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United States of America Overview

United States of America
Official language English
Capital Washington DC
Form of government presidential Federal Republic
Area 9,772,614 km²
Residents 296,500,000
Currency U.S. dollar
Time zone UTC-5 to UTC-10
License Plate United States
Internet TLD .us,.gov,.mil,.edu
Telephone area code 001


United States of America OverviewWith a total area of ​​9,772,614 km², the United States of America (United States of America, USA) is the third largest country in the world (after Russia and Canada). The United States extends in North America from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west (4,800 km), bordering Canada in the north and Mexico in the south(North-South extension: 2 600 km). In addition to the core area (48 contiguous states), Alaska in the northwest of the continent (1,530,700 km², approximately 650,000 residents) and the Hawaii Islands (16,759 km² and approximately 1.26 million) are also American states. Guam and American Samoa in the Pacific, Puerto Rico and some of the Virgin Islands are subordinate to the US government or linked by association agreements.

The core area of ​​the 48 federal states is around 22 times as large as Germany with an area of ​​around 7.8 million square kilometers.

The USA can roughly be divided into four large landscapes: the coastal plains on the Atlantic in the east, the mountain range of the Appalachian Mountains delimiting them, the North American Cordillera in the west, and the inner plains in between.

The Florida peninsula in the southeast and the coast in the south on the Gulf of Mexico are also included in the coastal plain in the eastern United States. While in the northeast the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains reach as far as the Atlantic, the strongly structured coast is becoming ever wider towards the south. In the southern part there are lagoons and swamps (e.g. Everglades in Florida). The Florida peninsula represents alluvial land that is only a few meters above sea level. The coastal plain on the Gulf of Mexico is up to 320 km wide and characterized by spits and lagoons. The Mississippi Delta is located approximately in the middle of the Gulf Coast.

The Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States range from the state of Alabama in the south to the New England states in the north (and continue in Canada to Newfoundland). The mountain range is over 300 km long and up to 600 km wide, its highest point is Mount Mitchell at 2,039 m. Mount Mitchell belongs to the southern summit chain of the Blue Ridge, which rises steeply from the lowlands. To the west of this is the Ridge and Valley Province, a mountain landscape that is severely divided by valleys, and the Allegheny Mountains, which descend in layers to the inner plains in the west.

The Inner Plains, bordered by the Gulf Coast Plain in the south and reaching as far as Canada in the north, are between 700 and 1,200 km wide. In the west, the North American Cordilleras form a natural border. Essentially, the Inner Plains consist of three major regions: the Central Lowlands, the Mississippi Lowlands (both in the east) and the Great Plains in the west. In the central lowlands are the five huge lakes formed by ice age glaciers, some of which are in Canadian, some in the United States, and cover a total area of ​​around 250,000 km² (Upper Lake, Michigan, Huron, Lake Erie and Ontario, see Great Lakes). The lakes are connected by rivers and waterfalls and form the largest contiguous freshwater surface on earth. The most famous of the waterfalls include the approximately 50 m high Niagara Falls. The Mississippi lowlands join in the south. The Great Plains gradually rise to the west of it from 200 m to altitudes up to around 1,600 m, individual mountain ranges such as the Black Hills also reach over 2,000 m (Harney Peak, 2,207 m).

The North American Cordillera in the western United States forms part of the mountain system that extends from Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of the South American continent to Alaska. The portion of the Cordillera on the territory of the United States is up to 1,700 km wide. To the east are the Rocky Mountains, which rise steeply from the Great Plains, the highest peak at 4,396 m is Mount Elbert. Between the Rocky Mountains and the mountains on the Pacific, which drop steeply to the coast, there is a region with plateau countries or basin landscapes (Columbia Plateau, Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, highlands of Arizona and New Mexico) and deeply buried valleys or trenches ( Great Valley, Death Valley). The world-famous Grand Canyon cuts through the Colorado Plateau in the south. The Pacific Mountains include the Sierra Nevada (here, at 4,421 m, Mount Whitney is the highest elevation in the core area of ​​the USA). The North American Cordillera is a geologically young area, especially in the western part of the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan area due to the collision of the American and Pacific plates, increased earthquake activity and still active volcanoes (e.g. Mount Saint Helens).

