41 Interesting Facts About Tennessee

Last updated on April 30th, 2023

Tennessee is the 15th most populous and the 36th most extensive of the 50 states of the U.S. It is located in the southeastern region of the United States. The state attained statehood on June 1, 1796, becoming the 16th state to join the union. Its eight bordering states are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. Tennessee and Missouri each share border with eight statesTennessee (nicknamed: Butternut State, Volunteer State) has 95 counties. The state’s capital is Nashville. The abbreviation for Tennessee is TN

Facts about Tennessee

1. The Montgomery Bell Tunnel in Kingston Springs, Tennessee was the United States’ first successful water diversion tunnel. It was built in the 19th century with the help of slave labor and black powder.[22] 

2. The world’s tallest tree house built by Minister Horace Burgess is in Crossville, TN. The house is about 100 feet tall and has an estimated area of 10,000 square feet. The house is built from recycled material. The entire house is open to the public. The structure is put together with the help of some 250,000 nails.[17,18]

Tennessee on the map with bordering states.

Tennessee on the map
Tennessee (in red) on the map with bordering states.

3. Ernest Holmes, of Chattanooga, invented the tow truck in 1916. This place also has the world’s largest tow truck factory. The town has the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame Museum to preserve its history and honor its champions.[19]

Graceland in Memphis. The mansion was built in 1939 but later bought by Elvis Presley who lived here from 1957-1977.
Graceland in Memphis. The mansion was built in 1939 but later bought by Elvis Presley who lived here from 1957-1977.

4. Elvis Presley’s (the “King of Rock and Roll”) house, Graceland, Tennessee is the second most visited house museum in the U.S. after the White House. The house museum sees over 600,000 visitors a year.[4]

5. Josephine Myrtle Corbin, a four-legged woman born in Tennessee in 1868 had two pelvises side by side. She married, had kids and died unfortunately because of a leg infection.[1]

6. The Grand Ole Opry holds the title as the longest radio show in the U.S. history.

7. According to some sources, Tennessee was named after the Tennessee River, which was named for the Indian word “Tanasie,” the name of a Cherokee village.

Palomino Tennessee walking horse gait.
Tennessee facts: Palomino Tennessee walking horse gait. Credit: aleigha blakley

8. The Tennessee walking horse is a breed of gaited horse known for its unique four-beat running-walk and flashy movement. The breed of the horse is popular for trail and pleasure riding as well as show.[9]

9. Did you know that the two attorneys from Chattanooga, Tennessee built a business around bottling Coca-Cola and obtained the right for the same for $1? This was the first attempt to bottle the beverage which was until then sold through fountains for 5 cents a glass in 1886.[10]

10. Kingston, Tennessee was the state capital for just one day. This an interesting Tennessee fact that you can share with your friends and family.

11. Did you know that Tennessee has the most state songs, with 9 official state songs and an official bicentennial rap?[15]

12. Wilma Rudolph, an African-American sprinter from Tennessee, won three gold medals in 1960 Olympic Games in Track and Field. She suffered with several childhood illnesses including pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio (infantile paralysis) at the age of five. However, with her strong determination, and the support of the doctors and her family, she was able to walk unassisted once again, and compete and win medals in the Olympics.[13]

13. Did you know that Nashville, the largest city in Tennessee was founded on a Christmas Eve in 1779?[26]

14. Nashville was historically nicknamed as the “Athens of the South.”

the AT&T Building (The Batman building).
Tennessee facts: traffic in motion at an intersection on Broadway looking towards the AT&T Building (The Batman building).

15. The 33-story AT&T building, known around the world as the “Batman Building,” is the tallest skyscraper in Tennessee.[26] 

16. Nashville hosts Tin Pan South, the largest songwriter’s festival in the world.[26] 

17. While she was still a student at Tennessee State University, Oprah Winfrey got her start as the first female African-American news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.[26] 

Historical facts about Tennessee

18. Did you know that a whopping 38 battles during the Civil War were fought on the soil of Tennessee? Only more battles have been fought in Virginia than in Tennessee.

