Exhibition - Louisiana and the Mighty Mississippi
As a symbol and in reality, the Mississippi is deeply rooted in America’s vision of itself. For centuries, the river has been the lifeblood of the country, serving and inspiring its people. The permanent exhibit – Louisiana and the Mighty Mississippi River – explores the unique legacy of this famous waterway.
The roles played by the Mississippi in the evolution of the U. S. are many: the river is integrally linked to progress in commerce, technology and culture. At the heart of this history is the story of transportation – a tale of wealth, romance and adventure associated particularly with this state. Early Louisiana was a strange mix of raucous frontier life and European sophistication. These contrasting elements, reflected in a rough-hewn 1840 pirogue and views of New Orleans as a cosmopolitan capital, set the stage for the exhibition.
"Bound Down the Mississippi River, Flatboats"
Robert Fulton (1765-1815)
Robert Fulton is known as the inventor of the steamboat. In reality, Fulton's invention was modeled after several other prototypes that paved the way for his success. He began his career as an artist, but eventually turned to mechanical engineering where his interests included canal dredging, bridge construction, rail transport and submarines.
In 1803 while in Paris, he built a prototype of a steamboat with the help of then American minister to France, Robert R. Livingston. In 1807, he brought this technology to the United States by launching the Clermont on the Hudson River in New York. In 1811, his design for the steamboat New Orleans was built by Nicholas I. Roosevelt who helped pilot the vessel from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. This event opened the River up to early steamboat traffic.
Mississippi River at New Orleans
By the 1830s and 40s, steamboats could be found throughout the Mississippi Valley in great numbers. They competed for space in ports like New Orleans where one could find a convergence of all kinds of river craft.
Hailing a Steamer
E. W. Kemble
July 27, 1889
Many planters, such as the one pictured in this image, used the river to take trips for business and pleasure downriver to New Orleans.
"The Great Mississippi Steamboat Race"
Currier and Ives
Ever since two steamboats passed each other on the Mississippi River, pilots and owners have wanted to compete to see whose boat was faster and could carry more cargo. Perhaps the most famous steamboat race occurred in June, 1870 from New Orleans to St. Louis between the Natchez VI and the Robert E. Lee. In that month, the Natchez had made a record breaking trip from New Orleans to St. Louis in 3 days, 21 hours and 58 minutes. Captain John W. Cannon of the Lee decided that the Natchez success could not go unanswered. While waiting for the Natchez to return to New Orleans, he readied the Robert E. Lee for a race by stripping her of excess weight and declining any passengers or cargo.
Captain T. P. Leathers of the Natchez welcomed the challenge, but refused to lighten his burden. The two boats left New Orleans with the Robert E. Lee slightly ahead. During the race, Captain Cannon had arranged for barges to be floated alongside of the Lee to expedite the refueling process. The Natchez was forced to do the same, but only after some time had passed. The Robert E. Lee won the race by several hours, but the Natchez had been stuck on a mudflat for six hours. The Natchez might have won the race if Captain Leathers had unloaded his cargo and passengers.
Steamboat Natchez VI
This is the Natchez VI that raced with the Robert E. Lee in 1870.
Saloon of Great Republic
The interior of the J. M. White might have been modeled after that of the Great Republic (later named Grand Republic). These images show the elaborate carpets, comfortable chairs, and intricate detailing of this palace that would also carry tons of goods up and down river. The Grand Republic carried many distinguished passengers including Emperor Don Pedro II of Brazil and his party who travelled from St. Louis to New Orleans. In addition to the royal passengers, the boat carried a record breaking cargo of 8,210 bales of cotton, 872 sacks of oil cake, 400 sacks of meal, 350 barrels of oil, and 525 sacks of cotton seed.
Sprague dining hall
Even into the twentieth century, mealtime aboard steamboats was an important affair. The crew of the Sprague is seen here sitting down to eat in a cabin not unlike those of earlier times.
Ferry L. S. Thorne transferring railroad cars across the river
Ferries provided one method of taking rail cars across the river. This was dangerous however and quite slow for long trains.