90 Keen Facts About Kentucky

The US state of Kentucky is famous for the Kentucky Derby, bourbon, and (how could we forget?) Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Below you’ll find out what else “The Bluegrass State” is known for with these fascinating and fun Kentucky Facts!

General Kentucky Facts

  • Kentucky state lies at the northern end of the Southeastern United States.
  • Kentucky is the only state that has rivers defining its borders on three sides: the Ohio River on the north, Mississippi on the west, and the Big Sandy and Tug Fork Rivers on the east.
  • Kentucky is 40,408 mi² (104,656 km²) in size, the 14th smallest state of the US. It is between Tennessee and Indiana in terms of size.
  • It is similar in size to Iceland, or twice as large as Costa Rica.
  • Kentucky has 120 counties, the 4th most of any state.
  • The state is home to 4.5 million people, ranking 26th in the US. It sits between Louisiana and Oregon in population size.
  • The Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Shawnee were the original inhabitants of Kentucky. Today, indigenous people represent only 0.2% of the population.
View of Kentucky State Capitol building on a hill surrounded by trees in Frankfort with orange sky
The Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort
  • The capital city of Kentucky is Frankfort. It is home to a mere 28,600 people, making it the 4th smallest state capital, after the capitals of Vermont, South Dakota, and Maine.
  • The largest city in Kentucky by far is Louisville. It is in the state’s north, with part of the greater metropolitan area spilling across the Ohio River into southern Indiana. It is home to 633,000 people (metro 1.4 million), making it the 29th largest city (43rd largest metro area) in the US.
  • The only other city in Kentucky with more than 100,000 people is Lexington, with 300,000 people.
  • The state is officially called the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Of the four states called commonwealths, Kentucky is the only one that wasn’t one of the original 13 colonies. (The other three “commonwealth” states are Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
  • There are several theories about the origin of the state’s name. Some believe that Kentucky is derived from the Wyandotte word kentahthe, which means “land of tomorrow”, or the Iroquois word kentake which means “meadow land”.
A bridge across the river leading to downtown Louisville lit up at night
The Ohio River in Louisville
  • The state was once known as Cantuckey, Kentucke, and Kaintuckee during the early pioneer times.
  • People from Kentucky are called Kentuckians, Kentuckers and Kentuckeyites.
  • Kentucky’s nickname is “The Bluegrass State”. (Fun fact: bluegrass is actually green. Bluegrass only produces bluish purple buds in spring, which gives it a blue appearance when seen in large fields from afar).
  • Other unofficial nicknames are “Corn Cracker State”, “Hemp State”, and “Tobacco State”.
  • The official tourism slogan for Kentucky is “Unbridled Spirit”, but there has been an enthusiastic effort to replace it with “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”
  • The official state motto is “United We Stand, United We Fall.”
  • The abbreviation for Kentucky is KY.
The state flag of Kentucky
The Kentucky state flag
  • The Kentucky state flag has the state seal on a blue background, surrounded by sprigs of goldenrod, the state flower. The seal shows a pioneer (some believe Daniel Boone) and a statesman (some believe Henry Clay) embracing.
  • Kentucky’s state gemstone is the freshwater pearl, which is found in the Tennessee and Mississippi River Valleys in the state.
  • The official state dance is clogging, in which dancers use the bottoms of their shoes to play a beat on the ground.
  • The state drink is milk, which is the same as 21 other US states.

