Mississippi River is the second longest river in the United States, with a length of from the source of its upper portion at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mississippi River is part of the Missouri-Mississippi
river system, which is the largest river system in North America
and among the largest in the world: By length— —it is the fourth longest, and by its average
discharge of 572,000 cu ft/s (16,200 m³/s), it is the tenth
The name Mississippi is derived from the Ojibwe
River") or gichi-ziibi
origin at Lake
Itasca to St. Louis, Missouri, the flow of the Mississippi River is moderated by
43 dams. Fourteen of these dams are located above
Minnesota in the headwaters region
and serve multiple purposes including power generation and
The remaining 29 dams beginning in downtown
Minneapolis all contain locks and were constructed to permit
commercial navigation of the upper river. Taken as a whole these 43
dams significantly shape the geography and influence the ecology of
the upper river. Beginning just below Saint Paul,
Minnesota and continuing throughout the upper and lower
river, the Mississippi is further controlled by thousands of wing
dikes that moderate the river's flow in order to maintain an open
navigation channel and prevent the river from eroding its
The Mississippi River runs through 10 states
and was used to define portions of these
states' borders. The middle of the riverbed at the time the borders
were established was the line to define the borders between states.
has since shifted, but the state borders of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi have not changed; they still follow the former bed
of the Mississippi River as of their establishment.
point of the Mississippi River is Lake Winnibigoshish, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, at over across. Also of note is
Wisconsin, where the river is over wide (created by Lock and Dam
No. 7) and Lake
Pepin at more than wide.
However, the first two
areas are lakes or reservoirs rather than free flowing water. In
other areas where the Mississippi is a flowing river (other than
Lake Pepin), it exceeds in width in several places in its lower
River flows from the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin
Rivers and is the longest river in the United States.
Taken together, the Jefferson, the Missouri, and the Mississippi
form the longest river system
in North America
. If measured from the source of the
Jefferson at Brower's
Spring, to the Gulf of Mexico, the length of the Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson
combination is approximately , making the combination the 4th longest river in the
The uppermost of this combined river are called
, the lowest are part of the
, and the intervening are called the
River is the second-longest tributary of the Mississippi
Measured by water volume, the largest of all
Mississippi tributaries is the Ohio
Mississippi River is divided into the upper Mississippi, from its source
south to the Ohio River, and the lower Mississippi, from the Ohio to
its mouth near New
Upper Mississippi River
Mississippi River is divided into three sections: the headwaters, ;
from the source to Saint Anthony Falls; a series of man-made lakes between Minneapolis and
Missouri, ; and the middle Mississippi, , a relatively
free-flowing river downstream of the confluence with the Missouri
River at St. Louis.
source of the Upper Mississippi River is Lake Itasca, above sea level in Itasca State Park located in Clearwater County, Minnesota.
The name "Itasca"is a combination of the
last four letters of the Latin word for truth (veritas
and the first two letters of the Latin word for head
uppermost lock and dam on the Mississippi River is the Upper St.
Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis.
Above the dam, the river's elevation is .
Below the dam, the river's elevation is . This drop is the largest
of all the Mississippi River locks and dams. The origin of the
dramatic drop is a waterfall preserved adjacent to the lock under
an apron of concrete. Saint Anthony Falls is the only true waterfall on the entire
The water elevation continues to drop
steeply as it passes through the gorge carved by the waterfall.
time the river reaches Saint Paul, Minnesota, below Lock and Dam #1, it has dropped more than
half its original elevation and is above sea level.
Paul to St. Louis Missouri the river elevation falls much more
slowly and is controlled and managed as a series of pools created
by 26 locks and dams. From St. Louis to the Ohio River confluence,
the Mississippi free falls a total of over a distance of for an
average rate of . At the Ohio River confluence the Mississippi is
above sea level.
Mississippi is joined by the Minnesota
River south of the Twin Cities, the St. Croix River near
Wisconsin, the Black River , La Crosse River, and Root River in La Crosse,
Wisconsin the Wisconsin River
du Chien, Wisconsin, the Rock
River in the Quad
Cities, the Iowa River near
Iowa, the Skunk River south
Iowa, the Des Moines
River in Keokuk,
Iowa, the Illinois River
and the Missouri
River near St. Louis, and by the Ohio River at Cairo,
Lower Mississippi River
Major sub-tributaries include the Tennessee River
(a tributary of the Ohio
River) and the Platte River
tributary of the Missouri River). The Arkansas River joins the Mississippi in southeastern Arkansas.
