Port of New Orleans
Review and History

The Port of New Orleans is located in the State of Louisiana in the United States. Lying between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain about 180 kilometers from the Gulf of Mexico, the Port of New Orleans is about 220 kilometers west-southwest of the Port of Mobile in Alabama and over 360 kilometers east of Port Arthur in Texas. The Port of New Orleans is the State's largest city and an important deep-water port. Named after Phillippe II, Duc d'Orleans and Regent of France, the Port of New Orleans is known for its multi-lingual, multi-cultural heritage, architecture, and cuisine. Being the birthplace of American jazz, it is the home to many celebrations and festivals, including Mardi Gras and lively celebrations by more than a million people on Bourbon Street. In 2007, over 239 thousand people lived in the Port of New Orleans, and more than 1.1 million lived in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner metropolitan area.

New Orleans Skyline

New Orleans Skyline

Photo by Justin Watt

The Port of New Orleans is one of the biggest and busiest ports in the world and the center of a busy maritime community. It is a fundamental transportation and distribution hub for water-borne commerce with many shipping, shipbuilding, freight forwarding, logistics, and commodity brokerage companies either headquartered in or otherwise located in the Port of New Orleans. The Port of New Orleans region accounts for much of the country's oil refining and petrochemical production, including corporate headquarters for on-shore and off-shore producers of natural gas and petroleum. It is home to two of the four Strategic Petroleum Reserve facilities and to 17 petroleum refineries with a combined capacity to distill almost 450 thousand cubic meters of crude oil per day. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) serves ultra-large oil tankers, and the Port of New Orleans contains many major pipelines that supply the United States (Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, Texaco, and many others). Many other energy-related companies are located in the Port of New Orleans. The Port of New Orleans is also an important center for the healthcare industry and supports a busy and productive manufacturing sector. Tourism and conventions are a vital part of the Port of New Orleans's economy, accounting for as much as 40% of the city's tax revenues. The United States' government has many facilities in the Port of New Orleans area, including NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, USDA's National Finance Center, the US Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

New Orleans flooding from Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans flooding from Hurricane Katrina

Aerial view of a flooded neighborhood with the New Orleans skyline in the background during Hurricane Katrina. Taken August 29, 2005.
Photo by FEMA

In August 2005, the Port of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina when the city's levees were breached and much of the city was flooded, killing hundreds and forcing an evacuation of the city. Called by some the "worst civil engineering disaster in US history," as much as 80% of the Port of New Orleans was flooded. While the city was not destroyed, it was hit hard. Historians think it may be the worst disaster in the United States since the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Fortunately for visitors to the Port of New Orleans, the city's historic, cultural, and business districts are on slightly higher ground and fared relatively well in the storm. In 2009, tourism returned to the Port of New Orleans. Transportation, including the popular New Orleans street cars, is available for visiting the city's popular attractions, many of which have reopened. Public services in the Port of New Orleans are still struggling to return to normal, and the city is experiencing an increase in crime. However, the city is passionate about rebuilding, and the future is bright for the Port of New Orleans.

Port History

In 1717, John Law's Company of the West based in Paris decided to establish the Port of New Orleans a year after France took control of Louisiana. The founders envisioned the new settlement as a transshipment and trade center for goods from upriver in the Mississippi River Valley. Jean-Baptiste le Moyne de Bienville was responsible for the city's beginnings when the brush was cleared in 1718. Many problems beset the engineers in charge of the development of the Port of New Orleans ? supply shortages, convict labor, two heavy hurricanes, and mosquito-infested swamps. The first dwellings were crude, constructed of reeds and bark.

New Orleans<br>1841 color engraving

New Orleans
1841 color engraving

Photo by A. Mondelli and William J. Bennett

The Port of New Orleans's first citizens were a diverse mix of back-woodsmen from Canada, craftsmen and troops from John Law's Company, convicts, prostitutes, slaves, and wanderers. In 1721, a census revealed a population of 470 people that included 277 whites, 172 blacks, and 21 Indian slaves. In 1722, the Port of New Orleans became the Louisiana colony's capital. After 1731, more reputable colonists started coming to the Port of New Orleans even though the city still suffered many difficulties. In its early years, the Port of New Orleans economy relied on the export of tobacco and indigo and the import of rice and vegetables. Unfortunately, the value of goods did not justify the use of France's ships, and growth was slow.

France ceded the unprofitable Port of New Orleans, together with the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, to Spain through the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Despite initial rebellion, the Port of New Orleans prospered under Spanish rule. Port of New Orleans' trade grew with British colonies in the New World despite the limitations Spain imposed. During this period, English-speaking colonists began to move west, creating settlements along the Mississippi and its tributaries. Called "Kaintucks," they started moving their cargoes down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans during the decade of the American Revolution. Unhappy with the conduct of the Americans in New Orleans, the Spanish suspended their rights to deposit goods in New Orleans several times.

The levee, New Orleans<br>1884

The levee, New Orleans

Photo by William A. Walker

Louisiana and the Port of New Orleans were returned to Napoleonic France by secret agreement in 1800. By 1803, Napoleon sold the territory to the United States. In 1803, some eight thousand people lived in the Port of New Orleans, half of them white. Over 2500 residents were slaves, and some 1300 free people of color were included in the population.

In 1803, the exports from the Port of New Orleans were bound primarily for United States ports in the east. That year, the value of exports was almost $2 million, revealing the city's prosperity as a new United States territory. The Port of New Orleans was incorporated as a municipality in 1805, and it began to grow beyond its original boundaries. It annexed the Faubourg (suburb) Sainte Marie, which became the "American section" of the city. New suburbs grew up north and south of the Port of New Orleans and across the river that were taken into the Port of New Orleans in the 1870s.

