13 Things Kentucky Is Best Known for Other Than the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky ranks in the lower half of the 50 states in population, with a scant 4.4 million residents. But, for such a little place, the Bluegrass State looms large in the American imagination.

Think, Kentucky Derby, bourbon, KFC, the Louisville Slugger and Muhammad Ali, and you get a slice of what this lush state offers. 

On Saturday, all eyes will be on Louisville and the Kentucky Derby race, its 143rd running. As is tradition, right before the Derby race begins, the crowd at the white gabled Churchill Downs, owned by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) , stands and sings Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home."

Kentucky is also home to a lot of American companies whose products you may know, use and invest in and two senators you may have heard of.

Read on.

Horse farms in the bluegrass.
Horse farms in the bluegrass.

You can drive far and wide in Kentucky horse country and see sleek muscular racehorses grazing on bluegrass. Among the most storied of the farms is Calumet, which holds the record for Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners.

For a history lesson in thoroughbreds, the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is the place. On exhibition now is a show honoring the centennial of Man o' War, known also as Big Red, the Depression-era steed who won 20 of 21 races he started.

Big, outrageous hats for good luck.
Big, outrageous hats for good luck.

Not only are hats at the Derby eye-catching, but the superstition goes that it's a good bet for your betting to wear one during the race.

For more about Derby hats, check out the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville.

The fire in mint juleps.
The fire in mint juleps.

Not every drop of bourbon is made in Kentucky, but when you say the word bourbon, most imbibers think Kentucky first.

It's the spirit in mint juleps, served at the Derby and throughout the state.

Here are popular bourbon brands produced there: Brown-Forman's (BF.B)  Woodford Reserve and Old Forester, Maker's Mark, Willett Single Barrel, Wild Turkey and Jim Beam.

KFC, as in Kentucky Fried Chicken, and more fast food.
KFC, as in Kentucky Fried Chicken, and more fast food.

Some well-known fast food companies are headquartered, or drew their inspiration from, Kentucky.

First among them is Kentucky Fried Chicken. The real Colonel Sanders, whose image is still the brand's mascot, created a recipe for chicken that sparked enthusiasm nationwide, then the world, for the deep-fried bird. KFC is now owned by Yum! Brands (YUM) .

Others are Texas Roadhouse (TXRH)  , headquartered in Louisville; Papa John's (PZZA)  in Jeffersontown; Long John Silver's and A&W Restaurants, both in Lexington; and Kona Ice, a Hawaiian-style shaved ice franchise based in Florence.

Louisville Slugger and bowling balls.
Louisville Slugger and bowling balls.

The legendary Louisville Slugger, the official bat of Major League Baseball, was first made in 1884 by a 17-year-old boy in Louisville, Ky., and is still manufactured there.

According to the website of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, in 2015 Wilson Sporting Goods bought the Slugger brand from Hillerich & Bradsby, which owns the museum and factory, and makes the wooden bats exclusively for Wilson, now under the umbrella of Finnish company AmerSports.

Meanwhile, Ebonite International makes bowling balls in Hopkinsville.

Heavy-hitting politicians.
Heavy-hitting politicians.

Kentucky has produced its share of national political leaders, including its current U.S. senators, who regularly make headlines. They are Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Rand Paul, a presidential candidate in 2016. They are both Republicans, but it seems they are rarely on the same side of an issue.

Coal miners.
Coal miners.

Kentucky is coal country, too. Ranking third in the nation, Kentucky produced 61.4 million tons of coal in 2015, according to the most recent data from the state government's website. There were 9,557 people employed directly in Kentucky's coal mines that year. 

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." --Muhammad Ali
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." --Muhammad Ali

The world's most famous boxer, Muhammad Ali, wasn't living in his hometown of Louisville, or even Kentucky, when he died last year, but he never really left the Bluegrass State completely and was laid to rest in Louisville. 

This American original who became simply Ali, began life as Cassius Clay and eventually changed his name, which he called a slave name, when he converted to Islam. He garnered many sports titles and made boxing mainstream, but it was his activism and Civil Rights work that truly made him a titan.

UPS Airlines.
UPS Airlines.

The cargo service UPS Airlines, owned by UPS (UPS) , is based in Louisville.

Health and well-being are alive in Louisville.
Health and well-being are alive in Louisville.

Humana (HUM) , in Louisville, is the best-known of Kentucky's healthcare companies. Others are healthcare companies Kindred Healthcare (KND)  and PharMerica (PMC) , a big player in the institutional pharmacy services market.

Fruit of the Loom.
Fruit of the Loom.
Men's shorts made by Fruit of the Loom.

Owned by Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) since 2002, Fruit of the Loom, based in Bowling Green, is one of the largest makers and marketers of men's and boys' underwear, women's and girls' underwear, printable T-shirts and fleece.

Wired in Kentucky.
Wired in Kentucky.

The 170-year-old General Cable (BGC) in Highland Heights is one of the world's largest wire and cable manufacturers. It makes copper, aluminum and fiber optic wire, as well as cable products for the energy, construction, industrial, specialty and communications markets.

Republic Bank & Trust
Republic Bank & Trust

Republic Bank & Trust Company  (RBCAA) is a Louisville-based bank, founded in 1982.

Editor's Pick: Originally published May 3. 

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