See Rock City

See Rock City

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Mississippi Queen

Mississippi Queen (center), with the Delta Queen along her starboard side, moored at the Tall Stacks Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio in October 2003. The Majestic appears on the right.

The Mississippi Queen was the second largest paddle wheel driven river steamboat ever built. The ship was the largest such steamboat when she was built in 1976 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company at Jeffboat in Indiana and was a seven-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat now owned by the Majestic America Line. The company's American Queen is now the largest steamboat. The Mississippi Queen had 206 state rooms for a capacity of 412 guests and a crew of 157. It was 116 meters (382 ft) long, 21 meters (68 ft) wide, and displaces 3,709 metric tonnes (3,364 tons).

When in service, the Mississippi Queen was a genuine stern paddlewheeler with a wheel that measured 6.7 meters (22 ft) in diameter by 11 meters (36 ft) wide and weighed 77 metric tonnes (70 tons). The steamboat also featured a 44 whistle steam calliope, which was the largest on the Mississippi River system. In 2008 the Mississippi Queen was reported to be out of passenger service until 2009.

The Mississippi Queen was laid up in New Orleans at Perry Street Wharf after being gutted for renovation. Instead, however, the steamboat was sold for scrap in May 2009. She was towed for the last time to Morgan City, LA on March 24, 2011 to be cut down. Dismantling had begun by April 7.

Source: Wikipedia

Delta Queen

The Delta Queen in Memphis, Tennessee in May 2003

The Delta Queen is an American sternwheel steamboat that is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Historically, she has been used for cruising the major rivers that constitute the drainage of the Mississippi River, particularly in the American South. As of June 2009, she is docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee and has been converted into a hotel. It is possible that she will come back on the rivers.

The Delta Queen is 285 feet long (86.9 m), 58 feet (17.7m) wide, and draws 11.5 feet (3.5m). She weighs 1,650 tons (1,676 metric tons), with a capacity of 176 passengers. Her cross-compounded steam engines generate 2,000 indicated horsepower (1,500 kW), powering a stern-mounted paddlewheel.


The hull, first two decks and steam engines were ordered in 1924 from the William Denny & Brothers shipyard on the River Leven adjoining the River Clyde at Dumbarton, Scotland. The Delta Queen and her sister boat, the Delta King, were shipped in pieces to Stockton, California in 1926. There the California Transportation Company assembled the two vessels for their regular Sacramento River service between San Francisco and Sacramento, and excursions to Stockton, on the San Joaquin River. At the time, they were the most lavishly appointed and expensive sternwheel passenger boats ever commissioned. Driven out of service by a new highway linking Sacramento with San Francisco in 1940, the two vessels were laid up and then purchased by Isbrandtsen Steamship Lines for service out of New Orleans. During World War II, they were requisitioned by the U.S. Navy for duty in San Francisco Bay as USS Delta Queen (YFB-56).

Time table of the Delta Queen and the Delta King in their first season 1927

Three different United States Presidents have sailed on the Delta Queen: Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Jimmy Carter.

In 1946, Delta Queen was purchased by Greene Line of Cincinnati, Ohio and towed via the Panama Canal and the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to be refurbished in Pittsburgh. On that ocean trip she was piloted by Frederick Way Jr.. In 1948 she entered regular passenger service, plying the waters of the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers between Cincinnati, New Orleans, St.Paul, Chattanooga, Nashville, and ports in between. Ownership of the vessel has changed a number of times over the last fifty years, and since 1971, Delta Queen has operated with a presidential exemption to the law prohibiting the operation of overnight passenger vessels with wooden superstructures. Her Betty Blake Lounge is named in honor of the lady who rose from secretary to president of the steamship line and who lobbied for the exemption.

The Delta Queen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and further was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

Current Duty

The Delta Queen at the start of the 2004 Great Steamboat Race

The vessel was most recently operated by Majestic America Line. The vessels were purchased from the Delaware North Companies in April 2006. Besides the Delta Queen, the company also owns the American Queen and Mississippi Queen, modern steamboats designed along the lines of the Delta Queen, but carrying around 400 passengers. The company also owns riverboats that have seen service on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington, and the Alaska Inside Passage.

The Delta Queen cruised the Mississippi River and its tributaries on a regular schedule, with cruises ranging from New Orleans to Memphis to St. Louis to St. Paul to Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, and many more. In some cruises, the vessel probed rivers such as the Arkansas, Red, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, Black Warrior, Mobile, and more.

The Delta Queen preparing to disembark from Paducah, Kentucky on October 6, 2007.

The Queen recreated historic steamboat races each year during the Kentucky Derby Festival, when it raced with the Belle of Louisville on the Ohio at Louisville in the Great Steamboat Race. The winner of the annual race would received a trophy of golden antlers, which was mounted on the pilot house until the next race. They also raced during the Tall Stacks festivals celebrating steamboats, held every three or four years in Cincinnati (the Delta Queen's former home port).

On August 1, 2007, Majestic America Line announced that the Delta Queen would cease operations permanently at the end of the 2008 season. The temporary exemption from SOLAS needed to keep the Queen running was reportedly thrown out in a recent Congressional decision.

In response to this announcement, in September 2007 the MSP for Dumbarton, Jackie Baillie, backed by 15 other Members, submitted a motion to the Scottish Parliament calling for the preservation of the ship.

In the United States, devotees of the boat created a renewed "Save the Delta Queen" campaign similar to the one undertaken in the 1970's.

However, at the end of the 2008 season, the Delta Queen ceased all service. On its official website, the Majestic America Line announced it is ending all operations, will not operate in 2009, and that its assets, including all its riverboats, are for sale.

On February 11, 2009, the Delta Queen arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee to become a floating boutique hotel, as it was feared the vessel could be vandalized if it remained in New Orleans. Under lease to Chattanooga businessman Harry Phillips, she's now docked at Coolidge Park Landing on Chattanooga's North Shore. The Delta Queen Hotel officially opened for overnight guests on June 5, 2009, offering dining, a lounge, live period music and theatrical performances.

The ship is currently owned by Ambassadors International, and is leased and operated by a company called All Aboard Travel, operating as Delta Queen LLC, which began leasing the vessel in August 2010. Ambassadors International listed the ship for sale beginning in late 2008 at a price of $4.75 million, and in November 2010it was announced that a group called Save the Delta Queen 2010 was planning to place a bid to purchase the ship. If it succeeded, the group would place the ship into operation, carrying only 49 people in order to be exempt from federal fire safety regulations, which apply to ships carrying upwards of 50 people.

With the steamer American Queen turned over to MARAD and the Mississippi Queen sold for scrap below New Orleans, the Delta Queen is now the only steamboat to have been owned by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company (formerly Greene Line Steamers) to remain in service, albeit without running trips.

Source: Wikipedia

The American Queen

The American Queen docked in Saint Louis, Missouri

American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built. The ship was built in 1995 and is a six-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat, owned by Delta Queen Current duty, Currently laid-up. Although the American Queen's stern paddlewheel is indeed powered by a genuine steam plant, her secondary propulsion and much maneuverability comes from a set of diesel-electric propellers, known as Z-drives, on either side of the sternwheel. She has 222 state rooms for a capacity of 436 guests and a crew of 160. She is 418 feet (127 m) long and 89 feet (27 m) wide.

The Str. American Queen was retired to the reserve fleet in Violet, Louisiana, on 20 November 2008. Due to the failure of Majestic America Line (her owner) she was returned to the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) who held her $30 million mortgage. She is currently in storage in Beaumont, Texas. As of April 2011 American Queen is under contract for $15.5 million to HMS Global Maritime, based in New Albany, Ind. The new operator, The Great Amercian Steamboat Company announced plans to return her to Mississippi River service from a port in Memphis, TN. She will re-join her fellow sternwheeler steamboats Natchez, Chautauqua Belle, Minne-Ha-Ha, and the Belle of Louisville).

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Steamboats On The River

Steamboats played a major role in the 19th Century development of the Mississippi River and its tributaries by allowing the practical large-scale transport of passengers and freight both up- and down-river. Using steam power, riverboats were developed during that time which could navigate in shallow waters as well as upriver against strong currents. After the development of railroads passenger traffic gradually switched to this faster form of transportation, but steamboats continued to serve Mississippi River commerce into the early 20th Century.

The Delta Queen at Paducah, Kentucky, 2007.

