New Jersey is one of the US’s oldest and smallest states. Though New Jersey is often mentioned in debates comparing it to New York, the Garden State has its own unique and culturally significant history—even if it’s a bit dwarfed by the population and status of the Big Apple.
If you want to dig a little bit deeper into New Jersey, then keep reading for a few of the most unique facts about this state. We’re covering its history, culture, ecology, and even its favorite sports activities.
It’s Home to the Original Vegas
Long before Las Vegas became an entertainment mecca, the US had Atlantic City. The Atlantic City Boardwalk was a coastal town home to summer fairs, vacation homes, casinos, and major boxing matches (more on this below).
In fact, the state has poured millions into restoring its Atlantic City boardwalk, casinos, and other establishments. Even when it comes to online casinos, New Jersey is ahead of other states—especially when it comes to poker. You can find the best New Jersey poker sites with just a few clicks online, which are considered some of the US’s most competitive.
It’s a Global Boxing Capital
As outlined above, boxing was a big deal during Atlantic City’s heyday back in the 1930s and 40s. Today, its renovated Boardwalk is slowly starting to recenter boxing fights. However, back in the day, AC hosted quite a few major title fights. Mike Tyson, for example, has fought in AC multiple times, including his 1988 knockout of Michael Spinks. Back in 1991, AC also hosted the heavyweight champion fight between Evander Holyfield and George Foreman.
It’s Home to the Highly Unique Pine Barrens
New Jersey has an NHL team known as the New Jersey Devils—but did you know that this team name comes from the state’s infamous Pine Barrens region? The Pine Barrens are a unique ecosystem that offers little nutrients and water to plants, which means that the forests are highly specialized and evolved. They exist nowhere else in the US. Unsurprisingly, the Pine Barrens include a few legends—including that of the Jersey Devil, a terrifying creature that inspired the state’s NHL team name.
It’s the Most Densely Populated State
As mentioned above, New Jersey is often compared to New York and New York City. While it might seem like the countryside compared to the Big Apple—and especially with its nickname of The Garden State—NJ is actually the US’s most densely populated state. An astounding 1,300 people live per square mile throughout the territory. Rhode Island is close behind with 1,100 people per square mile.
New Jersey was Once Called New Netherlands
If you’ve spent time in New England, then you’re likely aware that the English weren’t actually the first colonists to start settling in the northeast. In fact, many places in this area carry linguistic traces of Dutch colonialism. This is especially true for New Jersey.
Though the state has since adopted English and Lenape terms to name locations, streets, and more, it was originally settled by the Dutch. They called it ‘New Netherlands’, which included regions in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York. Today, some popular destinations like the Van Vleck House and Gardens still harken back to these early cultural roots.
They Led the US Sports Betting Charge
As outlined above, New Jersey has a long history related to boxing. This harkens back to the most popular days on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. But locals in New Jersey have a deep-rooted love for sports of all stripes. So much so that the state government began leading a charge to repeal a federal ban on sports betting in the early 2010s.
Along with the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, New Jersey took its case to the Supreme Court—and won. Without New Jersey, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have repealed its 1992 federal ban on sports betting. If you’ve placed a moneyline bet in the last few years, then you have New Jersey and former governor Chris Christie to thank!
New Jersey is the Birthplace of Cheerleading
Though not all sources are in agreement, it seems that New Jersey is the place where cheerleading began. It all began with the US’s first official intercollegiate football match, which saw Rutgers University face off against Princeton University in 1869.
Allegedly, the very first cheers were shouted from the Princeton stands that day, consisting of ‘Sis Boom Rah!’. This early cheer would soon evolve and become part of Princeton’s game-day rituals. Eventually, a Princeton graduate who spent time cheering in the stand would move to Minnesota and spread cheerleading throughout the Midwest.
It Was Once a ‘Garden State’
Above, we outlined just how densely populated New Jersey is. You might find this strange, as New Jersey is known as the “Garden State”. In reality, this moniker stems from the early days of the state. Two hundred years ago, New Jersey was largely agrarian, which is how it earned this nickname. However, today this title doesn’t quite hold up.
Only around 15% of the Garden State is actually used for farming today, which has led some to call for the state’s official nickname to be updated. However, it’s still worth pointing out that New Jersey is home to dozens of beautiful gardens in honor of its history. The most popular are the Frelinghuysen Arboretum and the Van Vleck House and Gardens.
It was a Revolutionary War Hotspot
Let’s round off this list with one more highly unique fact about New Jersey. During the Revolutionary War from 1775-1784, New Jersey hosted more battles than any other colony in the US at that time. Once again, despite the state’s small size, it played a disproportionately large role in the war. For locals at the time, there was a huge divide between those who wanted to remain loyal to the British Crown and others who wanted to fight for independence. This led to more than 200 skirmishes and battles being fought across the territory during this short time.