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, state, United States

Kentucky (kəntŭkˈē, kĭn–), state of the SE central United States. It is bordered by West Virginia and Virginia (E); Tennessee (S); the Mississippi River, across which lies Missouri (SW); and Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, all across the Ohio River (W, N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 40,395 sq mi (104,623 sq km). Pop. (2020) 4,467,673, a 3% increase since the 2010 census. As of the 2020 census, the state's population was: White alone, 87.5%; Black alone, 8.5%; Hispanic or Latino, 3.9%; American Indian and Alaska native alone, 0.3%; Asian alone, 1.6%; Two or More Races, 2%. Capital, Frankfort. Largest city, Louisville. Statehood, June 1, 1792 (15th state). Highest pt., Black Mt., 4,145 ft (1,264 m); lowest pt., Mississippi River, 257 ft (78 m). Nickname, Bluegrass State. Motto, United We Stand, Divided We Fall. State bird, cardinal. State flower, goldenrod. State tree, Kentucky coffee tree. Abbr., Ky.; KY


From elevations of about 2,000 ft (610 m) on the Cumberland Plateau in the southeast, where Black Mt. (4,145 ft/1,263 m) marks the state's highest point, Kentucky slopes to elevations of less than 800 ft (244 m) along the western rim. The narrow valleys and sharp ridges of the mountain region are noted for forests of giant hardwoods and scented pine and for springtime blooms of laurel, magnolia, rhododendron, and dogwood. Unfortunately, these forests have suffered from the effects of acid rain. To the west, the plateau breaks in a series of escarpments, bordering a narrow plains region interrupted by many single conical peaks called knobs. Surrounded by the knobs region on the south, west, and east and extending as far west as Louisville is the bluegrass country, the heart and trademark of the state.

To the south and west lie the rolling plains and rocky hillsides of the Pennyroyal, a region that takes its name from a species of mint that grows abundantly in the area. There, underground streams have washed through limestone to form miles of subterranean passages, some of the notable ones being in Mammoth Cave National Park.

Northwest Kentucky is generally rough, rolling terrain, with scattered but important coal deposits. The isolated far-western region, bounded by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers, is referred to as the Purchase, or Jackson Purchase (for Andrew Jackson, who was a prominent member of the commission that bought it from the Chickasaw in 1818). Consisting of floodplains and rolling uplands, it is among the largest migratory bird flyways in the United States.

Rivers are an important feature of Kentucky geography. The Ohio River forms the entire northern boundary of the state, flowing generally SW below Covington, until it joins the Mississippi River W of Paducah. At the southwest tip of the state about 5 sq mi (13 sq km) of Kentucky territory, created by a double hairpin turn in the Mississippi River, protrudes N from Tennessee into Missouri and is entirely separate from the rest of the state. In the east, the Big Sandy River and its tributary, the Tug Fork, form the boundary with West Virginia. Many rapid creeks in the Cumberland Mountains feed the Kentucky, the Cumberland, and the Licking rivers, which, together with the Tennessee and the Ohio, are the chief rivers of the state. The Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River near Paducah, is a major part of the Tennessee Valley Authority system.

Kentucky's climate is generally mild, with few extremes of heat and cold. Frankfort is the capital, Louisville and Lexington the largest cities. Little remains of Kentucky's great forests that once spread over three quarters of the state and were renowned for their size and density. Tourist attractions include the famous Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville and the celebrated horse farms surrounding Lexington in the heart of the bluegrass region. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are historic landmarks. At Fort Knox is the U.S. Depository.


Kentucky is noted for the distilling of Bourbon whiskey and for the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses. Tobacco, in which Kentucky is second only to North Carolina among U.S. producers, has long been the state's chief cash crop. Other important agricultural products are horses and mules, cattle, and corn. Dairy goods, hay (to which the largest share of the state's acreage is devoted), and soybeans are also economically important.