The Yazoo River meets the Mississippi at
Vicksburg. The Atchafalaya
River in Louisiana is a major distributary
of the Mississippi.
Communities along the river
Many of the communities along the Mississippi River are listed
below. They have either historic significance or cultural lore
connecting them to the river. They are ordered from the beginning
of the river to its end.
- Bemidji, Minnesota
- Grand Rapids, Minnesota
- Jacobson, Minnesota
- Palisade, Minnesota
- Hassman, Minnesota
- Aitkin, Minnesota
- Riverton, Minnesota
- Brainerd, Minnesota
- Fort Ripley, Minnesota
- Little Falls, Minnesota
- Sartell, Minnesota
- St. Cloud, Minnesota
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Saint Paul, Minnesota
- Nininger, Minnesota
- Hastings, Minnesota
- Prescott, Wisconsin
- Prairie Island,
- Preston, Iowa
- Diamond Bluff, Wisconsin
- Red Wing, Minnesota
- Hager City, Wisconsin
- Maiden Rock, Wisconsin
- Stockholm, Wisconsin
- Lake City, Minnesota
- Maple Springs, Minnesota
- Camp Lacupolis,
- Pepin, Wisconsin
- Reads Landing, Minnesota
- Wabasha, Minnesota
- Nelson, Wisconsin
- Alma, Wisconsin
- Buffalo City, Wisconsin
- Weaver, Minnesota
- Minneiska, Minnesota
- Fountain City, Wisconsin
- Winona, Minnesota
- Homer, Minnesota
- Trempealeau, Wisconsin
- Dakota, Minnesota
- Dresbach, Minnesota
- La Crescent, Minnesota
- La Crosse, Wisconsin
- Brownsville, Minnesota
- Stoddard, Wisconsin
- Genoa, Wisconsin
- Victory, Wisconsin
- Potosi, Wisconsin
- De Soto, Wisconsin
- Lansing, Iowa
- Ferryville, Wisconsin
- Lynxville, Wisconsin
- Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
- Marquette, Iowa
- McGregor, Iowa
- Wyalusing, Wisconsin
- Guttenberg, Iowa
- Cassville, Wisconsin
- Dubuque, Iowa
- Galena, Illinois
- Bellevue, Iowa
- Savanna, Illinois
- Sabula, Iowa
- Fulton, Illinois
- Clinton, Iowa
- Cordova, Illinois
- Le Claire, Iowa
- Bettendorf, Iowa
- Moline, Illinois
- Davenport, Iowa
- Rock Island, Illinois
- Buffalo, Iowa
- Muscatine, Iowa
- New Boston, Illinois
- Keithsburg, Illinois
- Oquawka, Illinois
- Burlington, Iowa
- Dallas City, Illinois
- Fort Madison, Iowa
- Nauvoo, Illinois
- Keokuk, Iowa
- Warsaw, Illinois
- Quincy, Illinois
- Hannibal, Missouri
- Louisiana, Missouri
- Clarksville, Missouri
- Portage Des Sioux, Missouri
- Alton, Illinois
- St. Louis, Missouri
- Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
- Kaskaskia, Illinois
- Chester, Illinois
- Grand Tower, Illinois
- Cape Girardeau, Missouri
- Thebes, Illinois
- Commerce, Missouri
- Cairo, Illinois
- Wickliffe, Kentucky
- Columbus, Kentucky
- Hickman, Kentucky
- New Madrid, Missouri
- Tiptonville, Tennessee
- Caruthersville, Missouri
- Barfield, Arkansas
- Tomato, Arkansas
- Osceola, Arkansas
- Reverie, Tennessee
- Memphis, Tennessee
- West Memphis, Arkansas
- Tunica, Mississippi
- Helena-West Helena,
- Napoleon, Arkansas (historical)
- Arkansas City, Arkansas
- Greenville, Mississippi
- Vicksburg, Mississippi
- Waterproof, Louisiana
- Natchez, Mississippi
- Morganza, Louisiana
- St. Francisville, Louisiana
- New Roads, Louisiana
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Donaldsonville, Louisiana
- Lutcher, Louisiana
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Pilottown, Louisiana
- La Balize, Louisiana (historical)
The first bridge across the Mississippi River was built in 1855.
spanned the river in Minneapolis where the current Hennepin
Avenue Bridge is located.