Random Interesting Facts About Kentucky

  • The capital Frankfort got its name because it was the spot where Stephen Frank had been killed, and people later forded the river (Frank + ford).
  • There are several ways to pronounce Louisville, but locals usually say it like “Loo-a-ville” (not “Loo-ey-ville” or “Louis-ville”).
Two shot glasses of bourbon on a wooden table with a dark background
Kentucky’s famous bourbon
  • There are over 10 million barrels of bourbon currently aging in Kentucky, more than two for every person in the state. The drink was first distilled there in the late 1700s. Over 95% of bourbon is produced in the state.
  • There’s even a Bourbon County in Kentucky, while the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown features the world’s largest bourbon barrel (tours no longer offered). The town also has an annual Bourbon Festival and is considered the “bourbon capital of the world.”
  • There is one national park in Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park. With 400 mi (640 km) of caves, it is the world’s longest cave system. The caves are home to bats, shrimp, salamanders, and more. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
Stalactites in a dark cave in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park
  • There are two national monuments in Kentucky: Camp Nelson (a Union Army station in the Civil War and recruitment center for African American Union soldiers) and Mill Springs Battlefield (where the Union won a battle in 1862).
  • Kentucky is also home to a giant fork (called “Fork in the Road” in Franklin), cow with glasses in Guthrie, and a huge replica of the biblical ark called Ark Encounter in Williamstown.
Aerial view of Middlesboro city and a river valley
Middlesboro city is built inside a huge crater
  • The only city to be built inside a meteor crater in the US is Middlesboro, Kentucky.
  • The state has more miles of river than any other besides Alaska, around 90,000 miles worth in total.
  • Black Mountain is the highest point in Kentucky, at 4139 ft (1262 m). The Mississippi River is the lowest point, at 257 ft (78 m).
  • Kentucky’s all-time highest temperature was 114°F (45.5°C) on July 28, 1930 in Greensburg. The lowest was -37°F (-38.3°C) on January 19, 1994 in Shelbyville.
  • Kentucky is home to the US Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, a huge fortified vault containing 4,580 metric tons of gold bullion, over half of the country’s total reserve.
  • Kentucky is the second-largest tobacco producing state after North Carolina.
A tobacco farm, with green tobacco plants in the foreground, and a gray barn in the background
Kentucky is a major tobacco producer.
  • Kentuckians are also the country’s top smokers, with 28.8% of men and 27.8% of women puffing daily.
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Kentucky is the largest Toyota factory in the US, capable of producing a million cars every two years.
  • Barren County is the best place for agriculture as it has some of the most fertile soil in the country. At one point, the county was dubbed “rural America’s best place to live” by Progressive Farmer magazine.
  • The oldest horse race to be held continuously in the world is the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. In fact, it’s the most famous and first leg of the Triple Crown (the other two legs are in Maryland and New York State).
Close up of horse hooves standing on a muddy race track
Hooves on a muddy track at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby
  • The derby is also called “the fastest two minutes in sports” and “the most exciting two minutes in sports”.
  • In part because of the derby, Kentucky is considered the horse capital of the world, and Louisville is called “Derby City”.
  • The Kentucky Derby isn’t just the “fastest” sport, it can also be considered the most profitable. 150 million dollars were bet on the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May 2018.
  • A traditional Derby dessert is the Kentucky Derby Pie, which is filled with walnuts and chocolate chips. The rich and buttery treat is traditionally enjoyed on Kentucky Derby days.
A pile of fried chicken inside a red and red striped bucket
Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Colonel Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the 1930s during the Great Depression. He began selling his homemade fried chicken from the Shell gas station he ran just outside the town of North Corbin, Kentucky.
  • A famous Kentucky dip is the Benedictine, which consists of cream cheese, onion juice, cucumber, and green food coloring.
  • John Bibb of Frankfort, Kentucky developed Bibb lettuce.
  • Traffic lights were invented by former slave Garret Morgan, who was from Paris, Kentucky.
  • Post-It Notes were invented and made in Cynthiana, Kentucky in 1968.
Close up of a baseball bat about to strike a baseball
The Louisville Slugger was invented in Kentucky
  • The “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat was invented in 1884 Louisville, Kentucky after Pete “Louisville Slugger” Browning broke his and had a local shop make a new one for him. Today the city is home to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, outside of which stands the world’s largest baseball bat.
  • Two Louisville sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, wrote the “Happy Birthday” song.
  • Mary Towles Sasseen of Henderson, Kentucky created the Mother’s Day holiday in honor of her own mother.
  • The first female sheriff in Davis County history was Florence Thompson. In fact, she was in charge of the last legal hanging in Kentucky.
  • Famous people from Kentucky include explorer and pioneer Daniel Boone, boxer Muhammad Ali, 16th president Abraham Lincoln, actress Jennifer Lawrence, actors George Clooney and Johnny Depp, and musicians Loretta Lynn, Billie Ray Cyrus, and Dwight Yoakam.
  • Fruit of the Loom (founded in Rhode Island) and Papa John’s Pizza (founded in Indiana) are today headquartered in Kentucky.
A half and half pizza (each half is a different kind) from Papa John's
Papa John’s Pizza is headquartered in Kentucky
  • In Kentucky, it’s technically against the law to throw flowers, tomatoes, or eggs at public speakers.
  • Women in Owensboro, Kentucky need to get their husband’s permission first before purchasing a hat they fancy, according to one outdated law, that is.
  • There’s a legal limit on the amount of times a woman can marry the same man: three. After all, third time’s a charm, right?
  • According to the law, if you take a turtle, snake, crocodile or lizard with you to a religious service you can get a fine of up to $100.

