80 Interesting Facts About Tennessee

Interesting facts about Tennessee

Tennessee is the home of Graceland, the Smoky Mountains, and Jack Daniel’s whiskey, while Nashville and Memphis are two of the country’s most important music centers.

Find out what else the “Volunteer State” is famous for with these fascinating and fun Tennessee facts!

General Facts About Tennessee

  • Tennessee is located in the southeastern region of the United States.
  • The state has a total land area of 42,143 mi² (109,247 km²), making it the 36th largest state, sitting between Virginia and Kentucky in terms of size.
  • Tennessee is almost exactly the same size as Cuba.
  • Tennessee is long and skinny – some say it is shaped like a cigar. It is 440 mi (710 km) from east to west and only 112 mi (180 km) from north to south.
  • In terms of population, Tennessee ranks 16th in the nation, with a population of 7 million. It sits between Massachusetts and Indiana in number of residents.
  • Nashville is the capital of Tennessee. With a population of 715,000 (metro 2 million), it is the 21st largest city (or 35th largest metropolitan area) in the country.
A view of Nashville downtown along the Cumberland River, at sunset
Nashville, capital of Tennessee
  • Other major cities in Tennessee are Memphis (urban 650,000 / urban 1.3 million) and Knoxville (urban 187,500 / metro 868,000).
  • The original inhabitants of Tennessee were the Chickasaw in the west and the Cherokee in the east.
  • The state was possibly named after the Yuchi Native American word Tana-see, meaning “meeting place”. Another theory is that it was named after the Tennessee River, which was named after the word Tanasie, the name of a Cherokee village.
  • Tennessee’s abbreviation is TN.
  • The most common nickname for Tennessee is “the Volunteer State”, which dates to the War of 1812, when thousands from the state volunteered to fight. Another is “Big Bend State”, referring to another Native American name for the river.
Aerial view of Memphis, with river running through it
Memphis is the state’s second largest city
  • People from Tennessee are thus called Volunteers, Big Benders, or Tennesseans.
  • An old nickname for Tennessee was “Hog and Hominy” state, referring to its production of pork and corn. Yet another was “The Mother of Southwestern Statesmen” because it has produced three US presidents and several other politicians.
  • State tourism slogans for Tennessee  have included “Tennessee – America at its best”, “The Stage is set for you”, and “We’re playing your song”, referring to the state’s important music scene.
  • The official state motto is “Agriculture and Commerce”.
  • The official state mammal is the raccoon.
  • Milk is the official state beverage (the same as 20 other US states) while the official state fruit of Tennessee is the tomato.
The flag of Tennessee
The state flag of Tennessee
  • The state flag features blue circle containing three white stars on a red background. The stars represent Tennessee’s geographical divisions (East, Middle and West Tennessee). The flag also includes a navy blue bar in order to give the flag distinction when it hangs limp.
  • Tennessee is the only state in the nation to have 9 official state songs, and the only state to have an official bicentennial (200-year anniversary) rap.

