85 Fascinating Facts About Rhode Island, the “Ocean State”

Rhode Island is famous as being America’s smallest state. But what else is the “Ocean State” known for? You’re about the find out with these fun and interesting Rhode Island Facts!

General Rhode Island Facts

  • Rhode Island is a US state in the Northeastern and New England region of the United States.
  • Despite the word “island” in its name, Rhode Island is not an island. There are about 30 islands in Narragansett Bay in the state, though, with the largest being Aquidneck Island (which is also called Rhode Island  – the state is named after the island).
  • Block Island, which is 12 mi (19 km) off the coast, also belongs to Rhode Island. Nearly half the island is protected and it has been called one of the “Last Great Places.”
  • Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country, at 1214 mi2 (3144 km2). It could fit into Alaska 425 times. It is, however, about 19 times larger than the District of Columbia (i.e. Washington DC).
  • The state is a little larger than Hong Kong, but only about half the size of Palestine.
  • Despite Rhode Island being just 48 mi (77 km) long and 37 mi (60 km) wide, it has 384 mi (618 km) of shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay. It has the most coastline per capita (in other words, the most miles of coast relative to number of people) of any state.
The riverside in Providence at night
Providence, the capital of Rhode Island
  • With a population of 1.1 million, Rhode Island is the 8th least populous state, between Maine and Montana, and the 2nd most densely populated state. Only New Jersey is more densely populated.
  • Rhode Island has a similar population size to the city of San Jose in California (the San Jose city proper only, not the whole metropolitan area).
  • Providence is the capital and largest city in Rhode Island. The city proper has a population of 191,000. The greater Providence metropolitan area, which spills into neighboring Massachusetts, has 1.6 million people, which is more than the whole state of Rhode Island.
  • Providence is the 3rd largest city in New England, after Boston and Worcester in Massachussetts.
  • Providence is also considered a part of the Greater Boston Combined Statistical Area, the 6th largest CSA in the country. The Providence city center is less than 40 mi (70 km) from the Boston city center.
Exterior of Rhode Island State House, the state capitol building, and the lawn in front of it
  • There are two theories behind Rhode Island’s name: the first is that the state was named after the Isle of Rhodes in Greece. The second theory is that Dutch explorer Adriaen Block dubbed the region “Rood Eylandt”, which means “Red Island”, due to its red clay and/or red foliage.
  • Until 2020, the complete name of the state was “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”, making it the longest official name of any US state. In 2020, residents voted to remove the last three words.
  • Wampanoag and the Narragansett Native Americans were the original inhabitants of the area. Today, they number only 0.1% of the state’s population.
  • Residents of Rhode Island are called Rhode Islanders or Rhodians.
  • RI is the two-letter abbreviation for Rhode Island.
Sailboats in Newport, Rhode Island
Rhode Island is a popular sailing destination
  • Rhode Island is nicknamed the “Ocean State” because one can get to the ocean in less than an hour’s drive from anywhere in the state. Another state nickname is “Little Rhody”.
  • Despite being known as the “Ocean State”, around 60% of Rhode Island is covered in forests.
  • Later, the slogan was adjusted to “Fun Sized”.
  • Rhode Island has the shortest state motto in the country, with just four letters: “Hope”.
  • Rhode Island’s state mammal is the harbor seal.
  • Black bears disappeared from Rhode Island around the year 1800, but in recent years they have made a comeback.
The official Rhode Island flag
The state flag of Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island’s state flag features a gold anchor and 13 stars on a white background. They represent the state’s role as the 13th state to ratify the Constitution and for being one of the original 13  colonies. A blue ribbon is featured below the anchor with the state motto written in gold letters.
  • The official and very popular state drink is coffee milk, which is like hot chocolate but made with milk and coffee syrup. It can also be blended with ice cream in what is called a “coffee cabinet”, because the inventor kept his blender in a cabinet.

