Columbus, Ohio, is an excellent place to live and work. In fact, Columbus is one of America’s “Best Big Cities” — in 2016, Money magazine named Columbus as one of its top six best big cities in which to live. The magazine cited affordable housing, quality schools, low crime rates, robust public transportation, appealing green spaces and a strong economy that attracts new companies as factors in its decision to award Columbus this honor.
But many people outside Ohio may be unfamiliar with this Midwestern gem. So here are some fun facts about Columbus to help bring this wonderful city to life.
Basic Facts About Columbus, Ohio
Let’s start with a few of the basics.
1. Columbus Is the Capital of Ohio
When the Ohio government was looking for a location for its capital in the early 1800s, members wanted a place close to the geographic center of the state. Fortunately, a few businessmen from the town of Franklinton offered the state government a free parcel of twenty acres on which to build. The legislature chose that site in 1812, and construction began. In 1816, on those centrally located acres, Columbus was officially incorporated.
2. Columbus Is the 14th Largest City in the United States
With a population of just over 890,000, Columbus ranks 14th on the list of U.S. states ordered by population size. It is similar in size to cities like Indianapolis, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Seattle. Columbus is also the only large northern city in the United States to grow by more than 10% between 2010 and 2017, so it may well go zooming up that list.
3. Columbus Boasts Several Colleges and Universities
The flagship university in Columbus is the Ohio State University — in Ohio, “the” is firmly entrenched as part of the university name. Ohio State is the third-biggest university in the country by enrollment. The city also houses Columbus State Community College, the Columbus College of Art and Design, and Franklin University, a private university for adult students.
4. College Football Is Enormous
Ohio State football has a tremendous fan base. Ohio State’s football stadium, the fourth largest in the country, can seat over 104,000 cheering Buckeyes fans, and its attendance numbers at home games have been in the top four nationally since 1949.
5. Columbus Hosts the Ohio State Fair
Every summer, the Ohio State Fair sets up in Columbus. Fairgoers throng to the city from all over Ohio to eat carnival food, ride the Ferris wheel and swings, play games, show off livestock and homemade goods, win prizes and more.
Historical Facts About Columbus, Ohio
Columbus has also been an integral part of U.S. history.
1. Many German Immigrants Settled in Columbus
In the 1800s, German immigrants began to make Columbus their home after immigrating to the United States. Many settled in Columbus’s Old South End and got to work reestablishing one famous livelihood from their home country — breweries. German immigrants started and operated many successful breweries in Columbus, lending a unique cultural flavor to the city. By 1865, one-third of Columbus’s population was German, and German Village survives today as a remnant of Columbus’s German ancestry.
2. Columbus Provided Stops on the Underground Railroad
When slavery was legal in the United States, Kentucky, to the south of the Ohio River, was a slave state, while Ohio, to the north, was free under the Northwest Ordinance. Many slaves crossed the river to Ohio in hopes of securing their freedom. Cincinnati, located on the Ohio River, received many of these slaves and saw several sites of Underground Railroad activity. One prominent resident of nearby Ripley, Presbyterian minister John Rankin, would signal with a lantern from his hilltop property when it was safe for slaves to cross the river to his home.
The Ohio historian Wilbur Siebert once calculated that approximately 3,000 miles of Underground Railroad routes traversed Ohio during the mid-1800s.
Although Columbus is in the middle of Ohio, farther from the river, residents of the city still found opportunities to help. Columbus held 22 stops on the Underground Railroad. Fernando Cortez Kelton and Sophia Stone Kelton were one couple who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad, hiding fugitive slaves in their root cellar until the ex-slaves could travel north to Canada, on the other side of Lake Erie from Ohio. Today, the Kelton House in Columbus is a museum and historical landmark. The Neil estate on Indianola Avenue, now the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, also served as a station on the Underground Railroad.
3. Abraham Lincoln Learned Historic News in Columbus
Abraham Lincoln was visiting Columbus when he found out he had been elected to the presidency of the United States. As Lincoln was visiting the Ohio Statehouse in February of 1861, he received a telegram informing him that the electoral results had been certified and that he had won the election. Earlier that morning, Lincoln had also narrowly escaped death in Cincinnati — a bomb set to detonate in 15 minutes, was discovered and removed from his train car.
4. Columbus Helped Make Union Uniforms
The state of Ohio itself was a huge part of the war effort during the Civil War — it supplied more Union soldiers than any other state except New York and Pennsylvania. Columbus factories also manufactured many Union uniforms during the Civil War. Today, Columbus’s National Hockey League (NHL) team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, bears its name as a tribute to the blue jackets of that Union uniform.