The Mississippi is one of the world’s great rivers. It spans 3,860 miles (6,210 km) of length as measured using its northernmost west fork, the Missouri River, which starts in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, joining the Mississippi proper in the state of Missouri. The Ohio River and Tennessee River are other tributaries on its east, and the Arkansas, Platte and Red River of Texas on the west. The Mississippi itself starts at Itasca Lake in Minnesota, and the river wends its way through the center of the country, forming part of the boundary of ten states, dividing east and west, and furthering trade and culture.

Steamboats on the Mississippi benefited from technological and political changes. The US bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. At the time, a semi-bankrupt Napoleon was attempting to extend his hegemony over Europe in what came to be known as the Napoleonic Wars. As a result, the US was then free to expand westward out of the Ohio valley and into the Great Plains and the Southwest. The success of the Charlotte Dundas in Scotland in 1801 and Robert Fulton's Clermont on the Hudson River in 1807 proved the concept of the steamboat. At this time, walking beam mill engines, of Boulton and Watt variety, were dropped onto wood barges with paddles to create an instant powerboat. The overhead engines of "walking beam" type became the standard Atlantic Seaboard paddle engine for the next 80 years. For smaller boats, Watt perfected the side-lever engine with the engine cut down using side bell-cranks to lower the center of gravity. Sidewheel paddlers were the first to enter the scene. In 1811 the steamer New Orleans was built in Pittsburgh by Fulton and Livingstone. Fulton started steamboat service between Natchez and New Orleans.

The War of 1812 caused political upheaval in the south, particularly with the Royal Navy blockade of the US Gulf Coast ports but after the Peace of Ghent and resumption of peace, New Orleans was firmly American, after passing through French and Spanish hands. New Orleans became the great port on the mouth of the Mississippi.

Golden Age Of Steamboats

"Enterprise on her fast trip to Louisville, 1815"

Plaque commemorating the epic voyage of the Enterprise from New Orleans to Brownsville.

The historical roots of the prototypical Mississippi steamboat, or Western Rivers steamboat, can be traced to designs by easterners like James Rumsey, John Fitch, John Stevens, Oliver Evans, Robert Fulton and Daniel French. In the span of just six years the evolution of the prototypical Mississippi steamboat would be well underway:

The New Orleans, or Orleans, was the first Mississippi steamboat. Launched in 1811at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a company organized by Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton, her designer, she was a large, heavy side-wheeler with a deep draft. Her low-pressure Boulton and Watt steam engine operated a complex power train that was also heavy and inefficient.

The Comet was the second Mississippi steamboat. Launched in 1813 at Pittsburgh for Daniel D. Smith, she was much smaller than the New Orleans. With an engine and power train of Daniel French's design and manufacture, the Comet was the first Mississippi steamboat to be powered by a light weight and efficient high-pressure engine turning a stern paddle wheel.

The Vesuvius was the third Mississippi steamboat. Launched in 1814 at Pittsburgh for the company headed by Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton, her designer, she was very similar to the New Orleans.

The Enterprise, or Enterprize, was the fourth Mississippi steamboat. Launched in 1814at Brownsville, Pennsylvania for the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company, she was a dramatic departure from Fulton's boats. The Enterprise - featuring a high-pressure steam engine, a single stern paddle wheel, and shoal draft - proved to be better suited for use on the Mississippi than Fulton's boats. The Enterprise clearly demonstrated the suitability of French's design during her epic voyage from New Orleans to Brownsville, a distance of more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) performed against the powerful currents of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The Washington was launched in 1816 at Wheeling, West Virginia for Henry Shreve and partners. George White built the boat and Daniel French constructed the engine and drive train at Brownsville. She was the first steamboat with two decks, the predecessor of the Mississippi steamboats of later years. The upper deck was reserved for passengers and the main deck was used for the boiler, increasing the space below the main deck for carrying cargo. With a draft of 4 feet (1.2 m), she was propelled by a high-pressure, horizontally mounted engine turning a single stern paddle wheel. In the spring of 1817 the Washington made the voyage from New Orleans to Louisville in 25 days, equalling the record set two years earlier by the Enterprise, a much smaller boat.

In the 1810's there were 20 boats on the river; in the 1830's there were 1200 hulls. By the 1820's, with the southern states joining the Union and the land converted to cotton plantations so indicative of the Antebellum South, methods were needed to move the bales of cotton, rice, timber, tobacco and molasses. The steamboat was perfect. America boomed in the age of Jackson. Population moved west, and more farms (and more slavery) were established. In the 1820's Steamers were fueled first by wood, then coal, which pushed barges of coal from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Regular steamboat commerce begun between Pittsburgh and Louisville.

Construction Of The Vessels

Vessels were made of wood—typically ranging in length from 80 to 140 feet (43 m) in length, 10 to 20 feet (6.1 m) wide, drawing only about one to two feet of water, and in fact it was commonly said that they could "navigate on a heavy dew." The boats had kingposts or internal masts to support hogchains, or iron trusses, which prevented the hull from sagging. A second deck was added, the Texas Deck, to provided cabins and passenger areas. All was built from wood. Stairs, galleys, parlours were also added. Often the boats became quite ornate with wood trim, velvet, plush chairs, gilt edging and other trimmings sometimes featured as per the owner's taste and pocketbook. Wood burning boilers were forward center to distribute weight. The engines were also amidships, or at the stern depending on if the vessel was a sternwheeler or sidewheeler. Two rudders were fitted to help steer the ship.

Vessels, on average, only lasted about five years as the wooden hulls would be breached, they were poorly maintained, fires and general wear and tear, and the common boiler explosion. Early trips of the river took three weeks to get to the Ohio River. Later, with better pilots, more powerful engines and boilers, removal of obstacles and experienced rivermen knowing where the sand bars were, the figure was reduced to 4 days. Collisions and snags were constant perils.

The Steamers Natchez

The Belle of Louisville flying the Jolly Roger during the 2006 Great Steamboat Race.

Natchez I

The first Natchez was a low pressure sidewheel steamboat built in New York City in 1823. It originally ran between New Orleans and Natchez, Mississippi, and later catered to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Its most notable passenger was Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolutionary War, in 1825. Fire destroyed it, while in New Orleans, on September 4, 1835.

Natchez II'

Natchez II was the first built for Captain Thomas P. Leathers, at Crayfish Bayou, and ran from 1845 to 1848. It was a fast two-boiler boat, 175 feet (53 m) long, with red smokestacks, that sailed between New Orleans and Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was built in Cincinnati, Ohio, Leathers sold it in 1848. It was abandoned in 1852.

Natchez III

Natchez III was funded by the sale of the first. It was 191 feet (58 m) long. Leathers operated it from 1848 to 1853. On March 10, 1866, it sank at Mobile, Alabama due to rotting.

Natchez IV

Natchez IV was built in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was 270 feet (82 m) long, had six boilers, and could hold 4,000 bales of cotton. It operated for six weeks. On January 1, 1854, the ship collided with the Pearl at Plaquemine, Louisiana, causing the Pearl to sink. A wharf fire on February 5, 1854 at New Orleans caused it to burn down, as did 10-12 other ships.

Natchez V

Natchez V was also built in Cincinnati, as Captain Leathers returned there quickly after the destruction of the third. It was also six boilers, but this one could hold 4,400 cotton bales. This one was used by Leathers until 1859. In 1860 it was destroyed while serving as a wharfboat at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Natchez VI

Natchez VI was again a Cincinnati-built boat. It was 273 feet (83 m) long. The capacity was 5,000 cotton bales but the power remained the same. It helped transport Jefferson Davis from his river plantation home on the Mississippi River after he heard he was chosen president of the Confederacy. Even after the war, Davis would insist on using Leather's boats to transport him to and from his plantation, Brierfield. Natchez VI was also used to transport Confederate troops to Memphis, Tennessee. After Union invaders captured Memphis, the boat was moved to the Yazoo River. On March 13, 1863, it was burned either by accident or to keep it out of Union hands at Honey Island. Remains were raised from the river in 2007.

Natchez VIII

Natchez VIII was launched August 2, 1879 by the Cincinnati Marine Ways. It was 303.5 feet (92.5 m) long, with a beam of 45.5 feet (13.9 m), 38.5 feet (11.7 m) floor, and 10 feet (3.0 m) hold depth. It had eight steel boilers that were 36 feet (11 m) long and had a diameter of 42 inches (1,100 mm), and thirteen engines. It had 47 elegant staterooms. Camp scenes of Natchez Indians wardancing and sunworshipping ornamented the fore and aft panels of the main cabin, which also had stained glass windows depicting Indians. The total cost of the boat was $125,000. Declaring that the War was over, on March 4, 1885, Leathers raised the American flag when the new Natchez passed by Vicksburg, the first time he hoisted the American flag on one of his ships since 1860. By 1887 lack of business had stymied the Natchez. In 1888 it was renovated back to perfect condition for $6000. In January 1889 it burned down at Lake Providence, Louisiana. Captain Leathers, deciding he was too old to build a new Natchez, retired. Jefferson Davis sent a letter of condolences on January 5, 1889, to Leathers over the loss of the boat. Much of the cabin was salvageable, but the hull broke up due to sand washing within.

