History of Memphis, Tennessee

History of Memphis, Tennessee

The area around Memphis, Tennessee was first settled by the Mississippian Culture and then by the Chickasaw Indian tribe. European exploration came years later, with Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and French explorers led by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.cite web
last = Magness
first = Perre
title = Fort Prudhomme and La Salle
publisher = Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
url = http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=F047

The modern city of Memphis was founded in 1820, the city was named after the ancient capital of Egypt on the Nile River.

In the early 20th century, Memphis grew into the world's largest spot cotton market and the world's largest hardwood lumber market.

During the 1960s the city was at the center of civil rights issues. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel.

Many notable blues musicians grew up in and around the Memphis and northern Mississippi area.cite news
last = Guralnick
first = Peter
title = How Did Elvis Get Turned Into a Racist?
pages = 2
publisher = New York Times
date = 2007-08-11
url = http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/11/opinion/11guralnick.html
] These included such musical greats as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf and Isaac Hayes.

Early history

Indian tribes

The Memphis area was first settled by the Mississippian Culture, a mound-building Native American culture. Later the territory was settled by the Chickasaw Indian tribe, who originally came from the bank of the Tennessee River just west of Huntsville, Alabama.

European explorers - 1500s/1600s

European exploration came years later, with Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto believed to have visited what is now the Memphis area as early as the 1540s.

By the 1680s, French explorers led by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built Fort Prudhomme in the vicinity, the first European settlement in what would become Memphis, predating English settlements in East Tennessee by more than 70 years.

Despite such early outposts, the land comprising present-day Memphis remained in a largely unorganized territory throughout most of the 18th century, while the boundaries of what would become Tennessee continued to evolve from its parent — the Carolina Colony, later North Carolina and South Carolina.

By 1796, the community was the westernmost point of the newly admitted state of Tennessee.

19th century

Historical populations
1830 |663
1840 |1799
1850 |8841
1860 |22623
1870 |40226
1880 |33592
1890 |64495
1900 |102320
1910 |131105
1920 |162351
1930 |253143
1940 |292942
1950 |396000
1960 |497524
1970 |623530
1980 |646356
1990 |610337
2000 |650100
2007 (Est.) |674028
footnote=Source: cite web|url=http://factfinder.census.gov|publisher=United States Census Bureau|title=American FactFinder

Foundation - 1861

Memphis was founded in 1820 by John Overton, James Winchester, and Andrew Jackson and was incorporated as a city in 1826. The city was named after the ancient capital of Egypt on the Nile River. The founders planned for a large city to be built on the site and laid out a plan featuring a regular grid of streets interrupted by four town squares, to be named Exchange, Market, Court, and Auction.City of Memphis [http://www.cityofmemphis.org/framework.aspx?page=296 History of Memphis] ] Of these, only Court Square remains as a public park in downtown Memphis. The city grew as a center for transporting, grading and marketing the growing volumes of cotton produced in the nearby Mississippi delta in the antebellum era.

was a way-station on their route to freedom.

The Gayoso House Hotel was built overlooking the Mississippi River in 1842 and became a Memphis landmark until it burned in 1899. The original Gayoso House was a first class hotel, designed by James H. Dakin, a well-known architect of that era, and was appointed with the latest conveniences, including indoor plumbing with marble tubs, silver faucets and flush toilets. [cite web
last = Semmer
first = Blythe
title = Gayoso Hotel
publisher = Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
url = http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=G006

In 1857 the Memphis & Charleston Railroad was completed, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River.

Civil War

At the time of the American Civil War, Memphis was already an important regional city because of its river trade and railroad connections, particularly the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, completed in 1857. Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861 and Memphis briefly became a Confederate stronghold.