Random Interesting Facts About Tennessee

  • The “Nashville Sound”, a subgenre of country music, originated in the state in the 1950s. It was an attempt to revive country after rock ‘n’ roll took over.
  • Memphis also played a major role in blues, early rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and soul music, while Bristol (not to be confused with Bristol UK) is considered the birthplace of country music – some of the earliest country recordings by the likes of Jimmy Rodgers were done there, and today it houses the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
A white airplane with a blue stripe down the side on display at Graceland, Tennessee
One of Elvis’ two jets on display at Graceland in Memphis
  • Memphis, Tennessee is home to Graceland, the former mansion of Elvis Presley. In fact, it’s the 2nd most visited home in the country after the White House, with 650,000 visitors per year. It is only 4 mi (6.4 km) north of the Mississippi border and located on Elvis Presley Boulevard.
  • While Kentucky is the country’s largest whiskey producer, Tennessee is a close second, with its most iconic brand being Jack Daniel’s. The company produces over 38 million gallons of whiskey per year, which come in its signature square-shaped bottles. The main distillery is in Lynchburg.
  • Tennessee has one national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which it shares almost equally with North Carolina. It has been the most visited national park in the United States since 1944, with 14 million visitors in 2021.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of the Appalachians and contains 70 miles (110 km) of the Appalachian Trail.
  • The national park is also the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing over 3500 plant species and the world’s largest variety of salamanders, including the official state amphibian, the Tennessee Cave Salamander.
View of some misty, forested mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • There are 56 state parks in Tennessee, the largest of which is the Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park, while one of the most popular and visited is Fall Creek Falls State Park.
  • There are 30 national historic landmarks in Tennessee, which include a historic steamboat, Mississippian culture earth mounds, a tunnel dig by slaves, the Sun Records recording studio (Sun Studio), an atomic research facility, and many other historic buildings and archaeological sites.
  • Nashville is named “Athens of the South” because of its dedication to higher learning, although many think it’s because its state capitol is of the Greek-revival style, and is a tower rather than a dome like most others.
A parthenon replica in a grassy park with water in the foreground
Parthenon replica in the “Athens of the South”
  • The country’s largest underground lake, called the Lost Sea, is found in Sweetwater, Tennessee.
  • Just over half of Tennessee is covered in forest, which includes 15 state forests.
  • Clingmans Dome is the state’s highest point, at 6,643 ft (2,025 m), while the Mississippi River on the border with Mississippi is the lowest, at 178 ft (54 m).
  • The all-time highest temperature ever recorded in Tennessee was a whopping 113°F (45°C) in Perryville on August 9, 1930, while the lowest was a freezing -32°F (-35.6°C) in Mountain City on December 30, 1917.
  • Tennessee is susceptible to a number of natural disasters, including tornadoes, earthquakes, hail, ice storms, and extreme temperatures in both summer and winter.
Pink cotton candy on the left and a bottle of Mountain Dew soda on the right with white background
Cotton candy and Mountain Dew were invented in Tennessee.
  • The amusement park staple, cotton candy, was invented by Tennessee native William Morrisson in late 1800s (ironically, he was a dentist). It was originally known as “Fairy Floss” when it was introduced to the world at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
  • The first “combination” candy bar (meaning it contains several types of ingredient, not just chocolate) was created in Nashville in 1912. Called the Goo-Goo Cluster, it is a candy bar contains marshmallow nougat, caramel, and peanut and is considered Nashville’s official candy.
  • Originally created as a whiskey mixer, the yellow-green Mountain Dew soda was invented in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1940.
  • The nation’s first self-service grocery store, Piggly-Wiggly, was founded in Memphis in 1916.
  • Tennessee has no income tax, but high state and local sales taxes.
A close up of a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey with black background
Jack Daniel’s is one of the state’s most famous products.
  • Tennessee ranks 8th in the nation in number of farms, which cover 40% of the state’s total land area. The state ranks 7th in the production of cotton and 4th in tobacco.
  • Large companies that started or are headquartered in Tennessee include FedEx, Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, Dollar General, Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Crown Laboratories, Cracker Barrel, and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.
  • Dolly Parton, the singer-songwriter, is a native of Sevierville, Tennessee. The Dolly Parton Parkway, a major thoroughfare in the city, is named after her.
  • Other famous musicians and bands from Tennessee include Aretha Franklin, Miley Cyrus, Tina Turner, Justin Timberlake, Chet Atkins, Carl Perkins, Isaac Hayes, Duane Allman, Lisa Marie Presley, Kenny Chesney, and Kings of Leon.
A mosaic of famous people from Tennessee
Famous Tennesseeans Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, and Morgan Freeman (clockwise from top-left)
  • Memphis, Tennessee was also the birthplace of actor Morgan Freeman.
  • Three US presidents were from Tennessee: Andrew Jackson (7th), James K. Polk (11th), and Andrew Johnson (17th).
  • The first woman to be named US Senator was Hattie Caraway of Tennessee.
  • African American and Tennessee native sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games.
  • Tennessee is home to many other great sports figures, including the likes of Jamal Lewis, Donte Stallworth, Joshua Dobbs, Eric Berry, Jalen Hurd, Robert Meacham, Arian Foster, and Travis Henry.
  • McKissack and McKissack in Nashville is the oldest African American architectural firm in the country.
Black and white photographs of two early US presidents from Tennessee
Early US presidents Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk
  • Tennessee has its fair share of strange laws. For instance, in Oneida it’s illegal for a woman to ask a man out on a date.
  • Selling hollow logs in the state is also technically illegal.
  • There’s also a law against carrying a skunk across the Tennessee state border.
  • It’s illegal to shoot out of your car window at animals, unless it happens to be a whale.

Historical Facts About Tennessee

  • During the time of the dinosaurs, huge mosasaurs and plesiosaurs swam in the sea that covered Tennessee.
  • The first known inhabitants of the state were Paleo-Indians who arrived at the end of the last Glacial Period about 12,000 years ago.
Looking up a stream with forest on either side
A forest landscape in Tennessee
  • Hernando de Soto was the first known European to come to the area in 1540.
  • In 1673, Gabriel Arthur and James Needham of Great Britain explored the Tennessee River Valley.
  • In 1714, Charles Charleville of France established a trading post was set at French Lick.
  • In 1763, after the French and Indian War, the British took control of the area from the French.
  • On June 1, 1796, Tennessee was admitted into the Union as the 16th state, with Knoxville as its capital, until it was moved to Murfreesboro in 1817.
  • On September 21, 1807, Kingston became the state capital for one day while the state legislature discussed a treaty with the Native American Cherokee tribe.
Exterior of the red brick Customs House Museum
The historic Customs House Museum in Clarksville, Tennessee
  • Nashville became home to the state’s first public library in 1813.
  • In 1834, the right to vote was withdrawn from free people of color in Tennessee.
  • The first state in the nation to pass a temperance law (forbidden the consumption of alcohol) was Tennessee in 1838.
  • In 1843, the capital of Tennessee was moved to Nashville because it had better roads and water connections.
  • On June 24, 1861, Tennessee became the 11th and last state to secede from the US at the start of the Civil War. It was also the first state to be readmitted after the war was finished.
  • In 1866, Tennessee was readmitted as a state in the Union.
Exterior of Tennessee State Capitol with trees on side
The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville
  • In 1909, the state banned liquor production for the next year.
  • Between 1915 and 1930, racial segregation and poor standards of living continued to increase. This resulted in many Tennesseans of color fleeing to industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeast as part of the Great Migration.
  • On March 21, 1925, an anti-evolution law was passed in Tennessee, prohibiting the teaching of evolution.
  • In the 1950s, the Nashville Sound style of country music was born.
  • The anti-evolution law was abolished in 1967 by the state legislature.
  • On March 10, 1969, James Earl Ray pleaded guilty in Memphis, Tennessee for the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison in Nashville at the age of 70.
A row of neon signs for night clubs in Nashville
Bars in Nashville
  • On August 7, 2019, Cyntoia Brown was released from the Tennessee Prison for Women after serving an unfair sentence for killing a man when she was 16 years old. Today she is a published author and motivational speaker.
  • On July 13, 2020, the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans. The ban was quickly blocked by a federal judge in Nashville. While abortions are still legal today, a new bill in 2022 allows anyone to sue doctors who perform them, marking a major setback.

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