Discover Why Rhode Island Is Called the Ocean State

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Updated: September 28, 2023
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The United States is made up of 50 beautiful states, each of them unique in their own way. Each state is different — some are big, some are small, some are populated, and others don’t have a lot of people. Each state also has a nickname. California, for example, is the Golden State and Texas is called the Lone Star State. When it comes to Rhode Island, it is the smallest state in the union and has one of the smallest populations. Its nickname is the Ocean State.

But the question you may find yourself with is why? Why is Rhode Island called the Ocean State? Well, we’ll answer all your questions! We’ll also explore Rhode Island’s other symbols, a little history, and the geography of the state, along with some fun facts. Let’s take a look! 

Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge on Narragansett Bay and town of Jamestown aerial view in summer, Jamestown on Conanicut Island, Rhode Island RI, USA.

In terms of size, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, but it is not the smallest in population. That title belongs to Wyoming.

©Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Why Is Rhode Island Called the Ocean State?

Located in New England, Rhode Island is called the Ocean State. The reason? It has 400 miles of coastline and anyone living in the state can get to the ocean in less than an hour. It’s as simple as that. However, the story about how it got the nickname is super interesting.

Apparently, the governor of Rhode Island at the time, Frank Licht, was disappointed with the billboards that were along the state’s freeways that promoted the state. And so, a new campaign was launched to create a more appealing name to draw tourists. One of the billboards unveiled Rhode Island as “the Ocean State.” By the following summer, the nickname proved successful and the rest is history. 

Rhode Island’s State Symbols

Like every state in the nation, Rhode Island has many state symbols — the state flower, state animals, state flag, state bird, and many more. Below is a detailed list of all Rhode Island’s state symbols.

  • State Bird: Rhode Island Red
  • State Drink: Coffee Milk
  • State Fish: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
  • State Flower: Violet (Viola sororia)
  • State Tree: Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
  • State Fruit: Rhode Island Greening Apple
  • State Mineral: Bowenite
  • State Rock: Cumberlandite
  • State Shell: Quahaug (Mercenaria mercenaria)
  • State Yacht: The Courageous
  • State Tall Ship and Flagship: USS Providence

History of Rhode Island

Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island

Rhode Island was one of the original 13 colonies, and the last of them to become a state.

©citizensco/Shutterstock.com

Rhode Island was inhabited by the Narragansett, Niantic, and Wampanoag tribes for thousands of years before Europeans settled in the area. Roger Williams, who was a religious leader who advocated for the separation of church and state, founded the Rhode Island colony because he was kicked out of Massachusetts for being too critical of Puritans. It was there that he wanted religious freedom, in order for anyone who came to live in the region to be free of persecution.

Rhode Island became the first of the American colonies to declare their independence from Britain, although it was the last of the thirteen colonies to become a state. The reason behind it was Rhode Islanders’ insistence on having the Bill of Rights be part of the Constitution. And since then, Rhode Island has advocated for equal rights for all. 

Geography of Rhode Island

Rhode Island has 400 miles of coastline, therefore there are beaches lined up all along the state. Narragansett Bay forms an inlet on the state’s east side where there are over 30 islands in the area.

Wildlife in the Ocean State

Rhode Island is rich in biodiversity, with over 800 different species of animals. The animals you can see in the Ocean State are beavers, minks, and otters. The state’s forests have black bears roaming around. And in the state’s inlets and bays, you can find a variety of birds — green herons, loons, and ducks. There are also northern leopard frogs and blue-spotted salamanders living in the waterways of the state.

When it comes to the state’s fauna, the forests are lined with white pines and red maples. You can also find an abundance of violets, mountain laurels, and daisies.

Fun Activities in the Ocean State

Buildings along Thomas Street, in Providence, Rhode Island.

The toy, Mr. Potato Head, was invented in Rhode Island.

©Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

There’s so much to do in Rhode Island, even though it’s such a small state. The best part is that there’s something for everybody. For history lovers out there, you can learn about the Native populations and the history of the state at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Afterward, take a drive to the Providence State House. From there you need to stop at a restaurant for some famous clam chowder. Rhode Island is famous for all things clams, so make sure you get your fill.

The lunch break will give you the energy to drive south to Newport where you can walk on the grounds of The Breakers, the summer cottage of the famous Vanderbilt family. There are summer cottages for wealthy families all along the coast. End your day doing the cliff walk by Bailey Beach before you head back to the center of town. When you walk around Newport, immerse yourself in the surroundings because they will truly make you feel nostalgic. 

Surrounding States

Rhode Island is a small state that only borders two other states in the union. Massachusetts is north and east of the state and Connecticut is west of Rhode Island. To its south is the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s take a look at Rhode Island’s neighboring states.

Massachusetts

Boston financial district modern city skyline aerial view with Charles River, Beacon Hill historic district and Charles River Esplanade in Boston, Massachusetts MA, USA.

The state berry of Massachusetts is the cranberry.

©Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com

Nicknamed the Bay State, Massachusetts was admitted to the union as the sixth state in 1788. It has a population of 6.9 million and is home to one of the nation’s largest cities, Boston. Massachusetts is steeped in many historical events that shaped the United States. It was where the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving. The state is also where Paul Revere alerted Americans that the British were hiding in the countryside prepared to fight, which sparked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

Connecticut

American flag flying near the stone beacon of Sheffield Island lighthouse in Connecticut on a warm sunny day. It is a popular summertime attraction.

Connecticut is the third-smallest state in the US, with Delaware and Rhode Island being smaller.

©Allan Wood Photography/Shutterstock.com

The state of Connecticut was the fifth state admitted to the union and its nickname is the Nutmeg State. Although it’s a small state, it has a population of 3.6 million. The state was home to the Mohegan, Niantic, and Pequot tribes before European settlers arrived in the area. The state was named for the Mohegan word, quinnetuket, which means long tidal river since the Connecticut River runs through the state. Becoming a British colony, they fought alongside the colonists against the British in the American Revolution. 

Fast Facts About Rhode Island

  • Population: 1,098,163
  • Capital: Providence
  • Admitted to the Union: May 29, 1790
  • Governor: Dan McKee (D)
  • Senators: Jack Reed (D) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D)
  • Representatives: Seat 1: Vacant; Seat 2: Seth Magaziner (D)

Conclusion

And there you have it, you learned the why and the how about Rhode Island’s nickname. Rhode Island is called the Ocean State because everyone is close enough to drive just a half hour to the sea. Are you craving a beach day? You can be there in a jiffy. Do you want some alone time on a bench overlooking the ocean? It’s super easy! Rhode Island’s size and the fact that it’s next to the ocean make it a wondrous and beautiful state.

The Ocean State has numerous beaches, wharves, harbors, and ports so that you can enjoy some seaside fun. So, the next time you visit Rhode Island, look at the majesticness of your surroundings. You won’t want to leave and when you do, you’ll want to come back to the Ocean State for some fresh breeze in no time!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Laura Stone/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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