Union forces captured Memphis from the Confederacy in the Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, and the city remained under Union control for the duration of the war, except for a dramatic raid conducted by Nathan Bedford Forrest. Memphis became a Union supply base and continued to prosper throughout the war. During that time the Gayoso House was a Union headquarters. According to local legend, General Forrest rode his horse into the lobby seeking to capture a Union general. [See Wikipedia article: Second Battle of Memphis]

Yellow fever epidemic - 1870s

Extensive yellow fever epidemics in the 1870s (1873, 1878 and 1879) devastated the city. It was reported that such terror gripped the town in August 1878 that fleeing families "left their houses with the doors wide open and silver standing on the sideboards." At that time it was not understood that this fatal disease was carried by a mosquito vector, so public health measures were unsuccessful. So many died or fled the epidemics that in 1879 Memphis lost its city charter, and until 1893 Memphis was governed as merely a taxing district. [cite web
last = Harkins
first = John E.
title = Memphis
publisher = Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
url = http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=M069

Eventually improvements in sanitation removed the breeding grounds of the mosquito vector. Then, in 1887, a source of abundant and pure artesian water was found beneath the city, [cite news
title = The Water Supply of Memphis
publisher = New York Times
date = 1890-04-27
url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9D01E6D61539E033A25754C2A9629C94619ED7CF
accessdate =
] and in 1892 the first Mississippi River bridge at Memphis opened. As a result the city again began to prosper. In 1897, Memphis' pyramid-shaped pavilion was conspicuous at the Tennessee Centennial exposition.

20th century

Until the 1950s

The Memphis Park and Parkway System including Overton Park and M.L. King Riverside Park was designed as a comprehensive plan by landscape architect George Kessler at the beginning of the 20th Century. [cite web
last = Hopkins
first = John Linn
coauthors = Oates, Marsha R.
title = Memphis Park and Parkway System
publisher = Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
url = http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=M077
accessdate = 2007-05-28

Memphis grew into the world's largest spot cotton market (over 40% of the nation's crop was traded here) and the world's largest hardwood lumber market. Into the 1950s, it was the world's largest mule market.

From the 1910s to the 1950s, Memphis was a hotbed of machine politics under the direction of E. H. "Boss" Crump. During the Crump era, Memphis developed an extensive network of parks and public works as part of the national City Beautiful Movement.

Clarence Saunders, a Memphis inventor and entrepreneur, opened the first self-service grocery store in 1916 and founded the first supermarket chain, Piggly Wiggly. Saunders, who became very wealthy from these ventures, lost his fortune due to stock manipulations by Wall Street "bears", and was forced to sell his partly-completed Memphis mansion, dubbed the Pink Palace. The Pink Palace eventually became the City's historical and natural history museum. Other parts of the Saunders estate became the site of an upscale residential development, Chickasaw Gardens.

The storied Peabody Hotel opened in 1923 and became a symbol of upper-class Southern elegance. In 1935, a Mississippi author wrote, "The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard's, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks waddle and turtles drowse, ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta." [Quoted from "God Shakes Creation" by David Cohn (1935) in Schmidt, W.E. "Memphis' Grand Hotel." New York Times, October 5, 1986.]

Post-War Era - 1950s

The first national motel chain, Holiday Inn, was founded in Memphis by Kemmons Wilson in 1952. His first inn was located in Berclair near the city limit on Summer Avenue, then the main highway to Nashville, Tennessee.cite book
last = Dye
first = Robert W.
title = Shelby County (Images of America)
publisher = Arcadia Publishing
year = 2005
pages = 128
isbn = 0738541923



St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opened in 1962, the result of tireless fundraising efforts by the entertainer Danny Thomas. St. Jude's specializes in the study and treatment of catastrophic diseases affecting children, especially leukemia and other childhood cancers, AIDS, sickle cell disease, and inherited immune disorders.

Recent History

FedEx Corporation (originally, "Federal Express") was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1971, but moved to Memphis in 1973 to take advantage of the more extensive airport facilities. Memphis became the major hub of operations for FedEx and as a result the Memphis International Airport became the largest airfreight terminal in the world.

Cultural history

Memphis is well known for its cultural contributions to the identity of the American south.

