if not the rest of the world. Sometimes, these things are apparent like the pineapples of Hawaii or Georgia peaches. Other times, the export is more surprising. When we think of Idaho, we think of potatoes, yet that isn’t even its biggest export. When it comes to business or products, almost every state provides something that we may not think of.

    Scouring Census data, state histories, and news reports, Stacker set out to find famous businesses, inventions, foods, and products from each of the 50 United States that you might not be aware of. Read on to discover the understated gifts each state has to offer.

  • Carol M. Highsmith // Wikimedia
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    Alabama - Cars

    Over the past decade, Alabama has transitioned from an agricultural focus to a more industrial and technology-oriented economy. While aerospace, healthcare, and banking companies have all emerged as significant sectors, it’s the car industry that stands out to take Alabama’s top export.  Alabama is the home to auto assembly plants for Honda, Toyota, Mercedez-Benz, and Hyundai. In 2015, Alabama exported $7.03 billion worth of automobiles, up some 5.7 percent from the year before. Cars and passenger vehicles account for nearly 36 percent of the total exports from Alabama.

  • blackburn49 // My Large Scale
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    Alaska - Zinc

    While Alaska’s fish and energy resources are high-profile exports, the state is also home to the second largest zinc mine in the world. In 2016, the Red Dog mine located in the Northwest Arctic Borough produced 583,000 tons of zinc, considered an “essential trace element” for human health.

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    Arizona - PetSmart

    Arizona may be renowned for the five Cs—copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate—however, animal lovers may be thrilled to know that PetSmart both started in and is still headquartered in Phoenix.  This one-stop-shop for grooming, animal boarding and doggie daycare was founded in 1986 as PetFood Warehouse and has since grown to $7 billion in annual revenue in 2016. In 1994, PetSmart Charities was formed, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending euthanasia and finding homes for homeless pets.

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    Arkansas - Tyson

    When most people think of businesses born in Arkansas, they typically jump to Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue with $485 billion in sales. However, one other company that you can find in supermarkets across America and the world is Tyson Foods, owner of grocery staples like Ball Park, Jimmy Dean, and Hillshire Farm. Tyson is the largest meat processor in the United States and has recently expanded its investments to include plant-based meat substitutes.

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    California - Milk

    The largest state in the U.S. is home to a variety of compelling industries—Hollywood, technology, agriculture, and lifestyle business—ultimately accounting for 53 of the Fortune 500 (second only to New York). Yet one of its biggest exports of California consumed across the nation is a rather humble one: milk. California is the largest milk producer in the country with over 40 billion pounds of milk produced in 2016, beating out famed dairy competitor Wisconsin by 35%. The California Milk Processor Board’s “got milk?” campaign, launched in 1993, became one of the most iconic marketing campaigns despite milk consumption registering a gradual decline over the past several decades.

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    Colorado - Chipotle

    Though commonly known for its background in mining and agriculture, few realize that the first Chipotle - now an international chain - opened its doors in Denver, Colorado in 1993. Founder Steve Ells loved the unique “mission style” burritos found in San Francisco and opened up what has started a revolution in fast-casual dining. Chipotle would continue to expand throughout Colorado before eventually spreading its menu across the world.

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    Connecticut - Submarines

    Major financial services are dotted throughout Connecticut, with massive firms like Aetna, The Hartford, and Cigna all staking their headquarters within the state. However, one of the Nutmeg State’s major contributions to U.S. military prowess is the production of world-class submarines. Beginning with the USS Holland in 1899, General Dynamics Electric Boat has been a leading manufacturer of undersea vehicles including the Virginia-, Seawolf-, and Los Angeles-class submarines. Electric Boat recently received a $5 billion contract to design the Columbia-class submarine, the newest generation of ballistic-missile submarines for the U.S. Navy.

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    Delaware - Dupont

    The second-smallest state in land area is home to one of the oldest and most wide-ranging industrial conglomerates in the world. DuPont was founded at the Eleutherian Mills near Wilmington, Delaware in 1802 as a manufacturer of gunpowder. Since its inception, DuPont has expanded to a range of products like dynamite, teflon, nylon, and tyvek. In 2017, Dupont merged with Dow Chemical to form DowDuPont, the largest chemical company in the world.