19. By about 1860, one in four people in Tennessee were slaves. Slavery at the time was a very harsh system in the society and the slaves had few legal rights.[2]

20. Did you know that the revolutionary Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee? On April 4, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The leader played a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement and he also won a Nobel Peace Prize. King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.[3]

21. Before the arrival of the Europeans in the state, the land was settled by the Cherokee and Chickasaw Native American tribes.[8]

22. Nicknamed “Music City“, Nashville, Tennessee became popular for country music in the 1920s. Since then the city has been known as the country music capital of the world.[8]

23. It is an interesting fact to note here that the grave of the 11th president of the United States (James K. Polk) is not in some national monument or a cemetery, but it lies on the grounds of the state’s capitol. Both the president and his wife were buried at Polk Palace but their remains were subsequently transferred to the grounds of Tennessee State Capitol in 1893.[23] 

Geographical facts about Tennessee

24. Did you know that Tennessee is home to the most caves on record of any U.S. state? According to the Tennessee Cave Survey, the state has more than 10,000 caves that account to 20% of all known caves in the country. Interestingly, more than 90% of the caves are located on private property. All these caves have unique resources of some type. For instance, bats eat a lot of insects in the summers and are a farmer’s best friend. The value of bats to Tennessee agriculture is estimated to be above $313 million annually. According to Bat Conservation International, bats make up one-fifth of the mammal population on Earth.[6,28,29]

25. The highest temperature ever recorded in Tennessee was 113 degree Fahrenheit. It was recorded on August 29, 1930.[7]

26. The state is divided into three grand divisions: East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The eastern part of the state is dominated by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. Middle Tennessee has level, fertile land which is interrupted by gently rolling hills. Nashville lies in this region. This is a balanced agricultural and commercial region. And the west is mainly flat with fertile soil.[5]

27. Tennessee is one of the sixteen singly landlocked states in the U.S. with routes to their nearest ocean, gulf, or bay. The other fifteen states are: Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia. The District of Colombia is also a singly landlocked region of the United States.[20] 

Tennessee on the map


28. Other than the eight states that border Tennessee, Illinois is the next closest to the volunteer state. It is a 46-mile drive from the Obion County community of South Fulton to Cairo, Ill.

29. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. attracting almost twice the number of visitors compared to the second most popular park (Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona) in the U.S. The Great Smoky Mountains are known as the “Salamander Capital of the World,” and the park alone has 30 different species.[11,27]

30. Tennessee is also known as the Volunteer state because of its contribution of Volunteers during the War of 1812.

31. The Lost Sea, in nearby Sweetwater, TN is the largest underwater lake in America.[12]

32. Earthquakes in the winter of 1811-12 lead to the formation of Reelfoot Lake. The lake’s name comes from a legend about a 19th-century Chickasaw Indian chief who was called Reelfoot because he had a deformed foot.[14]

Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
Tennessee facts: Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. This building, built with Greek Revival style in 1845, is now the home of Tennessee legislature and governor’s office.

33. Did you know that the architect of the Tennessee State Capitol, William Strickland, is buried within the walls of the Tennessee State Capitol? This was done to his body based on his will.[16]

34. Memphis is the second largest city in Tennessee and the largest city (by population) on the Mississippi River. It is also the 26th largest city in the United States.

35. Did you know that the farmland covers about 44% of the state of Tennessee? Soybeans is the state’s number one agricultural commodity and is planted on more acres than any other row crop in the state. Tennessee is one of the top beef producing states in the U.S. as beef cattle are produced in every county of the state.[21]

About the Tennessee River

36. The Tennessee River is the longest tributary of the Ohio River. It is formed by the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers, just east of Knoxville, Tennessee, and at the end joins with the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky.[24]

37. The river is a part of the country’s Inland Waterway System as well as the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.[24]

38. The river is located in the Tennessee Valley and is 652 miles in length. In the past, the river was known as the Cherokee River. Navigation of the Tennessee River plays an important role in the economic development of the Tennessee Valley.[24]

39. The river is one of the major waterways of the southeastern United States.[25]

40. Today, over 28,000 barges carry 45 to 50 million tons of goods up and down the Tennessee River annually. Note that, 1 Barge = 60 Semi-Trucks or 15 Rail cars. Now you can estimate the economic significance of the rivers like the Tennessee and others. A reliable and inexpensive river routes makes possible cheaper and quicker transportation of goods to the other parts of the country.[24]

41. Did you know that it is possible to raise or lower barges and boats from one water level to the next? This is accomplished with the help of nine main and four auxiliary locks on the Tennessee River. These locks that work much like an elevator make it possible for both commercial and recreational vessels to pass from one reservoir to another.[24]

The flag of Tennessee

Flag of Tennessee
Image in Public Domain

About the Flag of Tennessee

1. Design and Symbolism

The flag of Tennessee has three stars in a blue circle, surrounded by a white border for contrast. This emblem is at the center of a red field. Narrow strips of blue and white run vertically along the free edge.

