The Mississippi River is the longest river within the United States, and the fourth longest river in the world. This river holds a special place in American history and literature, and in the imagination of ordinary Americans.
The Mississippi River begins in the hills of northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border, and flows southward about 3700 kilometres, through ten states, before draining its water and silt into the Gulf of Mexico. Traditionally, the river is viewed as a natural boundary between the eastern and western halves of the United States.
Until the year 1803, the areas to the west of the Mississippi River, and the areas around the mouth of the river, were claimed by Spain and by France. In that year, the French emperor, Napoleon, decided to sell this land to the United States of America. This sale, which is called the Louisiana Purchase, was very important for the United States. By controlling the Mississippi River, the Americans would be able to use it for transporting goods and people in this rapidly developing area.
For many years, river-boats were the main method of long-distance transportation for people living near the Mississippi. Steam-powered boats, with large “paddle wheels” that pushed the boat forward, were very popular in the time before cars and airplanes.
One of the famous cities along the Mississippi River is St. Louis. This city is known as the “gateway to the west.” During the nineteenth century, St. Louis was the last large town that people would pass through on their way to new farmland farther west. Today, St. Louis is famous for the “Gateway Arch,” a tall monument that welcomes people to the west. St. Louis is also known as the city where the music known as “the Blues” began.
Near the mouth of the Mississippi River is another famous city, New Orleans. In terms of the style of buildings, New Orleans is said to be the most unusual American city, because it is influenced so strongly by Spanish and French traditions. Even today, the traditional festival of “Mardi Gras” is celebrated in New Orleans each year. New Orleans and the surrounding areas of the state of Louisiana are famous for spicy “Cajun” food. This style of cooking was developed by the French-speaking settlers of Louisiana.
The Mississippi River is famous in many stories of American literature. For example, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which were written by the author Mark Twain, are both set along the Mississippi River.
Today, the federal and state governments of the United States are working to preserve the natural environment along the Mississippi River. People recognize the importance of keeping this river healthy and clean.