Quick facts for kids
|Commonwealth of Kentucky|
United we stand, divided we fall
Deo gratiam habeamus
(Let us be grateful to God)
|Anthem: My Old Kentucky Home|
Map of the United States with Kentucky highlighted
|Before statehood||Part of Virginia (District of Kentucky)|
|Admitted to the Union||June 1, 1792 (15th)|
|• Total||40,407 sq mi (104,656 km2)|
|• Land||39,486 sq mi (102,269 km2)|
|• Water||921 sq mi (2,387 km2) 2.2%|
|• Length||385 mi (620 km)|
|• Width||175 mi (282 km)|
|Elevation||750 ft (230 m)|
|Highest elevation||4,145 ft (1,265 m)|
(Mississippi River at Kentucky Bend)
|250 ft (78 m)|
|• Density||110/sq mi (42.5/km2)|
|• Density rank||21st|
|• Median household income||$52,295|
|• Income rank||44th|
|• Official language||English|
|eastern half||UTC−05:00 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−04:00 (EDT)|
|western half||UTC−06:00 (Central)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−05:00 (CDT)|
|ISO 3166 code||US-KY|
|Latitude||36° 30′ N to 39° 09′ N|
|Longitude||81° 58′ W to 89° 34′ W|
|Kentucky state symbols|
The Flag of Kentucky
The Seal of Kentucky
|Wildlife animal||Gray squirrel|
|Fish||Kentucky spotted bass|
|Slogan||Kentucky Unbridled Spirit|
|Soil||Crider Soil Series|
|Other||Chevrolet Corvette (state sports car)|
|State route marker|
Released in 2001
|Lists of United States state symbols|
Kentucky is known as the "Bluegrass State", a nickname based on the bluegrass found in many of its pastures due to the fertile soil.
- Subdivisions and settlements
- Images for kids
Kentucky is situated in the Upland South. A significant portion of eastern Kentucky is part of Appalachia.
Kentucky borders seven states, from the Midwest and the Southeast. West Virginia lies to the east, Virginia to the southeast, Tennessee to the south, Missouri to the west, Illinois and Indiana to the northwest, and Ohio to the north and northeast. Only Missouri and Tennessee, both of which border eight states, touch more.
The official state borders are based on the courses of the rivers as they existed when Kentucky became a state in 1792 but some parts of the river have deviated since then.
Kentucky can be divided into five primary regions: the Cumberland Plateau in the east, the north-central Bluegrass region, the south-central and western Pennyroyal Plateau (also known as the Pennyrile or Mississippi Plateau), the Western Coal Fields and the far-west Jackson Purchase.
The Bluegrass region is commonly divided into two regions, the Inner Bluegrass—the encircling 90 miles (145 km) around Lexington—and the Outer Bluegrass—the region that contains most of the northern portion of the state, above the Knobs. Much of the outer Bluegrass is in the Eden Shale Hills area, made up of short, steep, and very narrow hills.
Located within the southeastern interior portion of North America, Kentucky has a climate that can best be described as a humid subtropical climate.
Temperatures in Kentucky usually range from daytime summer highs of 87 °F (31 °C) to the winter low of 23 °F (−5 °C).
Due to its location, Kentucky has a moderate humid subtropical climate, with abundant rainfall. Temperatures extremely seldom drop below 0 degrees or rise above 100 degrees.
Rain and snowfall totals about 45 inches per year.
The northern parts tend to be about 5 degrees cooler than those in western parts of the state.
In general, Kentuckians experience relatively humid warm rainy summers, and moderately cold and snowy winters.
Lakes and rivers
- See also: List of rivers of Kentucky
Kentucky has more navigable miles of water than any other state in the union, other than Alaska.
Kentucky is the only U.S. state to have a continuous border of rivers running along three of its sides—the Mississippi River to the west, the Ohio River to the north, and the Big Sandy River and Tug Fork to the east.
Though it has only three major natural lakes, Kentucky is home to many artificial lakes. Kentucky has both the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi in water volume (Lake Cumberland) and surface area (Kentucky Lake).
Kentucky's 90,000 miles (140,000 km) of streams provides one of the most expansive and complex stream systems in the nation.
