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Tennessee officially the State of Tennessee, is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest by area and the 16th most populous of the 50 states. It is bordered by Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the southwest, and Missouri to the northwest. Tennessee is geographically, culturally, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions of East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Nashville is the state’s capital and largest city, and anchors its largest metropolitan area. Other major cities include Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Clarksville. Tennessee’s population as of the 2020 United States census is approximately 6.9 million.


Tennessee derives its name most directly from the Cherokee town of Tanasi (or “Tanase”, in syllabary: ᏔᎾᏏ) in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee, on the Tanasi River, now known as the Little Tennessee River. This town appeared on British maps as early as 1725. In 1567, Spanish explorer Captain Juan Pardo and his men encountered a Native American village named “Tanasqui” in the area while traveling inland from modern-day South Carolina; however, it is unknown if this was the same settlement as Tanasi. Recent research suggests that the Cherokees adapted the name from the Yuchi word Tana-tsee-dgee, meaning “brother-waters-place” or “where-the-waters-meet.” The modern spelling, Tennessee, is attributed to Governor James Glen of South Carolina, who used this spelling in his official correspondence during the 1750s. In 1788, North Carolina created “Tennessee County”, and in 1796, a constitutional convention, organizing the new state out of the Southwest Territory, adopted “Tennessee” as the state’s name.


Tennessee is in the Southeastern United States. Culturally, most of the state is considered part of the Upland South, and the eastern third is part of Appalachia. Tennessee covers roughly 42,143 square miles (109,150 km2), of which 926 square miles (2,400 km2), or 2.2%, is water. It is the 16th smallest state in land area. The state is about 440 miles (710 km) long from east to west and 112 miles (180 km) wide from north to south. Tennessee is geographically, culturally, economically, and legally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. It borders eight other states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi on the south, and Arkansas and Missouri on the west. It is tied with Missouri as the state bordering the most other states. Tennessee is trisected by the Tennessee River, and its geographical center is in Murfreesboro. Nearly three–fourths of the state is in the Central Time Zone, with most of East Tennessee on Eastern Time. The Tennessee River forms most of the division between Middle and West Tennessee.

Tennessee’s eastern boundary roughly follows the highest crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Mississippi River forms its western boundary. Due to flooding of the Mississippi that has changed its path, the state’s western boundary deviates from the river in some places. The northern border was originally defined as 36°30′ north latitude and the Royal Colonial Boundary of 1665, but due to faulty surveys, begins north of this line in the east, and to the west, gradually veers north before shifting south onto the actual 36°30′ parallel at the Tennessee River in West Tennessee. Uncertainties in the latter 19th century over the location of the state’s border with Virginia culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court settling the matter in 1893, which resulted in the division of Bristol between the two states. An 1818 survey erroneously placed Tennessee’s southern border 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the 35th parallel; Georgia legislators continue to dispute this placement, as it prevents Georgia from accessing the Tennessee River.


The southwestern Blue Ridge Mountains lie within Tennessee's eastern edge, and are divided into several subranges, namely the Great Smoky Mountains, Bald Mountains, Unicoi Mountains, Unaka Mountains, and Iron Mountains. These mountains, which average 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level in Tennessee, contain some of the highest elevations in eastern North America. The state's border with North Carolina roughly follows the highest peaks of this range, including Clingmans Dome.

Most of the Blue Ridge area is protected by the Cherokee National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and several federal wilderness areas and state parks. The Appalachian Trail roughly follows the North Carolina state line before shifting westward into Tennessee.

Stretching west from the Blue Ridge Mountains for about 55 miles (89 km) are the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, also known as the Tennessee Valley or Great Valley of East Tennessee. This area consists of linear parallel ridges separated by valleys that trend northeast to southwest, the general direction of the entire Appalachian range. Most of these ridges are low, but some of the higher ones are commonly called mountains. Numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Ridge and Valley region.