Kentucky derives the greatest share of its income, however, from industry. Even Lexington, one of the world's largest loose-leaf tobacco markets, is industrialized. The state's chief manufactures include electrical equipment, food products, automobiles, nonelectrical machinery, chemicals, and apparel. Printing and publishing as well as tourism have become important industries. Kentucky is also one of the major U.S. producers of coal, the state's most valuable mineral; stone, petroleum, and natural gas are also extracted.

Government and Higher Education

Kentucky's state constitution was adopted in 1891. The governor is elected for a term of four years. The general assembly, or legislature, is bicameral, with a senate of 38 members and a house of representatives of 100 members. Kentucky is represented in the U.S. Congress by six representatives and two senators and has eight electoral votes. With three exceptions, Democrats have held the governship since World War II.

Institutions of higher learning include the Univ. of Kentucky and Transylvania Univ., at Lexington; the Univ. of Louisville, at Louisville; Eastern Kentucky Univ., at Richmond; Murray State Univ., at Murray; Western Kentucky Univ., at Bowling Green; Kentucky Wesleyan College, at Owensboro; Union College, at Barbourville, Kentucky State Univ., at Frankfort; and Berea College, at Berea.


Early Exploration and Settlement

When the Eastern seaboard of North America was being colonized in the 1600s, Kentucky was part of the inaccessible country beyond the mountains. After Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed all regions drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries for France, British interest in the area quickened. The first major expedition to the Tennessee region was led by Dr. Thomas Walker, who explored the eastern mountain region in 1750 for the Loyal Land Company. Walker was soon followed by hunters and scouts including Christopher Gist. Further exploration was interrupted by the last conflict (1754–63) of the French and Indian Wars between the French and British for control of North America, and Pontiac's Rebellion, a Native American uprising (1763–66).

With the British victorious in both, settlers soon began to enter Kentucky. They came in defiance of a royal proclamation of 1763, which forbade settlement west of the Appalachians. Daniel Boone, the famous American frontiersman, first came to Kentucky in 1767; he returned in 1769 and spent two years in the area. A surveying party under James Harrod established the first permanent settlement at Harrodsburg in 1774, and the next year Boone, as agent for Richard Henderson and the Transylvania Company, a colonizing group of which Henderson was a member, blazed the Wilderness Road from Tennessee into the Kentucky region and founded Boonesboro. Title to this land was challenged by Virginia, whose legislature voided (1778) the Transylvania Company's claims, although individual settlers were confirmed in their grants.

Native American Resistance and Statehood

Kentucky was made (1776) a county of Virginia, and new settlers came through the Cumberland Gap and over the Wilderness Road or down the Ohio River. These early pioneers of Kentucky and Tennessee were constantly in conflict with the Native Americans. The growing population of Kentuckians, feeling that Virginia had failed to give them adequate protection, worked for statehood in a series of conventions held at Danville (1784–91). Others, observing the weaknesses of the U.S. government, considered forming an independent nation. Since trade down the Mississippi and out of Spanish-held New Orleans was indispensable to Kentucky's economic development, an alliance with Spain was contemplated, and U.S. General James Wilkinson, who lived in Kentucky at the time, worked toward that end.

However, in 1792 a constitution was finally framed and accepted, and in the same year the Commonwealth of Kentucky (its official designation) was admitted to the Union, the first state W of the Appalachians. Isaac Shelby was elected the first governor, and Frankfort was chosen capital. U.S. General Anthony Wayne's victory at the battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 effectively ended Native American resistance in Kentucky.

River Rights and Banking Problems

In 1795, Pinckney's Treaty between the United States and Spain granted Americans the right to navigate the Mississippi, a right soon completely assured by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Enactment by the federal government of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) promptly provoked a sharp protest in Kentucky (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions). The state grew fast as trade and shipping centers developed and river traffic down the Ohio and Mississippi increased.

