Founded in 1778, Louisville is one the oldest cities west of the Appalachians and currently the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. For a deep dive into the history of Louisville, check out the Louisville Historical League, an organization dedicated to promoting the appreciation and preservation of the cultural heritage and historic environment in the Louisville metropolitan region through a wide array of programming and a robust online presence at louisvillehistoricalleague.org and @LouisvilleKYHistoricalLeague.
After diving into Louisville history with The League, then dig deeper into Kentucky history at a few of Louisville’s local museums such as:
Filson Historical Society, filsonhistorical.org
Founded in 1884, the Filson is a privately supported historical society dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the significant history and culture of Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.
Frazier History Museum, fraziermuseum.org
The award-winning Frazier documents stories from history using artifacts, exhibitions, and guided tours led by a talented staff of educators. Subjects of exhibitions include the pop culture of Kentucky, the history of Kentucky, Bourbon whiskey, Lewis and Clark, historical miniatures, and Louisville highlights. The Frazier is also home to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center.
Roots 101 African-American Museum, roots-101.org
Founded by Lamont Collins in 2019, the Roots 101 African-American History Museum a 501 c nonprofit organization and healing place for visitors to see themselves in history, explore the African-American story, and to grow a greater understanding of the achievements, cultural contributions, and the experiences of African-Americans.
How Louisville Came to Be
Major George Rogers Clark travels with 150 soldiers and 80 settlers from Pennsylvania down the Ohio River to Corn Island, a former island in the river at the head of the Falls of the Ohio. A month later, Clark and his troops leave to fight in the American Revolution against the British. The families left behind establish Fort Nelson, which is now where Louisville sits.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark start their Lewis and Clark Expedition from Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio.
The initial Roman Catholic parish of the city begins (continues today as the Cathedral of the Assumption began). Today, Louisville has the oldest inland Roman Catholic diocese in America.
With a population of approximately 7,000 people, Louisville becomes an incorporated city electing John Bucklin as the first mayor. The University of Louisville is founded as the nation’s first municipal university.
Louisville native, Zachary Taylor, becomes the 12th President of the United States. He only served for four months before dying of cholera. He is buried in Zachary Taylor National Cemetery on Brownsboro Road in Louisville.
Thomas Edison came to Louisville at the young age of 19 to work as a telegraph key operator. He lived in the Butchertown neighborhood where The Thomas Edison House Museum sits today.
Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark forms the Louisville Jockey Club and acquires land for a racetrack from his uncles, John and Henry Churchill. The first Kentucky Derby horse race takes place with Aristides winning in a field of fifteen horses with a crowd of 10,000 onlookers. The track is later named Churchill Downs.
Louisville’s Southern Exposition helped create the atmosphere for the future growth and development for the city. It featured exhibits on agriculture, industry, and the arts. Thomas Edison’s installation of forty-six hundred lights was the largest to date. The Exposition covered some 45 acres in the area today known as Old Louisville adjacent to Central Park.
Seventeen-year-old, John “Bud” Hillerich plays hooky from school to attend an Eclipse game - Louisville’s major league baseball team. After seeing Eclipse player, Pete Browning, break his bat, Hillerich offers to make the slumping slugger a new bat at his father’s woodworking shop. And the Louisville Slugger tradition began. (Tour the Louisville Slugger factory on Main Street today).
Louisville was hit by one of the most violent and damaging storms recorded in its history. Because of its widely spread, destructive path, which was much larger than the city had ever experienced, it was referred to by residents and journalists as the “Louisville Cyclone.”
President Woodrow Wilson appoints Louisville liberal, Louis Brandeis, to the US Supreme Court. Brandeis is the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice.
The Ford Motor Company opens its first Louisville factory. Today, more trucks are made in Louisville than anywhere else.
F. Scott Fitzgerald writes “The Great Gatsby” during many visits to Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel. As the grandest hotel in Louisville in the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon trade, the hotel attracted many famous gangsters. Fitzgerald drew inspiration from gangsters like George Remus for the novel.
The Ohio River Great Flood surpassed all prior floods during the previous 175 years of modern occupancy of the Ohio River Valley. Some say more than 75% of Louisville was submerged.
Cassius Clay was born in Louisville. Later known as Muhammad Ali, he was consistently ranked as one of the greatest boxers of all time. To learn more about Ali, visit the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville.
Jefferson County Schools are ordered to an immediate busing program by a Federal Court to racially integrate schools. Police board buses to protect students from white protesters who attack buses with rocks.
United Parcel Service (UPS) begins an overnight delivery business with hub operations at Louisville’s airport. Currently, it is the 8th largest cargo port in the world employing more than 20,000 workers. About 175 flights daily.
The governments of Louisville and Jefferson County merge.
Thomas Edison was fired from his job in Louisville for spilling chemicals from a science experiment on his boss’ desk. He leaves Louisville and subsequently discovers electric lighting and the phonograph.
“Happy Birthday to You” was first published in 1893 by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill of Louisville, who wrote the song for the kindergarteners in the school in which Patty was the principal. The song was then titled “Good Morning to All,” with the same melody we all know today.
The McAlpine locks and dam adjacent to the Portland neighborhood have lock chambers that have the highest lift (thirty-seven feet) of any of the Ohio River locks. The facility allows river traffic along the Ohio placed to allow boats and barges to navigate the river because of the level of the Falls of the Ohio.