Perceptive Travel - We're the Greatest! Our Quest to Be the World Capital of…Anything

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We're the Greatest! Our Quest to Be the World Capital of…Anything
By Chris Epting



You've seen the signs along the highways and back roads, proudly proclaiming a city or town as some sort of "Capital of the World." Some are silly, some are historic, some are downright weird, but they all have something in common: they all help define the place they are named for.


Because of their proud self-proclamation, "world capitals" often offer the traveler a chance to experience interesting regional quirks, traditions, lore, and history. Remember that next time you see one of those signs. Perhaps the place is worth a short detour; a moment to revel in some local color or strangeness. Or even just buy a t-shirt.

Fire Hydrant Capital

See, these places say a lot about how our country (or another you're visiting) presents itself to the rest of the world. There is some chest-thumping, sure, but it's also a kind of cry for attention, I think. These are not all glamorous "capital" claims we are talking about. But they do tell stories.

Consider Albertville, Alabama, "The Fire Hydrant Capital of the World." Some people know Albertville from its ill-fated appearance on the 2008 episode of A&E's documentary series, Intervention. In that show, the city was labeled "Meth Mountain." Thankfully, that's not all that the Northern Alabama town can boast. Nope. Thanks to the Muellar Company, one of the world leaders in the production of fire hydrants, Albertville is also "The Fire Hydrant Capital of the World." This distinction was bestowed upon the city when the company produced its one-millionth fire hydrant in 1989. In honor of the event, a nickel-plated hydrant on a pedestal was placed outside of the Chamber of Commerce—something to remember while on a Southern-swing road trip when Rover needs a bit of relief, sure, but what a nice lesson about an industrious company, too.

Capitals of Chemicals and Earmuffs
And some may pity Wilmington, Delaware, the "Chemical Capital of the World."

Hold off on the "My mom went to Wilmington and all I got was this hunk of Cobalt" t-shirt jokes. Or the "I brake for Potassium" bumper stickers. See, there's actually a well-earned reason for this less-than-inviting capital claim. It goes back to 1802, the year that French-American chemist Eleuthere du Pont constructed a gunpowder mill in an area within Wilmington called Brandywine Creek. It had been in Paris as a young man that du Pont first mastered the chemistry involved with nitrate extraction, and from there he worked in a French gunpowder mill, further refining his knowledge. Du Pont had then taken a hunting trip with a fellow Frenchman, not long after arriving in America in 1800. He remarked at the low quality of the gun power, and his compatriot suggested he put his knowledge to good use.

DuPont

Because of that suggestion, du Pont focused his efforts on creating a superior product. The company exploded almost overnight, and by mid-century was the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States military. E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, ultimately became one of the best-known and most successful corporations in American history, Today, DuPont is the world's third largest chemical company. The original Eleutharian Mills site where du Pont first worked is a National Historic Landmark and there is a museum there.

Farmington, Maine knows what it brought it to the dance. Hey, it's The Earmuff Capital of the World, which brings us to a nice story of ingenious youth. And who doesn't love that? Chester Greenwoods, they said, had his ears turned "chalky white, beet red and deep blue" in the winter freeze, which is what led him, in 1874, to create what he called, "The Greenwood Champion Ear Protector." The grammar-school dropout had grown frustrated trying to keep his ears warm while ice-skating, and when a scarf failed to provide the warmth he craved, he crafted two ear-shaped loops from wire and then had his grandmother sew fur on them. And as it is easy to imagine, the invention was a hit. In fact, within just three years, Greenwood had earned himself a United States Patent for ear muffs.

What to do next but open a factory, so that is what he did, and within several years he was cranking out upwards 30,000 muffs each year. In fact, Greenwoods made a good part of his fortune providing ear protectors to U.S. soldiers during World War I, and he would later patent other inventions as well. In 1977, Maine's legislation declared December 21st as "Chester Greenwood Day" and there is a parade that still takes place each year in his honor on the first Saturday in December (don't miss the police cars dressed up as giant earmuffs).

Chester Greenwood

Bedding for a Ruffed Grouse
Kalamazoo, Michigan is The Bedding Plant Capital of the World and this is a place that knows a thing or two about centers of the universe. At one time it was "The Paper City" in honor of all the paper and cardboard mills. Then it was "The Celery City" after the crop that dominated the area. Who could forget "The Mall City" after they opened the first open-air pedestrian mall in 1959? (Actually, I could and I did, as there are several mall-related "first" claims.) At one time or another the city has also been where Checker cabs, Gibson guitars and the Roamer automobile were manufactured.

Today it has settled on "The Bedding Plant Capital of the World," in honor of the fact that they are home to the largest bedding plant cooperative in the U.S. You know bedding plants, right? Those are the fast growing, usually colorful plants that create all of those seasonal displays and backdrops for more prominent flowers. And Kalamazoo has every right to make the claim as they produce upwards 75 percent of this country's floral bedding.




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