The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi was built in 1856.
spanned the river between the Rock Island Arsenal and Davenport, Iowa.
Steamboat captains of the day, fearful
of competition from the railroads, considered the new bridge "a
hazard to navigation". Two weeks after the bridge opened, the
steamboat Effie Afton
rammed part of the bridge and
started it on fire. Legal proceedings ensued, with Abraham Lincoln
defending the railroad.
lawsuit went to the Supreme Court of the United
States and was eventually ruled in favor of the
Below is a general overview of bridges over the Mississippi which
have notable engineering or landmark significance with its city.
They are ordered from the source to the mouth.
- Stone Arch Bridge former Great Northern Railway (now
pedestrian) bridge at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis.
- I-35W Mississippi River
bridge this bridge collapsed catastrophically on August 1,
2007, killing 13 and injuring over 100. It was replaced by
the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls
Bridge, which opened in September 2008, ahead of schedule
and on budget.
- I-90 Mississippi River
Bridge connects La Crosse, Wisconsin to Winona County, Minnesota, located just south of Lock and
Dam No. 7.
- Black Hawk Bridge connects Lansing in Allamakee County, Iowa, to rural Crawford County, Wisconsin, locally referred to as the Lansing Bridge and
documented in the Historic American Engineering
- Julien Dubuque Bridge joins the cities of Dubuque, Iowa, and East Dubuque, Illinois and is listed in the National Register of
- Savanna-Sabula Bridge truss bridge and
causeway that connects the city of Savanna, Illinois with the island city of
Iowa. The bridge carries U.S. Highway
52 over the river. It is also the terminus of both Iowa Highway 64 and Illinois Route 64. Added to the National Register of
Historic Places in 1999.
- Fred Schwengel Memorial
Bridge 4-lane steel girder bridge that connects Le Claire,
Iowa and Rapids City, Illinois. Completed in 1966.
- I-74 Bridge originally known as the Iowa-Illinois Memorial
Bridge, connects Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois.
- Government Bridge connects Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, adjacent to Lock and Dam No. 15 and the fourth crossing in this vicinity, having
been built in 1896.
- Rock Island Centennial
Bridge connects Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, opened in 1940.
- Norbert F. Beckey Bridge connects Muscatine, Iowa to Rock Island County,
Illinois, became the country's first bridge to be
illuminated with light-emitting
diode lights decoratively illuminating the facade of the
- Great River Bridge cable-stayed
bridge connecting Burlington, Iowa to Gulf Port, Illinois.
- Fort Madison Toll Bridge also known as the Santa Fe Swing Span
Bridge. At the time of its construction, it was the
longest and heaviest electrified swing span on the river.
Madison, Iowa and unincorporated Niota, Illinois. Listed in the National Register of
Historic Places since 1999.
- Bayview Bridge cable-stayed
bridge bringing westbound U.S.
Highway 24 over the river, connecting the
cities of West
Quincy, Missouri and Quincy, Illinois. Eastbound U.S. 24 is served by the
- Clark Bridge also known as the Super Bridge as the
result of an appearance on the PBS program, Nova. This cable-stayed bridge connects West
Alton, Missouri and Alton, Illinois and was built in 1994 and carries U.S. Route
67 across the river. It is the northernmost river crossing in
Louis metropolitan area and replaces the Old
Clark Bridge, a truss bridge built in 1928, named after
- Chain of Rocks Bridge located on the northern edge of St. Louis; notable
for a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the crossing,
necessary for navigation on the river and was the route used by
U.S. Route 66 to cross over the Mississippi.
- Eads Bridge combined road and railway bridge, connecting St.
Louis and East St. Louis, Illinois. When completed in 1874, it was the longest
arch bridge in the world, with an overall length of . The ribbed
steel arch spans were considered daring, as was the use of steel as
a primary structural material; it was the first such use of true
steel in a major bridge project.
