Tennessee became the 16th state of the union in 1796. It is just 112 miles wide, but stretches 432 miles from the Appalachian Mountains boundary with North Carolina in the east to the Mississippi River borders with Missouri and Arkansas in the west. Tennessee’s two largest cities, Memphis and Nashville, are known as centers of blues and country music, respectively,and have played host tothe likes ofElvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Dolly Parton. Memphis is also famous for its barbecue and hosts the well-attended “Memphis in May” barbecue competition each year.
Date of Statehood: June 1, 1796
Population: 6,346,105 (2010)
Size: 42,144 square miles
Nickname(s): Volunteer State; Big Bend State; Hog and Hominey State
Motto: Agriculture and Commerce
Tree: Tulip Poplar
- In 1878, a yellow fever epidemic swept through Memphis, claiming the lives of around 5,000 people. Although many neighboring towns and cities throughout the South established quarantines to prevent the disease from spreading, a majority of residents fled Memphis after news of the outbreak was first reported. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville began as a live music show called the “WSM Barn Dance” by announcer George Hay in 1925. One of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, it is also the longest-running radio show in U.S. history. Twenty-four-year-old John Scopes was arrested and put on trial in 1925 for violating Tennessee state law by teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as part of his public high school curriculum. The “monkey trial,” as it became known, garnered national attention and publicized scientific evidence for evolution, but resulted in a guilty verdict for Scopes, who was fined $100. It was not until 1968 that the Supreme Court asserted that any law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools was unconstitutional. In 1947, the Tennessee legislature adopted the tulip poplar as the state tree in recognition of its widespread use by 18th and 19th century pioneers in the construction of their homes and farms.
- Future President Andrew Jackson founded the city of Memphis on May 22, 1819, along with John Overton and James Winchester. They named it after the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis—meaning “place of good abode”—which was located at the head of the Nile River Delta.
- William Strickland, the engineer and architect of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, died in 1854 during the building’s construction. At his request, he was entombed within the structure’s walls.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, attracting more than 9.4 million people in 2010. Known as the “Salamander Capital of the World,” the park hosts the most diverse population of salamanders in the world: 30 different species.
- Memphis, Tennessee, is home to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former estate. It is one of the most visited private residences in America–second only to the White House.