The War of 1812 spurred economic prosperity in Kentucky, but financial difficulties after the war threatened many with ruin. The state responded to the situation by chartering in 1818 a number of new banks that were allowed to issue their own currency. These banks soon collapsed, and the state legislature passed measures for the relief of the banks' creditors. However, the relief measures were subsequently declared unconstitutional by a state court. The legislature then repealed legislation that had established the offending court and set up a new one. The state became divided between prorelief and antirelief factions, and the issue also figured in the division of the state politically between followers of the Tennessean Andrew Jackson, then rising to national political prominence, and supporters of the Whig Party of Henry Clay, who was a leader in Kentucky politics for almost half a century.

The Slavery Issue and Civil War

In the first half of the 19th cent., Kentucky was primarily a state of small farms rather than large plantations and was not adaptable to extensive use of slave labor. Slavery thus declined after 1830, and for 17 years, beginning in 1833, the importation of slaves into the state was forbidden. In 1850, however, the legislature repealed this restriction, and Kentucky, where slave trading had begun to develop quietly in the 1840s, was converted into a huge slave market for the lower South.

Antislavery agitation had begun in the state in the late 18th cent. within the churches, and abolitionists such as James G. Birney and Cassius M. Clay labored vigorously in Kentucky for emancipation before the Civil War. Soon Kentucky, like other border states, was torn by conflict over the slavery issue. In addition to the radical antislavery element and the aggressive proslavery faction, there was also in the state a conciliatory group.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Kentucky attempted to remain neutral. Gov. Beriah Magoffin refused to sanction President Lincoln's call for volunteers, but his warnings to both the Union and the Confederacy not to invade were ignored. Confederate forces invaded and occupied part of S Kentucky, including Columbus and Bowling Green. The state legislature voted (Sept., 1861) to oust the Confederates and Ulysses S. Grant crossed the Ohio and took Paducah, thus securing the state was secured for the Union. After battles in Mill Springs, Richmond, and Perryville in 1862, there was no major fighting in the state, although the Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan occasionally led raids into Kentucky, and guerrilla warfare was constant.

For Kentucky it was truly a civil war as neighbors, friends, and even families became bitterly divided in their loyalties. Over 30,000 Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy, while about 64,000 served in the Union ranks. After the war many in the state opposed federal Reconstruction policies, and Kentucky refused to ratify the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Postwar Adjustment

As in the South, an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians supported the Democratic party in the period of readjustment after the war, which in many ways was as bitter as the war itself. After the Civil War industrial and commercial recovery was aided by increased railroad construction, but farmers were plagued by the liabilities of the one-crop (tobacco) system. After the turn of the century, the depressed price of tobacco gave rise to a feud between buyers and growers, resulting in the Black Patch War. Night riders terrorized buyers and growers in an effort to stage an effective boycott against monopolistic practices of buyers. For more than a year general lawlessness prevailed until the state militia forced a truce in 1908.

The Twentieth Century

Coal mining, which began on a large scale in the 1870s, was well established in mountainous E Kentucky by the early 20th cent. The mines boomed during World War I, but after the war, when demand for coal lessened and production fell off, intense labor troubles developed. The attempt of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) to organize the coal industry in Harlan co. in the 1930s resulted in outbreaks of violence, drawing national attention to “bloody” Harlan, and in 1937 a U.S. Senate subcommittee began an investigation into allegations that workers' civil rights were being violated. Further violence ensued, and it was not until 1939 that the UMW was finally recognized as a bargaining agent for most of the state's miners. Labor disputes and strikes have persisted in the state; some are still accompanied by violence.

After World War I improvements of the state's highways were made, and a much-needed reorganization of the state government was carried out in the 1920s and 30s. Since World War II, construction of turnpikes, extensive development of state parks, and a marked rise in tourism have all contributed to the development of the state. Kentucky benefited from the energy crisis of the 1970s, enjoying new prosperity when its large coal supply was in great demand during the 70s and 80s. The broader economy, however, recovered slowly from a decline in manufacturing during the same period.

