Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Fine Facts About Kentucky

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Once a year, the nation turns its gaze to Kentucky for two adrenaline-packed minutes better known as the Kentucky Derby. But there’s much more to the Bluegrass State than horse racing, or bourbon for that matter (though those are two very fine things to be known for). There’s also the state’s colorful musical history, the world’s one and only Corvette factory, and a criminally-overlooked barbecue scene. Here are a few things you might not know about Kentucky.

1. The state’s most famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone, is a tall tale come to life. After blazing a trail through Cumberland Gap and establishing Fort Boonesborough in 1775, Boone was captured by Shawnee Indians and whisked away to their home base of Chillicothe, in modern-day Ohio. Boone gained his captors' confidence and even became a member of the tribe, only to escape after six months, riding a stolen horse 160 miles back to Fort Boonesborough. He made the journey in five days—just in time to lead the fort’s successful defense from another attack.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

2. Before Kentucky was a state, it was a county. In 1776, Virginia established Kentucky County as its westernmost territory. Residents didn’t feel adequately served by the far-off capital of Richmond, however, and a separatist movement took hold. After several petitions for statehood, Kentuckians finally received their blessing from Virginia. In 1792, Kentucky became the nation’s 15th state.

3. Although none of the battles fought during the War of 1812 actually took place in Kentucky, more than half of the soldiers killed were from the state.

4. The two commanders of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, were born less than one year and one hundred miles apart in Kentucky. Lincoln spent his early years near Hodgenville, while Davis grew up in Fairview.

5. In 1817, the first U.S. performance of a Beethoven symphony took place at Postlethwaite’s Tavern in Lexington. The conductor, a former merchant from Austria named Anthony Heinrich who’d gone bankrupt during the Napoleonic wars, led a small orchestra through the composer’s Symphony No. 1. Heinrich became a notable bard of the Bluegrass State, writing such compositions as “Hail to Kentucky” and “A Sylvan Scene in Kentucky.”

6. Kentucky is the only state to have an acting governor assassinated. On January 30, 1900, hard-charging politician William Goebel was walking to the state capitol in Frankfort to protest the recent gubernatorial election, in which he was declared the loser, when an assassin’s bullet cut him down. While Goebel clung to life in a nearby hospital, the state’s Democratic legislature upheld his claim of ballot fraud against his competitor, Republican William Taylor, and on January 31 named Goebel the state’s governor. Goebel died three days later.

7. Thomas Edison worked for two years as a telegraph operator in Louisville’s Western Union office. He would have stayed longer, but in 1867 he was fired after accidentally spilling sulfuric acid all over his boss’s new furniture (performing one of his side experiments, naturally). Sixteen years later, he returned to the city’s Southern Exposition to showcase 4600 of his incandescent bulbs.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

8. The only chief justice of the Supreme Court from Kentucky, Frederick Vinson, was born in the Louisa town jail in 1890. It’s worth noting that his father was the jailer, and this was back in the day when most births took place at home.

9. Chartered in 1780 by the Virginia General Assembly, Transylvania University in Lexington is the oldest university west of the Allegheny Mountains. Its name derives from the Latin phrase meaning “across the woods,” which was fitting for the school’s early days. The first classes took place in a local minister’s cabin.

10. The first commercial winery in the U.S. opened in 1799 near Lexington. The founder, a Swiss businessman named John James Dufour, settled on the location because of a shipping port on the Kentucky River that gave him access to New Orleans and other points south. Today, a descendant of one of Dufour’s first shareholders maintains the winery. It is, appropriately, called First Vineyard.

11. Why is Kentucky such a hotbed for horse racing? Locals would have you believe it’s the calcium-rich grass, which gathers minerals from the limestone bed that runs beneath the state’s central region. But according to several sources, Kentucky’s equine prowess is due to strict gambling laws in the late 19th century that outlawed betting in east coast states, where horse racing was prominent. Because Kentucky didn’t outlaw horse betting, breeders moved their operations there and took the state’s racing industry from a trot to a gallop.


12. Bluegrass music has its roots in European folk traditions. But it was Kentucky native Bill Monroe (born in Rosine in 1911) who gave the genre its name and quick-picking, high-wailing style. Influenced by the fiddling and folk songs of his youth, Monroe upped the tempo and added in mandolin, banjo and other instruments along with a vocal style he called “that high lonesome sound.” His Blue Grass Boys set the gold standard for traditional bluegrass, and influenced a wide array of future musicians, from Elvis Presley to Jerry Garcia.

13. The “Happy Birthday” song originated in Louisville in the late 19th century. Patty Hill, a teacher at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School, collaborated with her sister Mildred, a piano instructor, on a song called “Good Morning to All” that became a greeting teachers would sing to students. It’s unclear how, exactly, the tune morphed into “Happy Birthday to You,” but today it’s the most recognizable song in the English language.