Alaska at the southwestern tip of the North American continent is also shaped by the North American Cordillera. Here is the highest elevation in the USA, Mount McKinley with 6 194 m. The interior of Alaska is determined by mountain countries, plateaus and basins (eg the Yukon). The Alëuten archipelago lies off Alaska.

The Hawaiian Islands are located in the Pacific and form a chain of approximately 2,400 km. The eight main islands are Hawaii (10 433 km²), Maui (1 884 km²), Oahu, Jauai, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Niihau.

The longest river in the US is the Mississippi at 3,778 km, followed by one of its tributaries, the Missouri (3,725 km). The Colorado (2,334 km) flows through the Cordilleras and flows into the Gulf of Mexico on Mexican territory. In the northwest of the country, the water-rich Columbia (1 953 km), which has a steep gradient, plays an important role in electricity generation. In the east, the Susquehanna (715 km), the Delaware (650 km) and the Hudson (510 km) are of importance.


There are different climate zones in the United States depending on the size of the country. In the core area of ​​the USA, cool temperate, temperate, subtropical and marginal tropical climates follow from north to south. In Alaska there is a subarctic or arctic climate with permafrost, in Hawaii a tropical climate with lots of rainfall and consistently high temperatures of around 24 C.

The extreme south of Florida and the Gulf Coast belong to the marginal tropical areas, in Miami the average temperatures are 27.5 C in July and 19 C in January. The annual rainfall is around 1,510 mm. The lack of a north-south barrier can lead to cold spells from polar air masses that come from the inner plains.

On the Atlantic coast, the cold Labrador stream, especially in the winter half-year, ensures that cold water masses are transported far to the south. In New York, which is on the same latitude as the city of Naples in Italy, the mean January values ​​of 0 C are far below those of Naples (9 C), but the July temperatures are the same in both cities (25 C). Large amounts of snow in winter are typical for the east coast and very cold days with below -10 C, which are followed by much warmer days. In contrast, on the Pacific coast in the western United States, the Kuro-Schio drift, a warm ocean current, ensures a January mean of 5 C in Seattle (July 19 C). The rainfall here is around 850 mm. In Los Angeles further south on the Pacific coast, the mean values ​​in January are 13 C,

The inner plains have a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters, with temperatures rising from north to south. At the border with Canada, the average July temperature is 22 C, sometimes reaching temperatures of up to 46 C. In January the average is -13 C, the thermometer can drop to -43 C. In the south (Oklahoma City), on the other hand, the mean values ​​are 28 C in July and 3 C in January, but here too very high or low extreme values ​​can be reached.

In general, the amount of precipitation from the Atlantic coast (1,000 to 2,500 mm) decreases continuously towards the interior. West of the Mississippi in the Great Plains area, only around 500 mm are reached, and the amount of precipitation in the long valleys and basins of the North American Cordillera is even lower (100 to 250 mm). Here are some of the driest and hottest areas in the world, e.g. in Death Valley (up to 56 C). In contrast, the rainfall on the west side of the North American Cordillera (Pacific coast) averages 3,000 mm in the north. In the southern regions of the Pacific coast there is an almost Mediterranean climate with dry summers (Los Angeles 23 C) and mild winters (13 C). The annual rainfall here is around 370 mm.

Especially in the south and southeast of the United States, hurricanes (tropical cyclones) occur more frequently and cause severe damage. In the Midwest, so-called tornadoes form, which result from the encounter of cold and warm air masses.

