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Mississippi River Facts

Mikko Macchione

Tour Guide with Unique NOLA Tours and Author of books about New Orleans.

New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History

The Mississippi River is the sole reason New Orleans even exists. Today we are going to explore some of the cool facts about the river, and we promise not to use the word “Mighty” at all.

It begins up in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, at least that’s the company line. More recent researchers and hydrologists have proposed other locations for its conception, but Lake Itasca is the popularly believed beginning. Depending on how the distance is calculated the Mississippi is around 2350 miles from Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the second longest river on the continent, about 100 miles shorter than the Missouri.

It takes about three months for water that leaves Lake Itasca, the river’s source, to reach the Gulf of Mexico.  At Lake Itasca, the average flow rate is 6 cubic feet per second. At New Orleans, the average flow rate is 600,000 cubic feet per second. At New Orleans, the equivalent of 166 semi-trailers of water flow past Algiers Point each second. Scientists have determined the river to be about 70 million years old, meaning dinosaurs probably drank from it.

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Mississippi supported the needs of about two dozen tribes of Native people including  Choctaw, Chickasaw, Quapaw, Osage, Caddo, Natchez, Tunica, Sioux, Sauk and Fox, Ojibwe,, Pottawatomie, Illini, Menominee, and Ho-chunk (or Winnebago). The word “Mississippi” was commonly thought to mean “father of waters;” however, the Ojibwe words that gave us Mississippi (Misi-ziibi) actually mean “long river.”

Though some believe Columbus may have seen the river, all agree that in 1541 explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto reached the river. No white men came back until a priest Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet explored the upper Mississippi in the 1670s. A couple decades later, Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle arrived on the banks of the river that is New Orleans today.

Following his route down the river, brothers Iberville and Bienville founded the city of New Orleans in 1718. The city possesses both sides of the river and the growth of America fueled the growth of New Orleans.

Today more than 50 cities rely on the Mississippi for daily water supply, around 18 million people. 500 million tons of shipped goods per year and 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports flow out of the river. 

This little article is just a drop in the bucket of fascinating stories surrounding the river, perhaps we can make this a series … 


The delightful star of classics like ‘Roseanne,’ ‘Big Lebowski,’ ‘Monsters, Inc,’ “Barton Fink” and a gajillion other hits, enjoys living in New Orleans. He is not averse to conversing with visitors passing by. He told Kelly Ripa “I enjoy the energy here, being a Zoo animal.”

On a more serious note, the Missouri native says “There a part of my DNA here, I feel at home here in New Orleans.”

Though we won’t divulge his address here, we do show his lovely Italianate mansion on our Garden District stroll, and every now and then he comes out to say “Hello.” 

His wife, Annabeth is a clothing designer and runs “Pippen Lane” on Magazine Street featuring awesome duds for little kiddies.