- Chester Bridge truss bridge connecting
Route 51 in Missouri with
Illinois Route 150, between
Perryville, Missouri and Chester, Illinois. The bridge can be seen in the beginning of
the 1967 film, In
the Heat of the Night. In the 1940s, the main span was
destroyed by a tornado.
- Hernando de Soto Bridge through arch
bridge carrying Interstate 40
across the river between West Memphis, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. It is often called the "M Bridge" as the
arches resemble the letter M.
- Frisco Bridge previously known as the Memphis
Bridge, it is a cantilevered
through truss bridge, carrying a rail line across the river between
Memphis, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. It was the first crossing of the Lower
Mississippi and the longest span in the U.S., when it opened on May
12, 1892. It is listed as a Historic Civil
- Memphis & Arkansas
Bridge – the longest Warren truss bridge in
the United States, which carries Interstate 55 to connect Memphis and West
Memphis; also listed on the National Register of Historic
Bridge Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the
first Mississippi River span built in Louisiana.
- Crescent City Connection connects the east and west banks of New Orleans; the 5th-longest cantilever bridge in the
Mississippi watershed (2005)
The Mississippi River has the third largest drainage basin
or "catchment" in the world.
basin covers more than , including all or parts of 31 states and
two Canadian provinces.
The drainage basin empties
into the Gulf of Mexico.
Major tributaries of the Mississippi:
Drainage area and basin
Mississippi River drains the majority of the area between the
Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, except for the areas drained to the Hudson Bay via the Red River of the North, by the Saint Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, the Rio Grande (and numerous other rivers in Texas), the Alabama
River-Tombigbee River, and the
Chattahoochee River-Apalachicola River.
The Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico about
downstream from New Orleans. Measurements of the length of the
Mississippi from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico vary somewhat,
but the United States
's number is . The retention time from Lake
Itasca to the Gulf is about 90 days.
Fresh river water flowing from the Mississippi into the Gulf of
Mexico does not mix into the salt water immediately. The images
from NASA's MODIS
right show a large plume of fresh water, which appears as a dark
ribbon against the lighter-blue surrounding waters.
The images demonstrate that the plume did not mix with the
surrounding sea water immediately. Instead, it stayed intact as it flowed
through the Gulf of Mexico, into the Straits of Florida, and entered the Gulf
Stream. The Mississippi River water rounded the tip
of Florida and traveled up the southeast coast to the latitude
of Georgia before finally mixing in so thoroughly with the
ocean that it could no longer be detected by MODIS.
The Mississippi river discharges at an annual average rate of
between 200 and 700 thousand cubic feet per second
/s). Although it is the 5th largest
river in the world by volume, this flow is a mere fraction of the
output of the Amazon
, which moves
nearly 7 million cubic feet per second
/s) during wet seasons. On average, the
Mississippi has only 9% the flow of the Amazon River, but is nearly
twice that of the Columbia River and
almost 6 times the volume of the Colorado River.
The Illinoian Glacier
, about 300,000
to 132,000 years before present, blocked the Mississippi near Rock
Island, Illinois, diverting it to its present channel farther to
the west, the current western border of Illinois.
Hennepin Canal roughly follows the ancient channel of the
Mississippi downstream from Rock Island to Hennepin.
Hennepin, Illinois, the current Illinois
River is actually following the ancient channel of the
Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois, before the Illinoian glaciation.
changes in the course of the river have occurred because of
earthquakes along the New
Madrid Seismic Zone, which lies between Memphis and St.
Three earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated at
approximately 8 on the Richter
, were said to have temporarily reversed the
course of the Mississippi. The settlement of Reverie,
Tennessee was cut off from Tipton
County, Tennessee, during the 1811 and 1812 earthquakes and
placed on the western side of the Mississippi River, the Arkansas
side. These earthquakes also created Reelfoot
Lake in Tennessee from the altered landscape near
The faulting is related to an aulacogen
(geologic term for a failed rift) that
formed at the same time as the Gulf of Mexico.