Improved Navigation

In 1824 Congress passes an "Act to Improve the Navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers" and "to remove sand bars on the Ohio and planers, sawyers, and snags on the Mississippi". The Army Corps of engineers was given the job. 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 miles (18 km) long and just above the mouth of the Des Moines River at Keokuk, Iowa. The Rock Island Rapids were between Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. Both rapids were considered virtually impassable. In 1848, the Illinois and Michigan Canal was built to connect the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan via the Illinois River near Peru, Illinois. The Army 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.

St. Louis

The St. Louis levee in 1857

St. Louis became an important trade center, not only for the overland route for the Oregon and California trails, but as a supply point for the Mississippi. Rapids north of the city made St. Louis the northernmost navigable port for many large boats. The Zebulon Pike and her sisters soon transformed St. Louis into a bustling boom town, commercial center, and inland port. By the 1830's, it was common to see more than 150 steamboats at the St. Louis levee at one time. Immigrants flooded into St. Louis after 1840, particularly from Germany. During Reconstruction, rural Southern blacks flooded into St. Louis as well, seeking better opportunity. By the 1850's, St. Louis had become the largest U. S. city west of Pittsburgh, and the second-largest port in the country, with a commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York. James Eads was a famed engineer who ran a shipyard and first built riverboats in the 1850's, then armed riverboats and finally the legendary bridge over the Mississippi. His Mound City Ironworks and shipyard was famous, and featured often in the naming of vessels.


Historic aerial view of Memphis (1870)

Memphis became another major port on the Mississippi.It was the slave port. Hence the city was contested in the Civil War.

The First Battle of Memphis was a naval battle fought on the Mississippi River immediately above the city of Memphis on June 6, 1862, during the American Civil War. The engagement was witnessed by many of the citizens of Memphis. It resulted in a crushing defeat for the Rebels, and marked the virtual eradication of a Confederate naval presence on the river. Despite the lopsided outcome, the Union Army failed to grasp its strategic significance. Its primary historical importance is that it was the last time civilians with no prior military experience were permitted to command ships in combat. 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.

Washington, LA

The port of Washington, LA was the largest between New Orleans and St. Louis. Products such as cotton, sugar and livestock were brought to Washington overland or by small boat and then transferred to the steam packets for shipment to New Orleans. By the mid-19th century, Washington developed a thriving trade and became the most important port in the vicinity of St. Landry Parish. This can be seen in the number of steamers that used the port and in the volume of freight. In 1860 there were 93 steam packets operating in the Bayou Courtableau trade, as compared with 90 in Bayou Lefourche and 94 in Bayou Teche. An 1877 tabulation showed the total quantity of goods shipped from Washington to New Orleans: 30,000 bales of cotton, 32,000 sacks of cotton seed, 3,000 hogsheads of sugar, 5,800 barrels of molasses, 30,000 dozen poultry, As many as 93 packets came to Washington during the steamboat era which ended in 1900.

Mark Twain

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. Twain's most famous work, Adventures of 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.

Twain himself worked as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi for a few years. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at any of the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. While training, he convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry died on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded.

Boiler Explosions

In the forty years to the mid-century mark, there were some 4,000 fatalities on the river due to boiler explosions. Some 500 vessels were wrecked by the peril. Early boilers were riveted of weak iron plate. Vessels at the time were not inspected, or insured. Passengers were on their own. Meanwhile, the explosions continued: the Teche in 1825, with sixty killed; the Ohio and the Macon in 1826; the Union and the Hornet in 1827; the Grampus in 1828; the Patriot and the Kenawa in 1829; the Car of Commerce and the Portsmouth in 1830; the Moselle"" in 1838.

Mark Twain noted a bad boiler explosion which occurred aboard the steamboat Pennsylvania in 1858. Among the injured passengers was Henry Clemens, his brother, whose skin had been badly scalded. Twain came to visit Henry in an improvised hospital. This is how he described the long painful death of his brother: “For forty-eight hours I labored at the bedside of my poor burned and bruised but uncomplaining brother...and then the star of my hope went out and left me in the gloom of despair...” On February 24, 1830, as the Helen McGregor prepared to pull away from the Memphis waterfront, the starboard boiler blew. The blast itself and flying debris killed a number of people, and about thirty others were scalded to death.


Mississippi Riverboats being loaded on the Memphis waterfront (1906)

Gambling took many forms on riverboats. Gambling with one's life with the boilers aside, there were sharks around willing to fleece the unsuspecting rube. As cities passed ordinances against gaming houses in town, the cheats moved to the unregulated waters of the Mississippi aboard river steamers.

There was also gambling with the racing of boats up the river. Bets were made on a favourite vessel. Pushing the boilers hard in races would also cause fires to break out on the wooden deck structures.


One of the enduring issues in American government is the proper balance of power between the national government and the state governments. This struggle for power was evident from the earliest days of American government and is the underlying issue in the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. In 1808, Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston were granted a monopoly from the New York state government to operate steamboats on the state's waters. This meant that only their steamboats could operate on the waterways of New York, including those bodies of water that stretched between states, called interstate waterways. This monopoly was very important because steamboat traffic, which carried both people and goods, was very profitable. Aaron Ogden held a Fulton-Livingston license to operate steamboats under this monopoly. He operated steamboats between New Jersey and New York. However, another man named Thomas Gibbons competed with Aaron Ogden on this same route. Gibbons did not have a Fulton-Livingston license, but instead had a federal (national) coasting license, granted under a 1793 act of Congress.

The United States at this time was a loose confederation of states. The federal government was weak, and so regulating vessels, even for gaming statutes, was an imposition on States Rights. The Interstate Steamboat Commerce Commission was finally set up in 1838 to regulate steamboat traffic. Boiler inspections only began in 1852.

Steamboat Act of May 30, 1852

The 1838 law proved inadequate as steamboat disasters increased in volume and severity. The 1847 to 1852 era was marked by an unusual series of disasters primarily caused by boiler explosions, however, many were also caused by fires and collisions. These disasters resulted in the passage of the Steamboat Act of May 30, 1852 (10 Stat. L., 1852) in which enforcement powers were placed under the Department of the Treasury rather than the Department of Justice as with the Act of 1838. Under this law, the organization and form of a federal maritime inspection service began to emerge. Nine supervisory inspectors responsible for a specific geographic region were appointed. There were also provisions for the appointment of local inspectors by a commission consisting of the local District Collector of Customs, the Supervisory Inspector, and the District Judge. The important features of this law were the requirement for hydrostatic testing of boilers, and the requirement for a boiler steam safety valve. This law further required that both pilots and engineers be licensed by the local inspectors. Even though time and further insight proved the Steamboat Act inadequate, it must be given credit for starting legislation in the right perspective. Probably the most serious shortcoming was the exemption of freightboats, ferries, tugboats and towboats, which continued to operate under the superficial inspection requirements of the law of 1838. Again, disasters and high loss of life prompted congressional action through the passage of the Act of February 28, 1871.


Union Troops arrive at Louisville, 1862

A showboat, or show boat, was a form of theater that traveled along the waterways of the United States, especially along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. A showboat was basically a barge that resembled a long, flat-roofed house, and in order to move down the river, it was pushed by a small tugboat (misleadingly labeled a towboat) which was attached to it. It would have been impossible to put a steam engine on it, since it would have had to have been placed right in the auditorium.

British-born actor William Chapman, Sr. created the first showboat, named the "Floating Theatre," in Pittsburgh in 1831. He and his family performed plays with added music and dance at stops along the waterways. After reaching New Orleans, they got rid of the boat and went back to Pittsburgh in a steam boat in order to perform the process once again the year after. Showboats had declined by the Civil War, but began again in 1878 and focused on melodrama and vaudeville. Major boats of this period included the New Sensation, New Era, Water Queen, and the Princess. With the improvement of roads, the rise of the automobile, motion pictures, and the maturation of the river culture, showboats declined again. In order to combat this development, they grew in size and became more colorful and elaborately designed in the 20th century. These boats included the Golden Rod, the Sunny South, the Cotton Blossom, and the New Showboat. Jazzmen Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke played on Mississippi River steamers.

