Memphis History

The first settlers of Memphis were Native Americans who were drawn to the area’s bluffs which overlooked the river. By building their settlements on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff, it protected them from flooding, and the mighty river allowed them easy transportation access. In 1541, the first European explorers, led by Hernando DeSoto, claimed the land for Spain. Even though the state of Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796, it was not until more than 20 years later that the city of Memphis officially became part of the state when the Chickasaw Indians sold the land to the United States government.

Beale Street was always popular among locals dating back to the early 1900s and eventually became known as a tourist hub. To the locals, Beale Street was a music hot spot, home to a number of clubs, brothels, and other “wicked diversions.”  Elvis himself is documented to have hung outside these clubs, soaking up the styles and essence of Beale Street in the early 1950s. It was not until nearly 100 years after its establishment in the early 1990s, that Beale Street made a comeback as a tourist destination. Now widely known as the entertainment district, Beale Street offers live music seven days a week and hosts a month-long celebration called the “Memphis In May” International Festival which draws in tens of thousand of visitors every year and features great music and barbecue.

Memphis has a lot to brag about in the way of music. In fact, it is said that in the 1950s and ’60s, some of the most important music in American history was created in this city. In addition to Elvis, Memphis has also given recognition to the voices of legendary artists like Johnny Cash, Al Green, Willie Mitchell, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding.

The talent and innovation in Memphis extends beyond just music – in the 1970s, a young entrepreneur named Frederick W. Smith was considering ways to maximize Memphis’ centralized location to reduce the time of the transportation of goods. As a result, he gave birth to FedEx which has created over 32,000 jobs for the local economy and has changed the way the world does business.

In the past two decades, Memphis has made substantial strides in the world of professional sports by opening the AutoZone Park (a retro-style baseball park), acquired the Memphis Grizzlies, and opened a $250-million arena for them to play. The arena is also shared with the University of Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team.

Today Memphis is home to a revitalized downtown area, which includes a variety of tourist destinations; new residential and commercial development; and the restoration of many historic buildings. Memphis continues its focus of improving downtown with plans to regenerate the historic riverfront area, Beale Street Landing.