Through a natural process known as delta switching
, the lower Mississippi
River has shifted its final course to the mouth of the Gulf of
Mexico every thousand years or so. This occurs because the deposits
of silt and sediment begin to clog its channel, raising the river's
level and causing it to eventually find a steeper, more direct
route to the Gulf of Mexico. The abandoned distributaries diminish
in volume and form what are known as bayous
process has, over the past 5,000 years, caused the coastline of
south Louisiana to advance toward the Gulf from 15 to 50 miles
(25–80 km). The currently active delta lobe is called
the Birdfoot Delta, after its shape, or the Balize Delta, after
Balize, Louisiana, the first French settlement at the mouth of
The area of the Mississippi valley was first settled by Native American
, such as the Cheyenne
, one of the earliest
inhabitants of the upper Mississippi River, called it the
(Big Greasy River) in the Cheyenne language
. However, the word
comes from Messipi
, the French
rendering of the Anishinaabe
(Ojibwe or Algonquin) name for
the river, Misi-ziibi
Ojibwe called Lake Itasca Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake) and the
river flowing out of it Omashkoozo-ziibi (Elk
River). After flowing into Lake Bemidji, the Ojibwe called the river
Bemijigamaag-ziibi (River from the Traversing
Lake). After flowing into Cass
Lake, the name of the river changes to
Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag-ziibi (Red Cedar River) and then out
Winnibigoshish as Wiinibiigoozhish-ziibi (Miserable
Wretched Dirty Water River), Gichi-ziibi (Big River) after
the confluence with the Leech Lake
River, then finally as Misi-ziibi (Great River) after
the confluence with the Crow Wing
After the expeditions by Giacomo Beltrami
and Henry Schoolcraft
, the longest stream
above the juncture of the Crow Wing River and Gichi-ziibi
was named "Mississippi River". The Mississippi River
Band of Chippewa Indians
, known as the
, are named after the stretch of the
Mississippi River known as the Gichi-ziibi
On May 8, 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto
became the first recorded
to reach the Mississippi River,
which he called Río del Espíritu Santo
("River of the Holy
Spirit"), in the area of what is now Mississippi. In Spanish
, the river is called Río
French explorers, Louis Jolliet
, began exploring
the Mississippi in the 17th century. Marquette traveled with a
named Ne Tongo
("Big river" in
) in 1673. Marquette
proposed calling it the River of the Immaculate Conception
In 1682, René-Robert
Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
claimed the entire Mississippi River Valley for
France, calling the river Colbert River
after Jean-Baptiste Colbert
and the region
King Louis XIV
. On March 2,
1699, Pierre Le Moyne
rediscovered the mouth of the Mississippi,
following the death of La Salle. The French built the small fort of
Balise there to control passage.
about upriver, New Orleans was established along the river crescent
by Jean-Baptiste Le
Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, with construction patterned after
the 1711 resettlement on Mobile Bay of Mobile, the capital of French Louisiana at the
victory in the Seven Years War
the Mississippi became the
border between the British and Spanish Empires. The Treaty of Paris gave Great
Britain rights to all land east of the Mississippi and
Spain rights to land west of the Mississippi.
also ceded Florida to Britain to
regain Cuba, which
the British occupied during the war.
Britain then divided
the territory into East
and West Florida
Article 8 of the Treaty of
states, "The navigation of the river Mississippi, from
its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the
subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States".
this treaty, which ended the American Revolutionary War,
Britain also ceded West Florida back to Spain to regain The Bahamas, which Spain had occupied during the
Spain then had control over the river, south of 32°30'
north latitude and in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy,
hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west.
These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney's Treaty
France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso
1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the
the U.S. defeated Britain at the Battle of New Orleans, part of the War of
1812, securing American control of the river.
So many settlers traveled westward through the Mississippi river
basin, as well as settled in it, that Zadok Cramer wrote a guide
book called The
, detailing the features and dangers and
navigable waterways of the area. It was so popular that he updated
and expanded it through 12 editions over a period of 25
's book, Life on the Mississippi
covered the steamboat
commerce which took
place from 1830 to 1870 on the river before more modern ships
replaced the steamer. The book was published first in serial form
in Harper's Weekly
parts in 1875. The full version, including a passage from the
of Huckleberry Finn
and works from other authors, was
published by James R. Osgood & Company in 1885.