Flora and fauna

There are several different vegetation zones in the United States depending on the size of the country. Originally around 50% of the country's area was forested, today it is only a third. In many areas on the east coast of the USA there is mixed forest, in the northern part mainly fir, spruce, pine, birch and maple, further south deciduous forests with oak, chestnut, beech and the hickory tree, which belongs to the walnut family. In the high areas of the Appalachian Mountains, the mixed forests change into coniferous forest. In the extreme south of the Florida peninsula, ferns, laurels, cypress trees and mangroves grow in the swamp areas. There is almost tropical vegetation along the Gulf Coast with swamp cypresses and lianas. Large grasslands (prairies) spread out on the inner plains: In the Mississippi area, mainly tall or long grasses grow, to the west of it begins the short grass steppe, which in the dry areas at the foot of the Rocky Mountains merges into dwarf and thorny shrub steppes. From a height of around 2,000 m, there are initially bushes and dwarf forms of trees in the Rocky Mountains, mixed forest with fir, douglas pine and American aspen trees occurs from 2,300 m, coniferous forest with various pines, Douglas fir, juniper and sequoia from 2 900 m that merges into tundra vegetation and alpine mats.

The sequoia (Sierrasequoia) grows in the Sierra Nevada, which grows up to 135 m high and can reach a diameter of 12 m. To the south, the vegetation becomes increasingly sparse, including semi-deserts and salt steppes. Here you can find succulents and evergreen hardwood bushes, called chaparral, which are grown on deforested areas (similar to the maquis in the Mediterranean). Further south are pure deserts with sand dunes and salt crusts (Great Salt Lake Desert, Death Valley, Llano Estacado).

The vegetation in Alaska is determined by boreal coniferous forest (taiga), which goes north into the tundra, the transition zone between taiga and the eternal ice of the polar zone. Dwarf shrubs, mosses, lichens and grasses grow here. On the islands of Hawaii, tropical rainforest can be found in the rainy areas and steppe landscapes in the drier areas.

Thanks to large protected areas, the total area of ​​which accounts for more than 10% of the national area, the biodiversity of the animal kingdom in the USA was preserved. The most important national parks include the Yosemite National Park, which was founded in 1864 and is located in the Sierra Nevada and covers 3 075 km², the Yellowstone National Park (northern Rocky Mountains, 8 855 km²), the Everglades (Florida), Mammoth Cave (Kentucky), the Glacier National Park (Montana), the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest (Arizona) and Mount McKinley (Alaska). Nevertheless, many of the originally existing animal species were pushed out of their habitats or eradicated by humans. In the plains of the Inner Plains, around 50 million bison still lived in the middle of the 19th century. In a few decades, they were almost eradicated, Today bison can only be found in reservations, larger stocks can be found in Canada. Other typical prairie residents are the pronghorn, the prairie dog and the prairie wolf (or coyote). In the deserts and semi-deserts of the Southwest you will find a particularly large number of reptiles, e.g. different types of rattlesnakes (the largest is the diamond rattlesnake with a height of up to 2.5 m), which only occur in North America.

Larger mammals such as black and grizzly bears, Kodiak bears, pumas, moose and bighorn sheep live almost exclusively in protected areas today. Especially in the more densely populated eastern part of the country, the black bear, for example, has been virtually wiped out, while smaller mammals such as raccoons and opossums (one of the few marsupials in North America) have been able to adapt well to new living conditions. The grizzly bear and the up to 1.5 m (shoulder height) tall Kodiak bear live mainly in the northwestern regions of the USA. The bighorn sheep also lives here above the tree line. The population of the bald eagle, the heraldic animal of the USA, is considered secure.


Around 296.5 million people live in the USA, making it one of the world's most populous countries after China and India.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, more than 50 million immigrants came to the United States, including Germans, Italians, British, Irish, French, Poles, Russians and Scandinavians, and later more and more people from Central America and Asia. (To date, however, around three quarters of all Americans are of European descent.) This ethnic diversity is still reflected in the American population today, as specific traditions have been preserved and cultivated. Nevertheless, there is a uniform national feeling among the Americans. Almost three quarters of the total population are white, around 13% are black. Most of these are descendants of the slaves taken to North America. Despite the legal equality of all citizens, there is still a social gap and tensions between white and black. This also applies to other population groups such as Puerto Ricans, Mexicans (the proportion of Hispanic Americans in the population is around 8%) and Asians (around 3%). One of the socially weakest groups are the descendants of the indigenous people, more than half of them live in one of the almost 300 reserves. Their exact number can only be estimated and is given as just under 2 million. In Alaska, the population of Indians and Eskimos is around 16%, the rest are white. In Hawaii, whites make up a third of the population, the rest are Japanese and Polynesian descent. Groups of Chinese, Koreans, Blacks and Filipinos also live in Hawaii.