Cedar glades are an extremely rare ecosystem that is found in regions of Middle Tennessee where limestone bedrock is close to the surfaceTennessee is within a temperate deciduous forest biome commonly known as the Eastern Deciduous Forest. It has eight ecoregions: the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, Central Appalachian, Southwestern Appalachian, Interior Low Plateaus, Southeastern Plains, Mississippi Valley Loess Plains, and Mississippi Alluvial Plain regions. Due to its wide variety of terrains and ecosystems, Tennessee is the most biodiverse inland state. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most biodiverse national park, and the state's Duck River is the most biologically diverse waterway in North America. The Nashville Basin is also renowned for its diversity of flora and fauna. Tennessee is home to 340 species of birds, 325 freshwater fish species, 89 mammals, 77 amphibians, and 61 reptiles.

Forests cover about 52% of Tennessee's land area, with oak–hickory the dominant type. Appalachian oak–pine and cove hardwood forests are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, and bottomland hardwood forests are common throughout the Gulf Coastal Plain. Pine forests are also found throughout the state. The Southern Appalachian spruce–fir forest in the highest elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains is considered the second-most endangered ecosystem in the country. Some of the last remaining large American chestnut trees grow in the Nashville Basin, and are being used to help breed blight-resistant trees. Middle Tennessee is home to many unusual and rare ecosystems known as cedar glades, which occur in areas with shallow limestone bedrock that is largely barren of overlying soil, and contain many endemic plant species.


Most of Tennessee has a humid subtropical climate, with the exception of some of the higher elevations in the Appalachians, which are classified as a cooler mountain temperate or humid continental climate. The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant factor in Tennessee’s climate, with winds from the south responsible for most of the state’s annual precipitation. Generally, the state has hot summers and mild to cool winters with generous precipitation throughout the year. The highest average monthly precipitation usually occurs between December and April. The driest months, on average, are August to October. The state receives an average of 50 inches (130 cm) of precipitation annually. Snowfall ranges from 5 inches (13 cm) in West Tennessee to over 80 inches (200 cm) in East Tennessee’s highest mountains.

Summers are generally hot and humid, with most of the state averaging a high of around 90 °F (32 °C). Winters tend to be mild to cool, decreasing in temperature at higher elevations. For areas outside the highest mountains, the average overnight lows are generally near freezing. The highest recorded temperature was 113 °F (45 °C) at Perryville on August 9, 1930, while the lowest recorded temperature was −32 °F (−36 °C) at Mountain City on December 30, 1917.

Cities, Towns, and Counties

Tennessee is divided into 95 counties, each of which has a county seat. The state has 340 municipalities in total. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designates ten metropolitan areas in Tennessee, four of which extend into neighboring states. Nashville is Tennessee’s capital and largest city, with nearly 700,000 residents. Its 13-county metropolitan area has been the state’s largest since the early 1990s, and is one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas, with about 2 million residents. Memphis, with more than 630,000 inhabitants, was the state’s largest city until 2016, when Nashville surpassed it. It is in Shelby County, 

Tennessee’s largest county in both population and land area. Knoxville, with about 190,000 inhabitants, and Chattanooga, with about 180,000 residents, are the third- and fourth-largest cities, respectively. Clarksville is a significant population center, with about 170,000 residents. Murfreesboro is the sixth-largest city and Nashville’s largest suburb, with more than 150,000 residents. In addition to the major cities, the Tri-Cities of Kingsport, Bristol, and Johnson City are considered the sixth major population center.


The 2020 United States census reported Tennessee’s population at 6,910,840, an increase of 564,735, or 8.90%, since the 2010 census. Between 2010 and 2019, the state received a natural increase of 143,253 (744,274 births minus 601,021 deaths), and an increase from net migration of 338,428 people into the state. Immigration from outside the U.S. resulted in a net increase of 79,086, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 259,342. Tennessee’s center of population is in Murfreesboro in Rutherford County.

According to the 2010 census, 6.4% of Tennessee’s population were under age 5, 23.6% were under 18, and 13.4% were 65 or older. In recent years, Tennessee has been a top source of domestic migration, receiving an influx of people relocating from places such as California, the Northeast, and the Midwest due to the low cost of living and booming employment opportunities. In 2019, about 5.5% of Tennessee’s population was foreign-born. 