Civil War With Steamboats

USS Cairo

The US Civil War spilled over to the Mississippi with naval sieges and naval war using paddlewheelers. The Battle of Vicksburg involved monitors and ironclad riverboats. The USS Cairo is a wrecked survivor of the Vicksburg battle. Trade on the river was suspended for two years because of a Confederate blockade. The triumph of Eads ironclads, and Farragut's seizure of New Orleans, secured the river for the Union North.

The worst of all steamboat accidents occurred at the end of the Civil War in April 1865, when the steamboat Sultana, carrying an over-capacity load of returning Union soldiers recently freed from Confederate prison camp, blew up, causing more than 1,700 deaths.


The Sultana on fire, from Harpers Weekly

With the Union Victory and occupation of the south, transport was administered by the US Army and Navy. The year 1864 brought an all-time low water mark on Upper Mississippi mark for all subsequent measurements. Stern wheelers proved more adaptable than side wheelers for barges. Immediately after the war, passenger steamboats become larger, faster and floating palaces began to appear; on the freight barges salt, hay, iron ore, and grain were carried. A few boats specialized in pushing huge log rafts downstream to lumber mills. By 1850, a system of moving barges and log rafts lashed alongside and ahead of the towboat was developed which allowed greater control than towing on a hawser. This type of service favored sternwheel propelled boats over sidewheelers and promoted other improvements as well. Towboats became a distinct type by 1860. Sand and gravel for construction was dredged up from river bottoms, and pumped aboard cargo barges. Simple hydraulic dredging rigs on small barges did the work. Towboats moved the dredge and sand barges around as needed.

The Great Race

Steamboat Robert E. Lee, by August Norieri.

Natchez VII was built in 1869. It was 301 feet (92 m) long, had eight boilers and a 5,500 cotton bale capacity. In its nine and a half year service, it made 401 trips without a single deadly accident. It became famous as the participant against another Mississippi paddle steamer, the Robert E. Lee, in a race from New Orleans to St. Louis in June 1870, immortalized in a lithograph by Currier and Ives. This Natchez had beaten the previous speed record, that of the J. M. White in 1844. Stripped down, carrying no cargo, steaming on through fog and making only one stop, the Robert E. Lee won the race in 3 days, 8 hours and 14 minutes. By contrast, the Natchez carried her normal load and stopped as normal, tying up overnight when fog was encountered. Despite this she berthed only six hours later. One way Leathers tried to speed up his boat was giving all of his workers whiskey. When Leathers finally dismantled the boat in Cincinnati in 1879, this particular Natchez had never flown the American flag

Competition From The Railroads

Railroads were rebuilt in the south after the Civil War, the disconnected small roads, of 5-foot (1.5 m) broad gauge, were amalgamated and enlarged into big systems of the southern Illinois Central and Louisville and Nashville. Track was changed to the American Standard of 4 feet 8 and one half inches. This ways cars could travel from Chicago to the south without having to be reloaded. Consequently, rail transport became cheaper than steamboats. The boats could not keep up. The first railroad bridge built across the Mississippi River connected Davenport and Rock Island, IL in 1856, built by the Rock Island Railroad. Steamboaters saw nationwide railroads as a threat to their business. On May 6, 1856, just weeks after it was completed, a steamboater crashed the Effie Afton steamboat into the bridge. The owner of the Effie Afton, John Hurd, filed a lawsuit against The Rock Island Railroad Company. The Rock Island Railroad Company selected Abraham Lincoln as their trial lawyer.

Rise Of Barge Traffic

Barge traffic exploded with the growth of trade from the First World War.

Freight tonnage on the Upper Mississippi fell below 1 million tons per year in 1916 and hovered around 750,000 tons until 1931. A number of factors had led to this decline. Log rafts and raft towboats had disappeared and river cargo service had shifted to short-haul instead of long distance hauling. The First World War made crewmen scarce and helped to make the railroads stronger. The deficiencies of railroad transportation during World War I led to the Transportation Act of 1920.

In spite of these problems, the heavy transportation needs of wartime could not be met by railroads and river transport took off some of the pressure. In 1917, the United States Shipping Board allocated $3,160,000 to the Emergency Fleet Corporation to build and operate barges and towboats on the Upper Mississippi. Federal control was augmented by the Federal Control Act of 1918. The U.S. Railroad Administration formed the Committee on Inland Waterways to oversee the work. All floating equipment on the Mississippi and Warrior River systems was commandeered and $12 million was appropriated for new construction. Service was provided primarily on the Lower Mississippi.

New floating equipment was designed by prominent naval architects, and built by boat yards known for high-quality work. Modern terminal facilities were constructed to handle bulk and package freight. A special rate system was put into place to reflect the lower cost of river transportation in comparison with railroads. In spite of their innovative approach, the Railroad Administration lost money on river services and in 1920 the Federal Barge Fleet was transferred to the War Department.

The name was changed to the Inland and Coastwise Waterways Service and the experiment continued. The Waterways Service lost less money than the Railroad Administration and in 1924 was modified yet again to allow even more economical operation in a less restrictive environment. The government transferred $5 million worth of floating equipment to provide the capital stock for the new Inland Waterways Corporation.

Compression ignition or diesel engines were first used about 1910 for smaller sternwheel towboats, but did not gain ascendancy until the late 1930's, when diesel-powered propeller boats appeared. The introduction of screw propellers to the rivers came late because of their vulnerability to damage and the greater depth of water required for efficient operation. The Federal Barge Lines experiment was successful in restarting the river transportation industry.

Congress created the Inland Waterways Corporation (1924) and its Federal Barge Line. The completion of the nine-foot channel of the Ohio River in 1929 was followed by similar improvements on the Mississippi and its tributaries and the Gulf Intra-Coastal Canals. Each improvement marked a giant step by the U.S. Army Engineers (Corps of Engineers) in promoting inland waterways development. Private capital followed these improvements with heavy investments in towboats and barges. In the years before World War II, towboat power soared steadily from 600 to 1,200 to 2,400. The shift from steam to diesel engines cut crews from twenty or more on steam towboats to an average of eleven to thirteen on diesels. By 1945, fully 50 percent of the towboats were diesel; by 1955, the figure was 97 percent. Meanwhile the paddlewheel had given way to the propeller, the single propeller to the still-popular twin propeller.

Traffic on the Mississippi system climbed from 211 million short tons to more than 330 million between 1963 and 1974. The growth in river shipping did not abate in the final quarter of the century. Traffic along the Upper Mississippi rose from 54 million tons in 1970 to 112 million tons in 2000. The change from riveted to welded barges, the creation of integrated barges, and the innovation of double-skinned barges have led to improved economy, speed, and safety. Shipping on Mississippi barges became substantially less expensive than railroad transport, but at a cost to taxpayers. Barge traffic is the most heavily subsidized form of transport in the United States. A report in 1999 revealed that fuel taxes cover only 10 percent of the annual $674 million that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends building and operating the locks and dams of the Mississippi River. Barges figured there were a lot more corn and soybeans in Iowa than there was scrap iron! Until then, some had limited themselves to pushing scrap downstream and coal upriver, but those commodities were dwarfed by the potential downstream grain business. Overcoming the challenges of expansion, more players jumped into the booming barge industry.

Today 60% of U.S. grain exports travel by barge down the Mississippi River system to the Gulf. The barge industry handles 15% of the nation's inter-city traffic for just 3% of the nation's freight bill. Barge transportation is the safest surface mode of transportation and is more fuel efficient than rail. A single barge carries the equivalent of 15 railcars and on the Lower Mississippi some tows handle up to 40 plus barges.

Flood Of 1927

The Mississippi 1927 flood began when heavy rains pounded the central basin of the Mississippi in the summer of 1926. By September, the Mississippi's tributaries in Kansas and Iowa were swollen to capacity. On New Year's Day of 1927, the Cumberland River at Nashville topped levees at 56.2 feet (17.1 m). The Mississippi River broke out of its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2) or about 16,570,627 acres (67,058.95 km2). The area was inundated up to a depth of 30feet (9.1 m). The flood caused over $400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states. The flood affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14% of its territory covered by floodwaters. By May 1927, the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee, reached a width of 60 mi (97 km).

Mississippi River Commission

Battle of Fort Hindman

The Mississippi River Commission was established in 1879 to facilitate improvement of the Mississippi River from the Head of Passes near its mouth to its headwaters. The stated mission of the Commission was to:

Develop and implement plans to correct, permanently locate, and deepen the channel of the Mississippi River.