The national language in the USA is American English. In the state of New Mexico, Spanish is the second official language. Many of the over a hundred Indian languages ​​are threatened with extinction.

According to COUNTRYAAH, 80% of Americans profess Christianity. More than half of the total population is committed to one of the more than 240 Protestant churches (the Baptists are the most numerous, followed by the Methodists and Lutherans). The proportion of Catholics tends to increase due to the continuing immigration from Central America. Other religious communities are followers of the Orthodox Church, Jews and Muslims.

In general, the standard of living in the United States is very high, but the distribution is very uneven. Around 12% of the total population lives below the poverty line, this applies particularly to blacks and Indians. The unemployment rate was 4.8% in 2006, unemployed are entitled to support for six months, then they are dependent on support from the public welfare (Public Assistance). The structure and structure of the social and health system lead to disadvantages for the low-income, around 20% of the workforce are not covered by health insurance, and insured persons are often only provided with basic care. The official life expectancy is 81 years for women and 75 years for men, but is significantly lower for members of the Indian peoples and the Eskimos. Population growth will be 0,

Education is different in each of the US states. School attendance is generally required from the age of 6 or 7 (public school) up to the age of 16. Over 3,000 universities and colleges are available, half of which are privately owned. The best known private universities include Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. Here too, high tuition fees put the low-income at a disadvantage. Three percent of the population over the age of 15 cannot read or write.

The distribution of the population in the country is very different. Settlement density is lowest in Alaska (0.3 residents per square kilometer), highest in the states of the east coast (over 300 residents per square kilometer). The Band of Cities from Washington to Boston is the largest metropolitan area in the world. Overall, over three quarters of Americans live in cities.

The largest city is New York with over 8 million residents, around 18.9 million people live in the metropolitan area. New York was founded as New Amsterdam by Dutch colonists in 1626 and renamed New York by the English in 1664. At the end of the 18th century, the then capital of the United States was the largest city, followed by Philadelphia. The core city consists of the boroughs of Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Richmond. Immigration created ethnic quarters such as Chinatown, Little Italy and Harlem. The New York City landmark is the Statue of Liberty (1886).

Other major cities in the United States are Los Angeles (3.9 million, metropolitan area 12.9 million), Chicago (2.9 million in urban areas), Houston (2.0 million), Philadelphia (1.5 million), San Diego (1.3 million) and Phoenix (1.4 million). The capital of the United States is Washington in the District of Columbia on the east coast with a population of around 565,000.

Political system

The United States Constitution dates from 1787 and is the oldest document of its kind still valid. It has been extended by several amendments.

The head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces is the American President (Barack Obama, Democrat since January 2009), who is elected indirectly by the people for four years (so-called electors are elected by the people, currently 538, who in turn elect the president) and the has extensive powers.

The legislature lies with the Parliament (Congress), which consists of two chambers: the Senate with 100 senators (two from each state) and the House of Representatives (currently 435 seats). The senators are elected for six years, and a third of the senate members are elected every two years. The House of Representatives are elected for two years. The president has a veto right against bills, but a two-thirds majority of both chambers can reject the veto.

The United States consists of 50 equal states and the "District of Columbia". At the head of each state (each of which has its own two-chamber parliament; exception: Nebraska with only one chamber) is a governor elected for four or two years. The states have largely self-government and their own legislation (for example, the death penalty was reintroduced in a large number of individual states, although it was declared unconstitutional in 1972 by the Supreme Court).


