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30 Interesting Facts About Memphis

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The widely-traveled author shares some interesting facts about Memphis, Tennessee!

Memphis is a Tennessee tourist hotspot for at least 30 good reasons, as you'll discover below!

Memphis is a Tennessee tourist hotspot for at least 30 good reasons, as you'll discover below!

Memphis, the largest city in Tennessee, is situated on the Mississippi River in the southwestern corner of the state. It is the seat of Shelby County and the major commercial and industrial center of western Tennessee. Memphis is one of the principal wholesale and retail cities in the South, and its economic influence extends into neighboring states. It is also a leading educational and medical center.

1. The city lies on the Chickasaw Bluffs, on the east bank of the Mississippi River. It is also at the mouth of the Wolf River, which flows into the Mississippi. The surrounding region is a rich cotton and lumber-producing area. Throughout its history, Memphis has been an important cotton and hardwood market.

2. Memphis has a mild southern climate—with an average of 238 sunny days annually. Temperatures average about 80° F (27° C) in summer and 43° F (6° C) in winter.


3. Memphis is the most populous city in Tennessee. The Memphis metropolitan area (Shelby and Tipton counties in TN, Crittenden County in AK, and De Soto County, MS) had a population of 1,316,100 in 2010, compared with 981,747 in 1990.

4. The city's southern boundary forms part of the Tennessee-Mississippi state line. Its suburbs include Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Lakeland, Southhaven, Whitehaven, Millington, Germantown, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark.

5. Downtown Memphis, the central business district, extends inland from the Mississippi River. Along the waterfront are Cotton Row, site of the Cotton Exchange, and other offices where the cotton trade is conducted. One of the city's principal industrial areas is on Presidents Island, a large island in the Mississippi River.


6. Tall office buildings dominate the skyline. As part of an urban renewal project, the city built a multimillion-dollar civic center, which includes city hall and county, state, and federal buildings. The Pyramid Arena is a uniquely designed building that hosts a variety of events.

7. Memphis is a leading commercial and industrial city:

  • Its location has made it one of the largest wholesale and distributing centers in the South.
  • Its primary trading area consists of parts of six states.
  • The city is one of the world's largest markets for spot cotton and hardwood lumber and the distributing center for livestock, grains, and other agricultural products.

8. Industrial development has been an increasingly important segment of the city's economy since the end of World War II. Memphis processes or manufactures a wide variety of goods, including foodstuffs, chemicals, wood and paper products, and electrical goods. The city is also the largest livestock and meatpacking center in the South.


9. Memphis is one of the busiest inland ports on the Mississippi River, shipping over 11 million tons of cargo annually. It is also a major transportation center, with multiple access points by highway, rail, and air. The Memphis International Airport is located there as well. Also, because FedEx's headquarters are in the city, the airport has the largest cargo operation in the world.

10. Memphis is widely known for its extensive medical and educational facilities. The Memphis Medical Center, one of the largest in the nation, is located in the city, as is the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences.

11. Several institutions of higher learning are in Memphis.

  • The largest, by far, is the University of Memphis (formerly, Memphis State University).
  • The University of Tennessee also has a branch in Memphis.
  • Other colleges include Crichton College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis College of Arts, Christian Brothers University, and Rhodes College.

12. Memphis has a public library system, which includes the main library and numerous local branches. It also has a symphony orchestra, a ballet company, an opera theater, and a repertory theater.

13. The FedEx Forum, completed in 2004, is home to the Memphis Grizzlies NBA (National Basketball Association) team and the University of Memphis's basketball team; the Memphis Rock 'n Soul Museum, created by the Smithsonian Institution, is also located on the premises.

14. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the city's largest art museum, exhibits both American and European fine and decorative arts dating from the Renaissance to the present.

15. The Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium feature exhibits that examine the natural and cultural history of the region.

Beale Street

Beale Street

16. The Chucalissa Archaeological Museum is an archaeological project of the University of Memphis. The museum is located at the site of a Native American village, which was founded in about 900 A.D. and abandoned in the early 17th century.

17. There are numerous other museums and art galleries throughout the city, some of which include:

  • The Art Museum of the University of Memphis, showcasing African and Egyptian collections
  • The Art Village Gallery, featuring African American and Caribbean fine art; and
  • The Children's Museum of Memphis.

18. Memphis is also the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. It was established at the Lorraine Motel, which was also the site of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The museum (the first of its kind in the nation) chronicles the civil rights movement from the colonial period to the present. In 2002, it expanded to include the adjacent building—the Main Street Rooming House—from which James Earl Ray allegedly fired the shot resulting in King's death.


19. The Memphis Cook Convention Center is a large complex in the city and includes:

  • The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2003 and is home to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
  • Other events such as ballet; opera, pop, and jazz concerts; touring theater productions; and children's theater.

20. Memphis is a well-known music center and has been the home of several famous "sounds." One of the best-known places in the city is Beale Street, where W. C. Handy, the "father of the blues," wrote and played his music. His first blues composition was The Memphis Blues (1912), originally written as a campaign song for a Memphis mayoral election. He immortalized the street in Beale Street Blues (1916). A statue of Handy stands in a park named for him on Beale Street.

21. Elvis Presley, whose popularity made rock and roll a national phenomenon in the 1950s, began his recording career in Memphis at Sun Records, otherwise known as the "Birthplace of Rock and Roll."

22. Graceland mansion, Elvis Presley's home until his death in 1977, is visited annually by more than half a million fans. The city became one of the country's major recording centers.

23. In the 1960s and 1970s, another new "sound" originated in the city—the Memphis Sound, which is a mix of blues, rhythm and blues, and soul. Stax Records (1959–1976) was one of the first recording studios to produce this genre of music and was known for promoting their artists. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music takes a historical look at the development of soul music and its artists, from its own record company as well as from other notable recording studios.

24. In addition to its many historical points of interest, Memphis has several parks and gardens and a zoo. Mudd Island is perhaps the most unique of the city's parks. It's located on a 50-acre (20 ha-) island in the Mississippi River. The park is devoted to the study of the river as well as the music and arts the river has inspired.

FedEx Forum

FedEx Forum

25. The city also boasts a wildlife sanctuary, the Lichterman Nature Center, two state parks, and the Memphis Botanical Garden, which houses an arboretum, a conservatory, and a Japanese garden.

26. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens offers a museum of fine and decorative arts surrounded by almost 20 acres (8 ha) of formal and woodland gardens.

27. The Memphis Zoo and Aquarium offers a petting zoo in addition to its aquarium.

28. The Memphis Motorsports Park annually hosts NASCAR's Busch and Craftsman Truck Series, as well as other racing events.

29. Memphis's musical heritage is reflected in several of its annual events.

  • Beale Street hosts: the Beale Street Music Festival in May, and the Memphis Music Festival (featuring blues, jazz, country and western, and rock artists) in September.
  • The Blues Music Awards are hosted by the city annually.
  • The "King of Rock and Roll" is honored with an Elvis week each August.

30. The Memphis in May International Festival runs for a month and features:

  • The music festival on Beale Street
  • International Events (each year a different country is chosen to be represented)
  • The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest; and
  • A Sunset Symphony on the last day.