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Kentucky's influence is about a lot more than just bourbon and horses

Some of our favorite celebrities and items we use everyday come from the Bluegrass state.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When you think of the state of Kentucky, does the word “cool” come to mind? Well, it probably should. While Kentucky may be known for bourbon, horse racing and fried chicken, there is so much more to the state than that.

Amanda Briede, a curator for the Frazier History Museum’s “Cool Kentucky” exhibit, said her hope for the exhibit is to showcase the incredible people and ideas that came from Kentucky.

“I think a lot of times we think maybe you can only be great and do great things if you're from somewhere like New York or LA but there's so many Kentuckians that have done so many great things,” she said.


Louisville may have fallen in love with Lamar Jackson during his time as a Cardinal at UofL (and for good reason), but he wasn’t the first person from Kentucky to win the Heisman Trophy. That honor goes to Paul Hornung, who won the trophy in 1956.

“He went to Notre Dame, but he actually went to Flaget High School in the West End,” Briede said.

Oksana Masters’ name may not be as well-known, but her achievements are just as notable. According to her Team USA bio, the Paralympian was born in Ukraine with six toes on each foot, webbed fingers and no thumbs due to in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.

Credit: AP

She was adopted by a family in Louisville and went to high school at Atherton before going on to win a total of eight medals in Paralympic Nordic skiing, cycling and rowing.

Wes Unseld, Wade Houston and Nate Northington are all local athletic greats known for breaking racial barriers in both college and professional sports. Their influence helped pave the way for the players we celebrate today.

RELATED: Celebrating Black History in Kentucky and southern Indiana


Kentucky’s musical influence extends far beyond Bluegrass music – people who have called Kentucky home have hit the charts in country, rock, rap and more. Familiar names include Chris Stapleton, The Everly Brothers, Wilson Pickett, My Morning Jacket and Jack Harlow.

Kentucky native Bill Monroe may have been one of the first Bluegrass greats, but that style isn’t exclusive to the Bluegrass state. In fact, Michael Cleveland of Charlestown, Indiana won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2020.

Credit: WHAS


Many items that we use often were invented in Kentucky, including Post-It Notes, fishing reels and the three-position traffic signal.

“All kinds of stuff that you would have never thought about, that’s just super well-known, has been produced here in Kentucky,” Briede said.

Click here to discover more from the Kentuckiana Curiosity special

Dozens of popular brands like Fruit of the Loom, Hot Pockets, and Dippin Dots have manufacturing facilities in the state and Tiffany’s Jewelry has a factor here as well.

This list just scratches the surface of what’s available at the Frazier History Museum’s “Cool Kentucky” exhibit. Other items on display include a pair of overalls George Clooney wore in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, a set of first edition Sue Grafton novels and the boat Tori Murden rode as she rowed across the Atlantic.

RELATED: Can you answer these 11 questions about Kentuckiana?

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