Mississippi River

Mississippi River

The photo shows St. Louis, a city on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the state of Missouri. Its calling card is the huge Gateway Arch, also called the “Gateway to the West”. The height, as well as the width of the base of the arch, is 192 meters. The observation deck at the top offers a stunning view of the Mississippi.

Great River of the USA

The Mississippi River has an unusually banal name, despite the fact that it sounds promising. Translated from the language of the Ojibwe Indians, common in the Great Lakes region, misi-ziibi means “great river.”

The river is indeed that, but not where it originates and where it got its name. The Mississippi becomes powerful and full-bodied closer to the south.


The first European to see it was the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. He crossed the river near Greenville in 1541, but did not realize it was the main river of North America. According to other information, Spanish expeditions entered the Mississippi Delta as early as 1518-19, and on the Spanish geographical map of 1513, the river delta was already conventionally marked. The Spanish gave it the name “River of the Holy Spirit”.

The first actual explorers of the Mississippi were the French in the 17th century. In 1681-82. Robert de la Salle sailed it virtually from source to mouth, making ends meet. After his voyage, the French claimed the entire Mississippi Lowlands as their own and named the territory Louisiana, and the river itself became America’s main waterway for barge cargoes.

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ceded the lands east of the mouth of the Mississippi to Great Britain and west to Spain, but in 1800. France bought Spanish Louisiana and sold it to the United States three years later. In 1815. The United States cleaned up the British portion as well, winning the Battle of New Orleans.

The “Golden Age” in Mississippi history was marked by the advent of steamboats. The first wheeled steamboat, the New Orleans, traveled the river in 1811 from Ohio to New Orleans.

This mode of transportation made the Mississippi the busiest waterway on the planet. Everyone traveled by steamboat, rich (in cabins) and poor (on the lower deck) alike. By the late 1850s, up to five thousand passenger and freight steamboats a year traveled the river in both directions. In 1856, a railroad crossed the river. The first bridge between Rock Island and Davenport became a stumbling block: it interfered with the behemoths plowing through the water – and two weeks after its opening, one of the steamboats rammed part of the bridge and caught fire. The litigation went all the way to Abraham Lincoln, who came out in favor of railroads. Years of fighting between railroad and ship owners eventually led to the steamboat industry’s decline, but it held on until the early 20th century. In 1910, there were still 559 steamboats on the Mississippi. Later life showed that it was still more convenient to transport heavy cargoes by water, and the river again became the most important transportation artery. And after World War II, steamboats suddenly experienced a second youth: hundreds of tourist ships, ideal for romantic trips, sailed down the Mississippi.


The Mississippi is the main river and communication artery of the United States. It flows through ten states, and most of the borders between them run right down the middle of the river. Therefore, on the political map of the United States, the path of the Mississippi is instantly identifiable. The river has its source in Lake Itasca (Minnesota) and, having traveled 3770 km, flows into the Gulf of Mexico 160 km south of New Orleans. The part of the Mississippi from its source to the confluence of the Ohio River is considered the upper Mississippi. South of the Ohio River, the Lower Mississippi begins.

The first deceiver in the world – so called this river Mark Twain. In its lower reaches, it meanders across the plains as it pleases. In one spring it can become longer or shorter, change both its course and the fate of the people living on its banks.

The Mississippi forms the largest river system in North America. It flows slowly from north to south, bends repeatedly in its lower reaches, forming wide meanders and reaching a length of 3770 kilometers to date. Together with its main tributary the Missouri River collects water from 31 states, its basin extends from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Appalachians in the east and the Canadian border in the north. Together with the Missouri, it forms the world’s fourth-longest river system.


