Louisville is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the state's only 1st-class city. In 2010, Louisville proper was the 16th-largest city in the United States. Located beside the Falls of the Ohio, the only major obstruction to river traffic between the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico, Louisville first grew as portage site. The city was the headquarters of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which grew into a system across 13 states. Today, Louisville is best known as the location of the Kentucky Derby, the first of the three annual races that make up the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. It is the home of the University of Louisville and three of Kentucky's six Fortune 500 companies. Its airport is also the site of UPS's worldwide air hub.
Since 2003, the city's borders have been coterminous with those of Jefferson County because of a city-county merger. The city's total consolidated population at the 2010 census was 741,096. However, the balance total of 602,011 excludes other incorporated places and semi-autonomous towns within the county and is the population listed in most sources and national rankings. As of the 2012, the Louisville metropolitan area (MSA) had a population of 1,334,872 ranking 42nd nationally. The metro area includes Louisville-Jefferson County and 12 surrounding counties, eight in Kentucky and four in Southern Indiana. The Louisville Combined Statistical Area, having a population of 1,451,564, includes the MSA, Hardin County and Larue County in Kentucky, and Scott County, Indiana.
The history of Louisville spans hundreds of years, and has been influenced by the area's geography and location. The rapids at the Falls of the Ohio created a barrier to river travel, and as a result, settlements grew up at this stopping point.
The first European settlement in the vicinity of modern-day Louisville was on Corn Island in 1778 by Col. George Rogers Clark, credited as the founder of Louisville. Several landmarks in the community are named after him.
Two years later, in 1780, the Virginia General Assembly approved the town charter of Louisville. The city was named in honor of King Louis XVI of France, whose soldiers were then aiding Americans in the Revolutionary War. Early residents lived in forts to protect themselves from Indian raids, but moved out by the late 1780s. In 1803, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark organized their expedition across America in the original town of Clarksville, Indiana at the present-day Falls of the Ohio in Louisville.
The city's early growth was influenced by the fact that river boats had to be unloaded and moved downriver before reaching the falls. By 1828, the population had swelled to 7,000 and Louisville became an incorporated city. The city grew rapidly in its formative years.
Louisville was a major shipping port and slaves worked in a variety of associated trades. The city was often a point of escape for slaves to the north, as Indiana was a free state.
On March 27, 1890 the city was devastated and its downtown nearly destroyed when an F4 tornado tore through as part of the March 1890 Mid-Mississippi Valley tornado outbreak. An estimated 74 to 120 people were killed.
In late January and February 1937, of rain fell during a month of heavy rain. It caused the "Great Flood of '37". The flood submerged about 70% of the city, caused the loss of power, and forced the evacuation of 175,000 residents. It led to dramatic changes in where residents lived. Today, the city is protected by numerous flood walls. After the flood, the areas of high elevation in the eastern part of the city saw decades of residential growth.
Louisville was a center for factory war production during World War II. In May 1942, the U.S. government assigned the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company, a war plant located at Louisville's air field, for wartime aircraft production. The factory produced the C-46 Commando cargo plane, among other aircraft. In 1946 the factory was sold to International Harvester Corporation, which began large-scale production of tractors and agricultural equipment. In 1950, the Census Bureau reported Louisville's population as 84.3% white and 15.6% black.
Similar to many other older American cities, Louisville began to experience a movement of people and businesses to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s. Middle class residents used newly built freeways and interstate highways to commute to work, moving into more distant but newer housing. Because of tax laws, businesses found it cheaper to build new rather than renovate older buildings. Economic changes included a decline in local manufacturing. The West End and older areas of the South End, in particular, began to decline economically as many local factories closed.
Since the 1980s, many of the city's urban neighborhoods have been revitalized into areas popular with young professionals and college students. The greatest change has occurred along the Bardstown Road corridor, Frankfort Avenue, and the Old Louisville neighborhoods. Downtown has had significant residential and retail growth, including the conversion of waterfront industrial sites into Waterfront Park, and the refurbishing of the former Galleria into the bustling entertainment complex Fourth Street Live!.