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There wasn’t a birthday cake or a lot of fanfare, but Kentucky hit a major milestone earlier this summer when it celebrated its 220th birthday.
Over the years, the commonwealth has been blessed to have quite a few of its citizens make a sizeable mark on the country and even the world. Daniel Boone, President Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay are arguably the most famous, and others readily known include Colonel Sanders, the Clooney family and Muhammad Ali.
Many others have garnered fame and recognition as well. For example, we can lay claim to the father of abdominal surgery, Ephraim McDowell, who’s memorialized with one of the five statues anchoring the Capitol Rotunda. He is remembered primarily for his work in removing a 22.5 pound ovarian tumor from a Green County woman on Christmas Day in 1809. With anesthesia unavailable, the patient sang hymns to block the pain, but the surgery was a success and she lived for 32 more years.
The others sharing space with him, Lincoln and Clay in the Rotunda include Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, and Alben Barkley, who was vice president under President Truman.
Another famous government figure to call Kentucky home is former U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper. He also served as our country’s first ambassador to East Germany (he was ambassador to India as well), and he was on the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy.
One area where Kentucky especially excels is in the arts. Bill Monroe is the father of Bluegrass music, and Route 23 in Eastern Kentucky is officially known as the Country Music Highway because it connects such stars as Loretta Lynn, the Judds and Ricky Skaggs.
Thomas Edison only called Kentucky home for a brief time, but the first public showing of his light bulb was in Louisville, and that city also lays claim to the song “Happy Birthday,” the first commercially sold cheeseburger and popularizing aluminum foil.
Duncan Hines may conjure up cake mixes, but he was first famous for helping travelers with his reviews of restaurants. He also wrote a well-regarded food column that appeared in newspapers nationwide.
Kentucky is home to the inventor of the modern traffic light - he added the yellow light, greatly increasing safety at intersections - and the country’s first female mechanical engineer. The only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor lived in Kentucky for a time, too.
There are two Nobel Prize winners from the state - both of which were earned for pioneering work in genetics - and several Pulitzer Prize winners, including the first African-American to win one for photography.
In addition to these historic figures, Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet lists several other notable events that are also worth mentioning. We were the first state to name a city after President Washington, for example, and Lexington was home to the first American production of a Beethoven symphony. Mammoth Cave is not only the world’s longest cave, it’s also the country’s second-oldest paid tourist attraction, after Niagara Falls. It was in Kentucky where the world’s first self-contained artificial heart was implanted, and we also had the nation’s first successful hand transplant.
These are just a few of the interesting people and events that have helped to put Kentucky on the map over the last two-plus centuries, but there are of course many more people and stories that could be shared. That will have to wait for another column, though.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.