1. Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains beats both the Grand Canyon and Yosemite as America’s most visited national park.
2. On top of that, Tennessee boasts the third-most visited house in the country (after the White House and Biltmore Estate): Graceland Mansion, the former home of Elvis Presley.
3. The city of Gatlinburg is home to the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum & Smoky Mountain Spices, which displays over 20,000 different variations of salt and pepper shakers (bearing the likenesses of frogs, musical notes, The Beatles, and others).
4. Ever the diplomat, Greeneville, Tennessee prides itself on displaying the only monument in the United States that pays tribute to both the Union and Confederate Armies.
5. This ideological ambivalence dates back to the war itself. Tennessee provided a wealth of troops to both the Union and the Confederacy during battle; in fact, Tennessee was responsible for providing the Union with more soldiers than all other Southern states combined.
6. It’s understandable why Tennessee might be so devoted to preserving Civil War history: A whopping 38 battles in the war were fought on Tennessee soil, more than any other state but Virginia.
7. Tennessee wasn’t just the birthplace of Elvis Presley's career, but of country music on the whole. While the 1920s saw the nation’s musical hopefuls rush to New York to land record deals, producer and talent scout Ralph Peer set up camp in Bristol, angling to catch wind of the more genuine sound enjoyed by the locals. Peer is credited with launching the musical genre by signing acts such as Jimmie Rodgers, Mamie Smith, and the Carter Family, and bringing unprecedented attention to the country and folk scene. Appropriately, Bristol is home to the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance.
8. This brand of music is celebrated by Nashville’s own radio mainstay, the Grand Ole Opry stage concert and radio show. Broadcasting consistently since 1925, the Grand Ole Opry is the longest running radio program in American history.
9. In 1905, Nashville, Tennessee, welcomed McKissack & McKissack, the first architectural firm founded by black men. The institution is still in operation today, although its headquarters have relocated to New York City.
10. Resting beneath the grounds of Tennessee is a beautiful secret: the Lost Sea, an underground lake that finds its home among the gargantuan Craighead Caverns system in Sweetwater. The Lost Sea is the largest sub-glacial underground lake in America, and the second largest in the world (after Namibia’s Dragon Breath Cave).
11. Though not invented in Tennessee, mini-golf was patented there by one Garnet Carter. It was originally known as Tom Thumb Golf.
12. Although three United States Presidents have been marked by a political and residential affiliation to Tennessee (Andrew Jackson lived in Nashville, James Polk served as the Governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841, and Andrew Johnson settled in Greeneville and was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, Tennessee Senate, and served as Tennessee's governor from 1853-1857), no Commander-in-Chief to date was ever born in Tennessee.
13. Coca Cola was invented by a Georgian and first bottled by a Missourian company, but it was two Tennessean businessmen (Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead) who purchased control over the production of the soft drink. How much did it cost Thomas and Whitehead to convince company founder Asa Candler to sign over bottling rights to their Chattanooga company? Exactly one dollar.
14. Among the bounty of delicacies invented in Tennessee: Mountain Dew, cotton candy, and moon pies.
15. A good deal of work on the Manhattan Project was actually done in Tennessee. The facility K-25 was founded and built in Oak Ridge for secret work on the atomic bomb, and was, at the time, the largest factory in existence. The 12,000 workers needed for the K-25 construction and their families lived nearby in a temporary communited called Happy Valley.