New Orleans is a city in southeastern Louisiana, along the Mississippi River. Prior to the eighteenth century, Native Americans had several small villages located there. The French established the first European settlement in 1718. As a result of the Treaty of Paris (1763), ending the French and Indian War, Spain acquired New Orleans from the French. France reacquired the city in the late 1700s. The French hoped to use the Louisiana Territory to grow foodstuffs for their sugar colony at Haiti. The United States purchased for fifteen million dollars the Louisiana Territory and New Orleans from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
New Orleans was an important market for Ohioans during the nineteenth century. The Ohio River became a virtual highway for farmers in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Canals and turnpikes linked many parts of Ohio to the river. Farmers could send their crops much more quickly and cheaply to the major cities along the United States' eastern coast by sending them down river to the Mississippi River and on to New Orleans. Upon reaching New Orleans, the crops were placed on ocean-going vessels and sent through the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, and eventually along the eastern seaboard to places like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. This was much faster than carting the merchandise by wagon over the Appalachian Mountains by way of the National Road. As early industrialization began to develop in Ohio, factory owners also commonly sent their finished products by river to Eastern markets.
Steamboats made the Ohio River even more accessible in the nineteenth century. Until the invention of steamboats, it was easy to travel down the Mississippi River and eventually to New Orleans, but it was much more difficult to travel back to Ohio against the current. The steam engine meant that humans no longer had to power the boat themselves, and travel upstream became much easier. As a result of this new technology, river travel increased even more over time. Beginning in the mid 1800s, railroads provided some competition for the Ohio River trade but never replaced it entirely. Even today, barges carry coal and other materials on the Ohio River.
New Orleans remained a major port for American exports during the twentieth century. The city also experienced a boom in tourism, primarily due to Mardi Gras celebrations, the city's rich French heritage and historic buildings, and War of 1812 and Civil War sites. During the early twenty-first century, New Orleans and its residents have experienced more difficult times. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the city. Much of New Orleans actually lies below sea-level. An intricate system of dams and levees protect the city, but many of these structures failed during the hurricane. Nearly eighty percent of New Orleans experienced serious flooding. Large numbers of homes and other buildings were condemned, and thousands of people have chosen to not return to the city. At the time of this writing, New Orleans has slowly recuperated from this disaster, but its population remains significantly smaller. Residents have struggled to reopen businesses and find new living quarters. A significantly higher crime rate has also afflicted the city since the hurricane. Still, New Orleans is slowly returning to its former grandeur and, once again, is becoming a major tourist destination.