Democratic governor Steve Beshear (2007-15) notably successfully implemented the Affordable Care Act in the state. Matt Bevin, a Republican, was elected to the office in 2015, only the third Republican to hold the seat since World War II, and implemented a conservative agenda. Bevin wast narrowly lost in 2019 to Democrat Andy Beshear, the son of Steve Beshear, who had previously served as the state's Attorney General. Kentucky was hard hit by a major tornado in Dec. 2021, leading to widespread devestation in the Southwest region of the state.


See S. A. Channing, Kentucky (1977); F. G. Davenport, Ante-Bellum Kentucky: A Social History, 1800–1860 (1943, repr. 1983); J. Goldstein, Kentucky Government and Politics (1984); W. Winton, Pioneer Ghosts of Kentucky (1987).


, river, United States
Kentucky, river, 259 mi (417 km) long, formed by the junction of the North Fork and the Middle Fork rivers, central Ky., and flowing NW to the Ohio River at Carrollton. Frankfort, Ky., is the river's largest city. The river is navigable for its entire length by means of locks. The Kentucky's upper course flows through a coal-mining district and the middle course through a deep gorge before entering the fertile bluegrass region.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Kentucky State Information

Phone: (502) 564-2500

Area (sq mi):: 40409.02 (land 39728.18; water 680.85) Population per square mile: 105.00
Population 2005: 4,173,405 State rank: 0 Population change: 2000-20005 3.30%; 1990-2000 9.70% Population 2000: 4,041,769 (White 89.30%; Black or African American 7.30%; Hispanic or Latino 1.50%; Asian 0.70%; Other 1.90%). Foreign born: 2.00%. Median age: 35.90
Income 2000: per capita $18,093; median household $33,672; Population below poverty level: 15.80% Personal per capita income (2000-2003): $24,412-$26,575
Unemployment (2004): 5.50% Unemployment change (from 2000): 1.30% Median travel time to work: 23.50 minutes Working outside county of residence: 30.30%

List of Kentucky counties:

  • Adair County
  • Allen County
  • Anderson County
  • Ballard County
  • Barren County
  • Bath County
  • Bell County
  • Boone County
  • Bourbon County
  • Boyd County
  • Boyle County
  • Bracken County
  • Breathitt County
  • Breckinridge County
  • Bullitt County
  • Butler County
  • Caldwell County
  • Calloway County
  • Campbell County
  • Carlisle County
  • Carroll County
  • Carter County
  • Casey County
  • Christian County
  • Clark County
  • Clay County
  • Clinton County
  • Crittenden County
  • Cumberland County
  • Daviess County
  • Edmonson County
  • Elliott County
  • Estill County
  • Fleming County
  • Floyd County
  • Franklin County
  • Fulton County
  • Gallatin County
  • Garrard County
  • Grant County
  • Graves County
  • Grayson County
  • Green County
  • Greenup County
  • Hancock County
  • Hardin County
  • Harlan County
  • Harrison County
  • Hart County
  • Henderson County
  • Henry County
  • Hickman County
  • Hopkins County
  • Jackson County
  • Jessamine County
  • Johnson County
  • Kenton County
  • Knott County
  • Knox County
  • LaRue County
  • Laurel County
  • Lawrence County
  • Lee County
  • Leslie County
  • Letcher County
  • Lewis County
  • Lexington-Fayette County
  • Lincoln County
  • Livingston County
  • Logan County
  • Louisville-Jefferson County
  • Lyon County
  • Madison County
  • Magoffin County
  • Marion County
  • Marshall County
  • Martin County
  • Mason County
  • McCracken County
  • McCreary County
  • McLean County
  • Meade County
  • Menifee County
  • Mercer County
  • Metcalfe County
  • Monroe County
  • Montgomery County
  • Morgan County
  • Muhlenberg County
  • Nelson County
  • Nicholas County
  • Ohio County
  • Oldham County
  • Owen County
  • Owsley County
  • Pendleton County
  • Perry County
  • Pike County
  • Powell County
  • Pulaski County
  • Robertson County
  • Rockcastle County
  • Rowan County
  • Russell County
  • Scott County
  • Shelby County
  • Simpson County
  • Spencer County
  • Taylor County
  • Todd County
  • Trigg County
  • Trimble County
  • Union County
  • Warren County
  • Washington County
  • Wayne County
  • Webster County
  • Whitley County
  • Wolfe County
  • Woodford County
  • Counties USA: A Directory of United States Counties, 3rd Edition. © 2006 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