Col. Henry Van Pelt began publishing "The Appeal" newspaper, ancestor of today's "Commercial Appeal" in a wooden shack along the Wolf River in 1841. A pro-Confederacy newspaper, "The Appeal" moved frequently during the Civil War to avoid capture by Union forces. The Commercial Appeal was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for its coverage of, and editorial opposition to, the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. [ [http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2003/Oct/17/the-commercial-appeal-a-history/ The Commercial Appeal: A history] ]


From the earliest days of the steamboat, through the present day, Memphis has been a major center of river transportation. Passenger steamers linked Memphis with river ports up and down the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers as late as the 1920s. Tom Lee Park on the Memphis riverfront is named for an African-American riverworker who became a civic hero. Tom Lee could not swim. Nevertheless, he single-handedly rescued thirty-two people from drowning when the steamer "M.E. Norman" sank in 1925.

Today, [http://www.memphisriverboats.net/ Memphis Riverboats] offers tourist excursions from the Memphis waterfront on paddlewheel steamers.

African-American music

Beginning in the early 20th century Memphis became famous for the innovative strains of African-American music, including gospel, blues, jazz, soul, and Rhythm and Blues genres, a tradition that continues to this day.

Many notable blues musicians grew up in and around the Memphis and northern Mississippi, and performed there regularly. These included such musical greats as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, and Howlin' Wolf.

Stax Records, which opened in Memphis in 1957, produced almost exclusively African-American music. Stax was a major factor in the creation of the Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles, also releasing gospel, funk, jazz, and blues recordings. Stax recordings and artists included Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, William Bell, The Bar-Kays and their house band, Booker T. & the MG's. Several Stax hits were written and produced by the team of Isaac Hayes & David Porter.

Rock and Roll

In 1950, Sam Phillips opened the "Memphis Recording Service" where he recorded for his Sun Records label. B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison were all recorded there in its early years.

The young Elvis Presley frequently listened to gospel and soul music, and many of his early recordings were inspired or written by African-American composers and recording artists in the Mid-South area.

Firsts in Radio

First black radio station: The first African American-formatted radio station, WDIA, was founded in the city in 1947 by Bert Ferguson and John Pepper, and included a young B. B. King as disc jockey. B. B. King's moniker was derived from his WDIA nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", a reference to Memphis' Beale Street on which many nightclubs and blues venues were located.

WHER, "All-Girl Radio": The first all-female station, WHER was founded in 1955 by the recording studio owner Sam Phillips and Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson.

Culinary history

In addition to a rich musical heritage, Memphis also boasts a long culinary legacy dominated by regional barbecue. Memphis barbecue is rendered distinct by its sole usage of pork (as opposed to beef), focus on rib and shoulder cuts of meat, and multiple locally-owned barbecue restaurants. Celebration of this local culinary tradition reaches its climax each year in May, when the Memphis in May Festival holds its annual [http://memphisinmay.org/wbcc.htm World-Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest] .


The University of Tennessee College of Dentistry was founded in 1878 making it the oldest dental college in the South, and the third oldest public college of dentistry in the United States. [ [http://www.utmem.edu/dentistry/ University of Tennessee-Memphis Dentistry Website] ] The University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis was created in 1911 through merger of five independent Tennessee medical schools following the influential Flexner Report.

The University of Memphis first opened as the "West Tennessee State Normal School" in 1912. Rhodes College, then known as "Southwestern at Memphis" moved to Memphis from Clarksville, Tennessee in 1925.


External links

* [http://www.memphismagazine.com/askvanceblog/ "Ask Vance"] , Memphis Magazine.
* [http://www.memphisflyer.com/backissues/issue459/cvr459.htm "Big Empties: Memphis landmarks that have stood vacant for years, waiting for someone to bring them back to life."] , Memphis Flyer, December 1997.
* [http://www.memphislibrary.lib.tn.us/history/memphis2.htm "History and Facts about Memphis & Shelby County"] , Memphis Public Library.
* [http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=M069 "Memphis"] , Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2000.
* [http://www.memphishistory.com/ MemphisHistory.com]

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