14. In case you weren’t convinced that bourbon is big business in the Bluegrass State: The number of bourbon barrels currently aging in Kentucky distilleries outnumbers the state’s population by more than a million (5.6 million vs. 4.4 million, respectively).


15. There’s a 17-square-mile patch of Kentucky that’s not physically attached to the rest of the state. The result of a surveying error in the late 18th century, the Kentucky Bend, as it’s known, is located in an oxbow bend of the Mississippi River at the state’s south-westernmost point, and connects with Tennessee directly to the south. The residents—all 17 of them—collect their mail in Tennessee, and have to drive 40 miles through Tennessee and back into Kentucky in order to vote.

16. One of the state’s most endearing roadside sights, a red-and-white water tower along Interstate 75 that reads “Florence Y’all,” is something of an accidental monument. Built in 1974, the tower originally read “Florence Mall” to promote a soon-to-be-built shopping center. State officials, though, said the tower violated state laws that restricted the height of advertisements. Rather than tear down the tower or repaint it, the mayor of Florence, C.M. “Hop” Ewing, decided to remove the “M” and replace it with a “Y” and an apostrophe. The revision cost the city less than $500. Today, there are T-shirts and even a local festival devoted to the water tower.

17. Bowling Green, located in western Kentucky, is home to the world’s only Corvette assembly plant. The one-million-square-foot compound was built in 1981, after GM decided to move the facility from St. Louis. Bowling Green is also home to the National Corvette Museum, where in 2014 a sinkhole opened up and swallowed nine cars.

18. Kentucky may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think barbecue, but pit masters throughout the state want you to know they’ve got some serious chops, too. Cuts of meat and sauces vary throughout the state: Hickman County, near the Mississippi River, offers smoked turkey with a vinegar and cayenne pepper sauce, while in Henderson County you’ll find brisket served with a tangy Worcestershire dip. Owensboro, which hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival every year, features signature mutton dishes, including a hearty stew of mutton, chicken and vegetables known as burgoo.

19. Kentucky is a playground for boaters, with more navigable miles of water than any other state in the continental U.S. Its 1100 miles of rivers and lakes are second only to Alaska.

20. In 1997, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources began reintroducing elk into eastern Kentucky, where they once roamed in the thousands but were hunted out of existence following the Civil War. Today, the herd numbers more than 10,000—by far the largest east of the Mississippi River. It’s a victory for conservationists, if not so much for residents who have complained about their yards and gardens getting trampled.

21. The longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave, is located in southern Kentucky. Spelunkers have explored nearly 400 miles of underground caverns to date, with untold more miles still awaiting discovery. Early guide Stephen Bishop called it a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place.”


22. Kentucky has had some issues with its state slogan. In 2002, officials came out with “It’s That Friendly” and a corresponding license plate that showed a smiling sun rising over a field. Residents weren't feeling the cheery design, however, and after just a few years the state scrapped the effort in favor of a new license plate featuring the current slogan, “Unbridled Spirit.” That still hasn’t sat well with the ruthless citizen-editors of Kentucky. Two years ago, an ad firm in Lexington came up with a rogue campaign that’s gaining serious traction: "Kentucky Kicks Ass."

23. Write this one down and stick it on your fridge: Post-It notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

24. In 1930, Harland Sanders opened a service station in the town of Corbin and began serving up his original recipe fried chicken. Several years and scores of satisfied customers later, he opened a restaurant across the street, and the rest, well, is history. The Harland Sanders Café and Museum, as it's known today, is a shrine to Kentucky’s most famous chef.

25. The infamous family feud between the McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky and the Hatfields of Mingo County, West Virginia officially came to an end in 2003, when representatives from each side signed a truce on national television.

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
The Largest Known Map of the 16th-Century World Has Been Digitized
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The challenge of designing an accurate, detailed world map has stumped cartographers for centuries, but Urbano Monte got pretty close to achieving perfection in 1587. Now, for the first time, his full 10-by-10-foot world map has been assembled and digitized, Co.Design reports.

There are only two copies of the map: one in Milan, Italy and the second, digitized one at the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection at Stanford University. The massive, extremely detailed illustration, which comprises 60 hand-drawn sheets, is the largest known early map in the world. The Italian cartographer drew it using the azimuthal equidistant projection, which depicts the flattened globe with the North Pole at its center. According to Monte, this gave a more accurate view of the Earth than the Mercator Projection, which was published just two decades earlier in 1569.

The map's depth of detail becomes more apparent the longer you look at it. In addition to country names and geographical landmarks, Monte took the time to note information on weather, meteorological events, length of days at different latitudes, world leaders, and significant countries and places.

Map details.
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

To view the completed map in all its glory, you can download the 3D image through Google Earth or view it through Apple’s augmented reality app AR Globe.

[h/t Co.Design]

25 Wild Facts About Alaska

Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.


3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

Mike Juvrud, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.


24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.


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