Basic Facts About U.S. Territories

These territories aren't states, but are part of the U.S. just the same

The United States is the world's third largest country based on population and land area. It is divided into 50 states but also claims 14 territories around the world. The definition of a territory as it applies to those claimed by the United States are lands that are administered by the United States but are not officially claimed by any of the 50 states or any other world nation. Typically, most of these territories depend on the United States for defense, economic and social support.

The following is an alphabetical list of the territories of the United States. For reference, their land area and population (where applicable) have also been included.

American Samoa

• Total Area: 77 square miles (199 sq km)
• Population: 55,519 (2010 estimate)

American Samoa is made up of five islands and two coral atolls, and is part of the Samoan Islands chain in the south Pacific Ocean. The 1899 Tripartite Convention divided the Samoan Islands into two parts, between the US. and Germany, after more than a century of battles among the French, English, German and Americans to claim the islands, during with the Samoans fought fiercely. The U.S. occupied its part of Samoa in 1900 and on July 17, 1911, the US Naval Station Tutuila was officially renamed American Samoa.

Baker Island

• Total Area: 0.63 square miles (1.64 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

Baker Island an atoll just north of the equator in the central Pacific Ocean about 1,920 miles southwest of Honolulu. It became an American territory in 1857. Americans tried to inhabit the island in the 1930s, but when Japan became active in the Pacific during World War II, they were evacuated. The island is named for Michael Baker, who visited the island several times before "claiming" it in 1855. It was classified as part of Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.


• Total Area: 212 square miles (549 sq km)
• Population: 175,877 (2008 estimate)

Located in the western Pacific Ocean in the Mariana Islands, Guam became a U.S. possession in 1898, following the Spanish-American War. It's believed that the indigenous people of Guam, the Chamorros, settled on the island roughly 4,000 years ago. The first European to "discover" Guam was Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

The Japanese occupied Guam in 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. American forces liberated the island on July 21, 1944, which is still commemorated as Liberation Day.

Howland Island

• Total Area: 0.69 square miles (1.8 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

Located near Baker Island in the central Pacific, Howland Island comprises the Howland Island National Wildlife Refuge and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It's part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The U.S. took possession in 1856. Howland Island was the destination aviator Amelia Earhart was headed for when her plane disappeared in 1937. 

Jarvis Island

• Total Area: 1.74 square miles (4.5 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

This uninhabited atoll is in the south Pacific Ocean halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. It was annexed by the U.S. in 1858, and is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. 

Kingman Reef

• Total Area: 0.01 square miles (0.03 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

Although it was discovered a few hundred years earlier, Kingman Reef was incorporated by the U.S. in 1922. It's incapable of sustaining plant life, and is considered a maritime hazard, but its location in the Pacific Ocean had strategic value during World War II. It's administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Midway Islands

• Total Area: 2.4 square miles (6.2 sq km)
• Population: There are no permanent inhabitants on the islands but caretakers periodically live on the islands.

Midway is nearly at the halfway point between North America and Asia, hence its name. It's the only island in the Hawaiian archipelago which is not part of Hawaii. It's administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. formally took possession of Midway in 1856. 

The Battle of Midway was one of the most important between the Japanese and the U.S. in World War II.

In May 1942, the Japanese planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. But the Americans intercepted and decrypted the Japanese radio transmissions. On June 4, 1942, U.S. aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing the Japanese to withdraw. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Navassa Island

• Total Area: 2 square miles (5.2 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

 Located in the Caribbean 35 miles west of Haiti, Navassa Island is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. claimed possession of Navassa in 1850, although Haiti has disputed this claim. A group of Christopher Columbus' crewmen happened on the island in 1504 on their way from Jamaica to Hispanola, but discovered Navassa had no fresh water sources.

Northern Mariana Islands

• Total Area: 184 square miles (477 sq km)
• Population: 52,344 (2015 estimate)

Officially known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, this string of 14 islands is in the Micronesia collection of islands in the Pacific Ocean, between Palau, the Philippines and Japan. 

The Northern Mariana Islands have a tropical climate, with December through May as the dry season, and July to October the monsoon season. The largest island in the territory, Saipan, is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world's most equable temperature, at 80 degrees year round. The Japanese had possession of the Northern Marianas until the U.S. invasion in 1944. 

Palmyra Atoll

• Total Area: 1.56 square miles (4 sq km)
• Population: Uninhabited

Palmyra is an incorporated territory of the U.S., subject to all provisions of the Constitution, but it's also an unorganized territory, so there's no Act of Congress on how Palmyra should be governed. Located halfway between Guam and Hawaii, Palmyra has no permanent residents, and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Puerto Rico

• Total Area: 3,151 square miles (8,959 sq km)
• Population: 3, 474,000 (2015 estimate)

Puerto Rico is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, about 1,000 miles southeast of Florida and just east of the Dominican Republic and west of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, a territory of the U.S. but not a state. Puerto Rico seceded from Spain in 1898, and Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since a law was passed in 1917. Even though they are citizens, Puerto Ricans pay no federal income tax and they can not vote for president.

U.S. Virgin Islands

• Total Area: 136 square miles (349 sq km)
• Population: 106,405 (2010 estimate)

The islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands archipelago in the Caribbean are St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, as well as other minor islands. The USVI became a U.S. territory in 1917, after the U.S. signed a treaty with Denmark. The territory's capital is Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas.

The USVI elect a delegate to Congress, and while the delegate can vote in committee, he or she can't participate in floor votes. It has its own state legislator and elects a territorial governor every four years.

Wake Islands

• Total Area: 2.51 square miles (6.5 sq km)
• Population: 94 (2015 estimate)

Wake Island is a coral atoll in the western Pacific Ocean 1,500 miles east of Guam, and 2,300 miles west of Hawaii. Its an unorganized, unincorporated territory is also claimed by the Marshall Islands. It was claimed by the U.S. in 1899, and is administered by the U.S. Air Force.

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Kelly, Martin. "Basic Facts About U.S. Territories." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, Kelly, Martin. (2020, January 29). Basic Facts About U.S. Territories. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Basic Facts About U.S. Territories." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).