Due to its vast size and population, (third in the world in both categories) the United States does not fit neatly into any one description. Americans often divide the country into regions to help characterize geographic, cultural, economic and historical variations. As with any arbitrary delineation, the boundaries for these regions can break down differently based upon who draws them.
Some of the more popular regional labels include Deep South, East Coast, Gulf Coast, Mid-Atlantic States, Midwest, Mountain States, New England, Northeast, Northwest, Pacific Coast, Southeast, Southwest, Upper Midwest, West and West Coast.
While each of these distinctions has its own criterion, we have put together a broad summary of five major areas of the U.S. most often grouped together as regions; the Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest and West.
Northeastern United States
The boundaries for this region most often include Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
The early settlers to the United States arrived in the Northeast in the 17th century. Because of the cold, harsh winters and lack of fertile land, these immigrants turned to manufacturing, shipping and trade to sustain them. With some of the most populated cities and the nation’s capital within its confines, this area has developed a strong political and financial status, as well as nationally recognized communication and pharmaceutical industries. Still a remarkable mix of ethnicities, this region holds a solid reputation for cultural venues and events and includes some of the most prestigious universities in the world.
From rocky coast to fertile farmland, these states generally experience all four seasons to one degree or another. The most northern parts face severe winters and mild summers, while those further south see more mild winters and hot, humid summers.
The Northeast region can conveniently break down into two distinct sections, the New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) and the Mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington D.C., and Maryland). New England maintains a distinct cultural identity observed in the rugged individualism, quaint small towns and traditional lighthouses that dot the Atlantic coastline. This area draws tourists for its historical heritage, stark beauty and vibrant fall foliage.
The Mid-Atlantic states have become centers for heavy industry (iron, glass and steel) and have built up large cities along the rivers and bays. Considered the nation’s financial and cultural hub, their tourist base delights in the business of the big city.
The South - Southern United States
Defining which states make up the southern region of the United States proves trick}7. Some traditionally call all those states that joined the Confederacy at the time of the Civil War “the south.” (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma). The “border” states that toggled between support for the Union and the Confederacy included Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri.
Modem definitions of the southern region always include Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama. Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Most modem designations also include Virginia, Kentucky, Texas and Florida, and occasionally Oklahoma, Missouri and West Virginia.
The temperate weather and fertile land throughout this area encouraged the first settlers to pursue farming and agriculture, leading to the development of large plantations. Landholders brought in large groups of African slaves to work the land, and became wealthy growing tobacco, rice and cotton.
Due to disagreements about slavery issues, the United States became embroiled in a bitter Civil War in the mid 1800s. Northerners, for the most part, viewed slavery as immoral, while southerners depended upon it to maintain their large and profitable plantations. Following a bitter four-year war and the loss of more than 600,000 lives, the Union Army (representing the northern states) defeated the Confederacy (the southern states). Although the Union suffered more casualties than the Confederacy, the war took a far greater toll on the South because most of the battles occurred there, resulting in years of social, economic and physical reconstruction.
While residents of this region still profit from agricultural pursuits; manufacturing, oil, technology and tourism also contribute to the present economy. The mild climate attracts numerous vacationers and retirees. Southerners have earned a reputation for hospitality, relaxed attitudes and a history of tradition.
Mid-western United States
The twelve states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin generally make up the Midwest region.
Some ambiguity exists in defining the Midwest. One contingency builds its definition around the small towns and agricultural communities that characterize much of the region, and the other constructs its definition around the immigrants, manufacturing and strong Catholic influence that influenced the foundation of this area.
Today, most of the Midwest falls into one of these two categories, urbanized or agricultural. While the majority of the region contains prairie land, a few areas provide some variety in the topography with foothills or the basins around the Great Lakes.
Weather in the Midwest can vary greatly. Hot. humid summers and cold, snowy winters generally prevail, but tornadoes, floods, drought and plagues can wreak havoc across the area.
Affectionately known as the nation’s “breadbasket,” the fertile soil and rolling plains make it ideal for producing abundant crops of wheat, com and oats. The proliferation of large farms and ranches mean fewer big cities and cultural events. With a less dense population, these Americans have developed a reputation for traditional values and straightforward honesty, as well as cautious politics.
Western United States
The Western states generally include Alaska, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Originally settled by Spanish priests and Europeans, the West became the last frontier in America. Scenic beauty, adventure, lumber and mining drew early settlers further west to establish towns and profit from the land.
With beautiful mountain chains running north to south, and blue skies that stretch beyond them, these states attract tourists for recreational purposes like camping, hiking, fishing, skiing and boating. Ski resorts take advantage of winter sport enthusiasts and summer visitors revel in the sun, water, mountains and national parks that abound due to thousands of acres of government-owned land, left undeveloped for recreational enjoyment. More national parks are found in the Western states than any other region.
From hot, dry deserts to cool, snowy mountain peaks, the climate in this area varies as much as the topography. Wide-open spaces in Wyoming and Montana give way to the breathtaking mountains and rock formations of Colorado and Utah, and the pristine forests and stunning vistas in Washington and California, Alaska and Hawaii.
Not only those craving nature venture out west though. California now boasts the second- largest city in the nation, Los Angeles. Would-be movie stars and celebrities have made the West Coast a haven for the film and music industries. Even today, “westerns” occupy their own category in books and movies, depicting stories of cowboys and adventurers who “tamed” the West.
The development of the high-tech industry in the Silicon Valley has also played a part in drawing people from other places. Perhaps because so many people have moved out West to start over, the region has become known for its less traditional approach and tolerant attitude.
Both Mexican and Asian Americans have impacted the culture of the Western region as well, with some areas having larger segments of those populations than Caucasian Americans.
Southwestern United States
The Southwest region includes Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Outside of the cities, this region does not have a dense population, largely because of the desert-like terrain. Flat, dry and hot, they have decreased the size of barren wasteland by learning how to grow com and wheat, developing grasslands to graze cattle and sheep, and building dams along rivers and aqueducts to channel water.
With strong Native-American and Spanish-American influences, the Southwest relies on its rich historical heritage, attracting tourists who value the artifacts, culture and scenery unique to this area. Located in this region, the world-famous Grand Canyon draws visitors from all over the globe. The Southwest area has also become a popular destination for retired Americans desiring a warm climate.
Dozens of large American Indian reservations continue to operate within this area, marketing products and services designed to deepen American understanding and appreciation for the Native-American culture.