The British threatened to invade the Port of New Orleans during the War of 1812, approaching the city by sea from the Gulf of Mexico. General Andrew Jackson led an army of local volunteers and frontiersmen against the invaders and saved the Port of New Orleans (although the war had already ended).

Steamboats at New Orleans, 1853

Steamboats at New Orleans, 1853

Shows steamboats Gipsy, Grand Turk, and others at the Sugar Levee; the wharf is busy with stevedores.
Photo by Hippolyte Sebron

The early half of the 19th Century was the Port of New Orleans's golden age, as it was a very important port for cotton, the southern states' major product. In 1835, the Port of New Orleans achieved a total $54 million in commerce. By 1840, some 400 steamboats traveled the Mississippi River. The same year, the Port of New Orleans was considered to be the world's fourth busiest port.

During the 1840s, many immigrants came to the Port of New Orleans from Ireland and Germany. By 1850, more than 116 thousand people lived there. Unfortunately, the population faced health threats from polluted drinking water, inadequate drainage, and frequent flooding. The decade of the 1850s was marred by outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera. In 1853, over eight thousand people died of yellow fever in the Port of New Orleans.

The Confederate States did not fully appreciate the value of the Port of New Orleans's strategic position during the American Civil War. In 1862, a Union fleet under Admiral David Farragut captured the city and placed it under military command. Local Port of New Orleans officials were removed from office, and the next years became known for Commander Nathaniel Banks' poor treatment of the people. During Reconstruction from 1865 to 1877, Carpetbaggers and Scalawags controlled local and state politics, helped into office by black voters, and drove up considerable debt for the municipality.

New Orleans, 1905

New Orleans, 1905

Map of harbor port facilities along the Mississippi River in New Orleans, 1905.
Photo by Infrogmation

In 1872 when amnesty was given to ex-Confederates, local whites in the Port of New Orleans once again took control of the city government even though city policy and the state government remained firmly under Radical Republican control until the later part of the decade. In the last two decades of the 19th Century, the Port of New Orleans slowly paid off its debts and attempted to recover from Civil War hardships.

The modern Port of New Orleans was born in 1879 when jetties were constructed in South Pass, creating an approach channel of some 12 meters that allowed sea-going vessels to enter and leave the Mississippi River. In 1896, the State legislature created the Board of Commissioners of the Port of New Orleans and took control of wharf facilities from private contractors to the "Dock Board." Even so, by 1900, the Port of New Orleans had dropped from the 4th to the 12th busiest port in the United States. During the latter part of the 1800s, yellow fever was better controlled, and it was eradicated by 1906.

In 1908, the Port of New Orleans Dock Board was able to issue bonds to improve Port of New Orleans facilities. Public wharves were rebuilt an expanded. The 9-kilometer Industrial Canal was constructed, linking the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain and the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Levee at Canal Street, New Orleans<br>circa 1900

The Levee at Canal Street, New Orleans
circa 1900

Shows steamboats on the Mississippi River, goods in sacks and barrells stacked on the levee, groups of stevedores, horse carts. View looking downriver from the foot of Canal Street, New Orleans. A photochrom postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company in 1900.
Photo by Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Just before World War I, the Port of New Orleans had reached a low point. Steamboats on the Mississippi could not complete with railroads, and most of the goods moving to the East were carried by rail. With the introduction of barges that could carry large volumes of cargo and towboats, however, the Port of New Orleans's competitive position improved. By the end of World War II, the Port of New Orleans had recovered to hold the second position among United States ports.

During the 1950s, city infrastructure improvements were made in the Port of New Orleans. A new rail terminal and a huge civic center were built. The petrochemical industry began moving into town. In 1963, a ship channel (called the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet) was opened, shortening the trip to the gulf by 64 kilometers.

Tall ships at the French Quarter<br>New Orleans

Tall ships at the French Quarter
New Orleans

Celebration at Woldenberg_Park in honor of 200th anniversary of War of 1812. Taken 18 May 2012.
Photo by Infrogmation

In the 1970s, many oil refineries were constructed in the Port of New Orleans area. The oil crisis of the 1980s brought a serious slow-down to the Port of New Orleans's economy. Middle-class residents began to move to the suburbs, and modern urban problems of crime plagued the inner city. By the middle 1990s, the Port of New Orleans' reputation was suffering, with police corruption added to the list of ills. The Port of New Orleans took changing its reputation very seriously, and the latter half of the 1990s saw a positive change as the tourism-based economy grew.

The hurricanes of 2005 brought unheard of problems to the Port of New Orleans and surrounding area. While a few wards evaded serious damage, large areas of the city were destroyed. Many Port of New Orleans buildings were left unusable due to the serious flooding. Most of the city's population had to move elsewhere temporarily, and many decided not to return to the Port of New Orleans. Reconstruction efforts have been slow and difficult, and many questioned whether the city was viable.

Carnival Elation<br>Erato Street Cruise Terminal

Carnival Elation
Erato Street Cruise Terminal

Photo by Vladimir Menkov

Since the early 1980s, bulk exports from the Port of New Orleans have grown substantially. The Port of New Orleans is an important grain port for the country and the world. It also exports raw and processed agricultural products, chemicals, fabricated metals, textiles, tobacco, paperboard, and petroleum and petroleum products. From the decade of the 1980s, the Port of New Orleans has been the world's lighter aboard ship (LASH) cargo and Seabee barge capital. It is responsible for over 160 thousand jobs in the Port of New Orleans area, some $8 billion in earnings, $17 billion in spending, and $800 million in taxes across the state.

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