The United States is the leading international economic power. The basis for this is formed by the large, well-developed state territory with large raw material deposits, very good soils and many different climate zones (cultivation of diverse crops), the large internal market and the economic and financial system, which is based on free trade and entrepreneurship. The United States accounts for one fifth of the world's national product (sum of the value of all goods, products and services worldwide). Around 77% of the gross domestic product is generated in the service sector, the industry contributes approx. 22%.

Only about 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. Due to the increasing mechanization and concentration of agricultural businesses into so-called commercial farms, the number of businesses and employees will continue to decrease. The agricultural products cover almost all of the population's own needs, only a few goods such as coffee, tea and bananas have to be imported. The United States is among the leading nations in the production of cotton, beef and pork, butter, cereals (wheat, corn), potatoes, tobacco, grapes and citrus. In the course of the 20th century, the structure of the cultivation areas (so-called belts), which were previously oriented towards the climate zones, were largely relaxed or the monocultures were abandoned, so that today, for example, cattle breeding is also carried out in traditional wheat growing areas. In New England and on the large lakes in the north of the country, dairy cattle farming and fodder maize are the main focus. The cultivation of potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, cabbage, soybeans, sugar beets and sweet corn is also important. The states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, which lie in the south of the Great Lakes, formed the traditional corn belt, and more than half of the maize grown today still comes from this area. In addition, soybeans are mainly cultivated and cattle are raised. The countries in the south of the country are versatile in agriculture, in addition to cotton as the main product, there are large cattle farms, and soy, millet, rice, corn and peanuts are also grown. Much of the sawn timber and cellulose comes from this area. Cattle farming dominates in the west of the Inner Plains and wheat cultivation in the wetter east. With the help of irrigation farming, cotton is grown in the southern part of the Great Plains. There are large farms covering more than 1,000 hectares (Texas, Montana). Citrus and grapes are grown in California, and over 80% of American wine comes from this state. Fish is imported from Canada in addition to its own catch income.

Despite extensive deposits of crude oil and natural gas, the United States imports crude oil to meet the very high energy requirements. The abundant and diverse mineral resources also include deposits of lignite and hard coal, natural gas, molybdenum, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, gold, silver, uranium, bauxite and sulfur. In addition to coal, crude oil and natural gas, energy is primarily generated using nuclear power and hydropower.

Around 16% of the workforce is employed in the manufacturing sector. The traditional manufacturing belt stretched from New England across the Great Lakes to Upper Mississippi. Today, around half of the U.S.s industrial potential is still located here, especially the aerospace industry, iron and steel manufacturing (Greater Pittsburgh), automotive manufacturing (Detroit / Cleveland), petrochemical and chemical industries, and agricultural machinery (Great Lakes area). In New York, the most important industrial city in the USA, there is no specialization in an industry. Only since the 1970s have major industrial locations been found in the southern states (chemicals, petrochemicals, aluminum production, food and beverages industry). The aerospace industry is one of the leading industries in California. The center of the American film industry is Hollywood near Los Angeles. Silicon Valley is the center of the American computer industry, which is the most important in the world. The world's largest sawing industry has established itself in the northwest of the United States.

The United States is the second largest export nation after China. The main exports include capital goods, automobiles, machinery, raw materials, consumer goods and agricultural products. The main export partners are Canada, Mexico and China. The main imports are petroleum, electrical machinery and equipment, motor vehicles, consumer goods, food and beverages. The main import partners are (in that order) - China, Canada and Mexico. In addition, the United States, as the world's largest trading nation, has trade relations with many other countries. A trade boycott on the part of the United States has been used several times as a political leverage (e.g. in Cuba).

There are approximately 6.4 million kilometers of well-paved road available in the United States. Rail transport is important for the transport of goods, but not for the transport of people, here the car dominates. Air traffic plays a major role, some of the largest airports in the world are located in the USA (e.g. in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles). In addition to the Great Lakes, which are connected by canals, the Mississippi River is of particular importance for inland navigation. Major trading ports on the Pacific are Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Atlantic Ocean New York and Philadelphia, the Gulf of Mexico New Orleans and Corpus Christi.

The currency is the US dollar (= 100 cents).

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