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    Florida - Burger King

    Florida is famous for its rich citrus farming, Disney, and general tourism. But one understated contribution to fast food fandom across the is the state's role as birthplace and headquarters of Burger King. Founded in 1954 in Jacksonville, Florida with 18-cent hamburgers and shakes, Burger King has since grown to nearly 16,000 locations throughout the world.

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    Georgia - The Home Depot

    Georgia is renowned as the home of major companies like Coca-Cola and Delta while leading contributing to the nation’s agricultural richness with peanuts, peaches, and pecans. However, one of the lesser known origin stories is the launch of Home Depot in Atlanta in 1979, a new retail experience that paired massive hardware inventory with sales associates that were fluent in do-it-yourself projects. Home Depot now has 2,200 stores across three countries and nearly $90 billion in annual revenue.

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    Hawaii - Honeybees

    Hawaii’s tropical climate empowers farmers to grow a variety of notable food products like pineapples, papayas, sugar, and exotic flowers. However, one of Hawaii’s pound-for-pound most valuable exports is honeybees, with the typical 170-milligram queen honeybee selling for $17-25

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    Idaho - Electricity-generating nuclear power

    While Idaho is famous for leading the nation in potato production, in 1951 the Arco, Idaho area became a testing ground for one of the most innovative energy endeavors in U.S. history. Experimental Breeder Reactor-I was the first electricity-generating nuclear reactors, signaling the construction of a small industrial area that would come to be known as Atomic City. Following two partial meltdowns in the next 15 years, the town would eventually become largely deserted.

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    Illinois - Cell Phone

    Illinois is a state that has a little of everything. Many businesses like Boeing, Walgreens, and Caterpillar thrive here while 75% of the state’s land area is dedicated to farming products like corn, soybeans, livestock, and wheat. Beyond the fields and the boardroom, Illinois claim to fame extends to a device that was birthed in a technology lab and has become ubiquitous in modern life: the mobile phone. At a time when cell phones came as clunky or boxed technology systems, Motorola engineer Marty Cooper developed the first truly mobile phone- famously making the first call to a rival engineer at AT&T.

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    Indiana - Gilchrist & Soames

    Indiana has a rich agricultural economy, but there is a surprising product that comes out of Indiana: fancy toiletries Gilchrist & Soames is a fancy English-inspired company specializing in luxurious soaps, candles, and fragrances that seem they may come from the countryside of York or Surrey, but in fact, these items are often found at top hotels and come from Plainfield, IN.

  • Penny // Wikimedia
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    Iowa - Pork

    It isn’t corn or soybeans that are the top of the economic agricultural food chain in Iowa, but rather pork. Iowa leads the country in pork farming, with over 21 million hogs and pigs in the state’s inventory.

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    Kansas - Airplane Parts

    Kansas is known as an agrarian state, counting cattle, sheep, wheat, and corn amongst its largest exports. For nearly a century though, Kansas has stood out for its production of airplanes and related parts, a status that led Wichita, Kansas to be considered the “Air Capital of the World.” Cessna, Beech, and Airbus have significant operations in the area, although a recent pullback from Boeing has lead to a decline in the local economic output of the air industry.

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    Kentucky - Disco Balls

    Bourbon isn’t the only thing that comes from Kentucky.  Some of the most fascinating businesses there include Reynold’s Wrap, Fruit of the Loom, Hot Pockets, Pop Tarts, L'Oreal, Mentos, and Dixie Cups. But the excitement doesn’t stop there, in the 1970s, ninety percent of the country’s disco balls were made by Omega National Products in Louisville, KY. Output has since dropped off significantly as the disco craze diminished and production moves overseas.

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    Louisiana - Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce

    Oh, there are so many wonderful things to get in Louisiana.  There are beignets, pralines, and wonderful Creole food, but there is one thing from Louisiana that is a staple in almost every kitchen: Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce. This spicy blend is produced by McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana and a Bloody Mary just isn’t the same without it.

