Mississippi River Facts

Julie Green


The mighty Mississippi River, object of folklore, history and even endearing Broadway musicals has captured most American minds for centuries–and for good reason. In length it is fourth longest river in the world. An entire superpower is sustained through its navigable stretches as it flows effortlessly and easily through 10 states. “Ol’ Man River,” as this great body of water is affectionately known by many, is the object of this brief overview below.

Historical Note:

First reference to the name Mississippi originally stems from the name, “Messipi” or “Mee-zee-see-pee” as pronounced by the Anishinabe people or the Ojibwe native Americans. Messipi, translated as “big river,” was also referred to as “father of waters” by other native American nations. The Dakota nation named the Mississippi “Hahawakpa” or the “river of the falls”; otherwise, known today as the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis.

Mississippi River Facts

Fourth Longest River In The World

When combined with the Missouri River, the Mississippi comes in fourth longest river in the world at 3,710 miles. The Nile River is without a doubt the world’s longest with 4,160 miles; the Amazon measures out to 4,000 miles; and the Yangtze River comes in as third with 3,964 miles.

However, this is where uniformity in geophysical measurements comes to an end. According to its reporting source, increases or decreases in delta variations and various measuring methods, different lengths are often measured.

Regardless of its official length, the Mississippi River continues meandering in its flow 2,350 miles from its source at Lake Itasca and majestically streams through the central United States into the Gulf of Mexico. Its scope is phenomenal, and its reach is even greater still.

The River drains parts of more than 30 states and two Canadian provinces; it also serves to drain collectively more than 41 percent of the entire United States. The great river and its parts streams throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Its Width

Considerably less impressive in width than in length, it nevertheless holds its own against other rivers when compared. At its narrowest point at Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River is 20-30 feet wide; its widest part is at Lake Winnibigoshish near Minnesota at 11 miles in width.

Commercial Travel

For the last 200 years, extending from St. Paul, Minnesota southward towards the Ohio River, the Mississippi has helped sustain the United States with approximately 850 miles of commercially navigable space. In 2000, traveling barges loaded with 122 million tons of cargo traveled the powerful river. Grain made up over half of the cargo headed for world export with 78 percent of the world’s total grain supply.

Livestock also forms a large part of the river’s commercial flow as everything comes shipped down the Mississippi through the Ports of New Orleans and South Louisiana. At the lower end of the mighty river shipping is concentrated on oil, petroleum, iron, steel, rubber, paper, wood, coffee, coal and chemicals.

As far as tonnage is concerned, the world’s largest port is located along the Mississippi in Louisiana. However, the heavily trafficked Port of South Louisiana is one of the nation’s largest in sheer volume capacity.

Predominant of all rivers in the United States, this “Ol’ Man River” will just keep rolling along doing the same it always has–sustaining the lifeline of a great nation. We hope you have found these Mississippi River facts to be of use to you!


My name is Julie Green and I am the head writer, content contributor, and chief, cook, and bottle washer too! My goal is to provide you information about the Mississippi River.

It’s a wonderful place that I call home. I’d like to think I know a thing or two about this area!! Please stop by often and pay us a visit.


Image of a paddle steamer on the Mississippi River near New orleans at dusk

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