The stars represent the Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West Tennessee. These regions are roughly the same size but have different cultures, economies, and terrains.

The circle represents unity despite differences. The blue bar? Solely there for design flair. It breaks the monotony of the red background and increases the visual appeal.

Tennessee was one of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Observers note similarities between the flags of Tennessee and the Confederacy, including the colors and the stars. However, there is no evidence that the designer did this on purpose.

2. Adoption and Revision

Colonel Le Roy Reeves designed the current Tri-Star Flag. Tennessee adopted it as the state flag over a century ago, on April 17, 1905.

3. Technical Details

A lot of people get it wrong. For a faithful reproduction, keep the proportion at 3:5. Place the blue band away from the pole.

Use three 5-pointed stars of the same size. Arrange them such that one is higher than the others. Place it near the side of the flag pole.

If you connect the center of these stars, you should get a triangle with equal sides. None of these sides should be parallel to the edges of the rectangular flag.

Each star should have one tip pointing to the center of the circle. Place this emblem in the middle of the red field, not the whole flag. The blue band creates a slight offset.

4. History

Tennessee was in the middle of creating a state flag in 1861 when the American Civil War broke out. People quickly shifted their focus and forgot about the project.

In 1897, the state finally adopted a flag with traditional US colors: red, blue, and white. It had three slanted bars to represent each region. The white bar had the number 16, indicating the order of state admission into the union. On the blue bar were the words “The Volunteer State.”

In 1905, the Tennessee General Assembly scrapped the old flag in favor of a new design by Col. Le Roy Reeves. He was an attorney in Johnson City who served in the state National Guard.

5. Other Tennessee Flags

In 1861, the first proposed state flag had three bands: red, white, and red. On the upper left is an emblem with the words Agriculture and Commerce. It had illustrations of plants and a ship.

In 1939, the Adjutant General asked the US War Department to design a flag for the Tennessee governor. It features the crest of the TN National Guard: three stars on a tree. Four other stars sit near the corners of a scarlet background.

In 1978, the Tennessee General Assembly accepted flag submissions from students across the state. They chose a white flag with narrow horizontal bands of blue and red at the edges. In the middle are three co-linear stars, with the middle star decorated by a gavel and wheat.

6. Known Errors

Be careful with the flags! In 1976, the US Postal Service issued a sheet of stamps featuring state flags. Collectors immediately spotted an error: the Tennessee flag was upside down.

Tennessee – quick facts and state symbols

State AbbreviationTN
State CapitalNashville
Largest CityNashville
State SizeTotal (Land + Water): 42,143 sq miles; Land Only: 41,217 sq miles
(Estimate July 1, 2022 from United States Census Bureau)
StatehoodJune 1, 1796
State rank by population15th
State rank by date of formation16th
State rank by area36th
Number of Counties95
Bordering StatesAlabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia
Official LanguageEnglish
Highest PointClingmans Dome
6,643 ft (2025 m)
Lowest pointMississippi River at Mississippi border
178 ft (54 m)
Mean elevation900 feet above sea level
Length 440 miles (710 km)
Width120 miles (195 km)
GovernorBill Lee (R)
Lieutenant GovernorRandy McNally (R)
Electoral Votes11
State MottoAgriculture and Commerce
State NicknameVolunteer State
% Water2.2
Nobel Prize WinnersCordell Hull (Peace, 1945)
James M. Buchanan Jr. (Economic Sciences, 1986)
Famous peopleClaude Humphrey (Pro Football Player)
Turkey Stearnes (Baseball Player)
Bailey Howell (Basketball Player)
Megan Fox (Actress)
Miley Cyrus (Singer)
State petRescued Dog or Cat
State commercial fishChannel catfish
State ReptileEastern box turtle
State FlowerPassion Flower
State FossilPterotrigonia
State TreeYellowwood Tree
Longitude81° 39′ W to 90° 19′ W
Latitude34° 59′ N to 36° 41′ N
Time ZoneEastern Time Zone, Central Time Zone
Area Codes423, 615, 731, 865, 901, 931
Table last updatedApril 27, 2023