If you thought Kentucky was all about fried chicken, horse racing, and bluegrass music, I’m going to surprise you with a whole host of Kentucky facts, legends, and stories that will delight you and hopefully get you to come and explore this amazing state!
Our journey of discovery will uncover all kinds of interesting facts about Kentucky, from its earliest days to its present-day attractions and everything in between, including some famous sons and daughters of the state and some pretty weird tales, too.
So even if you’re not into the Colonel’s chicken, and bluegrass is your least favorite music genre, buckle up and join us for the next few minutes as I uncover as many Kentucky facts as I can find.
26 Kentucky Facts: Fun Facts About Kentucky You Need To Know
1. The First Interesting Fact About Kentucky Is Its Name
Usually, the name of a state has a pretty clear origin, but that’s not the case with Kentucky.
It’s definitely rooted in the history of Native Americans, but there’s debate whether it stems from the Iroquois word “ken-tah-ten,” meaning “land of tomorrow,” or from the Wyandotte word “kentake,” which means “meadowland.”
Other possibilities exist, too, including that the state’s name is derived from a Shawnee word meaning “head of a river” and that the Kentucky River was first named, followed by the state.
Even the spelling of the name has evolved from Cantuckey, Kaintuckee, and Kentuckee to Kentucke, Kentake, and Kentuck to finally settle (for the present anyway) in Kentucky.
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2. Kentucky Is The Bluegrass State, But The Grass Is Green
There is an area of about 8,000 square miles in Central Kentucky, where blue grass was first seen by early pioneers.
In the spring sun, the purple seedheads of poa pratensis grass gave the fields a blue-green hue, and so the legend was born.
Today, the Bluegrass Region of the state is home to bluegrass music, bluegrass cuisine, and the bluegrass lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the lawns in all the homes in Kentucky and the rest of the U.S. where bluegrass is grown remain stubbornly green because the blue seedheads disappear into the lawnmower.
3. There Are A Few Other Nicknames And Mottoes For Kentucky
One of the Kentucky facts most people are aware of is that there are several alternative state names.
While it’s called The Bluegrass State in tourist brochures, it has also been dubbed The Tobacco State (it grows a lot of tobacco), The Hemp State (it grows that, too), and The Rock-Ribbed State, recognizing the firm resolve of Kentuckians.
As far as mottoes go, the state’s official motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” but a strong contender that’s gaining in popularity is “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”
4. The Official Song of Kentucky Isn’t So Authentic
Here’s one of the Kentucky facts that is, on the surface, fun but has darker undertones.
The official state song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” was written by America’s first professional songwriter, Stephen Foster, in 1852, but he was Pennsylvania-born and raised and only set foot here once, briefly, to visit relatives (and even that visit is doubted).
The song has been sung every year at the Derby, a horse race in Churchill Downs, and has become its anthem.
But given the state’s history, it’s one of the interesting facts about Kentucky worth noting – It was written as an anti-slavery song and has some racist terms and lyrics in the original version, which are never sung today.
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5. The Kentucky Derby Impresses In Many Ways
As one of the most prestigious horseraces in the world, the Kentucky Derby has set some impressive records:
- It is the longest continuously running sports event in the United States, the first held in 1875, and has never been canceled.
- The runners’ names in the race cover every letter of the alphabet except X.
- About 120,000 mint juleps, the traditional Kentucky Derby drink, are served every year over the two days of the Derby.
- The winning owner receives a solid 14-carat gold trophy, and a garland of over 400 red roses is draped over the winning horse.
- The Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, and this has been the case every year since 1875, except in 1945, when it was postponed because of a World War 2 ban on horseracing, and in 2020, due to the Covid epidemic.
6. Kentucky is Landlocked, But There’s Water Everywhere
Another of the many Kentucky facts about its geography is that it is the only state with rivers forming the state boundary on three sides, with the Ohio River forming the entire northern boundary, the Mississippi River to the west, and the Big Sandy and Tug Fork Rivers in the east.
There are thirteen major river basins in Kentucky, with a total of over 90,000 miles of waterways.
Many of these are small streams, but the state nevertheless can boast more than 1,100 commercially navigable miles of water, more than any other state except Alaska.
And talking of being landlocked, one of the more interesting facts about Kentucky is that it is uniquely surrounded by seven different states, second only to Missouri and Tennessee, which both have eight neighboring states.
To change direction, let’s look at several Kentucky fun facts that revolve around food, a category in which the state can boast a few fascinating firsts.
7. Kentucky Really Is The Birthplace of KFC
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, after a very checkered career, Colonel Harland Sanders opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet at a gas station he ran in Corbin, Kentucky.
Four years later, he moved the restaurant to a motel that he bought, and after it burned to the ground, he rebuilt and ran it until World War II forced him to close down.
After the war and after repeated rejections, Sanders succeeded in franchising his recipe.