Natural environment and conservation
Kentucky has an expansive park system, which includes one national park, two National Recreation areas, two National Historic Parks, two national forests, two National Wildlife Refuges, 45 state parks, 37,696 acres (153 km2) of state forest, and 82 Wildlife Management Areas.
Kentucky has been part of two of the most successful wildlife reintroduction projects in United States history. In the winter of 1997, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources began to re-stock elk in the state's eastern counties, which had been extinct from the area for over 150 years. As of 2009, the herd had reached the project goal of 10,000 animals, making it the largest herd east of the Mississippi River.
The state also stocked wild turkeys in the 1950s. There were reported to be less than 900 at one point. Once nearly extinct here, wild turkeys thrive throughout today's Kentucky. Hunters officially reported a record 29,006 birds taken during the 23-day season in Spring 2009.
- Cumberland Gap, chief passageway through the Appalachian Mountains in early American history.
- Cumberland Falls, the only place in the Western Hemisphere where a "moonbow" may be regularly seen, due to the spray of the falls.
- Mammoth Cave National Park, featuring the world's longest known cave system.
- Red River Gorge Geological Area, part of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
- Land Between the Lakes, a National Recreation Area managed by the United States Forest Service.
- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area near Whitley City.
- Black Mountain, state's highest point. Runs along the south ridge of Pine Mountain in Letcher County, Kentucky. The highest point located in Harlan County.
- Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve, 2,639-acre (11 km2) state nature preserve on southern slope of Pine Mountain in Letcher County. Includes one of the largest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the state, as well as a 60-foot (18 m) waterfall and a Kentucky Wild River.
- Jefferson Memorial Forest, located in the southern fringes of Louisville in the Knobs region, the largest municipally run forest in the United States.
- Lake Cumberland, 1,255 miles (2,020 km) of shoreline located in South Central Kentucky.
- Natural Bridge, located in Slade, Kentucky Powell County.
- Breaks Interstate Park, located in southeastern Pike County, Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia. The Breaks is commonly known as the "Grand Canyon of the South."
French explorers in the 17th century documented numerous tribes living in Kentucky until the Beaver Wars in the 1670s. However, by the time that European colonial explorers and settlers began entering Kentucky in greater numbers in the mid-18th century, there were no major Native American settlements in the region. The Iroquois had controlled much of the Ohio River valley for hunting from their bases in what is now New York.
The Shawnee from the northwest and Cherokee from the south also sent parties into the area regularly for hunting. As more settlers entered the area, warfare broke out because the Native Americans considered the settlers to be encroaching on their traditional hunting grounds. Today there are two state recognized tribes in Kentucky, the Southern Cherokee Nation of Kentucky and the Ridgetop Shawnee.
A 1790 U.S. government report states that 1,500 Kentucky settlers had been killed by Native Americans since the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1786, George Rogers Clark led a group of 1,200 men in actions against Shawnee towns on the Wabash River to begin the Northwest Indian War.
On December 18, 1789, Virginia gave its consent to Kentucky statehood. The United States Congress gave its approval on February 4, 1791. Kentucky officially became the fifteenth state in the Union on June 1, 1792. Isaac Shelby, a military veteran from Virginia, was elected its first Governor.
Central Kentucky, the bluegrass region, was the area of the state with the most slave owners, as planters cultivated tobacco and hemp and were noted for their quality livestock. During the 19th century, Kentucky slaveholders began to sell unneeded slaves to the Deep South, with Louisville becoming a major slave market and departure port for slaves being transported downriver.
Kentucky was one of the border states during the American Civil War. Although frequently described as never having seceded, representatives from several counties met at Russellville calling themselves the "Convention of the People of Kentucky" and passed an Ordinance of Secession on November 20, 1861. They established a Confederate government of Kentucky with its capital in Bowling Green.
Though Kentucky was represented by the central star on the Confederate battle flag, it remained officially "neutral" throughout the war due to the Union sympathies of a significant number of the Commonwealth's citizens.
On January 30, 1900, Governor William Goebel, flanked by two bodyguards, was mortally wounded by an assassin while walking to the State Capitol in downtown Frankfort. Goebel is the only governor of a U.S. state to have been assassinated while in office.
