The State of Tennessee
AT A GLANCE
Name: The region may have been named after Tanasie, a group of Cherokee villages on the Little Tennessee River.
Nickname: Volunteer State
Size: 42,146 sq. mi. (109,158 sq km)
Population: 6,600,299 (2015 est)
Statehood: Tennessee became the 16th state on June 1, 1796.
Electoral votes: 11 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 9 (until 2016)
State tree: tulip poplar
State flower: iris
State animal: raccoon
Highest point: Clingmans Dome, 6,643 ft. (2,025 m)
Tennessee is located in the south-central United States and is bordered by Kentucky and Virginia to the north, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, and, across the Mississippi River, Arkansas and Missouri to the west. The Blue Ridge Mountains, which contain large forests and valuable minerals, form part of Tennessee's border. To the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains are fertile valleys and rocky cliffs. Nashville lies in a large, fertile basin with extensive phosphate deposits.
Land around the Mississippi River is mostly low and rich near the Mississippi Delta but hilly in other places. Tennessee's climate is warm and subtropical. The Blue Ridge Mountains are cooler and snowier than the lower plains of western Tennessee. In eastern Tennessee, fluorite, marble, and zinc are common minerals. Deposits of limestone, phosphate, and zinc are found in central Tennessee, while coal is common in the hills around the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Facts and Firsts
- Tennessee, along with Missouri, shares its borders with the largest number of other states—a total of eight.
- There are more than 3,800 caves in Tennessee.
- The Lost Sea in Sweetwater is the largest underground lake in the country.
- In the winter of 1811, the largest earthquake in U.S. history shook northwestern Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake in Obion was created as a result of the earthquake.
- Legendary railroad engineer Casey Jones, who was killed when his train crashed in 1900, lived in Jackson, where today there is a museum in his honor.
- Nashville's Grand Ole Opry is the longest continuously running live radio program in the world. It has been broadcast every Friday and Saturday night since 1925.
- Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, is the second-most visited house in the United States. Only the White House attracts more visitors.
- Shelby County has more horses per person than any other county in the United States.
- The sale of cotton made Memphis an important port city on the Mississippi River. Even today, the Memphis Cotton Exchange handles about one-third of the nation's cotton every year.
Artifacts indicate that the earliest inhabitants of the area were prehistoric Mound Builders. When Hernando de Soto led the first Spanish explorers into Tennessee in 1540 on his journey to the Mississippi River, he encountered Cherokee, Shawnee, Creek, and Chickasaw tribes. De Soto died in 1542 without starting a settlement. In 1673, the first English and French explorers reached the Tennessee region. These countries fought for control of the area, but the English eventually won in 1763 in the French and Indian Wars.
The first permanent settlers began to move into Tennessee from Virginia and North Carolina. In 1775, Daniel Boone started a new trail to western Tennessee and beyond, which opened this area to settlement. Tennessee was a part of North Carolina and did not become a separate state until after the Revolutionary War.
Large plantations worked by slaves were built in central and western Tennessee, while eastern Tennessee remained slave-free. Three future presidents were prominent in Tennessee politics: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson.
During the Civil War, Johnson attempted to keep Tennessee in the Union. When Tennessee became the last state to secede from the United States, Johnson left the state to serve as Abraham Lincoln's vice president. After Johnson became president, Tennessee was the first state readmitted to the Union, in March 1866.
After the Civil War, Tennessee's plantations were divided into smaller farms. Without slave labor, farms lost their former prosperity. New industries began to grow. Coal mining and textile production increased.
In 1925, the state attracted attention for the Scopes trial, which involved a lawsuit against a biology teacher who was charged with illegally teaching evolution instead of the Bible's creation story. The state law that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools was not repealed until 1967.
In 1942, during World War II, the U.S. government built an atomic energy and nuclear physics facility near Oak Ridge, where scientists conducted research on the atomic bomb. The facility's existence was kept secret from most of the country until the summer of 1945.
New dams were built to provide abundant and inexpensive hydroelectric power and Tennessee became less agricultural and more urban. Nashville emerged as the center of the country music industry.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Tennessee and many other states suffered from racial problems caused by segregation, which denied African Americans the same rights as whites. In April 1968, when civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, he was shot and killed. King's assassination prompted Tennessee lawmakers to enact civil rights legislation there.
Today, more Tennessee residents live in cities than on farms, and manufacturing is Tennessee's most important industry. Paints, pharmaceuticals, and soaps are the state's leading products. The manufacture of transportation equipment is also a major industry. Tennessee factories produce boat and airplane parts, and car manufacturers Saturn and Nissan have large plants in Spring Hill and Smyrna. Because of its central location, Memphis is an important transportation center. The FedEx Corporation, which ships items all over the world, has headquarters in Memphis and is the state's largest private employer.
Food and beverage processing is another important source of revenue. The state's major products include bread, cereals, flour, beer, whiskey, and soft drinks. Despite the state's shift to an industrial economy, approximately half of Tennessee's land is still devoted to farming. Horse farms are common, and the Tennessee walking horse breed was developed in central Tennessee. Cattle, dairy products, and hogs are principal farm commodities. Cotton is the leading crop in western Tennessee, just as it was before the Civil War, and Memphis is one of the nation's centers of cotton trading.
Farmers throughout the state grow tobacco, soybeans, and corn. Tomatoes, snap beans, apples, and peaches are Tennessee's chief fruits and vegetables. Tennessee has begun to exploit its mineral resources, and crushed stone is its most valuable mineral, followed by zinc and coal.
Tourism is on the rise in Tennessee. It has long been a popular destination due to attractions such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tennessee is also known for its music festivals, where bluegrass, blues, and country musicians play their music. Nashville is the nation's country music capital, while Memphis is a hub for blues and jazz.
Born in Tennessee
- Davy Crockett, frontiersman
- David G. Farragut, first American admiral
- Aretha Franklin, singer
- Morgan Freeman, actor
- Isaac Hayes, musician
- Estes Kefauver, legislator
- Dolly Parton, singer
- Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon), singer and comedienne
- Wilma Rudolph, athlete
- Sequoyah, Cherokee scholar and educator
- Cybil Shepherd, actress
- Tina Turner, singer
- Alvin York, World War I hero