78 Interesting Facts About Rhode Island

Last updated on October 29th, 2023

Rhode Island is the 44th most populous and the 50th most extensive of the 50 states of the United States. It is in the New England region of the United States. The state attained statehood on May 29, 1790, becoming the 13th State to join the union. Its three bordering states are Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York (water border). See the complete list of the 50 states and their borders here. Rhode Island (nicknamed Little Rhody, Ocean State, Plantation State) has five counties. The state’s capital is Providence. The abbreviation for Rhode Island is RI. With these facts about Rhode Island, let us learn more about the state’s history, geography, people, and more. 

Facts about Rhode Island

1. Rhode Island has the longest official name of any state, the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” In 2009, a referendum proposed eradicating the latter half of the name. However, people voted to keep the name intact. Despite the name, Rhode Island is not an island. It is composed of many of them.

2. Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation, while Alaska is the largest. It could be fitted into Alaska 425 times. Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the U.S. Alaska has the lowest population density of all the states, while New Jersey has the highest.

Rhode Island with other states on the map
Rhode Island (in red) on the map with bordering states.

3. Dutch explorer Adrian Block named the state “Roodt Eylandt” meaning “red island,” in reference to the red clay that lined the shore. However, when the region came under British rule, the name was anglicized.

4. Another explanation about the name of the island is that explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano compared the land he found to the Greek island of Rhodes. This inspired colonist Roger Williams to name the colony “Rhode Island.”

5. Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, left Massachusetts, where he believed people did not have enough freedom for the expression of their religion. He along with his followers, settled on Narragansett Bay, where they purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and established a new colony. He founded the Providence Plantations. He believed that God’s Providence had led him safely there, and so the place was named.

6. Rhode Island is nicknamed the “Ocean State” because one can get to the ocean from anywhere in the state in less than an hour’s drive – the state is only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long.

7. Rhode Island was the last of 13 original colonies to join the Union.

8. The state’s shoreline on Narragansett Bay in the Atlantic Ocean runs for 400 miles. Narragansett Bay almost divides the state into two parts. The bay which is between 3 and 12 miles wide, receives Taunton, Providence, and Sakonnet rivers.

9. Did you know that there is an island called “Rhode Island” in the state of Rhode Island? The island in the state is also known by the name – Aquidneck Island. The island occupies an area of 44 square miles. It is on this island that the two towns, Portsmouth and Middletown, and a city, Newport, are located.

10. Portsmouth, RI, is the first town in America to be established by a woman – Anne Hutchinson.

11. The Blackstone River provided the power to kick off the industrial revolution in the US. In essence, the Blackstone River Valley can be seen as the birthplace of industry.

Rhode Island on the map


12. In 1800s, Rhode Island became America’s first industrialized state. It built steam engines, textiles, and jewelry, to name a few. Today, tourism, health care, and education are among the leading industries.

13. Block Island wind farm is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States. It is located 3.8 miles from Block Island, Rhode Island, in the Atlantic Ocean. This Offshore wind farm at Block Island provides electricity to more than 17,000 homes. It has supplied stable, clean energy to the mainland grid since 2016.

14. America’s first circus was hosted in Newport. Performed on May 23, 1774, the visitors paid $0.25 to see Christopher Gardener ride a horse—while standing on his head!

15. The oldest restaurant in the United States is the White Horse Tavern in Newport. It was established in 1763 and is still operating at total capacity.

16. Walther Scott started the original diner in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island. He served food from a wagon he called his diner, so the diner was born.

Straw hat. facts about Rhode Island
Straw hat.

17. The American straw hat industry was launched by 12-year-old Betsey Metcalf in 1798 when she started making inexpensive straw hats.

18. With more than 1,000 manufacturers, Rhode Island is a leading jewelry producer. 

19. Rhode Island was once known as the Jewelry Capital of the World.

20. Frederick Grinnell developed one of the first modern sprinkler systems in Providence. It helped to revolutionize the way it suppressed and extinguished the flames.

21. Founded in 1922, WJAR was the state’s first radio station.

22. Pelham Street in Newport was the first gas-lit street in America.

23. The most critical naval testing service was provided by Newport during World War II. Aircraft and torpedoes used in the war were tested at this site.

24. It is said that “the cradle of American industry began at the place of rushing water.” This happened in 1793 when Samuel Slater built a water-powered cotton spinning machine. His mill was the U.S.’s first successful cotton mill that helped Rhode Island become a leader in textile production in the 1800s. He built the factory from memory of what he learned as an apprentice.