Of the foreign-born population, approximately 42.7% were naturalized citizens and 57.3% non-citizens. The foreign-born population consisted of approximately 49.9% from Latin America, 27.1% from Asia, 11.9% from Europe, 7.7% from Africa, 2.7% from Northern America, and 0.6% from Oceania.


In 2020, 6.9% of the total population was of Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race), up from 4.6% in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010, Tennessee's Hispanic population grew by 134.2%, the third-highest rate of any state. In 2020, Non-Hispanic or Latino Whites were 70.9% of the population, compared to 57.7% of the population nationwide. In 2010, the five most common self-reported ethnic groups in the state were American (26.5%), English (8.2%), Irish (6.6%), German (5.5%), and Scotch-Irish (2.7%). Most Tennesseans who self-identify as having American ancestry are of English and Scotch-Irish ancestry. An estimated 21–24% of Tennesseans are of predominantly English ancestry.


Since colonization, Tennessee has always been predominantly Christian. About 81% of the population identifies as Christian, with Protestants making up 73% of the population. Of the Protestants in the state, Evangelical Protestants compose 52% of the population, Mainline Protestants 13%, and Historically Black Protestants 8%. Roman Catholics make up 6%, Mormons 1%, and Orthodox Christians less than 1%. The largest denominations by number of adherents are the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Churches of Christ. Muslims and Jews each make up about 1% of the population, and adherents of other religions make up about 3% of the population. About 14% of Tennesseans are non-religious, with 11% identifying as "Nothing in particular", 3% as agnostics, and 1% as atheists.

Tennessee is included in most definitions of the Bible Belt, and is ranked as one of the nation's most religious states. Several Protestant denominations have their headquarters in Tennessee, including the Southern Baptist Convention and National Baptist Convention (in Nashville); the Church of God in Christ and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (in Memphis); and the Church of God and the Church of God of Prophecy (in Cleveland); and the National Association of Free Will Baptists (in Antioch). Nashville has publishing houses of several denominations.


As of 2020, Tennessee had a gross state product of $364.5 billion. In 2019, the state’s per capita personal income was $29,859. The median household income was $56,071. About 13.9% percent of the population was below the poverty line. In 2019, the state reported a total employment of 2,724,545 and a total number of 139,760 employer establishments. Tennessee is a right-to-work state, like most of its Southern neighbors. Unionization has historically been low and continues to decline, as in most of the U.S.


Tennessee has the eighth-most farms in the nation, which cover more than 40% of its land area and have an average size of about 155 acres (0.63 km2). Cash receipts for crops and livestock have an estimated annual value of $3.5 billion, and the agriculture sector has an estimated annual impact of $81 billion on the state's economy. Beef cattle is the state's largest agricultural commodity, followed by broilers and poultry. Tennessee ranks 12th in the nation for the number of cattle, with more than half of its farmland dedicated to cattle grazing. Soybeans and corn are the state's first and second-most common crops, respectively, and are most heavily grown in West and Middle Tennessee, especially the northwestern corner of the state. Tennessee ranks seventh in the nation in cotton production, most of which is grown in the fertile soils of central West Tennessee.

The state ranks fourth nationwide in the production of tobacco, which is predominantly grown in the Ridge-and-Valley region of East Tennessee. Tennessee farmers are also known worldwide for their cultivation of tomatoes and horticultural plants. Other important cash crops in the state include hay, wheat, eggs, and snap beans. The Nashville Basin is a top equestrian region, due to soils that produce grass favored by horses. The Tennessee Walking Horse, first bred in the region in the late 18th century, is one of the world's most recognized horse breeds. Tennessee also ranks second nationwide for mule breeding and the production of goat meat. The state's timber industry is largely concentrated on the Cumberland Plateau and ranks as one of the top producers of hardwood nationwide.


