IN LESS THAN 400 YEARS, the United States of America (USA) has grown from wild countryside inhabited by native peoples to the world's most powerful industrial nation. The country is made up of 50 states, including Alaska in the far north and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. There are two major mountain ranges, the Appalachians to the east and the Rockies to the west, while much of its center is covered by the gently sloping Great Plains. Vast supplies of coal, oil, and minerals, together with mass immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped business and industry grow fast. Today, American products and culture are recognized throughout the world.


People in the US belong to a wide range of different groups and races. Most are descended from immigrants – people who moved there from other parts of the world, such as Europe and Asia. Many African-Americans are descendants of slaves forced to the US in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Today, the population is increasingly Hispanic (Spanish speaking), Asian, and African-American. By 2050, these groups will make up almost half the population.


Almost 80 percent of Americans live in cities or the surrounding suburbs. Most people who live in the suburbs own their own homes and travel to work by car. New York is the biggest city, with more than 22 million inhabitants, followed by Los Angeles, and then Chicago. People from different backgrounds mingle in most cities. Often they have their own neighborhoods, with names such as Little Italy or Chinatown. This view shows midtown Manhattan, New York.



The population of the US has always been mobile, moving to new states in search of work or a better lifestyle. Major events, such as the Great Depression in the 1930s, also forced people to move in the hope of finding work. The general pattern of movement since settlers first arrived is shown on this map. Over the past 30 years or so, more and more people have moved to the “Sun Belt” states of the South and West. These include California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.


Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the US, today make up less than 1 percent of the population. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, Native American tribes were decimated by disease. They lost many of their homelands and were forced over time to live on reservations – land allotted to them by the government. Despite these hardships, many tribal traditions and languages still survive.