The Black Patch Tobacco Wars, a vigilante action, occurred in Western Kentucky in the early 20th century. As a result of the tobacco industry monopoly, tobacco farmers in the area were forced to sell their crops at prices that were too low. Many local farmers and activists united in a refusal to sell their crops to the major tobacco companies.
An Association meeting occurred in downtown Guthrie, where a vigilante wing of "Night Riders", formed. The riders terrorized farmers who sold their tobacco at the low prices demanded by the tobacco corporations. They burned several tobacco warehouses throughout the area, stretching as far west as Hopkinsville to Princeton. In the later period of their operation, they were known to physically assault farmers who broke the boycott. Governor Augustus E. Willson declared martial law and deployed the Kentucky National Guard to end the wars.
Race and ancestry
According to U.S. Census Bureau official statistics, the largest ancestry in 2013 was American totalling 20.2%.
Groups such as the Ridgetop Shawnee in the early 21st century organised as a non-profit to increase awareness of Native Americans in Kentucky. In the 2000 census, there were 20,000 people in the state who identified as Native American (0.49%). In June 2011, Jerry "2 Feather" Thornton, a Cherokee, led a team in the Voyage of Native American Awareness 2011 canoe journey, to begin on the Green River in Rochester, Kentucky and travel through to the Ohio River at Henderson.
African Americans, who made up 25% of Kentucky's population before the Civil War, primarily in the Bluegrass region, declined in number during the 20th century. Many migrated to the industrial North and Midwest in the Great Migration for jobs.
In 2000, 96.1% of all residents five years old and older spoke only English at home.
Spanish is the second-most-spoken language in Kentucky, after English.
Kentucky is served by six major interstate highways.
The parkways were originally toll roads, but on November 22, 2006, Governor Ernie Fletcher ended the toll charges on the William H. Natcher Parkway and the Audubon Parkway, the last two parkways in Kentucky to charge tolls for access. The related toll booths have been demolished.
As of 2004, there were approximately 2,640 miles (4,250 km) of railways in Kentucky, with about 65% of those being operated by CSX Transportation. Coal was by far the most common cargo, accounting for 76% of cargo loaded and 61% of cargo delivered.
Other areas in Kentucky are reclaiming old railways in rail trail projects. One such project is Louisville's Big Four Bridge. When the bridge's Indiana approach ramps opened in 2014, completing the pedestrian connection across the Ohio River, the Big Four Bridge rail trail became the second-longest pedestrian-only bridge in the world. The longest pedestrian-only bridge is also found in Kentucky—the Newport Southbank Bridge, popularly known as the "Purple People Bridge", connecting Newport to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Kentucky has several airports.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is the largest airport in the state, and is hub to passenger airline Delta Air Lines and headquarters of its Delta Private Jets. The airport is one of DHL Aviation's three super-hubs, serving destinations throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, making it the 7th busiest airport in the U.S. and 36th in the world based on passenger and cargo operations.
As the state is bounded by two of the largest rivers in North America, water transportation has historically played a major role in Kentucky's economy.
Louisville was a major port for steamships in the nineteenth century. Today, most barge traffic on Kentucky waterways consists of coal that is shipped from both the Eastern and Western Coalfields, about half of which is used locally to power many power plants located directly off the Ohio River, with the rest being exported to other countries, most notably Japan.
Many of the largest ports in the United States are located in or adjacent to Kentucky, including:
- Huntington-Tristate (includes Ashland, Kentucky), largest inland port and 7th largest overall
- Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky, 5th largest inland port and 43rd overall
- Louisville-Southern Indiana, 7th largest inland port and 55th overall
Subdivisions and settlements
- Louisville - population 612,780
- Lexington - population 310,797
- Bowling Green - population 62,479
- Owensboro - population 58,374
- Covington - population 40,944
- Richmond - population 33,556
- Hopkinsville - population 32,634
- Florence - population 31,888
- Georgetown - population 31,653
- Elizabethtown - population 29,974
In 2010, the Louisville Combined Statistical Area has a population of 1,451,564; including 1,061,031 in Kentucky, which is nearly one-fourth of the state's population.