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    Maine - L.L. Bean

    You can’t mention Maine without lobster, yet it is also known for blueberries, apples, maple syrup, potatoes, and other fish. Beyond its natural abundance of food, the Pine Tree State is also home to clothing and outdoor recreation company L.L. Bean. Founded in 1912, L.L. Bean began with a focus on a novel waterproof boot for outdoorsmen. Today, the company has $1.6 billion in annual revenue.

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    Maryland - Ouija boards

    Blue crab, soft clams, and other delights from the sea have given Maryland a fable seafood culture worth more than $600 million, however, there is a darker export with origins in the Old Line State. Amid the popularity of Spiritualism, came the patent and production of the Ouija board by the Baltimore-based Kennard Novelty Company. Seizing on the popularity of seances and other methods of communicating with the dead, the board offered a series of letters and numbers paired with a planchette marker that would be moved around by the participants, either intentionally, subconsciously, or perhaps via the influence of an otherworldly force.

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    Massachusetts - NECCO Wafers

    Various types of industries flourish in Massachusetts, from venture capitalism to academia. There are big exports in gold, but the state treasure may be found in the beloved candy that first originated in 1847: the Necco Wafer.  These beloved candies have rarely changed over time and they are manufactured in Revere, MA.

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    Michigan - Gerber

    Cars are the king export in Michigan, but babies may rule the day. Gerber Products Company, headquartered in Fremont, MI, has been supplying baby food since 1927. Gerber started with six varieties of baby food and now has 61 percent of the baby food market in the U.S.

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    Minnesota - Medical Needles

    Minnesota is home to Target, General Mills, Buffalo Wild Wings, My Pillow, and Pillsbury but their biggest export is needles and other medical equipment.  These items help save lives every day, and it is fascinating to learn that most of them come from “The State of Hockey.” These important medical items are worth $864.1 million to the state.

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    Mississippi - Barq's root beer

    Edward C. Barq, Sr. founded his eponymous caffeinated root beer in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1898. The distinctly-flavored soda would rise to prominence along with other soft drinks during prohibition as consumers and manufacturers sought out new options.

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    Missouri - First Olympics in the U.S.

    Nicknamed ‘The Show Me State,’ Missouri is often most commonly characterized by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. But surprisingly, Missouri hosted the first ever Summer Olympics on U.S. soil. Coinciding with the 1904 World’s Fair, the games were held in St. Louis and spanned a period of 4 and a half months.

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    Montana - First Woman to Congress

    From the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains, Montana is known for its diverse terrains and rich mineral reserves. Coal mining is still an economic staple in Big Sky Country, as are cattle, wheat, and timber production. But the state’s greatest export may have been in politics, where Montana was the first state to elect a woman to Congress. Jeannette Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916, casting her first vote against the U.S. involvement in WWI.

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    Nebraska - Kool-Aid

    Nicknamed the Cornhusker State, it’s no surprise that Nebraska’s biggest export is corn and it ranks third in the nation in total production. However, few know that Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska in 1927 by husband and wife team Edwin Perkins and Kitty Hastings. Since then Kool-Aid has taken the world by storm, with over 40 different flavors and over $300 million in annual sales.

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    Nevada - Zappos

    While The Silver State boasts gold and silver among its top exports, hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes are also shipped from Zappos worldwide HQ each year. Founded in 1999 in Henderson, Nevada, Zappos was eventually acquired by Amazon for over $1 billion in stock and is now among the nation’s top shoe retailers.

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    New Hampshire - The Segway

    Though the Segway never quite caught on in the mainstream, the 2-wheeled phenomenon that took the world by storm in the early 2000’s was in fact invented (and still find its headquarters) in Bedford, New Hampshire. After boasting investments from the likes of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, it lives in infamy as the product that never was.

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    New Jersey - Salt Water Taffy

    Like many other states, petroleum production is big in New Jersey, as is agriculture - but few know that salt water taffy was in fact first manufactured and sold in the Garden State. Legend has it that when a storm flooded a New Jersey candy story and soaked the taffy with salt water from the Atlantic ocean, the timeless treat was born.