The first steamboat to travel the full length of the Mississippi
from the Ohio River to New Orleans was the New Orleans
December 1811. Its maiden voyage occurred during the series of
New Madrid earthquake
Steamboat transport remained a viable industry, both in terms of
passengers and freight until the end of the first decade of the
20th century. Among the several Mississippi River system steamboat
companies was the noted Anchor Line
, which from 1859
to 1898 operated a luxurious fleet of steamers between St. Louis
and New Orleans.
Battle of Vicksburg
The river played a decisive role in the American Civil War
. The Union's Vicksburg Campaign called for Union control of the lower
Mississippi River. The Union victory at the Battle
of Vicksburg in Warren County, Mississippi in 1863 was pivotal to the Union's final
victory of the Civil War.
In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its banks in 145
places, during the Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927
and inundated to a depth of up to
October 20, 1976, the automobile ferry,
MV George Prince, was struck by a ship traveling upstream
as the ferry attempted to cross from Destrehan, Louisiana, to Luling, Louisiana.
Seventy-eight passengers and crew died,
only eighteen survived the accident.
In 1988, record low water levels provided an opportunity and
obligation to examine the climax of the wooden-hulled age. The
Mississippi fell to below zero on the Memphis gauge. Four and a
half acres of water craft remains were exposed on the bottom of the
Mississippi River at West Memphis, Arkansas. They dated to the late
19th to early 20th centuries. The State of Arkansas, the Arkansas
Archeological Survey, and the Arkansas Archeological Society
responded with a two-month data recovery effort. The fieldwork
received national media attention as good news in the middle of a
Great Flood of 1993 was another
significant flood, primarily affecting the Mississippi above its
confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.
Two portions of the Mississippi were designated as American Heritage Rivers
the lower portion around Louisiana and Tennessee, and the upper
portion around Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri.
Campsite at the river in
Slovenian long-distance swimmer, Martin Strel, swam the entire length of the
river, from Minnesota to Louisiana, over the course of 68
In 2005, the Source to Sea Expedition 
Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers
to benefit the Audubon Society's Upper Mississippi River
August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River
bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during the evening rush
sport of water skiing was invented on
the river in a wide region between Minnesota and Wisconsin known as
Samuelson of Lake City, Minnesota, created and refined his skiing technique in
late June and early July 1922.
He later performed the first
water ski jump in 1925 and was pulled along at by a Curtiss
later that year.
There are seven National Park
sites along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi
National River and Recreation Area
is the National Park Service
site dedicated to protecting and interpreting the Mississippi River
itself. The other six National Park Service sites along the river
are (listed from north to south):
A clear channel is needed for the barges
other vessels that make the main stem
Mississippi one of the great commercial waterways
of the world.The task of maintaining a
navigation channel is the responsibility of the United States Army Corps
, which was established in 1802. Earlier projects
began as early as 1829 to remove snags, close off secondary
channels and excavate rocks and sandbar
Steamboats entered trade in the 1820s, so the period 1830 1850
became the golden age of steamboats. As there were few roads or
rails in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, river traffic was an
ideal solution. Cotton, timber and food came down the river, as did
Appalachia coal. The port of New Orleans boomed as it was the
trans-shipment point to deep sea ocean vessels. As a result, the
image of the twin stacked, wedding cake Mississippi steamer entered
into American mythology. Steamers worked the entire route from the
trickles of Montana, to the Ohio river; down the Missouri and
Tennessee. To the main channel of the Mississippi. Only the arrival
of the railroads in the 1880s did steamboat traffic diminish.
Steamboats remained a feature until the 1920s. Most have been
superseded by pusher tugs. A few survive as icons—the Delta Queen and the River Queen
A series of 29 locks
on the upper Mississippi, most of which were built in the 1930s, is
designed primarily to maintain a deep channel for commercial
traffic. The lakes formed are also used
for recreational boating and fishing. The dams make the river
deeper and wider but do not stop it. No flood control is intended.
During periods of high flow, the gates, some of which are
submersible, are completely opened and the dams simply cease to
function. Below St. Louis, the Mississippi is relatively
free-flowing, although it is constrained by numerous levees and
directed by numerous wing dams
Obstacles – Des Moines, Iowa/Illinois
In 1829, there were surveys of the two major obstacles on the upper
Mississippi, the Des Moines Rapids and the Rock Island Rapids,
where the river was shallow and the riverbed was rock. The Des Moines
Rapids were about 11 mi (18 km) long and just above the
mouth of the Des Moines River at
Iowa. The Rock Island Rapids were between
Island and Moline, Illinois.