The second largest city is Lexington with a population of 295,803.
In northeast Kentucky, the greater Ashland area is an important transportation, manufacturing, and medical center. Iron and petroleum production, as well as the transport of coal by rail and barge, have been historical pillars of the region's economy.
Early in its history Kentucky gained recognition for its excellent farming conditions. It was the site of the first commercial winery in the United States (started in present-day Jessamine County in 1799) and due to the high calcium content of the soil in the Bluegrass region quickly became a major horse breeding (and later racing) area.
Today Kentucky ranks 5th nationally in goat farming, 8th in beef cattle production, and 14th in corn production. Kentucky has also been a long-standing major center of the tobacco industry – both as a center of business and tobacco farming.
Today Kentucky's economy has expanded to importance in non agricultural terms as well, especially in auto manufacturing, energy fuel production, and medical facilities.
Kentucky ranks 4th among U.S. states in the number of automobiles and trucks assembled. The Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac XLR (2004–2009), Ford Escape, Ford Super Duty trucks, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Solara, Toyota Venza, and Lexus ES 350 are assembled in Kentucky.
Kentucky has historically been a major coal producer, but employment by "King Coal" has been in a 30-year decline there, and the number of people employed in the coal industry there dropped by more than half between 2011 and 2015.
As of 2010, 24% of electricity produced in the U.S. depended on either enriched uranium rods coming from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (the only domestic site of low grade uranium enrichment), or from the 107,336 tons of coal extracted from the state's two coal fields (which combined produce 4% percent of the electricity in the United States).
Kentucky produces 95% of the world's supply of bourbon whiskey, and the number of barrels of bourbon being aged in Kentucky (more than 5.7 million) exceeds the state's population. Bourbon has been a growing market – with production of Kentucky bourbon rising 170 percent between 1999 and 2015.
Kentucky exports reached a record $22.1 billion in 2012, with products and services going to 199 countries.
Fort Knox, a United States Army post best known as the site of the U.S. Bullion Depository, which is used to house a large portion of the United States official gold reserves, is located in Kentucky between Louisville and Elizabethtown.
Although Kentucky's culture is generally considered to be Southern, it is unique in that it is also influenced by the Midwest and Southern Appalachia in certain areas of the state. The state is known for bourbon and whiskey distilling, tobacco, horse racing, and college basketball. Kentucky is more similar to the Upland South in terms of ancestry that is predominantly American.
Kentucky was a slave state, and African Americans once comprised over one-quarter of its population. However, it lacked the cotton plantation system and never had the same high percentage of African Americans as most other slave states.
Kentucky adopted the Jim Crow system of racial segregation in most public spheres after the Civil War, but the state never disenfranchised African American citizens to the level of the Deep South states, and it peacefully integrated its schools adopting the first state civil rights act in the South in 1966.
The biggest day in American horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, is preceded by the two-week Derby Festival in Louisville. Louisville also plays host to the Kentucky State Fair and the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival.
The fourth-largest city, Owensboro, gives credence to its nickname of "Barbecue Capital of the World" by hosting the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival.
Old Louisville, the largest historic preservation district in the United States featuring Victorian architecture and the third largest overall, hosts the St. James Court Art Show, the largest outdoor art show in the United States.
Glasgow mimics Glasgow, Scotland by hosting the Glasgow Highland Games, its own version of the Highland Games, and Sturgis hosts "Little Sturgis", a mini version of Sturgis, South Dakota's annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Residents of Clarkson in Grayson County celebrate their city's ties to the honey industry by celebrating the Clarkson Honeyfest. The Clarkson Honeyfest is held the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in September, and is the "Official State Honey Festival of Kentucky".
Renfro Valley, Kentucky is home to Renfro Valley Entertainment Center and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and is known as "Kentucky's Country Music Capital".
Kentucky's music depth lies in its signature sound — Bluegrass music. Bill Monroe, "The Father of Bluegrass", was born in the small Ohio County town of Rosine. The International Bluegrass Music Museum is located in Owensboro, while the annual Festival of the Bluegrass is held in Lexington.
