The Center of North America is Probably in Center


Three towns in North Dakota have competing claims to the geographic center of North America. (New York Times)

Put yourself in the center of North America with our Giant Traveling Map!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

You, too, can navigate the Northwest Passage and beyond!
You, too, can navigate the Northwest Passage and beyond!

Discussion Ideas


  • The New York Times article describes three towns identified as the “center of North America.” Where are these three towns? Take a look at today’s MapMaker Interactive for some help.
    • Rugby, N.D. (48.3689° N, 99.9962° W) The town of Rugby has held the title the longest, since 1931. It also has a 15-foot stone monument declaring itself the “Geographical Center of North America,” and legally owned the phrase until summer 2016.
    • Robinson, N.D. (47.1428° N, 99.7812° W) Robinson is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Rugby. When Rugby allowed its registration of the phrase “Geographical Center of North America” to lapse, Robinson registered it. A decal with a stylized compass rose now sits on the floor of a bar there.
    • Center, N.D. (47.114854° N, 101.297808° W) Center is 233 kilometers (145 miles) southwest of Rugby and 146 kilometers (90 miles) west of Robinson. A New York geography professor identified Center as the center of the continent in late 2016.


  • Why do each of these towns make the claim to be the center of North America? How did they calculate the “center” of the continent?
    • Rugby: In the 1930s, geographers made a cardboard cutout of North America, then balanced it on a pin to find its center. (Geolocation technology has progressed since then.)
    • Robinson: Bar patrons “eyeballed North America’s center using a ruler on several different maps. ‘It was trial and error,’ said one citizen geographer. ‘I can’t give you an exact formula.’”
    • Center: Peter Rogerson, a geographer at the University of Buffalo, “calculated the point at which the sum of squared distances to all other points in North America would be smallest—the mathematical definition of a geographic center.”



  • Why does being the center of North America matter?
    • Rogerson says interest in the geographic center falls into two broad categories.
      • geographic studies. Some geographers may analyze central locations to help identify efficient transportation corridors. Others may use population centers to help identify areas of spatial interaction, such as convenient places for parks, health care facilities, or schools.
      • identity. “A second kind of interest is one that has to do with the rather strong level of attachment that individuals and communities can sometimes have with these locations.”
        • This is certainly true in the case of the good-natured feuding among the North Dakota towns, who use the title as a source of civic pride and tourism income. The towns have suggested they settle the dispute in uniquely American fashion: through court cases and a charity boxing match.



New York Times: North America’s Geographical Center May Be in a North Dakota Town Called Center

Nat Geo: Where is the center of North America? map

Nat Geo: Giant Traveling Map of North America

Nat Geo: Investigating Map Projections activity

(extra credit!) The Professional Geographer: A New Method for Finding Geographic Centers, with Application to U.S. States

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