The complete guide to: The great American exports

The US exports billions of dollars worth of goods to the UK every year. But in cultural terms the country has an unquantifiable influence on our lives, from Microsoft and McDonald's to Ernest Hemingway and Aretha Franklin.
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The Independent Travel

Show me the money, then

Those greenbacks certainly do some travelling. Journey to some parts of the Caribbean or Latin America and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the American dollar was legal tender.

Show me the money, then

Those greenbacks certainly do some travelling. Journey to some parts of the Caribbean or Latin America and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the American dollar was legal tender. (In fact it is in Ecuador where they scrapped their own currency and instated the dollar instead). The dollar sign itself is thought to have its origins in the Mexican or Spanish "Ps" for pesos, or piastres. Theory has it that over time the "S" was gradually written over the "P", producing something like the modern "$" mark. The symbol was widely used before the adoption of the United States dollar in 1785, and today the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington produces 37 million notes displaying the sign, with a daily face value of approximately $696m.

The bureau has printed currency for the governments of the Republic of Cuba (1934), Siam (1945), Korea (1947) and the Philippines (1928), and to meet increasing demands a second printing site opened in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1991. Both sites still use the traditional engraving tools that have been used for more than 125 years – the graver, the burnisher and the hand-held glass. The "In God We Trust" inscription on dollar bills only became a part of the currency's design in 1957, and, contrary to popular belief, the car featured on the back of the $10 bill is not a Model "T" Ford, but simply something that was dreamt up by the designer. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (001 202 874 3019, offers tours Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm. Photo ID required.

Are you talking to me?

One of the all-time biggest American exports is undoubtedly the entertainment industry, and it was here that the modern motion picture was born. As everybody knows, Hollywood is the epicentre of the movie business and, as Marilyn Monroe said, "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul". Ever since the first producers set up studios at the beginning of the 20th century in Los Angeles, aspiring stars and starlets have beaten a path to Tinseltown in search of fame and fortune. From classics such as Raging Bull and Gone With The Wind to modern blockbusters such as Titanic and Batman, the dream factory just keeps rolling them out. Studio tours are one way of catching a behind-the-scenes look. Paramount Pictures (001 323 956 5000, 5555 Melrose Avenue, is the longest continuously operating film studio in Hollywood. Two-hour walking tours are offered Monday to Friday, with admission costing $15 (£10). Universal Studios (001 818 777 1000,, in Universal City north of Hollywood, offers studio tours and amusement park rides such as The Mummy Returns and Jurassic Park. Front-of-line passes cost from $45 (£30). For further information contact the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau on 020-7318 9555 or visit

So this is the land of make-believe?

You better believe it. While sitting on a park bench waiting for his daughter to finish a merry-go-round ride, a man called Walt Disney came up with an idea that was to change the concept of a family day out forever. He dreamt of creating a Utopian theme park which could be enjoyed by all the family. The first Disneyland Resort was opened on 17 July 1955 in Anaheim, California, making Mickey Mouse a household name. Disneyland was followed in 1971 by Walt Disney World, Florida. The first Disney Resort outside America, Disneyland Paris, opened in 1992. For further information visit A seven-night holiday at Disneyland Resort in California with Virgin Holidays (0870 2202782, costs from £959 per person including direct flights from Heathrow to Los Angeles, car hire, seven nights accommodation at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel and an Ultimate Park Hopper ticket. Child prices (under 10s) start from £349.

And the land where the car is king

Nobody thought so more than Henry Ford, the mass-producing father of the original big American automobile, the Model "T" Ford. Ford's hometown of Greenfield, Michigan, is now America's biggest indoor/outdoor history museum. It houses exhibits exploring the integral role the automobile has played in American life, including an enormous collection of famous and infamous cars (among them, the limo in which President Kennedy was shot dead). Paying tribute to the work of all those average Americans-made-good, tradition has it that Henry Ford attempted to collect at least one of everything ever invented in America and place them for providence in Greenfield, where he relocated the original buildings from his family's farm, his first workshops and auto factories. Priding itself on being the "finest documentation anywhere of the American experience", Greenfield's exhibits depict the growth of manufacturing, transportation and technology in daily life including a recreation of Thomas Edison's laboratory where he invented two of America's most celebrated exports: the electric light bulb and the phonograph. Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village (00 1 313 982 6001, open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 12-5pm.

Hit the road, jack

Neatly tying up a love of shiny material things with a yen for life on the open road: the Harley Davidson. One hundred years old next summer, the Hog is the ultimate machine for all those born to be wild – but only if supported by the sophisticated bottom-friendly suspension that defines the Laz-E-Boy of motorbikes. Next summer, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts worldwide will get their motor running and head out on the highway to celebrate the centenary of the Hog. Open Road Tours will take place throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Spain and Germany, culminating in a huge birthday bash, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (home of the Hog), with a three-day, two-wheel festival from 28-30 August. For more information, including tours and bike rental, go to or call 0870 904 1450.

Which leads us to the original lone ranger

Forget silver stallions, for the authentic all-American rider nothing but the original Silver will do. The Lone Ranger was one of the first Westerns to bring the do-good cowboy to TV screens worldwide, loved by the 1950s parental moral majority and kids alike for its good-guy-always-wins formula and lack of violence. Originally made as a radio show, the adventures of the masked Texas Ranger and his horse, Silver, were transferred to new-fangled television screens in a series of half-hour films. Set in the Old West, much of the show was recorded within a lasso-throw of Hollywood at Melody Ranch, a movie studio ranch in the hills north of LA. Formerly Monogram Studios, Melody Ranch saw the making of hundreds of Westerns (including some 35 John Wayne movies) and today it remains a privately owned studio, open to the public one weekend a year for the annual Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival (26-30 March 2003). Along with some of America's best stetson-wearing performance poetry, expect square-dancing, trail rides and cowboy couture fashion shows. For tickets and information go to or call 001 661 286 4079.

I was born under a wandering star

Even if you weren't, this autumn the music from thereabouts can be heard across the UK. After an 18-year absence, Dolly Parton, the rhinestone-crowned matriarch of country music, is back in the UK with a much-anticipated tour beginning in Manchester on 15 November (020-7316 4709, Also this November, for the second year running, London's Barbican Centre (020-7638 8891, sees the return of Beyond Nashville, a music festival billing itself as the "twisted heart of country music" bringing together the best of alternative country. Alt-country is the ultimate American export in so far as those folks back home at American Billboard magazine don't go very much for this type of contemporary music, fusing roots, blues, folk and blue grass and incorporating such disparate groups as Los Lobos, Calexico, Lambchop and Ryan Adams. Yet over here, the success of the film soundtrack O' Brother Where Art Thou revived an interest in American roots and folk music, and we can't seem to get enough it. Beyond Nashville takes place 23 November-11 December.

Whatever happened to rock and roll?

The undisputed King of Rock and Roll is of course the one and only Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935. Elvis quickly became a global sensation and one of the musical icons of the 20th century. Graceland (001 901 3323322,, his home in Memphis, Tennessee, is a shrine to his memory, and tours run daily costing $25.25 (£16.80).

Another rock'n'roll legend was born in Seattle in 1942: one James Marshall Hendrix. America's greatest exponent of guitar-led rock he may have been, but up until two years ago the only tribute to Jimi Hendrix found in his hometown was a commemorative rock in the city zoo. Deciding that Seattle needed somewhere more fitting to fly the flag to the man who saw the Star Spangled Banner through psychedelic eyes, home-grown billionaire businessman and Hendrix fan Paul Allen commissioned none other than Frank "Guggenheim" Gehry to do the job. The result is the Experience Music Project, a curvaceous temple to rock inspired by the swooping shape of the guitar with 18 rooms dedicated to Hendrix and the diversity of American music with interactive exhibits and archives exploring everything from blues, to hip-hop, and funk to punk. Open Sunday-Thursday, 10am-5pm, and Friday-Saturday, 10am-9pm (00 1 206 770 2702,

And the great american novel?

Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel On The Road is a 20th-century classic. His gritty prose won him many fans and he became the unofficial spokesperson for the "Beat Generation". However, he is just one of a long line of US literary giants such as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Henry James, William Faulkner, Louisa May Alcott , JD Salinger, John Updike, Brett Easton Ellis and Philip Roth, all of whom have offered the world a window on to the American way of life.

Lying off the coast of Cape Cod, the Nantucket described in Herman Melville's classic tale Moby Dick is remembered in several historical buildings run by the Nantucket Historical Association (001 508 228 1894, Nantucket flourished in the 18th and early 19th century as the centre of the lucrative whaling trade. The Nantucket Whaling Museum contains several artefacts from the Essex, the ship rammed by an enraged sperm whale that first inspired Melville's tale. Admission costs $10 (£6.60).

You can experience the languorous flow of the Mississippi, so beautifully evoked in Mark Twain's tales of Huckleberry Finn, by opting for a steamboat instead. The Delta Queen Steamboat Company (001 800 543 1949; offers paddlesteamer cruises, lasting between three and eight nights, from $375 (£250) per person. Or take a three-hour cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat (001 573 221 3222) from Twain's home town of Hannibal, where you can visit The Mark Twain Boyhood Home (001 573 221 9010, Admission costs $6 (£4).

Ernest Hemingway wrote several of his acclaimed works, including The Old Man And The Sea, A Farewell To Arms and To Have And Have Not, in the study of the Spanish-colonial home he occupied from 1931 to 1940 in Key West, Florida. Ernest Hemingway House (001 305 294 1136, is now a museum, and is open to visitors all year and admission costs $9 (£6).

Enough culture, let's go surfing

Hawaii was the birthplace of surfing, now as popular in Cornwall as it is in California and one of the great American pastimes. During Captain Cook's third voyage to the Pacific in 1778, he stopped en route to Tahiti on the Hawaiian island chain and observed a group of men riding the waves off Kauai. The sport declined with the arrival of Calvinist missionaries on the island, who tried to suppress the hedonistic pursuit. But in the 1900s a teenager called Duke Kahanamuko and a few of his friends took to the waves and put surfing firmly back on the map. From then on the stratospheric rise of the sport continued, boosted by a demonstration arranged by Henry Huntington to mark the opening of the Redondo-LA railroad at Redondo Beach. The Californian idyll of sun-kissed surfer dudes was born. To follow surfing back to its roots, a six-night self catering holiday on the island of Hawaii starts from £749 per person with Quest Travel (0870 442 3513; The price includes return flights with British Airways via LA or San Francisco.

How about that second great island export, the hawaiian shirt?

The "Aloha" shirt was created in 1936 by Honolulu store-owner Ellery J Chun. Needing to give his business a boost, he had had a few short-sleeved shirts made from Japanese yukata cloth, which his sister Ethel embellished with hand-painted images of flying fish. These first examples, that quickly became the symbol of the islands, are now the property of the Smithsonian Institute (001 202 357 2020) in Washington. The aloha shirt was immortalised on celluloid on numerous occasions, most notably by Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity and on the King himself, Elvis Presley, in Blue Hawaii.

Surfing: nothing could be cooler

Unless you take your board up into the mountains, dude. The original snowboard was called a "snurfer". The first snurfer went into production in 1965, although the history of the snowboard can be traced back to 1929, when a man called Jack Burchett cut a plank of plywood, tied it to his feet with a clothesline and launched himself down the slopes. However, the snowboard really took off in the 1970s with the help of Jake Burton, founder of the now world-famous Burton board company. He was inspired by a combination of the original snurfer and a 1920s board he found in a garage. He began manufacturing snowboards, applying ski technology to their production. Mamouth in California is a snowboarder's paradise. Seven nights cost from £691 per person with Ski Independence (0870 555 0555, The price includes return flights from London to Reno, seven nights room-only accommodation and car hire.

Good enough to eat?

Wholesome traditional recipes and modern junk food

This is the country that has given us a whole host of culinary exports, including the Big Mac, decaf-no-froth-skinny cappuccino, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coca-Cola, pumpkin pie and maple syrup.

Billed as the world's most popular soft drink, Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1886. There are museums celebrating it in Las Vegas and Hollywood, but if your obsession with the black fizzy stuff knows no bounds, you can make a pilgrimage to the World of Coca-Cola (001 770 578 4325) in its hometown and take a tour. Admission costs $6 (£4).

With more than 2,000 manufacturers, Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States. This unctuous liquid is made from sap boiled down to syrup. Trees are tapped for their sap in spring, but a large number of sugarhouses are open to the public all year round, such as Dakin Farm in Ferrisburgh (001 802 425 3971, For further information visit

America is also responsible for growing most of the world's cranberries, Wisconsin being the largest producer. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not grown in water but on vines in special bogs. Some of the oldest cranberry vines, many up to 150 years old, grow in Cape Cod. Tours can be arranged – see

Pumpkins originated in Europe, but pumpkin pie is, well, as American as apple pie. Traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie is believed to have been invented by colonists who sliced off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled the inside with milk, spices and honey and baked it in hot ashes.