When he died at the age of 90, there were around 6,000 KFC locations in 48 countries. By 2022, that figure had risen to at least 25,000 outlets in 147 countries.
8. The Cheeseburger Was Invented In Kentucky–Or Was It?
September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day, but the origin of the cheeseburger is shrouded in controversy.
Some say the first cheeseburger was made by a Californian, 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger, in 1924 at his father’s sandwich shop, the Rite Spot, in Pasadena, CA.
However, at the Rite Spot, it was called the ‘cheese hamburger”. The first hamburger to be called a cheeseburger was created in Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, in 1934 by Charles Kaelin.
But that’s not the end of the cheeseburger saga, as Kaelin didn’t trademark the name.
Instead, Louis Ballast of Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver trademarked the name “cheeseburger” in 1935.
9. The Hot Brown Is Kentucky’s Favorite Sandwich
Another in our list of Kentucky fun facts — the Hot Brown, an open turkey sandwich with a mornay sauce, was initially created by Fred K. Schmidt at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926.
It’s become world-famous and an icon of Kentucky cuisine, featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, and many of the world’s finest cookbooks.
10. The Law In Kentucky Can Be An Ass
Fun facts about Kentucky sometimes involve laws that should have disappeared from the statute books years ago but still remain.
- Every citizen is required to bathe or shower once each year.
- It’s deemed illegal to marry the same man more than three times. Whether the same applies to marrying a woman is unclear.
- In Owensboro, a woman is prohibited from buying a hat without her husband’s permission.
- If you wear a bikini and weigh between 90 and 199 lbs, you need police protection to walk along a Kentucky highway.
- You may not bring reptiles to church services.
11. The State Motto And The Governor Of Kentucky
While this may not have been intended, the state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” ties in quite aptly with a Kentucky law that stipulates that before taking office, the governors have to take an oath that they have never fought a duel with deadly weapons.
12. This Law Has Passed Into History
Hangings were once public events in the U.S., but fortunately, that is no longer the case.
The last public hanging took place in Owensboro, KY, on August 14, 1936, when Rainey Bethea was publicly hanged for rape.
13. A Kentuckian Invented Three-Phase Traffic Lights
Garrett Morgan, an African-American inventor, spent much of his adult life in Cleveland but was born and educated in Kentucky.
Having witnessed an accident between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, he included a third “all stop” phase in an improved traffic light.
He patented the product in 1923, not only in the U.S. but also in Canada and England.
Maybe those of us who’ve been caught traveling through an intersection on amber may not be too delighted. Still, the fact remains the invention has saved countless lives.
14. The “Happy Birthday” Song Never Sounded So Good
In 1893, two Kentucky sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill, wrote the melody, now sung at birthday parties throughout America and abroad.
The tune was initially for a school song, “Good Morning To All,” but was adapted in 1910 by an unknown songwriter who released the “Happy Birthday” song without acknowledging the Hill sisters.
This situation lasted for decades, but thanks to their sister, Patty and Mildred eventually earned millions, which went to a foundation set up by the two spinsters.
The song, and the rights to it, has subsequently been bought and sold several times and continues to earn hefty royalties.
15. Mother’s Day in America Was Birthed In Kentucky
Mothers have been honored since ancient Greek times but never officially recognized in America with a National Day.
For many years, Kentucky teacher Mary Towles Sasseen campaigned for official recognition of Mother’s Day and is considered the founder, having traveled widely in her efforts.
Ironically, this pioneer of Mother’s Day died in childbirth in 1906, and only a year later, the activist Anna Jarvis began her campaign to further the cause.
Within three years, many states were celebrating Mother’s Day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May National Mother’s Day.
16. A Kentuckian Invented The Radio
Who said Marconi invented the radio? Most people learned this “fact” in school, but the honor belongs to a Kentuckian, Nathan B. Stubblefield.
Born and raised in Murray, Kentucky, Stubblefield described himself as a farmer, fruit grower, and electrician, but he was also a gifted inventor.
In 1892, he was able to demonstrate the first radio broadcast successfully and was begged to patent his invention.
He refused, saying he first wanted to perfect it, and three years later, Marconi patented his own version.
Stubblefield was considered an eccentric and defrauded of his interests in the company developing his inventions. He eventually lost his home and all his possessions.
One of the saddest Kentucky facts that few know is that he died of starvation in his wooden shack on March 25, 1928, and was only discovered three days later.
17. Fort Knox Still Holds Billions Of Dollars In Gold Bullion
Fort Knox is a military establishment on 109 acres, 30 miles southwest of Louisville, Kentucky.
Half of the United States gold reserves are stored in the Bullion Depository; while very few people know the layout of the building, if you’re looking for interesting facts about Kentucky to impress your friends, you can tell them it’s constructed of over 16,000 cubic feet of granite, 750 tons of reinforced steel, and 670 tons of structural steel. The expression “safe as Fort Knox” says it all.