Until World War II, Tennessee, like most Southern states, remained predominantly agrarian. Chattanooga became one of the first industrial cities in the south in the decades after the Civil War, when many factories, including iron foundries, steel mills, and textile mills were constructed there. But most of Tennessee's industrial growth began with the federal investments in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Manhattan Project in the 1930s and 1940s. The state's industrial and manufacturing sector continued to expand in the succeeding decades, and Tennessee is now home to more than 2,400 advanced manufacturing establishments, which produce a total of more than $29 billion worth of goods annually.

The automotive industry is Tennessee's largest manufacturing sector and one of the nation's largest. Nissan's assembly plant in Smyrna is the largest automotive assembly plant in North America. Two other automakers have assembly plants in Tennessee: General Motors in Spring Hill and Volkswagen in Chattanooga. Ford is constructing an assembly plant in Stanton that is expected to be operational in 2025. In addition, the state contains more than 900 automotive suppliers. Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors have their North American corporate headquarters in Franklin. The state is also one of the top producers of food and drink products, its second-largest manufacturing sector. A number of well-known brands originated in Tennessee, and even more are produced there.

Tennessee also ranks as one of the largest producers of chemicals. Chemical products manufactured in Tennessee include industrial chemicals, paints, pharmaceuticals, plastic resins, and soaps and hygiene products. Additional important products manufactured in Tennessee include fabricated metal products, electrical equipment, consumer electronics and electrical appliances, and nonelectrical machinery.


Tennessee's commercial sector is dominated by a wide variety of companies, but its largest service industries include health care, transportation, music and entertainment, banking, and finance. Large corporations with headquarters in Tennessee include FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, and First Horizon Corporation, all based in Memphis; Pilot Corporation and Regal Entertainment Group in Knoxville; Hospital Corporation of America and Caterpillar Inc., based in Nashville; Unum in Chattanooga; Acadia Senior Living and Community Health Systems in Franklin; Dollar General in Goodlettsville, and LifePoint Health, Tractor Supply Company, and Delek US in Brentwood.

Since the 1990s, the geographical area between Oak Ridge and Knoxville has been known as the Tennessee Technology Corridor, with more than 500 high-tech firms in the region. The research and development industry in Tennessee is also one of the largest employment sectors, mainly due to the prominence of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Y-12 National Security Complex in the city of Oak Ridge. ORNL conducts scientific research in materials science, nuclear physics, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology, and national security, and is the largest national laboratory in the Department of Energy (DOE) system by size. The technology sector is also a rapidly growing industry in Middle Tennessee, particularly in the Nashville metropolitan area.

Energy and Mineral Production

Tennessee’s electric utilities are regulated monopolies, as in many other states. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) owns over 90% of the state’s generating capacity. Nuclear power is Tennessee’s largest source of electricity generation, producing about 47.3% of its power in 2020. The same year, 20.2% of the power was produced from natural gas, 18.4% from coal, 13.4% from hydroelectricity, and 1.6% from other renewables. About 61.3% of the electricity generated in Tennessee produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Tennessee is home to the two newest civilian nuclear power reactors in the U.S., at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Rhea County. Tennessee was also an early leader in hydroelectric power, and today is the third-largest hydroelectric power-producing state east of the Rocky Mountains. Tennessee is a net consumer of electricity, receiving power from other TVA facilities in neighboring states.

Tennessee has very little petroleum and natural gas reserves, but is home to one oil refinery, in Memphis. Bituminous coal is mined in small quantities in the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains. There are sizable reserves of lignite coal in West Tennessee that remain untapped. Coal production in Tennessee peaked in 1972, and today less than 0.1% of coal in the U.S. comes from Tennessee. Tennessee is the nation’s leading producer of ball clay. Other major mineral products produced in Tennessee include sand, gravel, crushed stone, Portland cement, marble, sandstone, common clay, lime, and zinc. The Copper Basin, in Tennessee’s southeastern corner in Polk County, was one of the nation’s most productive copper mining districts between the 1840s and 1980s, and supplied about 90% of the copper the Confederacy used during the Civil War. Mining activities in the basin resulted in a major environmental disaster, which left the surrounding landscape barren for more than a century. Iron ore was another major mineral mined in Tennessee until the early 20th century. Tennessee was also a top producer of phosphate until the early 1990s.


