Additional Math Pages & Resources

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Geographical Math

The United States of America currently has 50 states. As a math person, I think that simply equating USA = 50 is a mistake. Why? There are many other sub-divisions of this country, including counties, cities, reservations, etc. But I'd like to investigate the math of external sites known as districts, territories and jurisdictions.


The District of Columbia lies within the US and adjoins several states. It is not a state, but a Federal District, run separately to "host" the US capital city of Washington, along with housing about 200 foreign embassies, UN heaquarters, etc. It has a mayor but Congress ultimately controls the district.


Territories and rules for their governance were originally created to manage newly-acquired lands while the borders of the United States were evolving - such as the "Louisiana Territory." There were many territories during the period from 1789 to 1959;  31 of these became states. Not all who applied were accepted, nor did all the land in each of these territories become part of the US.

We had no offshore territories until 1856 but we now have a handful of island groups. Other territories are "virtual" and exist because of a contract, lease, flag, or temporary need (war). The courts have defined these types of territories:

Incorporated organized territories

The last incorporated organized territories became states in 1959 (Hawaii and Alaska).

Incorporated unorganized territories

  1. Palmyra Atoll is owned by the Nature Conservancy. It's a national marine monument, protected by the Conservancy and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Palmyra includes about 50 islands roughly 1000 miles south of Hawaii. Palmyra was linked with Hawaii when Hawaii was annexed in 1898 but was excluded during the statehood process.
  2. US coastal waters out to 12 nautical miles offshore are considered territory.
  3. US registered/flag-flying ships, whether Naval, Coast Guard, or civilian, are considered territory.

Unincorporated organized territories

Pacific Ocean
  1. Guam is the southernmost Mariana island. It has been a US territory since 1898.
  2. Northern Mariana Islands became a US Commonweath member in 1978.
  1. Puerto Rico has been a territory since 1898 and became a US Commonwealth member in 1952.
  2. United States Virgin Islands became a US territory in 1917.

Unincorporated unorganized territories

Pacific Ocean
  1. American Samoa has been a territory since since 1898 and became self-governing under a constitution written in 1967.
  2. Swains Island is owned by the Jennings family and was annexed by the United States in 1925; also claimed by others.
  3. Wake Island is actually three tiny islands surrounding a lagoon; it is managed by the US Air Force.
  4. Midway Island once had a Navy presence; now a wildlife refuge supporting 3 million birds.
  5. Johnston Atoll, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island and Kingman Reef are all uninhabited
  1. Bajo Nuevo Bank uninhabited; also claimed by others.
  2. Serranilla Bank hosts a Colombian naval station; also claimed by others.
  3. Navassa Island uninhabited; also claimed by others.


The US and many other large countries occupy (with permission) small chunks of land within other nations where they place military bases, embassies, consulates, etc. International agreements mean these jurisdictions are considered part of the country that has been given permission to establish them. Some countries have exploratory outposts in places like the Arctic or Antarctica (and the moon?). 

Extraterritorial jurisdictions

  1. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base a strip of land on the edge of Cuba, has been in US control since 1903; but the legality of the lease is disputed by Cuba.
  2. Military bases and embassies exist in about 200 countries all around the world, established by lease or agreement with the host country. Here's a list of US embassy offices. 
These associated lands and populations explain why the number 50 doesn't fully describe our nation.

This blog has been brought to you by Excel Math, built for elementary school students in the US, its districts, territories and jurisdictions (and anyone else who wants to buy it).