5. Columbus Housed Confederate Prisoners
During the Civil War, Columbus also housed Confederate prisoners at Fort Chase. During the early years of the war, Confederate officers received the freedom to wander the city after giving their word that they would not flee. In the later, darker years of the war, Confederate prisoners were kept confined. By the end of the war, in 1865, Fort Chase housed 10,000 captive men.
6. The Ohio Statehouse Honors Ohio Presidents
Of the 45 U.S. presidents so far, eight have come from Ohio. The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus has honored all of them — William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Willian Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding – by naming each of its hearing rooms after one of them. (Harrison was born in Virginia, but he moved to Ohio in adulthood and served in state government here.)
7. The First Woman to Fly a Plane Around the World Was From Columbus
In 1964, Geraldine Mock flew around the world in a single-engine Cessna named the Spirit of Columbus. Her trip took 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes between takeoff and landing at the Columbus International Airport. When Mock — known to everyone as Jerrie — returned, 5,000 adoring fans were waiting to greet her at the airport.
8. The World’s First Cargo Flight Also Landed in Columbus
On November 7, 1910, a Wright Model B airplane took off from Dayton, Ohio, with two parcels of silk on board. Orville and Wilbur Wright supplied both the plane and the pilot for the historic flight. Philip Parmalee piloted the plane for 71 minutes over the 65 miles to Columbus and landed it safely.
9. Columbus Was Home to America’s First Middle School
In the early 1900s, elementary schools taught students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Of those students, 52% dropped out of school before entering the tenth grade. In 1909, Columbus school officials opened the first middle school in the United States, Indianola Junior High School, to provide a specialized learning facility for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders and help increase student retention.
10. Columbus Pioneered Water Treatment Technology
Ohio’s Hoover Dam — not to be confused with its bigger cousin in Nevada and Arizona — is named for two brothers, Clarence and Charles Hoover, who lived in Columbus. Clarence Hoover was the chief chemist in Columbus, as well as a bacteriologist who worked on sewage treatment. Charles Hoover was the chemist in charge of the water plant. In what became known as the “Columbus Experiment,” the two brothers helped develop the world’s first water treatment facility — the design of which is still used today — and reduced the number of typhus deaths from unclean water.
Unusual Facts About Columbus and Ohio
Now that you know some historical facts about Columbus, let’s take a look at some more surprising facts:
1. Almost Half of U.S. Residents Live Near Columbus
Nearly half the population of the United States — 48% of the country’s people — lives within 500 miles of Columbus. Columbus is about a day’s drive away — or less — from major U.S. cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Washington, DC. The Canadian cities of Toronto and Ottawa lie inside that 500-mile radius as well, and Montreal sits just outside it. Because of the city’s convenient location, it’s easy for residents to get out and travel to other places or receive guests from out of town. Columbus is also a convenient place for tourists or road trippers to visit.
2. Columbus Features One of the Country’s Oldest Parks
Goodale Park, donated to the city of Columbus in 1851, was designed to give workers a chance to rest in some relaxing greenery. The 40-acre expanse is the oldest park in Ohio and one of the three oldest parks in the United States. It almost had the city’s main library located in it as well.
3. The National Football League (NFL) Once Called Columbus Home
For twelve years, from 1927 to 1939, Columbus was home to the NFL headquarters, which were located in the Hayden Building, one of Columbus’s first skyscrapers. At the time, Columbus had an NFL team, the Columbus Panhandles, which made history by being the first NFL team in the United States to play against another NFL team.
4. Judy Garland Has a Columbus Connection
Judy Garland, famous for playing Dorothy Gale in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, was inducted as an honorary member of an Ohio State fraternity in 1938. The event was such big news that even Life magazine sent reporters and photographers to Columbus to cover the ceremony.
5. Guy Fieri was born in Columbus
This celebrity chef hails from Columbus. He later moved to California, and in high school, he spent time studying in France, where he developed his love of preparing delicious, innovative cuisine. Fieri was born Guy Ferry, his last name anglicized from the original Italian Fieri, but he changed the spelling back to honor his Italian great-grandfather, who immigrated to the United States.
6. Columbus Has Had a Hand in Fast-Food Success
The burger chain White Castle has been headquartered in Columbus since 1933. And in 1969, Wendy’s, which now operates out of nearby Dublin, Ohio, opened its first store on Columbus’s East Broad Street.
