The State of Louisiana

AT A GLANCE

Name: Louisiana was named for King Louis XIV of France.
Nickname: Pelican State
Capital: Baton Rouge
Size: 47,751 sq. mi. (124,153 sq km)
Population: 4,670,724 (2015)
Statehood: Louisiana became the 18th state on April 30, 1812.
Electoral votes: 9 (2016)
U.S. Representatives: 7 (until 2016)
State tree: cypress
State flower: magnolia
State crustacean: crayfish
Highest point: Driskill Mountain, 535 ft. (163 m)

Louisiana map

THE PLACE

Louisiana is a southern state that lies at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans, Louisiana’s largest city, is a major international port on the river. At one time, Louisiana was nothing more than a bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The state was formed over thousands of years as soil deposits from rivers, including the Mississippi, piled up to form solid land. As a result, most of Louisiana is low, fertile land.

The Mississippi Delta—the triangular area at the mouth of the river—has the richest soil in the state. In the northwestern part of the state where it borders Texas, there are about 60 miles (96 km) of prairie.

To the north of this grassy region, in the area where Louisiana borders Arkansas, the land begins to slope upward and reaches its highest point at Driskill Mountain. Almost half of the state is forested with trees such as cypress, magnolia, and oak.

Louisiana has the third-longest ocean shoreline of any state, after Alaska and Florida. The coast has constant problems with erosion, because salt water kills the freshwater grasses that live in Louisiana’s river marshes.

Louisiana’s weather is subtropical. Temperatures and humidity are high all year, and the state receives about 57 inches of rain every year.

Facts and Firsts

  • The Battle of New Orleans, fought during the War of 1812 between the United States and England, actually took place two weeks after the war had officially ended. Andrew Jackson, who commanded American forces during the battle, did not learn of the war’s end until more than a month after the peace treaty had been signed. Jackson went on to be elected president of the United States in 1828.
  • Louisiana’s most famous festival is Mardi Gras, which was introduced by French colonists in the 1700s. The phrase mardi gras means “fat Tuesday“ in French. Mardi Gras marks the end of a traditional period of feasts and celebration that takes place before Lent, a time of self-denial and fasting.
  • Louisiana is the only state that follows the Napoleonic Code, a set of laws written while Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte governed France.
  • Louisiana has the highest population of Cajuns of any state. Cajuns are the descendants of Acadians, a group of French-speaking settlers who lived in Nova Scotia, Canada. They were forced to leave Nova Scotia because they would not pledge allegiance to the king of England after England took control of Canada.
  • Louisiana is the only state that is not divided into counties. Instead, Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes.

THE PAST

Europeans reached the area of present-day Louisiana in the early 1500s, when the Spanish first explored the region. French colonists from Canada, however, officially claimed the area for the king of France in 1682.

Spain and France alternately controlled parts of Louisiana until 1803. In that year, the United States
bought the entire territory from France. The Louisiana Purchase included more than 885,000 square miles of land and more than doubled the size of the United States. Soon after, the land acquired in the purchase was divided into smaller regions. One of these regions, the Territory of Orleans, became presentday Louisiana.

After Louisiana joined the United States, it emerged as a leader among the southern states. New Orleans was one of the most important trading cities in the country, and steamboats traveled up and down the Mississippi River to bring goods and people to the inland states to the north.

Louisiana’s huge cotton and sugar plantations depended on slavery, and Louisiana fought on the side of the South during the Civil War. Although the war damaged Louisiana’s economy, the postwar construction of railroads quickly revived the state. Furthermore, the discovery of oil and natural gas at the beginning of the 1900s helped the state expand industrially throughout most of the 20th century.

In the 1960s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began construction of the Saturn rocket (which launched astronauts to the moon in 1969) in New Orleans. Louisiana’s manufacturing industries continued to grow until the end of the 1980s, when low oil prices slowed its economy.

THE PRESENT

Since the 1980s, tourism has helped boost Louisiana’s economy. People come from all over the United States to experience Louisiana’s unique mixture of cultures, especially during the Mardi Gras celebration. Spanish, African, and French influences from Louisiana’s past are still evident today. They are reflected in the state’s architecture, the French and Spanish words that remain in the local dialects, and the state’s spicy Cajun and Creole cuisine.

Visitors to Louisiana’s stately pre–Civil War homes and gardens can glimpse the lifestyle that once existed on the state’s many wealthy plantations. Louisiana is known as the Cradle of Jazz, because it was the birthplace of New Orleans–style jazz. This music grew out of Louisiana’s African-Creole heritage during the first half of the 20th century and influenced such famous musicians as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Many music lovers visit New Orleans to retrace the history of jazz.

Louisiana is becoming a more urban, industrial state as its commercial trade grows. The industries that process the state’s oil and natural gas deposits are critical to Louisiana’s economy. Much of the state’s income comes from oil refineries. The mining and processing of oil and gas, however, have caused pollution that has created environmental problems.

Born in Louisiana

  • Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, musician
  • Truman Capote, writer
  • Kate Chopin, writer
  • Van Cliburn, concert pianist
  • Fats Domino, musician
  • Bryant Gumbel, television newscaster
  • Lillian Hellman, playwright
  • Mahalia Jackson, gospel singer
  • Jerry Lee Lewis, musician
  • Huey P. Long, politician
  • Wynton Marsalis, musician
  • Ferdinand Joseph La Menth “Jelly Roll” Morton, musician and composer
  • Huey Newton, African American activist
  • Anne Rice, author
  • Britney Spears, singer
  • Edward Douglas White, jurist