44 Interesting Facts About Kentucky

Last updated on August 11th, 2019

Kentucky is the 26th most populous and the 37th most extensive of the 50 states of the United States. It lies in the east south-central region of the United States. Kentucky attained statehood on June 1, 1792, becoming the 15th state to join the union. It shares its border with seven bordering states (Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio.) See the full list of the 50 states and their borders here. Kentucky has 120 counties. The state’s capital is Frankfort. With these facts about “The Bluegrass State”, let us explore more about its history, geography, culture, people, economy and more.

1. The Kentucky Derby, held in Louisville, is the oldest horse race held continuously in the world. It is also the first and most famous leg of the Triple Crown.[1]

Kentucky State on the map
Kentucky (in red) on the map with bordering states.

2. The Kentucky Derby is held on the first Saturday in May. In the United States, it is known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” or “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” in reference to its approximate duration.[36]

3. Thomas Edison first introduced the public to the electric light bulb at the 1883 Southern Exposition, held in Louisville. According to some sources, more than 4,500 light bulbs were used to illuminate the exhibition at night, which constituted the largest display yet of Thomas Edison’s recently invented incandescent lights.[8]

Flag of Kentucky

Flag of Kentucky. Kentucky fact file
Flag of Kentucky. Image credit – Wikipedia.org

4. Every single Post-It note originates in Cynthiana, Kentucky.[16]

5. Vent Haven Museum, in Fort Mitchell, is the place where you can find the world’s largest collection of ventriloquist dummies.[34]

6. At the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Frankfort, a giant sundial’s shadow touches the name of each veteran on the date of the person’s death.[39]

7. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was famously born in Kentucky, but so was the other commander of the Civil War, Jefferson Davis. Hodgenville and Fairview, respectively, were their birthplaces. And interestingly, they both were born in log cabins.

8. Every Corvette in the world has been manufactured in Bowling Green since 1981. This manufacturing facility has produced over 1 million Corvettes since its startup. On June 1, 1981, the first Corvette was rolled out of the assembly line at the plant.[3]

Chevrolet Corvette 1981
Chevrolet Corvette from 1981. Image credit – Marcus Balcher

9. Mammoth Cave, located in Edmonson, Hart and Barren counties, is more than 400 miles long. The system was declared a World Heritage site on October 27, 1981. It is the longest cave system in the world, pretty much doubling up second place Sac Actun in Mexico.[4]

10. The Fort Knox Bullion Depository was completed in December 1936 at a cost of $560,000. The first gold was moved to the Depository by railroad in January 1937. No visitors are permitted into the facility and only one president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and one Congressional delegation in 1974 have been inside the vault.[37,38]

11. A lot of states have cities named Washington in honor of the first president of the United States, but Washington, Kentucky was the first.[5]

12. The War of 1812 was particularly tough on the state of Kentucky. Out of the roughly 2260 American deaths, more than half of them were from the state. It is estimated that 64 percent of Americans killed in the war were Kentuckians. It is often called the United States’ “forgotten war”.[6]

13. There are more miles of water for people to use in Kentucky than any other state, save for Alaska. Kentucky also has the greatest length of navigable waterways and streams in the continental 48 states. Kentucky features the two largest man-made lakes east of the Mississippi River and the nation’s most productive coalfield.[14]

14. Middlesboro has one of the most unique city origins in the United States. The city is built inside a crater created by a meteor.[7]

15. Mother’s Day can trace its origins to Henderson. Back in the 1880s, a teacher named Mary Wilson is credited for recognizing her mother on that day. Since 1916, it is an official holiday.[21]

16. Despite claims by others, Kaelin’s restaurant in Louisville stands by being the first to serve cheeseburgers in 1934.[19]

17. Kentucky actually started off as a county in the state of Virginia. The residents did not feel that they were properly being represented by the state though, and in 1792, it became its own state.[9]

18. Kentucky Fried Chicken originated in the Corbin, where Colonel Sanders developed the recipe that would launch one of the biggest fast food chains in the world.[2]

Birthplace of KFC
Birthplace of KFC. Image credit – Drew Tarvin

19. Governor William Goebel is the only acting governor in the United States to be assassinated. He was shot in front of the state capitol in Frankfort during a protest in 1900.[10]

20. Transylvania University, located in Lexington, is the oldest university that is west of the Allegheny Mountains. The school was officially chartered in 1780, and despite never growing into a huge school, it remains extremely selective.[11]

21. Bluegrass music officially took off thanks to Bill Monroe, born in Rosine. His unique style of playing string instruments, with quick picking and wailing, launched a new genre that is still popular in certain pockets of the United States.

22. Patty and Mildred Hill collaborated to write the tune to Happy Birthday. Although it took years for it to really take off, Happy Birthday is now one of the most well-known songs in the English language.[12]

23. There is actually part of Kentucky that is not attached to the rest of the state. About 17 square miles are located on the Mississippi River, connected to Tennessee. This weird part of the state is due to a surveying error. Known as the Kentucky Bend, just 17 people live in the area, and it is a 40-mile drive to actually get to the rest of the state.[13]

24. Anyone driving on I-75 has seen the water tower with “Florence Y’all” on it. While it has turned into an iconic feature of the city, with a local festival in its name even, it was originally meant to be an advertisement for the Florence Mall. The city prohibited advertisements that high, forcing a quick change in the text.