    Kentucky Parks

    Parks Directory of the United States, 5th Edition. © 2007 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
    The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



    a state in the southern USA. Area, 104,600 sq km. Population 3.2 million (1970), of which 52 percent is urban. Capital city, Frankfort.

    The limestone Cumberland Plateau (altitude, 200–450 m), which is dissected by the deep valleys of the Cumberland, Green, and Kentucky rivers, occupies a large part of the state. Karst landscapes are characteristic, including Mammoth Cave. In the west and northwest there is a plain bounded by the Ohio River.

    Kentucky has a temperate wet climate (average monthly temperatures, 0.4° ˗ 24.4°C; annual precipitation, 1,000–1,250 mm). The broad-leaved forests, for the most part, have been logged.

    Kentucky is an industrial-agrarian state. The manufacturing industry employs 250,000 and mining, 29,000. It has a developed chemical industry (synthetic rubber, fibers, plastics, etc.), electrical engineering industry (domestic electrical appliances in Louisville, etc.), and general machine building. Paducah is one of the centers for the American atomic industry. Of importance are the food (Kentucky is known for distillation, including the production of whiskey) and tobacco industries. There is extraction of coal (101 million tons in 1968; 18 percent of the national output, in second place after West Virginia), petroleum, building stones, fluorspar, and natural gas. The total established capacity of the electric power plant is nearly 10 hectowatts (1972).

    In agriculture there are both commodity farms as well as many small subsistence farms. Because of the ruin of small farmers the number of farms dropped from 193,000 in 1954 to 130,000 in 1969. The values of the commodity products of plant growing and livestock raising are approximately equal. The chief commodity crop is tobacco (on the plain), in the growing of which (nearly 200,000 tons) Kentucky holds second place in the USA (after North Carolina). Corn is widely grown (the major portion of the area under cultivation), as are fodder grasses, soybeans, and various strains of wheat. Meat-dairy and meat livestock raising are developed; on Jan. 1, 1971, the state had 2.9 million head of cattle and 1.7 million head of swine. In the mountainous regions, where the basic occupations of the people are livestock raising, horticulture, and tobacco growing, small subsistence farms are prevalent. There is shipping on the Ohio River.




    a river in the eastern USA, a left-bank tributary of the Ohio. Formed by the merging of the North, Middle, and South forks of the Kentucky River, which flows down from the Cumberland Plateau. Length, 410 km; basin area, 19,000 sq km.

    It is fed by snow and rain; there is slight flooding in the spring. The average annual flow of water is 260 cu m per sec. Locks have been constructed, and it is navigable as far as the city of Heidelberg. There is a hydroelectric power plant. The city of Frankfort is located on the Kentucky River.

    The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


    Fifteenth state; admitted on June 1, 1792

    Admission Day is not regularly observed in Kentucky, although festivities were held on the 100th, 150th, and 175th anniversaries of statehood.

