100 Intriguing Facts About Massachusetts, the “Bay State”

Tough-to-spell Massachusetts is famous for its colonial past and historic sights, Thanksgiving, and world-famous universities.

Find out what else the “Bay State” is known for with these fun Massachusetts facts. Also read these fun facts about Boston, the state’s largest city!

General Facts About Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts is a state in the New England and Northeastern region of the United States.
  • Some say that Massachusetts is shaped like a flexing arm, especially the distinctive Cape Cod, which reaches out into the ocean and curls back, forming Cape Cod Bay.
  • Others say Massachusetts is similar in shape to America itself.
  • Massachusetts is the 7th smallest state in the US, with a total area of 10,565 mi² (27,337 km²). That puts it between Hawaii and Vermont in size.
  • Massachusetts is about a third the size of Lake Superior in the Great Lakes, half the size of Croatia, or twice as large as the Bahamas.
  • Massachusetts is the 15th most populous state with 7 million people. That is slightly more people than Tennessee, but slightly less than Arizona. It is the most populous state in New England.
View of Boston harbor and downtown
Boston, the state’s capitol and largest city
  • Boston is the capital city of Massachusetts. With just under 700,000 people, it is the largest city in the state and in New England, or 24th largest in the country.
  • The Greater Boston Area, also known as the Boston Combined Statistical Area, is home to around 4.9 million people, the 9th largest population center in the country. It spills into neighboring Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut states.
  • Ever since Rhode Island removed “and Providence Plantations” from its official name, Massachusetts has the longest name of any US state. It is also notoriously hard to spell.
A fence along the beach on the coast in Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Cape Cod National Seashore
  • The state’s name is derived from two Native American words, namely “massa” and “wachusett“, which mean “great” and “mountain place”, respectively. It’s believed that this is in reference to Great Blue Hill in southern Boston, known today for its tower and ski hill. There is also a Native American tribe taking the same name.
  • MA is the abbreviation of Massachusetts.
  • Citizens of Massachusetts are officially known as Bay Staters because the state’s coastline features several large bays: Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Ipswich Bay.
  • A quarter of Bay Staters are of Irish descent, the largest ethnic group in the state, and more than any other state.
  • Massachusetts’ most common nickname is “The Bay State”.
A ceramic dish full of baked beans
Baked beans are commonly associated with Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts has also been dubbed the “Baked Bean State” and Boston is sometimes called “Beantown”. Serving baked beans with maple syrup, venison, and corn goes back to the Native Americans and became very popular during colonial times.
  • Other nicknames for Massachusetts include “The Spirit of America”, which is featured on state license plates, “The Codfish State”, and “The Pilgrim State”.
  • Tourism slogans for Massachusetts have included “Massachusetts: Make It Yours”, “Make It in Massachusetts”, “The Spirit of Massachusetts is the Spirit of America”, and “It’s All Here”. Residents have mostly been dissatisfied with all of them.
  • Unsurprisingly, the cod is the official state fish of Massachusetts. It has long been a symbol of the state and has several places named after it.
  • There are two official state mammals: the right whale and tabby Cat.
  • The official state insect is the seven-spotted ladybug.
The state flag of Massachusetts
The Massachusetts state flag
  • Boston cream pie (which is actually a cake) is the official state dessert of Massachusetts, while the official state donut is the Boston Cream Pie Donut.
  • The official state cookie is the chocolate chip cookie, and the official state muffin is the corn muffin.
  • The official state motto of Massachusetts is “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem“, which is Latin for “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
  • The state flag of Massachusetts has the state coat of arms on a white background. The coat of arms features a Native American holding a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. The arrow points downwards to symbolize peace. A white star is featured, symbolizing Massachusetts as one of the original 13 states.

