History & Culture
Explore Louisville's rich history and cultural experiences
Named for King Louis XVI of France in appreciation for his assistance during the Revolutionary War, Louisville was founded by George Rogers Clark in 1778. While its initial growth was slow, the advent of the steamboat in the early 1800s sparked booming industrial development, and by 1830 Louisville had secured its place as the largest city in Kentucky.
During the Civil War, Louisville was an important Union base of operations and a major military supply center. In the postwar era, the city emerged even more prosperous than before, with merchant princes and manufacturers shaping the new economy. Owing to its strategic location at the Falls of the Ohio, Louisville was a major commercial center. River transportation was supplemented by the construction of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which was chartered in 1850 and operated more than 1,800 miles of line in the state by 1920. Joseph E. Seagram and Sons opened the world's largest distillery in Louisville following the repeal of prohibition. Thanks to companies such as Dupont, the city became the world's largest producer of synthetic rubber during World War II.
Louisville was also a city of firsts. In the reform-minded progressive era of the 1880's the city was the first in the nation to introduce the secret ballot, significantly reducing vote fraud. It was the first city in Kentucky to adopt zoning and planning measures to control and shape urban growth. Home to the first bridge designed exclusively for motor vehicles to cross the Ohio River, Louisville was also the birthplace of Mary Millicent Miller, the first woman in the United States to receive a steamboat master's license.
The city has been home to a number of men and women who changed the face of American history. President Zachary Taylor was reared in surrounding Jefferson County, and two U.S. Supreme Court Justices, including Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice, were from the city proper. John James Audubon was a local shopkeeper in the early years of his career, drawing birds in his spare time. Second Lt. F. Scott Fitzgerald, stationed at Camp Zachary Taylor during World War I, was frequent presence at the bar in the famous Seelbach Hotel, immortalized in the novel The Great Gatsby. Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, was born in Louisville and won six Golden Glove tournaments in Kentucky."
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