For example, it’s the home of the University of Tennessee. Tennessee Valley Authority headquarters are here. (TVA is the largest power provider in the U.S. too.) Knoxville was once the state capitol. It’s also the largest city in East Tennessee and the third largest city in the state.
But, here are eight facts about Knoxville you may not know.
1. Mountain Dew was invented in Knoxville
In 1940 a local bottling company owned by a pair of brothers mixed up a fizzy, caffeine-free lemon-lime soda. (The pair allegedly wanted a mixer for their hooch.) They named it “Mountain Dew,” a tongue in cheek reference to moonshine.
The company was sold to PepsiCo in 1964. Now, Mountain Dew is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world (ten of the eighteen Mountain Dew flavors are still bottled in Knoxville).
2. A Mayor Invented the Garbage Dumpster
George Roby Dempster was Mayor of Knoxville from 1951 – 1955. He and his brother owned a construction company. They wanted a way to dispose of job site waste efficiently. That led them to invent the trash Dumpster.
In the 1950’s, his company introduced the Dempster-Dumpmaster. (We call a garbage truck today.) So, you can thank a Knoxvillian for making your city a little cleaner.
3. Knoxville is home to several nationally known companies.
Discovery, HGTV, and the Food Network operate out of a large studio/production facility in West Knoxville. Jewelry Television’s headquarters are also in West Knoxville.
Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theater operator in the US, started in Knoxville. As did Bush Brothers Beans. (Roll that beautiful bean footage!) Pilot/Flying J, with hundreds of travel centers and travel plazas, is a homegrown business as well.
4. The computer touch screen debuted at the 1982 World’s Fair.
The world’s first working computer touch screen was unveiled at the World’s Fair. (Whoda thunk we’d carry hand held touch screens devices thirty-six years later?) Other debuts included Cherry Coke and the Petro (a tasty concoction of chili, cheese and corn chips served in a cup.)
5. Knoxville is home to “The Body Farm”
The Body Farm was established in 1971 by forensic anthropologist William Bass. It’s located behind UT Medical Center (not underneath Neyland Stadium…as rumor has it). You can imagine that the facility is the target of fraternity pranks at Halloween.
Dr. Bass’s work has revolutionized forensic anthropology. (“CSI” owes this place some serious props!) You can’t visit it, but you can learn more about it here.
6. A Member of The Wild Bunch Gang escaped from the Knoxville Jail.
In 1901, the Wild West rode into Knoxville. Kid Curry, Butch Cassidy’s second in command, murdered two policemen. After the trial in 1903, Curry escaped his jailers through a window. He then stole the sheriff’s favorite horse, and was last seen fleeing town over the Gay Street bridge.
His freedom was short lived. Curry was found in Colorado three years later. He committed suicide on the spot, after being shot by a posse.
7. Knoxville is an International Port
Despite its location, Knoxville is an international port. It’s 700 river miles away from the Mississippi (via the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers). It’s also 900 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico (via the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway).
TVA, maintains the navigation channels along the Tennessee River.
8. Knoxville was both “The Underwear Capital of the World” AND “The Streaking Capital of the World.”
Knoxville had a thriving textile industry in the early Twentieth Century. At one point, there were twenty textile factories in the city. These factories produced everything from socks to t-shirts and gloves. That was how Knoxville became “The Underwear Capitol of the World.”
Due to foreign competition, the factories closed in the 1950s. The surviving buildings are now shopping centers, offices, and condos.
In 1974, CBS’s Walter Cronkite dubbed Knoxville “The Streaking Capital of the World.” That spring five thousand UT students bared all just off campus on Cumberland Avenue. The shenanigans gave new meaning to the Cumberland Avenue “Strip.”
A fiberglass cow, part of a sign for a popular hangout, barely survived the fad. Students would climb the sign and simulate sex acts on the cow. (Crazy college kids!)
My brother was actually arrested for “masking.” (Streakers wore Halloween masks to hide their faces.) He wasn’t taking part in the hijinks; he was a spectator a Batman mask. (Our dad was NOT amused.)
These are only a few of the quirky things that make Knoxville unique. I could tell you about it being the cradle of country music. It’s also the birthplace and home to award-winning writers, actors, and musicians. Or that it’s illegal to lasso a fish here.
But, I’ll save those stories for later.