25. Did you know that Rhode Island’s GDP is about the same as the GDP of Slovenia?

26. The Cogswell Tower in the City of Central Falls was built in 1904 as the last will of Caroline Cogswell. The land where the tower was built was donated to the city in 1890.

27. The site where the Cogswell Tower stands was known as an Indian observation point. It was used during King Philip’s War in 1676.

The Touro Synagogue, Rhode Island.
The Touro Synagogue was dedicated in 1762, and serves an active congregation today. The congregation was founded in 1658 by Sephardim who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and were searching for a haven from religious persecution in the Caribbean. Today, the synagogue celebrates not only their story, but serves to honor all who came to this shore seeking to worship freely. Image in public domain.

28. The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest standing synagogue in the U.S. The synagogue’s construction began in 1759 under the supervision of the colonial architect Peter Harrison.

29. First Baptist Church in America is the country’s oldest Baptist church congregation in Providence, Rhode Island. It was founded by Roger Williams in 1636.

30. The oldest Catholic Church in Rhodes Island, St Mary’s, was built in 1878 in East Providence. William Burges designed it in Gothic style for the Marquees of Ripon.

31. Behind only St. Peter’s Basilica, the Minnesota state capital, and the Taj Mahal, the state also has the fourth-largest unsupported marble dome in the world.

32. There is a giant 58-foot man-made subterranean termite known as the Big Blue Bug in Providence along the I-95. It stands nine feet tall and weighs over 4000 pounds.

The Rhode Island State House with the Independent man statue
The Rhode Island State House, as shot from Prospect Terrace. Image credit – Roger Williams

33. A statue of the independent man stands at the top of the state building in Rhode Island. The gold-covered statue was previously known as Hope.

34. The East Bay Bike Path is the first multi-town bike path that was built in Rhode Island. The construction of the Bikeway was completed in four phases between 1987 and 1992.

35. The largest Fort on the east coast of the United States is Fort Adams, located in Newport. It served the US Army for more than 100 years.

36. Rhode Island has at least 21 active lighthouses along its coast. They can be found from as far south as the tip of Block Island and all the way to Providence Harbor.

37. The Scituate Reservoir, also the source of drinking water for Providence and many other communities, is the largest artificial lake in New England.

38. A group of Rhode Islanders burned down a British ship, the Gaspee, to the waterline after raiding it. The ship got stranded just south of Providence on June 9, 1779.

39. Traditionally, voting rights were only available to those who owned property in the state, which limited the working class’ influence in the government. However, after the Dorr Rebellion – led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, voting rights were eventually extended to non-property owners with a poll tax of $1.

40. In 1904, Judge Darius Baker sentenced a driver to five days of jail for driving too fast. It was the first jail sentence for speeding in a car in Rhodes Island.

41. Cap guns are illegal in Rhode Island, and playing with them is criminal. No one is allowed to sell, possess, discharge, or use it in this state.

42. You may not throw pickle juice at a trolley in Rhode Island. It is an offense in this state because it may just stain someone’s straw hat.

43. Since 2002, drivers in Rhode Island can put a Mr Potato Head on their license plates. That is because of the presence of the Hasbro Toy Company in Providence.

44. Rhode Islander Gilbert Stuart was the artist behind the George Washington portrait featured on the dollar bill.

45. The state is also home to St. Mary’s, the church where President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier married in 1953.

46. Sideburns became popular due to the influence of General Ambrose Burnside. He used to be governor of Rhode Island and a Civil War veteran.

47. Rhode Island is the state with the second-most Italians in the US. Roughly 80 percent of this state’s population originates from immigrants from Italy.

48. Due to hunting and fishing by early settlers in Rhode Island, the animal population was nearly depleted. It took many years to improve the situation.

49. The only Lighthouse in Rhodes Island named after a person is the Ida Lewis Rock Lighthouse. It is named after this brave woman who saved about 18 people in one day.

50. With twelve colleges and universities, higher education is one of the state’s major industries.

51. Brown University, founded in 1764, was the first American college to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation.

52. The state also has the oldest one-room schoolhouse in New England. It is in Portsmouth. The schoolhouse was built in 1725.

53. Sailing camps are the way children of Rhode Island spend their time away from school books. You will find them most of the summertime at these camps.

54. Bristol is home to the oldest continuous 4th of July parade known as the “Bristol Fourth of July Parade,” or “Bristol Fourth of July Celebration.” It started in 1785.

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