Historical Facts About Kentucky

  • Ancient people were most likely living in the Kentucky area from 12,000 years ago, but remains going back that far have yet to be found.
  • Dogs had a special place among early indigenous tribes in Kentucky; they were often buried with their owners, such as at the Indian Knoll site in western Kentucky.
  • Ancient Mississippian people built mounds in the state, such as the Wickliffe Mounds.
A black and white painting of settlers traveling in a wagon into Kentucky
Early settlers traveling through the Cumberland Gap
  • In 1673, French Jesuit missionary Thomas Walker and French-Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet were probably the first Europeans in the state.
  • Daniel Boone played a major role in the settlement of the area, which lay west of the 13 colonies. He first sighted the Kentucky region on June, 1767, then built the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in 1775. Within 25 years, 200,000 people entered Kentucky through this way.
  • The first permanent settlement in the region, Fort Harrod (later Harrodstown, then Harrodsburg) was constructed by James Harrod in 1774.
  • The thirteen-day siege in 1778 of Fort Boonesborough was the longest siege in the country’s frontier history.
  • On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union. Of the non-13 original states, only Vermont joined before it.
Wood cabins and fence at Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky
Fort Boonesborough
  • The New Madrid earthquakes took place between 1811 and 1812, with the epicenter adjacent to Kentucky in southeastern Missouri. They were the most powerful earthquakes to be recorded in North American history. One after-effect of the earthquakes was the Mississippi River running backwards.
  • During the war of 1812, more than half of the Americans killed in action were from Kentucky.
  • The first commercial oil well in the country was in 1818 in McCreary County, Kentucky.
  • Kentucky’s most famous uprising happened in August 1818, with 55 to 75 slaves arming themselves and attempting to escape to freedom. However, most of them were recaptured after they got into a gun battle with the state militia.
Sun rising on a farm, with trees and a white farm fence
Farmland in Kentucky
  • On March 11, 1829, drillers discovered oil on a farm near Burkesville. They were initially boring for salt brine. The discovery of oil led to the establishment of the oil industry in the state of Kentucky.
  • The state was torn when it came to slavery issues. At one point, Kentucky passed a law forbidding slaves being brought into the state for resale in 1833. However, most of the slaves in Kentucky had come from the southern slaveholding states.
  • Zachary Taylor, otherwise known as the “Kentucky hero of the Mexican War”, became the 12th president of the US in 1849.
  • The state had four different governors in a span of less than three months between December 1899 and February 1900.
  • The Black Patch Tobacco Wars took place between 1904 and 1908 in Kentucky and Tennessee. Local dark tobacco producers from the “Black Patch” area fought against the American Tobacco Company (ATC), which had a monopoly.
Black and white photo of Zachary Taylor and some of his cabinet officers
Zachary Taylor of Kentucky was the 12th president of the US.
  • On August 14, 1936, the last legal public hanging took place in Owensboro, Kentucky.
  • In 1950 near Paducah, an atomic energy plant was built.
  • In 1962, the federal government gave control of certain nuclear energy materials to Kentucky, the first state to be given such control.
  • In 1966, Kentucky became the first southern state to pass a comprehensive civil rights law.
  • In 1977, 165 people died in a nightclub fire in Southgate, Campbell County.
A silhouette of a Ferris wheel with a river and a bridge in the background
Louisville Ferris Wheel
  • The display of Ten Commandments in two state courtrooms in Kentucky was ruled against by the US Supreme Court in 2005.
  • In 2006, a Comair flight crashed near Lexington, killing 49, with a single person surviving.
  • In March 2020, Kentucky senator Rand Paul was the first member of the US Senate to get COVID-19.