Random Interesting Facts About Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates is the US.
  • There are over 160 towns, cities, and other places in Massachusetts named after places in England (this is New England, after all!) These include Boston, Avon, Cambridge, Oxford, Marlborough, Manchester, Plymouth, Worcester, Norfolk, Leeds, Chelsea, and more.
A famous granite statue in Massachusetts called National Monument to the Forefathers
National Monument to the Forefathers
  • 4.23% of Massachusetts is protected land, which is the 7th highest percentage of any state. Over 60% of the state is covered in forest.
  • There are no national parks or UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Massachusetts. The state does, however, have 154 state parks, the 6th highest number of any US state.
  • The largest is Quabbin Reservoir State Park, which protects the largest inland body of water in the state, which is also Boston’s main water source.
  • Pilgrim Memorial State Park in Plymouth is the most visited state park in Massachusetts. It includes National Monument to the Forefathers (formerly “Pilgrim Monument”), dedicated to the English pilgrims who arrived on the tip of Cape Cod in 1620, one of the first. The statue is the largest solid granite one in the world.
  • Of the 130 National Monuments in the US, one is located 130 mi (209 km) off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Called Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, it protects three underwater canyons and is home to endangered wildlife. It was created by Obama in 2016 and is the first US marine National Monument in the Atlantic.
Exterior of Old Ship Church, the oldest church in the US
Old Ship Church, oldest still-running church in the country
  • The list includes some of the country’s oldest houses (including Fairbanks House, the oldest wooden house in the country), Old Ship Church (oldest church in the country that is still in use), and Cole’s Hill (the cemetery of Plymouth colony, second oldest colony in the country after Jamestown in Virginia).
  • The list also includes numerous sites related to the American Revolution, such as Lexington Green and Wright’s Tavern, as well as several literary sites, like House of Seven Gables, made famous by novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.
A historic building at Harvard University in Cambridge, Boston
Harvard University is the country’s oldest.
  • Harvard University in Cambridge is the country’s oldest universities. It is consistently ranked one of the top 5 universities in the world.
  • Massachusetts has the most doctors, psychologists, and degree holders per capita of any US state.
  • The first public park in the nation was Boston Common in Massachusetts.
  • Massachusetts is the most liberal state in the country.
  • Boston was also home to the oldest lighthouse in America, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, but after it was rebuilt, it became 2nd oldest after one in New Jersey.
  • Walden Pond, where the famous anarchist/naturalist Henry David Thoreau resided and wrote his best known book, Walden, is in Massachusetts.
  • Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Massachusetts is known for having the longest place name in the US and third longest in the world. It is a loose translation of an Algonquian word which means “English knifemen and Nipmuck Indians at the boundary or neutral fishing place”.
  • Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts, at 3491 ft (1064 m) above sea level.
  • The record high temperature in Massachusetts was 107°F (41.7°C) on August 2, 1975 in New Bedford. The lowest was -40°F (-40°C) on January 22, 1984 in Chester.
A whale jumping out of the water off the coast in Massachusetts
Whale watching in Massachusetts
  • Native wild turkeys in Massachusetts were killed off by 1851, but they were re-introduced in the 1970s, and today there are more than 30,000 of them.
  • There are also some 4500 black bears in Massachusetts.
  • Stellwagen Bank, Massachusetts is considered one of the best whale watching spots in the world.
  • Basketball was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. Four years later, volleyball was also invented in the state.
  • Some other things invented in Massachusetts include Tupperware, the microwave, the telephone, disposable razons, chocolate chip cookies, marshmallow crème/fluff, the electric voting machine, birth control pills, and candlepin bowling.
A collage of the logos of some famous brands from Massachusetts
Some famous Massachusetts brands
  • Facebook started at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Other major companies that started or are headquartered in Massachusetts include Genera Electric, Wayfair, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Samuel Adams beer, Friendly’s ice cream, and Ocean Spray cranberry juices – the state is famous for its cranberries.
  • Famous people born in Massachusetts include actors Kurt Russell, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and Steve Carell, actresses Bette Davis and Uma Thurman and talk show host Conan O’Brien.
  • Famous writers and poets associated with Massachusetts include Dr. Seuss, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Henry Davis Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson.
  • Musicians and bands from Massachusetts include James Taylor, Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block, Boston, Aerosmith, the Pixies, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Pixies, The Cars, Godsmack, and Rob Zombie.
A mosaic of famous people from Massachusetts
Famous Bay Staters JFK, New Kids on the Block, Donna Summer, Uma Thurman, Aerosmith and Conan O’Brien (clockwise from top-left)
  • Four of the country’s presidents were born in the state of Massachusetts: George H. W. Bush, John Quincy Adams, John Adams, and John Fitzgerald.
  • Massachusetts has its fair share of weird laws still in existence on paper. For instance, on Sunday, duels can be carried out to death as long as the Governor is present.
  • It’s also against the law to take a lion to the movies.
  • Mourners may eat no more than three sandwiches at a wake.
  • Other strange laws include the following: roosters may not go into bakeries; tomatoes may not be used in the production of clam chowder; and in Marlboro it’s illegal to buy, sell, or own squirt guns.