Improve and give safety and ease to the navigation thereof.
Prevent destructive floods.

Promote and facilitate commerce, trade, and the postal service.

For nearly a half century the MRC functioned as an executive body reporting directly to the Secretary of War. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 changed the mission of the MRC. The consequent Flood Control Act of 1928 created the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T). The act assigned responsibility for developing and implementing the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T) to the Mississippi River Commission. The MR&T project provides for:

Control of floods of the Mississippi River from Head of Passes to vicinity of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Control of floods of the tributaries and outlets of the Mississippi River as they are affected by its backwaters.

Improvement for navigation of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Cairo, Illinois. This includes improvements to certain harbors and improvement for navigation of Old and Atchafalaya Rivers from the Mississippi River to Morgan City, Louisiana.

Bank stabilization of the Mississippi River from the Head of Passes to Cairo, Illinois.

Preservation, restoration, and enhancement of environmental resources, including but not limited to measures for fish and wildlife, increased water supplies, recreation, cultural resources, and other related water resources development programs.
Semi-annual inspection trips to observe river conditions and facilitate coordination with local interests in implementation of the project.
The President of the Mississippi River Commission is its executive head. The mission is executed through the Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Engineer Districts in St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans.

US Army Corps of Engineers

The United States Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency and a major Army command made up of some 34,600 civilian and 650 military personnel, making it the world's largest public engineering, design and construction management agency. Although generally associated with dams, canals and flood protection in the United States, USACE is involved in a wide range of public works.

Navigation. Supporting navigation by maintaining and improving channels was the Corps of Engineers' earliest Civil Works mission, dating to Federal laws in 1824 authorizing the Corps to improve safety on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and several ports. Today, the Corps maintains more than 12,000 miles (19,000 km) of inland waterways and operates 235 locks. These waterways—a system of rivers, lakes and coastal bays improved for commercial and recreational transportation—carry about 1/6 of the Nation's inter-city freight, at a cost per ton-mile about 1/2 that of rail or 1/10 that of trucks. USACE also maintains 300 commercial harbors, through which pass 2 billion tons of cargo a year, and more than 600 smaller harbors.
Flood Damage Reduction. The Corps was first called upon to address flood problems along the Mississippi river in the mid-19th century. They began work on the Mississippi River and Tributaries Flood Control Project in 1928, and the Flood Control Act of 1936 gave the Corps the mission to provide flood protection to the entire country. Neither the Corps nor any other agency can prevent all flood damages; and when floods cause damage, there is sure to be controversy.

The Corps maintained its own fleet of river steamers, derricks, dredges and cranes, all steam powered, for many years.

The Feds Step In: the Tennessee Valley Authority Project

Typical modern snagboat

On May 18, 1933, Congress passed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. Right from the start, TVA established a unique problem-solving approach to fulfilling its mission-integrated resource management. Each issue TVA faced—whether it was power production, navigation, flood control, malaria prevention, reforestation, or erosion control—was studied in its broadest context.

By the end of the war, TVA had completed a 650-mile (1,050 km) navigation channel the length of the Tennessee River and had become the nation’s largest electricity supplier. Again the TVA project needed the services of steamers to haul cement for the dams.

World War II LST Construction

LCT being lowered into the water

The Second World War put huge demands on shipping. Every floating vessel was put to work, retired or old. The Gulf Coast was turned into a huge industrial works. Shipbuilding, steel making in Alabama, forestry, and landing craft building in the Plains towns. The Prairie boats were moved down the river for re-staging in New Orleans. The Higgins boat put its mark on shipping.

The need for Landing Ship, Tank, or LSTs was urgent in the war, and the program enjoyed a high priority throughout the war. Since most shipbuilding activities were located in coastal yards and were largely used for construction of large, deep-draft ships, new construction facilities were established along inland waterways of the Mississippi. In some instances, heavy-industry plants such as steel fabrication yards were converted for LST construction. This posed the problem of getting the completed ships from the inland building yards in the Plains to deep water. The chief obstacles were bridges. The US Navy successfully undertook the modification of bridges and, through a "Ferry Command" of Navy crews, transported the newly constructed ships to coastal ports for fitting out. The success of these "cornfield" shipyards of the Middle West was a revelation to the long-established shipbuilders on the coasts. Their contribution to the LST building program was enormous. Of the 1,051 LSTs built during World War II, 670 were constructed by five major inland builders. The most LSTs constructed during WWII were built in Evansville, Indiana, by Missouri Valley Bridge and the International Iron & Steel Co.

The End Of Steamboats

The Str. Natchez in New Orleans

The great depression, the explosion of shipbuilding capability on the river because of the war, and the rise of diesel tugboats finished the steamboat era. Boats were tied up, as they had time expired being built in the First World War or 1920s. Lower crew requirements of diesel tugs made continued operation of steam towboats uneconomical during the late 1940's. The wage increases caused by inflation after the war, and the availability of war surplus tugs and barges, put the older technology at a disadvantage. Some steam-powered, screw-propeller towboats were built but they were either later converted to diesel-power or retired. A few diesel sternwheelers stayed on the rivers after steam sternwheelers disappeared. Jack Kerouac noted in On the Road seeing many derelict steamers on the River at this time. Many steam vessels were broken up. Steam derricks and snagboats continued to be used until the 1960's and a few survivors soldiered on.

Today, few paddlewheelers continue to run on steam power. Those that do include the Delta Queen, Belle of Louisville, Natchez, Julia Belle Swain, and American Queen. Other vessels propelled by sternwheels exist, but do not employ the use of steam engines. Overnight passage on steamboats, in the United States, ended in 2008. The Delta Queen could resume that service, but it requires the permission of the United States Congress. Another boat that could do so is the American Queen which is currently in the US Ready Reserve fleet, awaiting a buyer.

Current Natchez

The ninth and current Natchez, the Str. Natchez, is a sternwheel steamboat based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Built in 1975, she is sometimes referred to as the Natchez IX. She is operated by the New Orleans Steamboat Company and docks at the Toulouse Street Wharf. Day trips include harbor and dinner cruises along the Mississippi River. It is modeled not after the original Natchez, but instead by the steamboats Hudson and Virginia. Its steam engines were originally built in 1925 for the steamboat Clairton, from which the steering system and paddlewheel shaft also came.

From the S.S. J.D. Ayres came its copper bell, made of 250 melted silver dollars.
The bell has on top a copper acorn that was once on the Avalon, now known as the Belle of Louisville, and on the Delta Queen. It also features a steam calliope, made by the Frisbee Engine Company, that has 32 notes. The wheel is made of white oak and steel, is 25 feet (7.6 m) by 25 feet (7.6 m), and weighs 26 tons. The whistle came from a ship that sank in 1908 on the Monagabola River. It was launched from Braithwaite, Louisiana. It is 265 feet (81 m) long and 46 feet (14 m) wide. It has a draft of six feet and weighs 1384 tons. It's mostly made of steel, due to United States Coast Guard rules. In 1982 the Natchez won the Great Steamboat Race, which is held every year on the Wednesday immediately before the first Saturday in May, as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival held in Louisville, Kentucky. It has partaken in other races, and has never lost. Those it has beaten include the Belle of Louisville, the Delta Queen, the Belle of Cincinnati, the American Queen, and the Mississippi Queen.

Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Mississippi River

The Mississippi in flood between Missouri and Illinois

The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 31 U.S. states between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains and even reaches into southern Canada. The Mississippi ranks fourth longest and tenth largest among the world's rivers.

For at least 10,000 years, Native Americans have lived along the Mississippi and its tributaries. Most were hunter-gatherers or herders, but some such as the Mound builders formed prolific agricultural societies. The arrival of Europeans in the 1500s forever changed the native way of life as first explorers, then settlers, ventured into the basin in increasing numbers. The river served first as barrier – forming borders for New Spain, New France, and the early United States – then as vital transportation artery and communications link. In the 19th century, during the height of Manifest Destiny, the Mississippi and several western tributaries, most notably the Missouri, formed pathways for pioneers partaking in the western expansion of the United States.

Formed from thick layers of this river's silt deposits, the Mississippi River Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions of the country and as a result came the rise of the river's storied steamboat era. During the American Civil War, the Mississippi's capture by Union forces marked a turning point towards victory because of this very importance as a route of trade and travel, not least to the Confederacy. Because of substantial growth of cities, and the larger ships and barges that have supplanted riverboats, the decades following the 1900s saw massive engineering works applied to the river system, such as the often in-combination construction of levees, locks and dams.

