8 Things You Thought Were American But Aren’t

We undoubtedly think of certain things as more American than others, but we may have been way off for a long time. Here are some quintessential pieces of American culture that aren’t even made in the USA.


Ah, America the beautiful, land of apple pie, democracy, and the stars and stripes—but is it really? Sure, most Americans would probably list these items or others like them as symbols of our nation, but they might also be surprised that they actually don’t have roots in our country at all.


Here are some of the most seemingly American foods, inventions, and ideas that weren’t actually made in the USA.

Apple Pie

For something that’s often used as a marker for how American something truly is, it might come as quite a shock that apple pie isn’t even American itself.


In general, pie can be traced back to a time when the ancient Greeks and Romans were alive, though these pies were typically savory and stuffed with some type of seafood or meat.

However, sweet pies weren’t too far behind, and the first recorded recipe for pumpkin pie was published in a British cookbook in the year 1675.

Institut Für Realienkunde

The first apple pie, however, was made long before this, as the first recorded mention of it was made in the 1589 poem “Menaphon” from the author Robert Greene—”Thy breath is like the steeme of apple pies.”

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

That’s right—our country’s own national anthem isn’t even entirely our own. Francis Scott Key originally wrote the song with the intention of it going along to the tune of an 18th-century British song entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

National Museum of American History

The song was originally written by a man named John Stafford Smith with the lyrics done by someone named Ralph Tomlinson. The song was originally about a club named after a Greek poet named Anacreon, who constantly praised Love:

Jean-Léon Gerome, “Anacreon, Bacchus and Love” (1848) / Musêe des Augustíns

“To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee, A few sons of harmony sent a petition, That he their inspirer and patron would be; When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian: Voice, fiddle, and flute, no longer be mute, I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to bootAnd besides I’ll instruct you like me to intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine. The invocation of the goddess of love and the god of wine is a far cry from the battle-weary verses we’re familiar with today…”


Sure, America was a nation founded on democracy but, judging from the way some people act, you’d think democracy never existed until Americans invented it.


For anyone who works within the government, it’s become a mission to spread democracy and the American way to other countries throughout the world—after all, it’s what so many of our citizen have fought for throughout our history and what politicians should continue to fight to keep each and every day. Though we hate to break it to both you and to them, democracy sure didn’t begin with George Washington and the founding of this country.

The idea behind democracy, the concept of the people ruling their own land, actually goes back to the time of Cleisthenes, an Athenian who who stood for widespread political reform in the sixth century B.C.

Philipp Foltz, “Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Perikles hält die Leichenrede)” (1852)

Thanks to his efforts, Athens’ first democratic constitution came to be in the year 508 B.C., although that didn’t mean Greece didn’t still have its share of civil unrest, slavery, and social inequality after that. However, the spread of democracy throughout the rest of the world can be traced back to this point in history.

Hot Dogs

It’s basically impossible to imagine any all-American barbecue that doesn’t at least offer hot dogs and, for most people, it’s difficult to think about a backyard celebration that doesn’t include actually having one.


Along with hamburgers, the hot dog is a staple for any outdoor menu, complete with ketchup, mustard, and relish to top them off. You might be disappointed to hear, though, that one of our favorite American junk foods isn’t actually American.

Most types of hot dog-like sausages can be traced back to Europe—in Vienna, they were typically referred to as a wiener, and as a frankfurter in Frankfurt.

Nathan’s Archive via Newsday

The idea eventually came about in the United States when polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker moved with his wife to Coney Island and started selling something similar to the hot dogs we know today—a sausage in a bun with some type of topping. In fact, Handwerker’s efforts are still very much relevant today, as he’s the original founder of the Nathan’s hot dog brand.


The modern idea of a cowboy may have found its home in the western, desert regions of the United States, but cowboys were a thing long before they were riding and roping their way through the American plains.


For one thing, think about what a cowboy typically looks like—a loner wearing a hat who’s riding his trusty steed, roping cattle, and looking so perfectly rugged whole he does it. Even for characters like Don Quixote who never actually did much cow roping, we tend to think of cowboys having a certain look and swagger, even if they don’t do what a true cowboy would be expected to.

It is thought that Spain is where the art of cattle roping originated, and the actual word “cowboy” comes from the Spanish term “vaquero,” which essentially means a livestock herder who was horse-mounted.


When these men made they it across the Atlantic and into Mexico, the conquistadores also brought with them their traditions surrounding raising and herding cattle. The Mexican vaqueros then brought the practice with them to Texas, which is where the American fascination with cowboys officially began.

Blue Jeans

From Brooke Shields to John Wayne, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American that doesn’t like to dress down into a nice pair of jeans from time to time. They’re a true staple when it comes to American fashion, with some of the strongest and most memorable campaigns the world as a whole has ever seen.


Unfortunately, though, blue jeans can’t truly be deemed as an American product entirely. Though it is true that the very first pair of blue jeans were made in the United States, they were also made by a Bavarian immigrant by the name of Loeb Strauss, who was also known as Levi—yeah, like those Levis.

Levi Stauss & Co.

Strauss came to America in 1847 and, after making his way to the West Coast, he partnered up with a tailor named Jacob Davis to come up with some type of sturdy work pant for the large number of miners who lived in that area. The original jean featured both brown cotton duck and blue denim to create America’s first pair of riveted pants.

The Television

Television is something that most Americans work into their everyday lives at some point or another, whether they’re a Netflix binge watcher or they like to check out the evening news to wind down after work.

Getty Images

America is also responsible for many television classics that often seem to transcend culture, with shows like Friends and Baywatch. However, despite the large amount of TV that Americans watch, our nation can’t take the credit for inventing the actual device we use to do so.

Many of the the early experiments that lead to the development of the television took place in Russia something around the year 1910 and involved a man named Boris Rosing and one of his students, Vladimir Zworykin.

Superstock/Everett Collection via Ozy

After that, a round of experiment took place in the United Kingdom, where man named John Logie Baird actually gave a demonstration of the first mechanized television system. The development then came to the San Francisco area, where a man named Philo Taylor Farnsworth added on his own ideas to the existing system. When the Radio Corporation of America took over the project after him, they actually Zworykin to help out.

Peanut Butter

Americans enjoy peanut butter in pretty much every way, shape, and form—on a piece of bread (toasted or not), baked into a cookie, smothered with chocolate, and even just on a spoon.


However, despite the quantities in which we consume it—an average of three pounds of peanut butter per person, each year—you’d be surprised at how many people don’t seem to know that it didn’t originate here. The spread was first seen in South America among the Aztec and Incan people, and it’s said they enjoyed peanuts whole, as well as ground up. They even brought their love of peanuts into some of their artwork.

The invention of what we think of as peanut butter began in 1884, when a Canadian man named Marcellus Gilmore Edson received a patent for his famous peanut paste, which he made by grinding peanuts between a set of heated surfaces. A little more than a decade later in 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg—yes, of the cereal company we still have around today—patented his own process for using raw peanuts to make peanut butter and sold it as a good source of protein for some of his patients who didn’t have teeth.


Skip to the year 1903 and Dr. Ambrose Straub of St. Louis got a patent for a machine that made peanut butter, and a chemist named Joseph Rodefield came up with his own process for making silky smooth peanut butter that didn’t separate in 1922 because of his addition of hydrogenated oil.

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