Random Interesting Facts About Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island was once known as the “Jewelry Capital of the World”.
  • Rhode Island was the last of the 13 colonies to become a state.
Trees with ocean behind in Goddard Memorial State Park, Rhode Island
Goddard Memorial State Park
  • Some difficult-to-pronounce town names in Rhode Island include Quidnesset, Narragansett, Scituate, Burrillville, Misquamicut, Chepachet, and Weekapaug.
  • Places in Rhode Island named after places in England include Bradford, Bristol, Cumberland, Gloucester, Kent County, Lincoln, Warwick, and several more. It’s called “New England” for a reason!
  • Many of these historic homes are located in Newport, one of the most famous summer resorts in New England. “The Breakers” of the Vanderbilt family is the most famous one. Former US presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy also had summer houses there.
Exterior of an old Victorian mansion in Newport, Rhode Island
One of numerous mansions in Newport
  • The University of Rhode Island is home to the world’s largest collection of sewing patterns.
  • Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island is the 3rd oldest zoo in the country, after Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and Central Park Zoo in New York City.
  • Rhode Island his home to the world’s largest bug statue, called the Big Blue Bug. Located along the i-95, it is the mascot of pest control company.
  • Every year during WaterFire festival in Providence, 86 fires are lit on the surface of the river as a public art installation. It is meant to symbolize community.
A row of bonfires on the surface of water as a part of the WaterFire Festival in Providence, Rhode Island
WaterFire Display in Providence
  • Tourists spend around 6 billion USD in Rhode Island every year.
  • In fact, Rhode Island has a similar GDP to Slovenia.
  • Rhode Island was the first state to commit to a goal of 100% renewable energy, which it aims to do by 2033.
  • Cumberlandite, the state rock, is made of titanium and iron. It has a silvery sheen and is slightly magnetic. It comes from and is named after Cumberland town in Rhode Island.
  • Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island is famous for its clams. Some popular snacks include steamers (steamed clams), stuffed clams, clam cakes and clam chowder.
A paper tray of Rhode Island clam cakes with slice of lemon and dipping sauce on the side
Rhode Island clam cakes
  • One of the few states that said no to Prohibition was Rhode Island. The state never approved the 18th Amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol. The only other state to do so was Connecticut.
  • The highest point in Rhode Island is Jerimoth Hill, at 812 ft (247 m) above sea level.
  • 104°F (40°C) is the highest temperature to ever be recorded in Rhode Island, in Providence, while the lowest was -25°F (-31.7°C), in Greene.
  • Rhode Island was one of the first US states to abolish slavery.
  • One of the key leaders in ratifying (signing and making formal) the US Constitution was Rhode Islander Nicholas Brown. Today, Brown University in Rhode Island is named after him.
Close up of some containers of Play-Doh
Hasbro, the maker of Play-Doh, is a Rhode Island company
  • Some of the most famous people born in Rhode Island are fantasy writer HP Lovecraft, talk show host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, journalist Walt Mossberg, DJ Pauly D, Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett, and baseball Hall of Famer Napoleon (Larry) Lajoie.
  • Julia Ward Hower, writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, was also a Rhode Islander.
  • Anne Hutchinson became the first woman in America to establish a town when she established Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
  • The famous toy company Hasbro is headquartered in Rhode Island.
  • CVS Health, which is #4 on the Fortune 500 List and employs 300,000 people, is also headquartered in Rhode Island.
  • Glee Gum, a natural, vegan chewing gum alternative, is manufactured in Rhode Island.
A black and white framed image of Ambrose Burnside, who is the source of the word sideburns
“Sideburns” were named after Rhode Islander Ambrose Burnside
  • Things invented in Rhode Island include the diner-style restaurant, the automatic sprinkler system, and the fast break play in basketball.
  • Sideburns were introduced as a hairstyle by former War General and Rhode Island Governor Ambrose Burnside.
  • Movies filmed partially or fully in Rhode Island include Me, Myself and Irene, Dumb and Dumber, The Great Gatsby (1974 version), Meet Joe Black, and There’s Something about Mary.
  • There are some strange old laws still in existence in Rhode Island. For example, it’s an offense to throw pickle juice on a trolley in Rhode Island.
  • There’s also a law against biting off someone’s limb in Rhode Island.
  • In Newport, Rhode Island, it’s against the law to smoke a pipe after sunset.
  • If you need to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste, make sure to do so any day of the week except for Sunday. It’s illegal to do so in Providence.

Historical Facts About Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island was visited by Adriaen Block, the Dutch explorer, in 1614. Block Island is named after him, and he may have given Rhode Island its name due to the its red clay.
  • In 1634, Englishman William Blackstone became Rhode Island’s first settler.
A beach on the coast of Rhode Island, with a wave washing down the sand
Reddish sand on the coast of Rhode Island
  • Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 after he was banished from the Massachusetts colony for his religious views.
  • In 1638, Williams established the country’s first Baptist Church in Providence.
  • The first record of African slaves in Rhode Island was in 1652.
  • In 1663, the first Rhode Island governor, Benedict Arnold, was appointed under the Rhode Island Royal Charter.
  • In 1708, the first census was taken in Rhode Island, with a population of 7,181.
  • Ann Franklin became the first female editor of an American newspaper on August 22, 1762. The newspaper she became an editor of was the Newport, Rhode Island “Mercury”.
The front of an old red brick building at Brown University in Newport, Rhode Island
Brown University, the oldest in Rhode Island
  • In 1764, Brown University was founded, becoming the first in Rhode Island. Today it is the country’s 7th oldest.
  • In 1774, Rhode Island became the first colony to prohibit the importation of slaves.
  • On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island officially became the 13th state to join the Union.
  • In 1790, Rhode Island was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, as the country’s first cotton and textile mills were established there.
Fort Adams on the coast of Rhode Island, with a wall of the fort on the left and water on the right
Fort Adams dates to the War of 1812
  • In the late 1800s, Rhode Island was at the center of the Gilded Age, a time of great advancement and prosperity, with many rich businessmen building their mansions there.
  • Rhode Island’s population surpassed half a million in 1906.
  • In 1908, “Rhode Island Independence Day” was established by the General Assembly as the 4th of May.
  • John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier married on September 12, 1953 in St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • The worst snowstorm in the state’s history was the Great Blizzard of 1978, in which 21 people died.
The river in Providence, RI, with buildings and boats reflecting in the water at dusk
Providence today
  • The state has elected democratic presidential candidates in every election since 1988.
  • Rhode Island’s population reached 1 million in 1990.
  • In 2006, Rhode Island legalized cannabis for medical use, but then it criminalized prostitution three years later.
  • The bill allowing civil unions for gay couples was approved by the Rhode Island State Senate in 2011.
  • Rhode Island voters approved the statewide referendum to remove the latter part of the state’s formal name (“and Providence Plantations”) on November 3, 2020.
  • Along with Alaska, Rhode Island had the highest COVID case rate in the country as of late 2022.