Since modern development of the basin began, the Mississippi has also seen its share of pollution and environmental problems – most notably large volumes of agricultural runoff, which has led to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone off the Delta. In recent years, the river has shown a steady shift towards the Atchafalaya River channel in the Delta; a course change would prove disastrous to seaports such as New Orleans. A system of dikes and gates has so far held the Mississippi at bay, but due to fluvial processes the shift becomes more likely each year.

Name origin: Ojibwe word misi-ziibi, meaning "Great River", or gichi-ziibi, meaning "Big River"

Border States: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana

Map of the course, watershed, and major tributaries of the Mississippi River

Detailed map of Mississippi River tributary structure


In addition to historical traditions shown by names, there are at least two other measures of a river's identity, one being the largest branch (by water volume), and the other being the longest branch. Using the largest-branch criterion, the Ohio would be the main branch of the Lower Mississippi, not the Middle and Upper Mississippi. Using the longest-branch criterion, the Middle Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson-Beaverhead-Red Rock-Hellroaring Creek River would be the main branch. In either of these cases, the Upper Mississippi from St. Louis, Missouri, to Minnesota, despite its name, would not be part of the more significant branch.

While the Missouri River, flowing from the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers to the Mississippi, is the longest continuously named "river" in the United States, the serial combination of Hellroaring Creek and the Red Rock, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Missouri, Middle Mississippi, and Lower Mississippi rivers, considered as one continuous waterway, is the longest river in North America and the third or fourth longest river in the world. Its length of at least 3,745 mi (6,027 km) is exceeded only by the Nile, the Amazon, and perhaps the Yangtze River among the longest rivers in the world. The source of this waterway is at Brower's Spring, 8,800 feet (2,700 m) above sea level in southwestern Montana, along the Continental Divide outside Yellowstone National Park.

The unifying name "Great American River" has been suggested for this multiply named waterway. However, the names "Mississippi River" for the water course from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, "Missouri River" for its major western tributary, and "Ohio River" for its major eastern tributary are so well established that neither reassignment of names nor creation of novel names can be seriously considered as replacements for current usage. Furthermore, the north-south course of the waterway commonly known as the Mississippi River is widely considered a convenient if approximate dividing line between the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern United States and the Western U.S., as exemplified by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the phrase "Trans-Mississippi", used for example in the name of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska.

Physical geography

The geographical setting of the Mississippi River includes considerations of the course of the river itself, its watershed, its outflow, its prehistoric and historic course changes, and possibilities of future course changes. The New Madrid Seismic Zone along the river is also noteworthy. These various basic geographical aspects of the river in turn underlie its human history and present uses of the waterway and its adjacent lands.

River course

The Mississippi River is divided into the Upper Mississippi, the Middle Mississippi, and the Lower Mississippi, with the Upper Mississippi upriver of its confluence with the Missouri River, the Middle Mississippi from there downriver to the Ohio River, and the Lower Mississippi from there downriver to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River is known as the Upper Mississippi from its headwaters to its confluence with the Missouri River at St. Louis, Missouri. The Upper Mississippi is divided into two sections:

The headwaters, 493 miles (793 km), from the source to Saint Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, Minnesota

A navigable channel, formed by a series of man-made lakes between Minneapolis and St. Louis, Missouri, 664 miles (1,069 km)

The source of the Upper Mississippi branch is traditionally accepted as Lake Itasca, 1,475 feet (450 m) above sea level in Itasca State Park 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 (caput). However, the lake is in turn fed by a number of smaller streams, of which one might be selected as the river's ultimate source.

The beginning of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca (2004)

Mississippi Head of Navigation: Coon Rapids Dam

Upper Mississippi

From its origin at Lake Itasca to St. Louis, Missouri, the waterway's flow is moderated by 43 dams. Fourteen of these dams are located above Minneapolis in the headwaters region and serve multiple purposes, including power generation and recreation. The remaining 29 dams, beginning in downtown Minneapolis, all contain locks and were constructed to improve 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 banks.

The head of navigation on the Mississippi is the Coon Rapids Dam in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Before its construction in 1913, steamboats could occasionally go upstream as far as Saint Cloud, Minnesota, depending on river conditions.

The uppermost lock and dam on the Upper Mississippi River is the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis. Above the dam, the river's elevation is 799 feet (244 m). Below the dam, the river's elevation is 750 feet (230 m). This 49-foot (15 m) 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 Mississippi River. The water elevation continues to drop steeply as it passes through the gorge carved by the waterfall.

The Upper Mississippi features various natural and artificial lakes, with its widest point being Lake Winnibigoshish, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, over 7 miles (11 km) across. Also of note is Lake Onalaska (created by Lock and Dam No. 7), near La Crosse, Wisconsin, over 4 miles (6.4 km) wide. On the other hand, Lake Pepin is natural, formed due to the delta formed by the Chippewa River of Wisconsin as it enters the Upper Mississippi; it is more than 2 miles (3.2 km) wide.

By the time the Upper Mississippi reaches Saint Paul, Minnesota, below Lock and Dam #1, it has dropped more than half its original elevation and is 687 feet (209 m) above sea level. From St. 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.

The Upper Mississippi River is joined by the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities; the St. Croix River near Prescott, Wisconsin; the Cannon River near Red Wing, Minnesota; the Black River (Mississippi River), La Crosse River, and Root River (Minnesota) in La Crosse, Wisconsin; the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; the Rock River in the Quad Cities; the Iowa River near Wapello, Iowa; the Skunk River south of Burlington, Iowa; and the Des Moines River in Keokuk, Iowa. Other major tributaries of the Upper Mississippi include the Crow River in Minnesota, the Chippewa River in Wisconsin, the Maquoketa River and the Wapsipinicon River in Iowa, and the Big Muddy River, Illinois River.

The Upper Mississippi is largely a multi-thread stream with many bars and islands. From its confluence with the St. Croix River downstream to Dubuque, Iowa, the river is entrenched, with high bedrock bluffs lying on either side. The height of these bluffs decreases to the south of Dubuque, though they are still significant through Savanna, Illinois. This topography contrasts strongly with the Lower Mississippi, which is a meandering river in a broad, flat area, only rarely flowing alongside a bluff (as at Vicksburg, Mississippi).

The confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Cairo, Illinois, the demarcation between the Middle and the Lower Mississippi River.

Middle and Lower Mississippi

The Mississippi River is known as the Middle Mississippi from the Upper Mississippi River's confluence with the Missouri River at St. Louis, Missouri, for 190 miles (310 km) to its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.

The Middle Mississippi is a relatively free-flowing river. From St. Louis to the Ohio River confluence, the Middle Mississippi falls a total of 220 feet (67 m) over a distance of 180 miles (290 km) for an average rate of 1.2 feet per mile (23 cm/km). At its confluence with the Ohio River, the Middle Mississippi is 315 feet (96 m) above sea level. Apart from the Missouri River, and the Kaskaskia River in Illinois, no major tributaries enter the Middle Mississippi River.

Measured by length, the Middle Mississippi's primary branch is the Missouri River, not the Upper Mississippi, whether or not additional tributaries upstream are considered. Thus, by length, the main branch of the Mississippi River system at St. Louis can be considered to be the Missouri River, rather than the Upper Mississippi. By taking the longer branch at each significant fork, this continuous but multiply named waterway can be identified and measured. One name for it is the Lower & Middle Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson-Beaverhead-Red Rock-Hellroaring Creek River. The name "Great American River" has also been suggested for this longest American waterway.

Lower Mississippi River near New Orleans

The Mississippi River is called the Lower Mississippi River from its confluence with the Ohio River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Measured by water volume, the Lower Mississippi's primary branch is the Ohio River. At the confluence of the Ohio and the Middle Mississippi, the Ohio is the bigger river, with its long-term mean discharge at Cairo, Illinois being 281,500 cu ft/s (7,970 m3/s), while the long-term mean discharge of the Mississippi at Thebes, Illinois (just upriver from Cairo) is 208,200 cu ft/s (5,900 m3/s). Thus, by volume, the main branch of the Mississippi River system at Cairo can be considered to be the Ohio River (and the Allegheny River further upstream), rather than the Middle Mississippi.

In addition to the Ohio River, the major tributaries of the Lower Mississippi River are the White River, flowing in at the White River National Wildlife Refuge in east central Arkansas; the Arkansas River, joining the Mississippi at Arkansas Post; the Big Black River in Mississippi; the Yazoo River, meeting the Mississippi at Vicksburg, Mississippi; and the Red River in Louisiana. The widest point of the Mississippi River is in the Lower Mississippi portion where it exceeds 1 mile (1.6 km) in width in several places.