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    New Mexico - Smokey the Bear

    Though famous for many things, few are aware that good old Smokey The Bear - who has now become a national poster child for preventing forest fires - was first created in 1950’s New Mexico following the Capitan Gap Fire - a massive wildfire that destroyed thousands of acres in Lincoln National Forest. Smokey is actually a character based off of a real bear who was saved in the Gap Fire and lived in fame for decades after in Washington DC’s National Zoo. Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires!

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    New York - Teddy Bears

    The Empire State is home to countless innovations over the years, but perhaps none have seeped further into American culture than that of the Teddy Bear. After a political cartoonist depicted a famous story of Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a trapped bear while on a hunting trip, a Brooklyn candy shop owner licensed the image and created the first stuffed bear, branded “The Teddy Bear,” which quickly spread throughout the country into the childhood staple it is today.

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    North Carolina - Putt Putt

    Home not to just to great golf, the first Putt-Putt course - home to children’s birthdays and awkward first dates alike - can be traced back to 1916, when James Wells Barber built the first known miniature golf course - Thistle Dhu in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

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    North Dakota - Cream of Wheat

    Crude oil may be the biggest export in North Dakota, but it’s everyone’s favorite breakfast cereal that actually originates in the Roughrider State. First released to the public in 1893, Cream of Wheat soon took the nation by storm, making way for the waves of breakfast cereals that took over America throughout the 20th century.

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    Ohio - Superman

    Industry still reigns in Ohio with airplane parts being a huge commodity, yet few know that the Man of Steel was first written and created in Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1930’s. Now a major franchise boasting everything from toys to 3D films, it’s easy to forget that it all started with Clark Kent and a small-time comic book.

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    Oklahoma - Hobby Lobby

    Well known for its export of corn and other produce, crafters, artists, and students alike can thank Oklahoma and its founder David Green, for Hobby Lobby, which has undoubtedly taken the cake as the most prolific hobby shop chain in the country. It all started as a 300 sq ft store in Oklahoma City in the 1970’s, and has spread to more than 300 locations in the U.S. 

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    Oregon - Hackysack

    A beautiful state filled with fishing, hazelnuts, cranberries, blueberries, and oodles of wine, few know that this 1970’s phenomenon was invented by two young men in Portland, Oregon. Though few kids born today are likely to take up hackysack, it was a mainstay of the 70’s and 80’s, spawning tournaments across the country.

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    Pennsylvania - First Electronic Computer

    The Quaker State is home to cheesesteaks, more than fifty Fortune 500 Companies, and the Chocolate Capital of the World, Hershey, Pennsylvania. But its most famous export might not be candy, but computers. The University of Pennsylvania is the birthplace of one of the world’s first electronic computer, the ENIAC, which was constructed on campus in 1946.

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    Rhode Island - Hasbro

    The Ocean State, Rhode Island is known for its nautical themes of sailing and fishing. The second most densely populated state in the country, ranking only behind New Jersey, Rhode Island has more than 1,000 people per square mile. But little known is that Rhody is home to the company that brought us Play-Doh, Mr. Potato Head, and G.I. Joe. Founded in 1923, Hasbro is the third largest toy company in the world and is headquartered in Pawtucket, RI. 

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    South Carolina - Library

    Home to a booming tourist industry, South Carolina is home to popular beach towns such as CHarleston, Hilton Head, and Myrtle Beach. The Palmetto State is a major manufacturing hub for companies such as Boeing, which is the reason that the largest export from the state is civilian aircraft, engines, and parts. But what few know is that South Carolina was the birthplace of the first public library in the U.S., which was built in 1698 in Charles Town, SC.

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    South Dakota - Super 8 Motels

    Home to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota is one of the least dense states in the country, with only 11.3 people per square mile. Agriculture represents more than 20% of the economic activity in the state, where its a major producer of ethanol, cattle, wheat, and soybeans. Interestingly though, the state was home to the first ever Super 8 Motel, which opened in 1974 in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The rate was only $8.88 per night.