Historical Facts About Massachusetts

  • Massachusetts was originally inhabited by Algonquian tribes including the Wampanoag, Narragansetts, Nipmucs, Pocomtucs, Mahicans, and Massachusetts, with a history going back more than 10,000 years.
  • John Cabot sailed up the coast of Massachusetts in 1497.
A model of the Mayflower ship docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts
A model of the Mayflower in Plymouth, called Mayflower II
  • English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold named Cape Cod in 1602. The name originally referred only to the tip of the peninsula. He was followed by Samuel de Champlain, John Smith and Henry Hudson.
  • In 1617-1619, viruses brought by the Europeans killed 90% of the Native Americans in Massachusetts.
  • In 1620, separatists from the Church of England, called Pilgrims, landed the Mayflower in Plymouth while trying to reach Virginia. There they founded the second English settlement in the Americas. Today their village is recreated at Plimoth Patuxet Museums.
  • In 1621, the first “Thanksgiving Festival” was held by the Pilgrims.
  • In 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded around modern-day Salem and Boston, north of the older Plymouth colony.
  • In 1634, Boston Common became the country’s first public park.
A statue of George Washington riding a horse in Boston Common
Statue of George Washington in Boston Common
  • Boston Latin Grammar School was the first American public secondary school. The school was founded in Boston in 1635.
  • Harvard followed in 1636, and named after English minister and colonist John Harvard, who donated half his wealth and his entire library to the school when he died.  
  • The Boston News-Letter was the first regularly issued newspaper in America. It was first published in Boston in 1704.
  • In 1716, the nation’s first lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor: The Boston Light.
An old stamp showing people throwing tea into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party
Stamp commemorating the Boston Tea Party
  • British troops shot 5 Boston colonists in the Boston Massacre of 1770.
  • In 1773, crates of tea were dropped into the harbor by Boston Colonists in the Boston Tea Party.
  • In 1786, the Ohio Land Company was formed, with many Massachusetts residents moving to Ohio.
  • In 1788, Massachusetts became the 6th state of the US.
  • Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820 and became the 23rd state of the US.
A tall tower called Bunker Hill Monument lit up at night
Bunker Hill Monument
  • The first chartered American railroad began operating in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1826. Horses were used to pull wagons full of granite along it to be transported down the river to Boston for building the Bunker Hill Monument.
  • The first American-made Valentines were sold on February 14, 1849 in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Segregated schools were made unlawful in Massachusetts after the state law was signed on April 28, 1855.
  • Helen Magill White became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the US in 1877 from Boston University.
  • In 1954, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston made the first successful Kidney transplant between twins.
  • In 1961, John F. Kennedy of Brookline, Massachusetts became the 35th president of the US.
Black and white profile picture of John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts
  • In 1966, Edward W. Brooke became the first African American to be elected to the US Senate by popular vote.
  • The National Day of Mourning, which aims to dispel myths about Thanksgiving and raise awareness about the struggles of the country’s native peoples, started in Massachusetts in 1970.
  • In the 1980s, after a period of deindustrialization and decline, the state underwent the “Massachusetts Miracle” thanks to the financial and high tech industry.
  • The “Big Dig” construction project began in 1987 in Boston, rerouting the I93, and ultimately becoming the most expensive highway project in US history.
  • In 2001, a human embryo clone was created by ACT in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Same-sex marriage rights were approved in 2004, the first state in the US to do so.
Exterior of an old building with columns at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • On August 26, 2004, Yale neuroscientist Susan Hockfield was named president by MIT. She became the first woman to ever hold that job.
  • Massachusetts politician John Kerry was defeated by George W. Bush in 2004, while another Massachusetts politician, Mitt Romney, was defeated by Barack Obama in 2012.
  • On February 11, 2007, Drew Gilpin Faust was appointed by Harvard University as its 28th and first female president.
  • On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon, resulting in 3 deaths and 264 injured.
  • In 2021, Harvard University committed to totally divesting its fossil fuel holdings.