Due to deliberate water diversion at the Old River Control Structure in Louisiana, the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana is now a major distributary of the Mississippi River, with 30% of the Mississippi's flow routinely being sent to the Gulf of Mexico by this route, rather than continuing down the Mississippi's current channel past Baton Rouge and New Orleans on a longer route to the Gulf.


Mississippi Watershed 2005

The Mississippi River has the world's fourth largest drainage basin ("watershed" or "catchment"). The basin covers more than 1,245,000 sq mi (3,220,000 km2), including all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The drainage basin empties into the Gulf of Mexico, part of the Atlantic Ocean. The total catchment of the Mississippi River covers nearly 40% of the landmass of the continental United States.

In the United States, the Mississippi River drains the majority of the area between crest of the Rocky Mountains and the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, except for various regions drained to Hudson Bay by the Red River of the North; to the Atlantic Ocean by the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River; and to the Gulf of Mexico by the Rio Grande, the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Chattahoochee and Appalachicola rivers, and various smaller coastal waterways along the Gulf.


The Mississippi River discharges at an annual average rate of between 200 and 700 thousand cubic feet per second (7,000–20,000 m3/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 (200,000 m3/s) during wet seasons. On average, the Mississippi has only 9% the flow of the Amazon River.

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 (to the right) show a large plume of fresh water, which appears as a dark ribbon against the lighter-blue surrounding waters. These 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.

Prior to 1900, the Mississippi River transported an estimated 400 million metric tons of sediment per year from the interior of the United States to coastal Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. During the last two decades, this number was only 145 million metric tons per year. The reduction in sediment transported down the Mississippi River is the result of engineering modification of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers and their tributaries by dams, meander cutoffs, river-training structures, and bank revetments and soil erosion control programs in the areas drained by them.

The Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles (160 km) 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 Geological Survey's number is 2,340 miles (3,770 km). The retention time from Lake Itasca to the Gulf is typically about 90 days.

Course changes

Over geologic time, the Mississippi River has experienced numerous large and small changes to its main course, as well as additions, deletions, and other changes among its numerous tributaries, and the lower Mississippi River has used different pathways as its main channel to the Gulf of Mexico across the delta region.

Through a natural process known as avulsion or 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. This 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 La Balize, Louisiana, the first French settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Prehistoric Courses

The current form of the Mississippi River basin was largely shaped by the Laurentide Ice Sheet of the most recent Ice Age. The southernmost extent of this enormous glaciation extended well into the present-day United States and Mississippi basin. When the ice sheet began to recede, hundreds of feet of rich sediment were deposited, creating the flat and fertile landscape of the Mississippi Valley. During the melt, giant glacial rivers found drainage paths into the Mississippi watershed, creating such features as the Minnesota River, James River, and Milk River valleys. When the ice sheet completely retreated, many of these "temporary" rivers found paths to Hudson Bay or the Arctic Ocean, leaving the Mississippi Basin with many features "oversized" for the existing rivers to have carved in the same time period.

Ice sheets during the Illinoian Stage 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. The Hennepin Canal roughly follows the ancient channel of the Mississippi downstream from Rock Island to Hennepin, Illinois. South of Hennepin, to Alton, Illinois, the current Illinois River follows the ancient channel used by the Mississippi River before the Illinoian Stage.

Historic Course Changes

In March 1876, the Mississippi suddenly changed course near the settlement of Reverie, Tennessee, leaving a small part of Tipton County, Tennessee, attached to Arkansas and separated from the rest of Tennessee by the new river channel. Since this event was an avulsion, rather than the effect of incremental erosion and deposition, the state line remains located in the old channel.

View along the former riverbed at the Tennessee/Arkansas state line near Reverie, Tennessee (2007)

Future Course Changes

Geologists consider the next major change in the course of the Lower Mississippi now overdue. Either of two new routes — through the Atchafalaya Basin or through Lake Pontchartrain — might become the Mississippi's main channel if flood-control structures are overtopped or heavily damaged during a severe flood. Such a course change may not be imminent; the Mississippi returned to its present course following the great floods in 2011.

Failure of the Old River Control Structure, the Morganza Spillway, or nearby levees would likely re-route the main channel of the Mississippi through Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin and down the Atchafalaya River to reach the Gulf of Mexico south of Morgan City in southern Louisiana. This route provides a more direct path to the Gulf of Mexico than the present Mississippi River channel through Baton Rouge and New Orleans. While the risk of such a diversion is present during any major flood event (such as those of 1973 or 2011), such a change has so far been prevented by active human intervention involving the construction, maintenance, and operation of various levees, spillways, and other control structures by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Old River Control Structure complex. View is to the east-southeast, looking downriver on the Mississippi, with the three dams across channels of the Atchafalaya River to the right of the Mississippi. Concordia Parish, Louisiana is in the foreground, on the right, and Wilkinson County, Mississippi, is in the background, across the Mississippi on the left.

New Madrid Seismic Zone

The New Madrid Seismic Zone, along the Mississippi River near New Madrid, Missouri, between Memphis and St. Louis, is related to an aulacogen (failed rift) that formed at the same time as the Gulf of Mexico. This area is still quite active seismically. Four great earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, estimated at approximately 8 on the Richter magnitude scale, had tremendous local effects in the then sparsely settled area, and were felt in many other places in the midwestern and eastern U.S. These earthquakes created Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee from the altered landscape near the river, and temporarily reversed the direction of flow of the Mississippi itself.

Cultural Geography

State Boundaries

The Mississippi River runs through or along 10 states, from Minnesota to Louisiana, and was used to define portions of these states' borders, with Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi along the east side of the river, and Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas along its west side. Substantial parts of both Minnesota and Louisiana are on either side of the river, although the Mississippi defines part of the boundary of each of these states.

In all of these cases, the middle of the riverbed at the time the borders were established was used as the line to define the borders between adjacent states. In various areas, the river has since shifted, but the state borders have not changed, still following the former bed of the Mississippi River as of their establishment, leaving several small isolated areas of one state across the new river channel, contiguous with the adjacent state. Also, due to a meander in the river, a small part of western Kentucky is contiguous with Tennessee, but isolated from the rest of its state.

The Old River Control Structure, between the present Mississippi River channel and the Atchafalaya Basin, sits at the normal water elevation and is ordinarily used to divert 30% of the Mississippi's flow to the Atchafalaya River. There is a steep drop here away from the Mississippi's main channel into the Atchafalaya Basin. If this facility were to fail during a major flood, there is a strong concern the water would scour and erode the river bottom enough to capture the Mississippi's main channel. The structure was nearly lost during the 1973 flood, but repairs and improvements were made after engineers studied the forces at play. In particular, the Corps of Engineers made many improvements and constructed additional facilities for routing water through the vicinity. These additional facilities give the Corps much more flexibility and potential flow capacity than they had in 1973, which further reduces the risk of a catastrophic failure in this area during other major floods, such as those of 2011.

Because the Morganza Spillway is located at slightly higher elevation well back from the river, it is normally dry on both sides. Even if this structure were to fail at the crest during a severe flood, the flood waters would have to cause a significant amount of erosion, down to normal water levels, before the Mississippi could permanently jump channel at this location. During the 2011 floods, the Corps of Engineers decided to open the Morganza Spillway to 1/4 of its capacity to allow 150,000 ft3/sec of water to flood the Morganza and Atchafalaya floodways and continue directly to the Gulf of Mexico, bypassing Baton Rouge and New Oreans. In addition to reducing the Mississippi River crest downstream, this diversion is also reducing the chances of a channel change by reducing stress on the other elements of the control system.

Some geologists have noted that the possibility for course change ino the Atchafalaya also exists in the area immediately north of the Old River Control Structure. Army Corps of Engineers geologist Fred Smith once stated, "The Mississippi wants to go west. 1973 was a forty-year flood. The big one lies out there somewhere—when the structures can't release all the floodwaters and the levee is going to have to give way. That is when the river's going to jump its banks and try to break through."

If the main channel of the lower Mississippi River changes permanently to the Old River and Atchafalya River channels in the Atchafalaya Basin, thus bypassing Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the ecological and economic consequences for Louisiana, the region, the nation, and international commerce would be immense.