7. Columbus Is a City of Many Nicknames
The nickname Cowtown comes from the early 20th century, when Columbus was home to the 3,000-acre Hartman Stock Farm, at the time the largest cattle farm in the world. The farm also included a resort and a schoolhouse. An older nickname for Columbus, Arch City, dates from the late 1800s when the city built arches over many of its streets to provide power for the new electric streetcars. C-bus, Columbus’s latest nickname, has become popular in the past decade or so.
8. Columbus Hosts the Unique Doo Dah Parade
Every Fourth of July, Columbus hosts its Doo Dah Parade, which celebrates the “liberty and lunacy of freedom of speech.” Parade participants create satirical signs, wear funny costumes and hats, and dress up their cars — for example, with mustaches. Every year the Marching Fidels, a group in which everyone dresses up as Fidel Castro, is one of the highlights of the parade.
9. Topiary Park Pays Homage to Georges Seurat
The French post-Impressionist painter’s masterwork A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884, the first work in which he used the technique of pointillism, depicts French picnickers on the bank of the Seine. In Columbus’s Topiary Park, a pair of artists have trimmed shrubbery into the shapes of each of the figures from that famous painting — from French citizens strolling in top hats and parasols right down to the little dogs scampering across the grass. Even the monkey makes it in. It took the pair — Jim Mason, a sculptor, and his wife Elaine, a topiarist, both also parks department employees — four years to make their vision a reality.
10. On Sundays, Fishing for Whales Is Illegal
Some of the best fun facts about Columbus come from a few weird, outdated Ohio laws that have never come off the books. One of these is that it’s illegal to fish for whales on Sunday. So if you bring your fishing gear to Columbus in hopes of hooking a cetacean on the Sabbath, you’ll be disappointed.
It’s also illegal to get a fish drunk on any day of the week. And if you lose your pet tiger, you are required to notify authorities within the hour.
Fun Facts About Columbus, Ohio for Kids
Kids may be particularly interested in these family-friendly fun facts about Columbus:
1. Columbus Produces Tons of Candy
The Anthony Thomas Candy company in Columbus makes 50,000 pounds of chocolate every day. That’s almost equal to the body weight of an entire humpback whale. Visitors can even take a tour of the candy factory to see how the chocolates are made.
2. Columbus Once Boasted a World-Famous Magician
In the early 1900s, the magician Howard Thurston, a native of Columbus, was known all around the world for his magic tricks. As a boy, before becoming a magician, Howard had run away to join the circus, but the appeal of magic led him to start developing his performance skills. Some of his tricks included turning a box of candy into a rabbit, making a horse and rider vanish, making playing cards flit through the air like butterflies, and causing a woman to float upward as if in defiance of gravity. People all over the world flocked to his shows, which typically required 40 tons of equipment to help pull off the fantastic effects. Thurston also performed for kids at orphanages.
3. R. L. Stine was born in Columbus.
R. L. Stine rose to fame in the 1990s by writing what is now one of the best-selling children’s series of all time, the Goosebumps series. His creepy, deliciously terrifying books —with titles such as Night of the Living Dummy, One Day at Horrorland and Welcome to Dead House — have scared and delighted generations of young fans.
4. The Ohio State Homecoming Crown Once Went to a Cow
At Ohio State, in 1926, Rosalind Morrison received 12,000 votes for the title of homecoming queen, even though only about 3,000 people had been allowed to vote. Clearly, some people had cheated by voting more than once, so the university awarded the title to Maudine Ormsby — a cow the university’s College of Agriculture had nominated as a joke. Maudine proudly marched in the homecoming parade, where she delighted students, professors, visiting football fans and many mooooore.
5. Columbus Was Home to the World’s Oldest Zoo Gorilla
For many years, the Columbus Zoo was home to Colo, who lived to be 60 years old and was the oldest living gorilla in captivity. Colo’s parents, Baron Macombo and Millie Christina, were caught in Cameroon and sent to live in the Columbus Zoo in the early 1950s. There, they had Colo, known initially as Cuddles because of her sweet and fluffy appearance. When Colo was born, she became trapped in her amniotic sac and couldn’t breathe, but her zookeeper freed her and even gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to keep her alive. Colo went on to live a long and happy life, becoming the matriarch of the Columbus Zoo’s family of gorillas.
Visit Giordano’s in Columbus, Ohio
Why visit Columbus? From its unique history to its thriving economy to its colleges, zoo, parks, markets and more, Columbus has something to offer just about everyone.
When you’re in town, stop by Giordano’s for a slice or two of our delicious stuffed pizza. Our flaky, gooey, cheesy pizzas, stuffed with your favorite toppings, come hot and bubbling out of the oven for an irresistible, mouthwatering meal. Or try one of our other menu offerings, like our signature pastas, salads, desserts or gluten-free options.