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6 U.S. Cities People Mistake for State Capitals
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June 3, 2019
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Rachel Gresh
A culture enthusiast and foodie, Rachel is a freelance writer based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Rachel’s nomadic lifestyle has allowed her to go on more adventures than she ever thought possible.
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Can you name all 50 U.S. state capitals? While some answers may be obvious, others aren’t as easy. The reason why it can be tricky to memorize all 50 capitals is that most are not their state's most populous city and are typically lesser-known towns. In fact, most U.S. capitals have fewer than 500,000 residents, according to World Population Review. Here are six U.S. cities people often mistake for state capitals.

Chicago, Illinois

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Chicago, located on Lake Michigan, is not only the most populated city in the state of Illinois, but also the third largest city in the United States, with about 2.7 million residents. With bold architecture, famous museums and a bustling economy, it’s no wonder that the Windy City is commonly mistaken as the capital of Illinois. Chicago was founded just 15 years after the true state capital, Springfield. Located in central Illinois, Springfield is often overlooked as being the capital because it isn’t a well-known destination, and it has a much smaller population than Chicago, only about 115,000 residents.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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The city of Philadelphia is the largest in Pennsylvania, with a population of over 1.5 million people. Known for many things, such as Philly Cheesesteaks and a passionate sports fanbase, Philadelphia also has deep roots in American political history. With sites like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, some people think that the City of Brotherly Love is the obvious choice for the state capital. When hearing that Philadelphia is not the capital, most guesses go straight to the second most populous city in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, which is also incorrect. The true state capital is the small city of Harrisburg, located on the Susquehanna River. It has a population of just under 50,000 residents.

New York City, New York

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The world-famous metropolis of New York City is the largest city by population in the United States and is among the largest cities in the world — so many assume that it must be the capital of the state of New York. Actually, about 135 miles north of New York City lies the state capital of Albany. While Albany’s population of about 100,000 is dwarfed by New York City’s population of 8.6 million, it was chosen as the capital back in 1797 when both cities were much smaller. Albany’s central location in the state and its proximity to the Hudson River for trade made it the best choice at the time.

Louisville, Kentucky

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Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city, with a population of over 620,000. Located on Kentucky’s northern border with Indiana, Louisville is known for its Southern hospitality, prime whiskey distilleries and horse racing. Every May, over 150,000 people gather at Churchill Downs to drink mint juleps and watch the world-famous Kentucky Derby. Despite its fame, the Derby City is not the state capital of Kentucky. Frankfort, a small city with a population of under 30,000, takes that title. Frankfort is located in Northern Kentucky, about 50 miles east of Louisville, in the Bluegrass Region of the state.

Las Vegas, Nevada

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The famous Las Vegas, Nevada’s most populated city, is home to world-class casinos, nightclubs and live entertainment. Its population grows every year, with an estimated 640,000 people living within the city limits today. While Vegas is commonly confused as the state capital, it is actually Carson City, located on Lake Tahoe just south of Reno. Carson City is small, and with a population of only about 55,000, it isn’t even in the top five largest cities in the state. It was chosen as the capital in 1864, about 40 years before Las Vegas was founded as a city.

Seattle, Washington

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Seattle, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous cities, is located on the scenic Puget Sound in Northwestern Washington. The robust tech industry in Seattle has allowed it to evolve into Washington’s largest and most popular city, so it is often mistaken as the capital. Seattle’s population of over 724,000 means that it is about 14 times larger than Washington’s capital city of Olympia, with a population of about 51,000. Olympia is located just 60 miles south of Seattle, on the southern Puget Sound.