Both rapids were considered virtually
the Illinois and Michigan Canal was built to connect the Mississippi River to
Michigan via the
Illinois River near Peru,
In 1900, the canal was replaced by the
Chicago Sanitary and
. The canal allowed Chicago to address specific health issues (typhoid fever, cholera
and other waterborne diseases) by sending its waste down the
Illinois and Mississippi river systems rather than polluting its
water source of Lake Michigan. The canal also
provided a shipping route between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi.
Corps of Engineers recommended the excavation of a 5 ft
(1.5 m) deep channel at the Des Moines Rapids, but work did not begin until after Lieutenant
Robert E. Lee
endorsed the project in 1837. The Corps
later also began excavating the Rock Island Rapids. By 1866, it had
become evident that excavation was impractical, and it was decided
to build a canal around the Des Moines Rapids. The canal opened in
1877, but the Rock Island Rapids remained an obstacle.
In 1878, Congress authorized the Corps to establish a deep channel
to be obtained by building wing dams which direct the river to a
narrow channel causing it to cut a deeper channel, by closing
secondary channels and by dredging. The channel project was
complete when the Moline Lock, which bypassed the Rock Island
Rapids, opened in 1907.
Canal – St. Paul, Minnesota
improve navigation between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Prairie du
Chien, Wisconsin, the Corps constructed several dams on lakes in the
headwaters area, including Lake Winnibigoshish and Lake Pokegama.
The dams, which were
built beginning in the 1880s, stored spring run-off which was
released during low water to help maintain channel depth.
In 1907, Congress authorized a deep channel project on the
Mississippi, which was not complete when it was abandoned in the
late 1920s in favor of the deep channel project.
Dam –Keokuk, Iowa
construction was complete on a dam at Keokuk, Iowa, the first dam below St. Anthony Falls.
Built by a private power company to generate electricity, the
Keokuk dam was one of the largest hydro-electric plants in the
world at the time. The dam also eliminated the Des Moines
Lock and Dam Nos. 1 & 2
Dam No. 1 was completed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in
1917. Lock and Dam No. 2, near Hastings, Minnesota was completed in 1930.
Prior to the 1927 flood, the Corps' primary strategy was to close
off as many side channels as possible to increase the flow in the
main river. It was thought that the river's velocity
would scour off bottom sediments
, deepening the river and decreasing the
possibility of flooding.
The 1927 flood proved this to be so wrong that communities
threatened by the flood began to create their own levee breaks to
relieve the force of the rising river.
Rivers and Harbors Act – 1930
The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 authorized the channel project,
which called for a navigation channel 9 ft (2.7 m) deep
and 400 ft (120 m) wide to accommodate multiple-barge
This was achieved by a series of locks and dams, and by dredging.
Twenty-three new locks and dams were built on the upper Mississippi
in the 1930s in addition to the three already in existence.
Late 20th century
the 1950s, there was no dam below Lock and Dam 26 at Alton,
Illinois. Chain of Rocks Lock (Lock and Dam No.
27), which consists of
a low-water dam and an long canal, was added in 1953, just below
the confluence with the Missouri River, primarily to bypass a
series of rock ledges at St. Louis. It also serves to protect the
St. Louis city water intakes during times of low water.
U.S. government scientists determined in the 1950s that the
Mississippi River was starting to switch to the Atchafalaya River
channel because of its
much steeper path to the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually the Atchafalaya
River would capture the Mississippi River and become its main
channel to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving New Orleans on a side
channel. As a result, the U.S. Congress authorized a project called
River Control Structure, which has prevented the Mississippi River from
leaving its current channel that drains into the Gulf via New
Because the large scale of high-energy water flow threatened to
damage the structure, an auxiliary flow control station was built
adjacent to the standing control station. This US$
300 million project was completed
in 1986 by the U.S. Army Corps Of
Beginning in the 1970s, the Corps applied hydrological transport models
to analyze flood flow and water quality of the Mississippi.