Kentucky is also home to famed jazz musician and pioneer, Lionel Hampton. Blues legend W. C. Handy and R&B singer Wilson Pickett also spent considerable time in Kentucky. Noted singer and actress Rosemary Clooney was a native of Maysville, her legacy being celebrated at the annual music festival bearing her name.
In eastern Kentucky, old-time music carries on the tradition of ancient ballads and reels developed in historical Appalachia.
Kentucky has played a major role in Southern and American literature, producing works that often celebrate the working class, rural life, nature, and explore issues of class, extractive economy, and family. Major works from the state include Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, widely seen as one of the impetuses for the American Civil War; The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1908) by John Fox, Jr., which was the first novel to sell a million copies in the United States; All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946) rated as the 36th greatest novel by Modern Library; The Dollmaker (1954) by Harriette Arnow later adapted into a popular film starring Jane Fonda; Night Comes to the Cumberlands (1962) by Harry Caudill, which led to The War on Poverty, and others.
Kentucky's cuisine is generally similar to traditional southern cooking, although in some areas of the state it can blend elements of both the South and Midwest. One original Kentucky dish is called the Hot Brown, a dish normally layered in this order: toasted bread, turkey, bacon, tomatoes and topped with mornay sauce. Also, western Kentucky is known for its own regional style of barbecue.
The Kentucky Derby is a horse race held annually in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The Valhalla Golf Club has hosted several editions of the PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship and Ryder Cup since the 1990s.
The NASCAR Cup Series has a race at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, which is within an hour driving distance from Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington. The race is called the Quaker State 400. The NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series also race there, and previously the IndyCar Series.
- See also: Flag of Kentucky
|Insignia||Symbol||Binomial nomenclature||Year Adopted|
|Official state bird||Cardinal||Cardinalis cardinalis||1926|
|Official state butterfly||Viceroy butterfly||Limenitis archippus||1990|
|Official state dance||Clogging||2006|
|Official state beverage||Milk||2005|
|Official state fish||Kentucky spotted bass||Micropterus punctulatus||2005|
|Official state fossil||Brachiopod||undetermined||1986|
|Official state flower||Goldenrod||Soldiago gigantea||1926|
|Official state fruit||Blackberry||Rubus allegheniensis||2004|
|Official state gemstone||Freshwater pearl||1986|
|State grass||Kentucky bluegrass||Poa pratensis||Traditional|
|Official state motto||"United we stand, divided we fall"||1942/1792|
|Official state slogan||"United we stand, divided we fall"||2004|
|Official state Latin motto||"Deo gratiam habeamus" ("Let us be grateful to God")||2002|
|Official state horse||Thoroughbred||Equus caballus||1996|
|Official state mineral||Coal||1998|
|Official state outdoor musical||The Stephen Foster Story||2002|
|Official state instrument||Appalachian dulcimer||2001|
|State nickname||"The bluegrass state"||Traditional|
|Official state rock||Kentucky agate||2000|
|Official state soil||Crider soil series||1990|
|Official state tree||Tulip poplar||Liriodendron tulipifera||1994|
|Official wild animal game species||Gray squirrel||Sciurus carolinensis||1968|
|Official state song||"My Old Kentucky Home" (revised version)||1928/1986|
|Official state silverware pattern||Old Kentucky blue grass: the Georgetown pattern||1996|
|Official state music||Bluegrass music||2007|
|Official state automobile||Chevrolet Corvette||2010|
Official state places and events
Unless otherwise specified, all state symbol information is taken from Kentucky State Symbols.
Kentucky colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Commissions for Kentucky colonels are given by the Governor and the Secretary of State to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state or the nation. The sitting governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky bestows the honor of a colonel's commission, by issuance of letters patent.
Images for kids
My Old Kentucky Home, a widely known historic mansion for which Kentucky's state song, "My Old Kentucky Home" was written in 1852 by Stephen Foster
The Ohio River forms the northern border of Kentucky.
Many Kentucky cities have historic areas near downtown, such as this example in Bowling Green.
The library at the University of Kentucky, Kentucky's flagship university.
The governor's mansion in Frankfort
State sign, Interstate 65
Kentucky Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.