25. Kentucky has many lakes, but only three major lakes are natural. The rest were man-made throughout the years.[14]

26. Kentucky has the highest population of elk in the eastern part of the United States by far. With more than 11,000 elk currently roaming the state, the number is expected to continually increase after only being reintroduced to the state in the 1990s.[15]

27. Muhammad Ali (was a former heavyweight champion boxer and one of the greatest sporting figures of the 20th century) was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. The city now has a museum highlighting his life.[29,40]

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali. image credit – Joshi Bhavya

28. The World Peace Bell, which is one of the largest free-swinging bells in the world, is displayed in Newport, Kentucky.[17]

29. Covington’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption has a lot of eye-catching displays and architecture, but none bigger than their rendition of the Council of Ephesus. It is the largest hand blown glass window in the world, spanning 24 feet wide and 67 feet high. A total of 82 stained glass windows are in the church.[18]

30. Roughly half of the state is covered in forests. That makes it one of the largest providers of hardwoods in the United States.

31. Louisville is constantly being pronounced in different ways around the world. The most common way locals say it is “looavull” or “luhvul.” Anything else is going to get weird looks.[30]

32. Years ago, Fleming County picked up the nickname “Covered Bridge Capital of Kentucky“. Although most have been demolished, a handful still remains in the lightly populated county.[20]

33. Man o’ War, one of the most recognized Kentucky-bred horses of all-time, never actually raced in the state of his birth.[22]

34. When Kentucky became the 15th state, it was the first in the western frontier.

35. Vanceburg is the only city south of the Ohio River with a monument dedicated to deceased Union soldiers. Despite being south of the Mason-Dixon line, the Union had a stronghold on Lewis County.

Kentucky on the map

36. The radio is credited by some to Guglielmo Marconi, but Nathan Stubblefield of Murray actually invented it three years before the claim by the Italian.[23]

37. The oldest vice president in the history of the United States is Alben Barkley, who was 71 years old when he entered office in 1949. He was born in Lowes, Kentucky.[24,25]

38. The Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville is considered to be one of the best baseball museums in the world outside of Cooperstown. The huge replica bat attached to the museum itself is 120 feet tall and weighs 68,000 pounds.[28]

39. Did you know that a pro baseball player will order some 120 bats a season?[35]

40. Cumberland Falls is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where a person can spot a moonbow. This unique rainbow is formed from light bouncing off the moon during the night time. Every full moon (and near full moon nights), the moonbow can be seen.[26]

41. The Mega Cavern is one of the more unique limestone mines in the United States. It has a number of support structures that actually qualify it as a building (largest in Kentucky). From tours to storage, the area has a number of uses throughout the year.[27]

42. Black Mountain is the highest point in Kentucky at 4,145 feet above sea level. People can climb to the summit near Paducah, as long as they sign a waiver beforehand.[33]

43. Daniel Boone, the legendary frontiersman, is buried in Frankfort. His grave is still a popular tourist destination.[32]

44. Louisville is a city with a lot of history, including a Victorian preservation district that is the largest in the United States. The facades of those homes are still standing to this day.[31]

Kentucky – quick facts and state symbols

State AbbreviationKY
NoteClick on the previous/next link below to see more table entries.
State CapitalFrankfort
Largest CityLouisville
State SizeTotal (Land + Water): 40,409 sq miles; Land Only: 39,728 sq miles
Population
4,468,402
(Estimate July 1, 2018 from United States Census Bureau)
StatehoodJune 1, 1792
State rank by population26th
State rank by date of formation15th
State rank by area37th
Number of Counties120
DemonymKentuckian
Bordering StatesIllinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia
Official LanguageEnglish
Highest PointBlack Mountain[3][4]
4,145 ft (1263 m)
Lowest pointMississippi River at Kentucky Bend
257 ft (78 m)
Mean elevation750 feet above sea level
Length 379 miles (610 km)
Width170 miles (250 km)
GovernorMatt Bevin (R)
Lieutenant GovernorJenean Hampton (R)
Electoral Votes8
State MottoUnited we stand, divided we fall
State NicknameBluegrass State
% Water1.7
Noble prize winnersThomas H. Morgan (Physiology or Medicine, 1933)
Phillip A. Sharp (Physiology or Medicine, 1993)
Robert H. Grubbs (Chemistry, 2005)
Famous peopleDermontti Dawson (Pro Football player)
Jim Bunning (Baseball player)
Arnie Risen (Basketball player)
Johnny Depp (Actor)
Joan Osborne (Singer)
U.S. President Born in Kentucky1. Abraham Lincoln.
State HorseThoroughbred
State TreeTulip Poplar
State Flag

Flag of Kentucky

State seal

Seal of Kentucky.svg

State coat of arms

Kentucky state coat of arms (illustrated, 1876).jpg

State quarter

Kentucky quarter

State Wild animal game speciesEastern gray squirrel

Eastern grey squirrell

State BirdCardinal

Cardinal

State ButterflyViceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly.jpg

State fishSpotted bass

Micropterus punctulatus.jpg

State fruitBlackberry

Ripe, ripening, and green blackberries.jpg

State FlowerGoldenrod

Goldenrod

State FossilBrachiopod

Chonetes coronatus - Kashong shale
State GemstoneFreshwater Pearl

Snow Peas
InsectHoney bee

Bee1web.jpg

State mineralCoal

Coal

State RockKentucky Agate

Agate banded 750pix.jpg

Longitude81° 58′ W to 89° 34′ W
Latitude36° 30′ N to 39° 09′ N
Time ZoneEastern Time Zone, Central Time Zone
Websitekentucky.gov
Area Codes270, 364, 502, 606, 859
Table last updated14th May, 2019