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    Tennessee - FedEx

    The Volunteer State, Tennessee is known for its whiskey and music, where its home to legends such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash. A little less exciting, but equally as crucial, is the major shipping company the state is home to - FedEx. Founded in 1971, FedEx is headquartered in Memphis and is one of the largest transportation companies in the world, with almost $50 billion in sales in 2016.

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    Texas - Southwest Airlines

    Texas is best known for its petroleum production and oil fields. There are even types of crude oil that are named after the state and used to benchmark pricing, such as the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or Texas light sweet.  Yet, not everyone knows that the famed discount airline Southwest was founded in Dallas, Texas in 1967.  The company originally operated in only three cities in Texas, servicing customers flying between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

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    Utah - Gold

    The Beehive State, Vermont has a major livestock industry and robust Petroleum market. Utah is probably best known for its Mormon population, where over half the state identifies with the religion. However, less known is the state’s booming gold business, which is the biggest export for the state and represented more than $4.5 billion in production value in 2016.

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    Vermont - Snowboarding

    Vermont is probably best known for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream or Vermont cheddar cheese. And as a result, it’s not surprising that dairy is the largest farming industry in the state, representing about two-thirds of the state’s agricultural output. But the most iconic product from this state isn’t agriculturally related at all. Jake Burton Carpenter invented the first snowboard, or the Snurfer, in his barn Londonderry, Vermont in 1977. To this day, Manchester, Vermont acts as home to Burton Snowboards, the world’s first snowboard manufacturing company.

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    Virginia - Wine

    Despite a decline since the 1960s, agriculture remains the single largest industry in Virginia.  Seafood harvesting is big industry within the state, where scallops, oysters, blue crab, and clams are major drivers for the state’s economy.  While agriculture has traditionally dominated, one new burgeoning crop in the Virginia farming industry is grapes, which has been driven by the of vineyards in the state. The state has the fifth largest amount of wineries in the U.S., with 275 locations and more than $1 billion in sales, and also acts has home to the Trump Winery.

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    Washington - Costco

    The ‘Evergreen State,’ Washington is known for its diverse ecological environments and climates. The state is a major agricultural exporter, particularity with fruit commodities where it ranks number one in the nation in the production of apples, pears, and blueberries. However, Washington is probably best known for exporting some of the most iconic companies in the world, acting as the birthplace of Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon. One lesser known company though is the giant wholesaler Costco, which was founded in the state in 1976 and currently headquartered in Issaquah, Washington. The second largest retailer in the world, Costco a multi-billion dollar company with more than 750 warehouses worldwide.

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    West Virginia - Pepperoni Rolls

    The Mountain State has several claims to fame, some which have permeated American culture across the nation, others of which are yet to spread beyond just bordering states. The Pepperoni Roll (falling in the latter category, but a truly magical combination nonetheless) - was first served in The People's Bakery in the 1930's, opened by Guiseppe Argiro, an Italian immigrant. The rest is history.

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    Wisconsin - Harley Davidson

    Home to the Greenbay Packers and Cheeseheads, Wisconsin is known for its cheese-making, where it ranks first in production and processing in the U.S. Agriculture is a major driver for the state’s economy, where more than 77,000 farms exist that contribute to more than 350,000 jobs, or about 10% of the state’s total employment. However, for the last century, the state is dominated by traditional manufacturing, where 36 of the 37 largest industries are manufacturing related, including paper mills, metal fabrication, and machining shops. Considering this, it may come as no surprise that Wisconsin is the home to Harley Davidson Motorcycles, which was founded in the state in 1903 and currently headquartered in Milwaukee. Today, the company operates multiple factories in Wisconsin and even offers a museum of the company’s history and products over the years.

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    Wyoming - Minerals

    Nicknamed the ‘Cowboy State,’ Wyoming is frontier land known for rodeos and bull riding. Nearly half the land in Wyoming is owned by the U.S. federal government, including national parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and with a population of about 600,000 the state is the least populous in the United States. Wyoming is primarily known for its mineral and coal mining operations, where it’s the largest producer in the nation and represents 40 percent of the country’s output. However, the biggest export is actually disodium carbonate, a major ingredient in consumer and industrial cleaning products.

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