18. Kentucky Has More Whiskey Than People
One of the tastiest Kentucky facts that takes some swallowing (literally) is that there are more barrels of bourbon in the state than there are people – 4.7 million, to be precise, with 95% of the world’s bourbon produced in the state.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Bourbon is made in the oldest continuously running distillery in the country, with a history stretching back over 200 years, with a total of 95 bourbon distilleries in Kentucky alone.
Also, the liquor was named after Bourbon County, where it was produced.
19. Kentucky Is The Birthplace of Two Presidents and The Home Of A Third
Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born and raised in Kentucky. Zachary Taylor moved to the state with his parents as a baby.
All three were deeply influenced by their upbringings; Lincoln raised in a log cabin with little formal education, and Jefferson the son of wealthy plantation owners.
Lincoln and Davis were presidents at the same time, Lincoln leading the Union and Davis the Confederate states, so they were leaders in conflict with one another.
Zachary Taylor, as the 12th president, preceded Lincoln, but an interesting fact is that his daughter was married to Davis briefly before his death.
20. Muhammed Ali Was Born In Kentucky
Possibly one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali, was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nicknamed “The Greatest” by himself and countless admirers worldwide, he was a gold medal winner at the 1960 Olympics and a three-time world heavyweight champion.
A controversial figure at times, he refused induction into the U.S. Army on religious grounds and was banned from boxing for over three years.
As Muhammad Ali, he continued to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” until his last fight in 1981.
21. Post-Its Were Invented In Kentucky
One of those “hard to believe” fun facts about Kentucky is that Post-its were invented by accident!
When an experiment to create a super-adhesive instead resulted in a peel-off glue, Post-its were born.
Today, and since 1968, they’re manufactured by 3M in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and found on the refrigerator door and schoolbooks in almost every home in America.
22. Corvettes Are Created In Kentucky
Pardon the alliteration, but it’s one of those lyrical Kentucky facts (for car lovers, anyway).
Chevrolet used to produce the Corvette in Flint, Michigan, but since 1981, they all now come out of the plant in Bowling Green, KY.
And for President Biden and other Corvette fans, a visit to the Corvette Museum in the town is a must.
23. There’s More Than Sunbeams In Kentucky
Have you ever seen a moonbeam? Well, of all the fun facts about Kentucky, this is worth noting – you’ll be able to view this unique phenomenon just south of Corbin, where the Cumberland Waterfall is the only one in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbeam is displayed regularly.
The Cumberland Falls are known as the Niagara of the South, and the moonbeams can be relied on to appear on two or three days either side of a full moon.
The only comparable site is the Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambia border.
24. Famous People Were Born In Kentucky
No list of Kentucky facts would be complete without naming-dropping. There’s quite a list of people, apart from those I’ve mentioned already, who are part of Kentucky’s Hall of Fame:
- Daniel Boone – was born in Pennsylvania but is renowned for his exploration and settlement of Kentucky, where he’s buried.
- Johnny Depp – Academy and Golden Globe award-winning actor, born in Owensboro, KY
- Jennifer Lawrence – actress in action movies and independent productions, born in Indian Hills, KY
- George Clooney – actor, filmmaker, and tequila billionaire, born in Lexington, KY
- Billy Ray Cyrus – singer/songwriter, composed Achy Breaky Heart, but I’ll forgive him. Born Flatwoods KY
- Loretta Lynn – country singer/songwriter with a successful career spanning six decades. Born Butcher Hollow, KY
25. Some State Symbols Are More Productive Than Others
This may be one of those obscure Kentucky fun facts, but it’s one that will please conservationists.
The state fish, the Kentucky Spotted Bass, is capable of laying 47,000 eggs at a time. So, there’s no chance of them being listed on the Endangered Species list!
26. Bluegrass Goes Hand In Hand With Kentucky
- Kentuckian Bill Monroe, born in 1911, is acknowledged as the father of bluegrass music, having formed “The Blue Grass Boys” band in 1938. They performed for 58 years until Bill’s death in 1996.
- The state dance of Kentucky is bluegrass clogging, proclaimed in 2006, and a feature of Appalachian folk culture.
- Bluegrass is rooted in Scottish, Irish, and English folk music. Still, it is quintessentially American and, particularly, the sound of Kentucky.
Quick Fun Facts About Kentucky
Kentucky borders Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is not only the longest-known cave system in North America but also in the world, with more than 400 miles explored.
Black Mountain is the highest summit in Kentucky at an elevation of 4,145 feet.
Pike County, the world’s largest producer of coal, is famous for the Hatfield-McCoy feud, an Appalachian vendetta that lasted from the Civil War to the 1890s.
That concludes our post for today! I hope you enjoyed exploring these fascinating details about Kentucky. Remember to spread the word about this article on your social media. Also, if you’re aware of any other intriguing facts about Kentucky, feel free to share them in the comments. I’m eager to hear from you!
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