Sedimentation and erosion patterns would quickly change greatly, including development of a new river channel and delta, as well as a new pattern of floodplains, natural levees, and backswamps. Changes to salinity of coastal waters (less saline near new delta, more saline near the present delta) would affect marine life, fisheries, beaches, and coastal marshes. The abandoned river channel would eventually fill and revegetate, probably with a major influx of invasive non-native species. On the other hand, the low-lying outer parts of the present delta, lacking replenishment, would mostly soon erode away. Over time, the new channel would itself develop meanders and cutoffs, eventually leading to formation of new oxbow lakes.

Human society would also be greatly altered locally, with broader consequences nationally and globally. Transportation by road, rail, sea, and river barge would all be dramatically affected, and various sizable new bridges would be urgently needed. Existing port facilities may have to be relocated or replaced, and channel alterations would be needed to maintain any substantial degree of commercial shipping on either the new or the old channel of the Mississippi. Power lines, pipelines, and fiber-optic and other communications lines would be similarly disrupted, and housing, agriculture, forestry, petroleum-production facilities, and other land uses would be suddenly altered, as would patterns of recreational activities. Morgan City in particular would be quite heavily impacted. Values of many properties would be greatly altered, some increasing, some decreasing, and ownership claims would need to be resolved for the newly exposed land of the old riverbed.

Another possible course change for the Mississippi River is a diversion into Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, Louisiana. This route is currently controlled by the he Bonnet CarrĂ© Spillway, built to reduce flooding in New Orleans. However, the spillway and an imperfect natural levee about 4–6 meters (12 to 20 feet) high are all that prevents the Mississippi from taking a new, shorter course through Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico. Diversion of the Mississippi's main channel through Lake Pontchartrain would have generally similar consequences to an Atchafalaya diversion, but to a lesser extent, since the present river channel would remain in use past Baton Rouge and into the New Orleans area. Following a Lake Pontchartrain diversion, the Mississippi's new delta would develop offshore of southern Mississippi.

Bridge Crossings

The Stone Arch Bridge, the Third Avenue Bridge and the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis (2004)

The first bridge across the Mississippi River was built in 1855. It spanned the river in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the current Hennepin Avenue Bridge is located. No highway or railroad tunnels cross under the Mississippi River.

The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi was built in 1856. It spanned the river between the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois 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, catching it on fire. Legal proceedings ensued, with Abraham Lincoln defending the railroad. The lawsuit went to the Supreme Court of the United States and was eventually ruled in favor of the railroad.

Below is a general overview of selected Mississippi bridges which have notable engineering or landmark significance, with their cities or locations. They are sequenced from the Upper Mississippi's source to the Lower Mississippi's mouth.

Stone Arch Bridge – Former Great Northern Railway (now pedestrian) bridge at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis.

I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge – In Minneapolis, opened in September 2008, replacing the I-35W Mississippi River bridge which had collapsed catastrophically on August 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring over 100.

I-90 Mississippi River Bridge – Connects La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Winona County, Minnesota, located just south of Lock and Dam No. 7.

Black Hawk Bridge – Connects Lansing in Allamakee County, Iowa and rural Crawford County, Wisconsin; locally referred to as the Lansing Bridge and documented in the Historic American Engineering Record.

The Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge (2004)

Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge – Connects Dubuque, Iowa, and Grant County, Wisconsin.

Julien Dubuque Bridge – Joins the cities of Dubuque, Iowa, and East Dubuque, Illinois; listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Savanna-Sabula Bridge – A truss bridge and causeway connecting the city of Savanna, Illinois, and the island city of Sabula, Iowa. The bridge carries U.S. Highway 52 over the river, and is 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 – A 4-lane steel girder bridge that connects LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois. Completed in 1966.

I-74 Bridge – Connects Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois; originally known as the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge.

Government Bridge – Connects Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, adjacent to Lock and Dam No. 15; the fourth crossing in this vicinity, built in 1896.

Rock Island Centennial Bridge – Connects Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa; opened in 1940.

Norbert F. Beckey bridge at Muscatine, Iowa, with LED lighting

Norbert F. Beckey Bridge – Connects Muscatine, Iowa, and Rock Island County, Illinois; became first U.S. bridge to be illuminated with light-emitting diode (LED) lights decoratively illuminating the facade of the bridge.

Great River Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge connecting Burlington, Iowa, to Gulf Port, Illinois.

Fort Madison Toll Bridge – Connects Fort Madison, Iowa, and unincorporated Niota, Illinois; also known as the Santa Fe Swing Span Bridge; at the time of its construction the longest and heaviest electrified swing span on the Mississippi River. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1999.

Bayview Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge bringing westbound U.S. Highway 24 over the river, connecting the cities of West Quincy, Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois.

Quincy Memorial Bridge – Connects the cities of West Quincy, Missouri, and Quincy, Illinois, carrying eastbound U.S. 24, the older of these two U.S. 24 bridges.

Clark Bridge – A cable-stayed bridge connecting West Alton, Missouri, and Alton, Illinois, also known as the Super Bridge as the result of an appearance on the PBS program, Nova; built in 1994, carrying U.S. Route 67 across the river. This is the northernmost river crossing in the St. Louis metropolitan area, replacing the Old Clark Bridge, a truss bridge built in 1928, named after explorer William Clark.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge at St.Louis, Missouri

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; formerly used by U.S. Route 66 to cross the Mississippi.

Eads Bridge – A 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 6,442 ft (1,964 m). The three 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 – A 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.

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge—Connecting Cape Girardeau, Missouri and East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, completed in 2003 and illuminated by 140 lights.

The Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, Tennessee (2009)

Hernando de Soto Bridge – A through arch bridge carrying Interstate 40 across the Mississippi between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.

Harahan Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge, carrying two rail lines of the Union Pacific Railroad across the river between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.

Frisco Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge, carrying a rail line across the river between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, previously known as the Memphis Bridge. When it opened on May 12, 1892, it was the first crossing of the Lower Mississippi and the longest span in the U.S. Listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Memphis & Arkansas Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge bridge, carrying Interstate 55 between Memphis and West Memphis; listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Helena Bridge

Greenville Bridge

Old Vicksburg Bridge

Vicksburg Bridge

Natchez-Vidalia Bridge

John James Audubon Bridge – The longest cable-stayed span in the Western Hemisphere; connects Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana Parishes in Louisiana. It is the only crossing between Baton Rouge and Natchez. This bridge was opened a month ahead of schedule in May 2011, due to the 2011 floods.

Huey P. Long Bridge – A truss cantilever bridge carrying US 190 (Airline Highway) and one rail line between East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge Parishes in Louisiana.

Horace Wilkinson Bridge – A cantilevered through truss bridge, carrying six lanes of Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Port Allen in Louisiana. It is the highest bridge over the Mississippi River.

Sunshine Bridge

Bridge – In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, the first Mississippi River span built in Louisiana.

Crescent City Connection – Connects the east and west banks of New Orleans, Louisiana; the fifth-longest cantilever bridge in the world.

Navigation And Flood Control

Towboat and barges at Memphis, Tennessee

A clear channel is needed for the barges and 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 of Engineers, which was established in 1802. Earlier projects began as early as 1829 to remove snags, close off secondary channels and excavate rocks and sandbars.

Steamboats entered trade in the 1820's, 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 Appalachian 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 1880's did steamboat traffic diminish. Steamboats remained a feature until the 1920's. Most have been superseded by pusher tugs. A few survive as icons—the Delta Queen and the River Queen for instance.

A series of 29 locks and dams on the upper Mississippi, most of which were built in the 1930's, is designed primarily to maintain a 9 feet (2.7 m) deep channel for commercial barge 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.

Barges on the Mississippi River near Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Steamboat Era

The Delta Queen at Paducah, Kentucky, 2007.

Mark Twain'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 in seven parts in 1875. The full version, including a passage from the unfinished Adventures 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 Lower Mississippi from the Ohio River to New Orleans was the New Orleans in December 1811. Its maiden voyage occurred during the series of New Madrid earthquakes in 1811–12. 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.

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 River.

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, Adventures of 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 The Confidence-Man 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 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.

Ferde Grofé composed a set of movements for symphony orchestra based on the lands the river travels through in his "Mississippi Suite".

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 Huckleberry Finn down the river.

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.

"Roll On Mississippi" and "Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town" are two classics from Charley Pride that refer to the Mississippi River.

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 Smith.

The late Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn collaborated on the song "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" about lovers separated by the mighty river, but are not afraid to swim it, even at the risk of alligator bites, at a one-mile (1.6 km) wide juncture separating the two states, for a rendezvous.

Source: Wikipedia