The Mississippi has always been characterized by a capricious and unrestrained temperament. People living on its banks were constantly threatened by floods. In 1849, a significant part of New Orleans was under water, and taming the river became one of the most important national tasks. Work began to deepen the channel, strengthen the banks, and build levees, but it was more conducive to navigation, but did not protect from the elements. In 1927, one of the most catastrophic floods in U.S. history occurred. As a result of prolonged downpours, the river overflowed its banks, destroyed the system of dams in the lower reaches, flooded vast areas and left 700,000 people homeless and 246 people dead. In some places the depth of flooding reached 10 meters, and the width of the river near Memphis – 97 km. After this disaster, the world’s longest system of dams was built on the Mississippi. On the one hand, this did not save the country from the elements (the strongest flooding occurred again in 1993), and on the other hand, it caused new severe problems. Due to the deepening of the river channel, the river lost part of its natural meanders and shoals, it stopped supplying fertile silt to the adjacent territories, and it was blocked by engineering structures. The amount of sediment carried by the river into the Gulf of Mexico has also decreased, resulting in a lower rate of growth of the delta. Throughout the Mississippi’s history, its sediment-formed delta has constantly changed and shifted, cutting deeply into the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, the main mouth of the Mississippi has tended to shift toward the Atchafalaya River on one of its right branches. This poses a major hydrologic challenge to engineers, as the change in course entails new dams and canals, problems for ports and petrochemical plants in the delta, but by properly redirecting the sediment-rich water flow, soils west of the mouth can be restored.

There is another problem: catastrophic pollution of the river and the formation of a dead zone off the Gulf of Mexico. Because of this, steps are being taken to clean up Mississippi tributaries, create national parks, and prevent agricultural waste from entering the river.

General Information

  • Source: Lake Itasca in Minnesota.
  • Mouth: Gulf of Mexico, 160 km from New Orleans.
  • Main tributaries: Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, Red River.
  • States through which the river flows: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
  • Major cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.
  • Length: 3770 km (together with Missouri – 6420 km).
  • Water basin area: 2,981,076 km2.
  • Source elevation: 450 м.
  • Delta area: 28,600 m2.
  • Average discharge at the mouth: 12,743 m3/s.


  • Shipping.
  • Cargo transportation: 300 million tons per year (oil, coal, chemical and agricultural products).
  • Tourism.
  • Mississippi Delta provides 16% of U.S. fish catch (crabs, shrimp, crawfish, oysters), up to 18% of oil supply.
  • Agriculture in the Delta: growing rice, soybeans, sugar cane, and cotton.

Climate and weather

  • Continental in the north and subtropical in the south with mild winters and hot, humid summers.


  • Minneapolis.
  • New Orleans.
  • Baton Rouge.
  • St. Louis.
  • Seven national parks along the river.
  • Many beautiful bridges.

Fun facts

  • After the clay-yellow Missouri flows into the blue Mississippi near St. Louis, they flow for about 40 kilometers without mixing, two streams, and in the area of Kairo already turbid Mississippi takes in the light waters of the Ohio, and the picture repeats.
  • The Mississippi is connected by a canal to the Great Lakes in the north, and from there, via the St. Lawrence River, to the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Satellite imagery has shown that the Mississippi does not “end” in the Gulf of Mexico. Fresh water of the river, not mixing with sea water, flows around the Florida peninsula and enters directly into the Gulf Stream! Only somewhere at the latitude of Georgia does the river water “dissolve” into the ocean water.
  • More than any other famous name, Mark Twain’s name is associated with the Mississippi. The indefatigable Samuel Clemens became a pilot on the river, and the river became one of the main characters of Mark Twain. By the way, the writer borrowed his literary pseudonym from the lexicon of rivermen who measured the depth of water in the fairway: “Mark Twain” literally translates as “mark two!”.
  • The Mississippi River is the cradle of jazz. Memphis was the birthplace of ragtime in the late 19th century, and later traditional jazz in New Orleans. The great jazzman Louis Armstrong was born in the same city in 1901. In the early 20th century, pleasure steamers with orchestras playing on them traveled up and down the Mississippi. In the 1920s, the Show Boat musical act became popular, and the ballad Old Man River became identified with the Mississippi River itself.
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