Illinois, which had structural problems, was replaced by the
Mel Price Lock and Dam in 1990.
The original Lock and Dam 26
The Corps now actively creates floodways to divert periodic water
surges into backwater channels and lakes. The main floodways
are the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, the Morganza Spillway, which directs
floodwaters down the Atchafalaya
River and the Bonnet Carré Spillway which directs water to Lake
River Control Structure also serve as a major floodgates that can be
opened to prevent flooding.
Some of the pre-1927 strategy is
still in use today, the Corps actively cuts the necks of horseshoe bends
, allowing the water to move faster
and reducing flood heights.
In popular culture
- William Faulkner uses the
Mississippi River and Delta as the setting for many hunts
throughout his novels. It has been proposed
that in Faulkner's famous story, The
Bear, young Ike first begins his transformation into a
man, thus relinquishing his birthright to land in Yoknapatawpha County through his
realizations found within the woods surrounding the Mississippi
- Many of the works of Mark Twain deal
with or take place near the Mississippi River. One of his first
major works, Life on the
Mississippi, is in part a history of the river, in part a
memoir of Twain's experiences on the river, and a collection of
tales that either take place on or are associated with the river.
The river was noted for the number of bandits which called its
islands and shores home, including John Murrell who was a well-known
murderer, horse stealer and slave "re-trader". His notoriety was
such that author Twain devoted an entire chapter to him in Life
on the Mississippi, and Murrell was rumored to have an island
headquarters on the river at Island 37. Twain's most famous work,
Huckleberry Finn, is largely a journey down the river. The
novel works as an episodic meditation on American culture with the
river having multiple different meanings including independence,
escape, freedom, and adventure.
- Herman Melville's novel
portrayed a Canterbury
Tales-style group of steamboat passengers whose
interlocking stories are told as they travel down the Mississippi
River. The novel is written both as cultural satire and a
metaphysical treatise. Like Huckleberry Finn, it uses the
Mississippi River as a metaphor for the larger aspects of American
and human identity that unify the otherwise disparate characters.
The river's fluidity is reflected by the often shifting
personalities and identities of Melville's "confidence man".
On The Mississippi, music sheet cover
for a 1912 song
- The stage and movie musical Show
Boat's central musical piece is the spiritual-influenced ballad "Ol' Man River".
- The musical Big River is
based on the travels of Huckelberry Finn down the river.
- Ferde Grofé composed a set of
movements for symphony orchestra based on the lands the river
travels through in his "Mississippi
- The Johnny Cash song "Big River" is
about the Mississippi River, and about drifting the length of the
river to pursue a relationship that fails.
- "Mississippi Queen" by the rock group Mountain makes reference to the river.
- The song "When the Levee
Breaks", made famous in the version performed by Led Zeppelin on the album Led Zeppelin IV, was composed by
Memphis Minnie McCoy in 1929 after
the Great Mississippi
Flood of 1927. Another song about the flood was "Louisiana
1927" by Randy Newman for the album
Good Old Boys.
- "Roll On Mississippi" and "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta
Town" are two classics from Charlie Pride that refer to the
- In one of his books, DuBose
Heyward claims that jazz got its name from a black itinerant
musician called Jazbo Brown. Around the
turn of the 19th century the semi-legendary Brown is said to have
played on boats along the Mississippi River, as suggested in
"Jazzbo Brown from
Memphis Town", performed by Bessie
- United States Geological
Survey Hydrological Unit Code: 08-09-01-00- Lower
Mississippi-New Orleans Watershed
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation charts. 2300 miles from
Lake Itasca to Head of Passes -- Southwest Pass is 20 miles.
- http://www.yale.edu "Treaty of Friendship,
Limits, and Navigation" , Avalon project at the
- Mississippi River Facts
- 2001 US Army Corps of Engineers Upper Mississippi River
- Americas Wetland: Resource Center
- Gilfillan, Joseph A. "Minnesota
Geographical Names Derived from the Chippewa Language" in The
Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota: The Fifteenth
Annual Report for the Year 1886 (St. Paul: Pioneer Press
- http://www.cec.org/naatlas/NA-Watersheds.gif Cec.org
- "Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville" (bio), webpage from
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, 1910, New York: