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North Dakota tavern takes trademark as North American center

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Crediting “barstool science,” a small-town tavern in central North Dakota is laying claim as the center of North America after snatching the title from a nearby city that allowed its trademark to lapse.

Hanson’s Bar in Robinson — a town of fewer than 40 people — is now touting its continental bull’s-eye status, dismissing Rugby’s decades-long claim as the continental nucleus. And people in Rugby, a town of about 2,900 about 85 miles north, are miffed.

“It’s upsetting,” said Dale Niewoehner, Rugby’s former mayor and the city’s unofficial historian. “We spent a lot of time, money and energy marketing this distinction.”

Niewoehner said Rugby officials found out this week the town had lost its trademark phrase “Geographical Center of North America” to the bar in Robinson.

Bill Bender, mayor of Robinson and one of a dozen owners of the bar, said patrons always have been suspect of Rugby’s claim.

Through research, Bender and others discovered that Rugby’s trademark expired about 20 years ago. Patrons raised $350 to buy the trademark and sent it off to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The paperwork came in the mail a few weeks ago, after a yearlong wait, he said.

The debate over North America’s geographical center began almost 90 years ago when a respected federal mathematician stuck a pin in a cardboard map of the continent and recorded the coordinates of where it balanced on his finger, said David Doyle, a former chief geodetic surveyor with the National Geodetic Survey.

Doyle said the 1928 stickpin balancing calculation put the geographic center in North Dakota’s Pierce County, about 16 miles southwest of Rugby, 5 miles north of Orrin, and 6 miles west of Balta. Both of those towns also have claimed to be the continent’s center but never trademarked the phrase.

Zealous leaders in Rugby saw the commercial potential and began promoting the town as the geographic center of North America, and in 1932 built a 21-foot-tall rock obelisk marking the supposed spot. The town enforced its trademark for years, even threatening a legal action in the 1980s when Pierre, South Dakota, tried to stake a claim.

Niewoehner said the city dropped the ball by allowing the trademark to lapse. He said city officials are mulling what action, if any, can be taken.

Bender and his fellow tavern owners believe they can back up their claim. Through “barstool science,” they have concluded that global warming has melted the polar ice cap, moving the land mass south until North America’s centermost spot lies about in the center of their 45-foot-long bar.

“We’re pretty confident if you come in and have a beer you’ll see we can very well make the case,” he said.

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