    State capital: Frankfort

    Nicknames: The Bluegrass State; The Hemp State; The Tobacco State; The Dark and Bloody Ground

    State motto: United We Stand, Divided We Fall

    State bird: Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

    State amphitheater: Iroquois Amphitheater

    State arboretum: Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

    State bluegrass song: “Blue Moon of Kentucky”

    State botanical garden: University of Kentucky Arboretum

    State bourbon festival: Kentucky Bourbon Festival

    State butterfly: Viceroy

    State center for celebration of African American heritage: Kentucky Center for African American Heritage
    State covered bridge: Switzer covered bridge
    State dance: Clogging
    State drink: Milk
    State fish: Kentucky spotted bass
    State flower: Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
    State fossil: Brachiopod
    State fruit: blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
    State gemstone: Fresh water pearl
    State honey festival: Clarkson Honeyfest
    State horse: Thoroughbred
    State language: English
    State mineral: Coal

    State music: Bluegrass

    State musical instrument: Appalachian Dulcimer

    State outdoor musical: “The Stephen Foster Story”

    State pipe band: Louisville Pipe Band

    State rock: Kentucky agate

    State science center: Louisville Science Center

    State silverware pattern: “Old Kentucky Blue Grass, The Georgetown Pattern”

    State song: “My Old Kentucky Home”

    State soil: Crider soil series

    State steam locomotive: Old 152

    State theatre pipe organ: Kentucky Theatre’s Mighty Wurl­itzer

    State tree: Tulip Poplar (Lirodendroan tulipifera)

    State tug-o-war championship: The Fordsville Tug-o-War Championship

    State wild game animal species: Gray squirrel (Sciurus car­olinensis)

    More about state symbols at:


    AmerBkDays-2000, p. 411 AnnivHol-2000, p. 94 DictDays-1988, p. 113


    State web site:

    Office of the Governor State Capitol Bldg 700 Capitol Ave Rm 100 Frankfort, KY 40601 502-564-2611 fax: 502-564-2517

    Secretary of State State Capitol Bldg 700 Capitol Ave Rm 152 Frankfort, KY 40601 502-564-3490 fax: 502-564-5687

    Kentucky Dept for Libraries & Archives 300 Coffee Tree Rd Frankfort, KY 40602 502-564-8300 fax: 502-564-5773

    Legal Holidays:

    Day after ThanksgivingNov 25, 2011; Nov 23, 2012; Nov 29, 2013; Nov 28, 2014; Nov 27, 2015; Nov 25, 2016; Nov 24, 2017; Nov 23, 2018; Nov 29, 2019; Nov 27, 2020; Nov 26, 2021; Nov 25, 2022; Nov 24, 2023
    Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
    Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


    1. a state of the S central US: consists of an undulating plain in the west, the Bluegrass region in the centre, the Tennessee and Ohio River basins in the southwest, and the Appalachians in the east. Capital: Frankfort. Pop.: 4 117 827 (2003 est.). Area: 102 693 sq. km (39 650 sq. miles)
    2. a river in central Kentucky, rising in the Cumberland Mountains and flowing northwest to the Ohio River. Length: 417 km (259 miles)
    Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
    References in periodicals archive ?
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    Consul General also offered Fateha at the grave of legendary boxer Mohammad Ali, who is buried in Louisville, Kentucky.
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    Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities
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    “We are honored to have Aaron's art grace our cover,” said Stephen Vest, Kentucky Monthly's editor and publisher.
    Following an optional distillery tour, members gathered for their meeting on the topic of "Kentucky Update--Kentucky Department of Revenue" presented by Kentucky Department of Revenue.
    The new campaign, There's Only One, has been launched with a new version of the Official Kentucky Visitors Guide, offering lists of attractions and travel opportunities in Kentucky, US.
    Highlights from Kentucky's fact sheet include: (1) Kentucky had the 37th largest Latino population in the U.S.; (2) In Kentucky, 3% of the K-12 population was Latino; (3) In Kentucky, 3% of the state population was Latino.
    [USPRwire, Tue Aug 16 2011] Key Assets Kentucky, a newly established fostering agency, is now open and ready for the challenge of placing children in Kentucky with complex needs into family based foster homes.

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