Education in Tennessee is administered by the Tennessee Department of Education. The state Board of Education has 11 members: one from each Congressional district, a student member, and the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), who serves as ex-officio nonvoting member. Public primary and secondary education systems are operated by county, city, or special school districts to provide education at the local level, and operate under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Education. The state also has many private schools.

The state enrolls approximately 1 million K–12 students in 137 districts. In 2020, the four-year high school graduation rate was 89.6%, a decrease of 0.1% from the previous year. According to the most recent data, Tennessee spends $9,544 per student, the 8th lowest in the nation.

Colleges and Universities

Vanderbilt University in Nashville is consistently ranked as one of the top research institutions in the nation Public higher education is overseen by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), which provides guidance to the state's two public university systems. The University of Tennessee system operates four primary campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, and Pulaski; a Health Sciences Center in Memphis; and an aerospace research facility in Tullahoma. The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), also known as The College System of Tennessee, operates 13 community colleges and 27 campuses of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT). Until 2017, the TBR also operated six public universities in the state; it now only gives them administrative support.

In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly created the Tennessee Promise, which allows in-state high school graduates to enroll in two-year post-secondary education programs such as associate degrees and certificates at community colleges and trade schools in Tennessee tuition-free, funded by the state lottery, if they meet certain requirements. The Tennessee Promise was created as part of then-governor Bill Haslam's "Drive to 55" program, which set a goal of increasing the number of college-educated residents to at least 55% of the state's population. The program has also received national attention, with multiple states having since created similar programs modeled on the Tennessee Promise.


The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is the primary agency that is tasked with regulating and maintaining Tennessee’s transportation infrastructure. Tennessee is currently one of five states with no transportation-related debts.


Interstate 40 traverses Tennessee from east to west, and serves the state's three largest cities. Tennessee has 96,167 miles (154,766 km) of roads, of which 14,109 miles (22,706 km) are maintained by the state. Of the state's highways, 1,233 miles (1,984 km) are part of the Interstate Highway System. Tennessee has no tolled roads or bridges but has the sixth-highest mileage of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which are utilized on freeways in the congestion-prone Nashville and Memphis metropolitan areas.

Interstate 40 (I-40) is the longest Interstate Highway in Tennessee, traversing the state for 455 miles (732 km). Known as "Tennessee's Main Street", I-40 serves the major cities of Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, and throughout its entire length in Tennessee, one can observe the diversity of the state's geography and landforms. I-40's branch interstates include I-240 in Memphis; I-440 in Nashville; I-840 around Nashville; I-140 from Knoxville to Maryville; and I-640 in Knoxville. In a north–south orientation, from west to east, are interstates 55, which serves Memphis; 65, which passes through Nashville; 75, which serves

Chattanooga and Knoxville; and 81, which begins east of Knoxville, and serves Bristol to the northeast. I-24 is an east–west interstate that enters the state in Clarksville, passes through Nashville, and terminates in Chattanooga. I-26, although technically an east–west interstate, begins in Kingsport and runs southwardly through Johnson City before exiting into North Carolina. I-155 is a branch route of I-55 that serves the northwestern part of the state. I-275 is a short spur route in Knoxville. I-269 runs from Millington to Collierville, serving as an outer bypass of Memphis.


Major airports in Tennessee include Nashville International Airport (BNA), Memphis International Airport (MEM), McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) outside of Knoxville, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA), Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TRI) in Blountville, and McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport (MKL) in Jackson. Because Memphis International Airport is the hub of FedEx Corporation, it is the world's busiest cargo airport. The state also has 74 general aviation airports and 148 heliports.


For passenger rail service, Memphis and Newbern are served by the Amtrak City of New Orleans line on its run between Chicago and New Orleans. Nashville is served by the Music City Star commuter rail service. Tennessee currently has 2,604 miles (4,191 km) of freight trackage in operation, most of which are owned by CSX Transportation. Norfolk Southern Railway also operates lines in East and southwestern Tennessee. BNSF operates a major intermodal facility in Memphis.

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