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Encyclopedia > Orleans Parish, Louisiana

New Orleans (French: Nouvelle-Orléans) is the largest city in the state of Louisiana, United States of America. As of the 2000 census, the population of New Orleans is 484,674. New Orleans is co-extensive with Orleans Parish. New Orleans is a southern city known for its multicultural heritage and its celebration atmosphere with its music and cuisine.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans, in 2003, looking towards Canal Street.
Map of Louisiana highlighting Orleans Parish


Colonial Era

New Orleans is a historic city. Sign at Jackson Square in the French Quarter
New Orleans is a historic city. Sign at Jackson Square in the French Quarter

New Orleans was founded by the French (as Nouvelle-Orléans) under the direction of Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718. The site was selected as a rare bit of naturally higher ground along the flood-prone banks of the lower Mississippi, as well as being adjacent to a Native American trading route and portage between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain via the Bayou St. John (formerly known to the natives as Bayou Choupique). A community of French fur trappers and traders had existed along the bayou (in what is now Mid-City New Orleans) for at least a decade before the official founding of the city. Nouvelle Orleans became the capital of French Louisiana in 1722, replacing Biloxi in that role.

In 1763 the colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire as a secret provision of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, but no Spanish governor came to take control until 1766. Some of the early French settlers were never quite happy with Spanish rule, and repeatedly petitioned to be returned to French control. A fire destroyed 856 buildings in the city on March 21, 1788, and another destroyed 212 buildings in December of 1794; after this brick replaced wood as the main building material.

The population of New Orleans also suffered from epidemics of yellow fever, malaria, and smallpox, which would periodically return throughout the 19th century until the successful suppression of the city's final outbreak of yellow fever in 1905. In 1795 Spain granted the United States "Right of Deposit" in New Orleans, allowing Americans to use the city's port facilities. Louisiana reverted to French control in 1801 after Napoleon's conquest of Spain, but in 1803 Napoleon sold Louisiana (which at the time also included the territory which are now several other states) to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. At this time the city of New Orleans had a population of about 10,000 people.

19th century

From early days it was noted for its cosmopolitan polyglot population and mixture of cultures. The city grew rapidly, with influxes of Americans, French and Creole French, many of the latter fleeing from the revolution in Haiti. During the War of 1812 the British sent a force to try to conquer the city, but they were defeated by forces led by Andrew Jackson some miles down river from the city at Chalmette, Louisiana on January 8, 1815 (commonly known as the Battle of New Orleans).

1888 German map of New Orleans

The population of the city doubled in the 1830s and by 1840, the city's population was around 102,000, fourth largest in the U.S, the largest city away from the Atlantic seaboard, as well as the largest in the South.

The importance of New Orleans as a commercial center was reinforced when the Federal Government established a branch mint there in 1838, along with two other Southern branch mints at Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia. Such action was deemed necessary largely because in 1836 President Andrew Jackson had issued an executive order called a specie circular which demanded that all land transactions in the United States be conducted in cash, thus increasing the need for minted money. In contrast to the other two Southern branch mints, which only minted gold coinage, the New Orleans Mint produced both gold and silver coinage, which perhaps marked it as the most important branch mint in the country. The mint produced coins from 1838 until 1861, when Confederate forces occupied the building and used it briefly as their own coinage facility until it was recaptured by Union forces the following year. The mint machinery was evidently damaged during the war, but because of its importance, unlike the mints at Charlotte and Dahlonega, it was refurbished and put back into service in 1879, minting mainly silver coinage, including the famed Morgan silver dollar from 1879 to 1904. The New Orleans mint, whose coins can be identified by the "O" mintmark found primarily on the reverse of its coinage, earned a reputation for producing coins of a mediocre quality; their luster is usually not as brilliant as those of other mints, and center areas tend to be flattened and not sharply struck. As a result, today well-struck New Orleanian coinage is prized in the numismatic world. Despite its years of faithful service, in 1909 the mint was decommissioned and its machinery was transferred to the main U.S. Mint facility in Philadelphia, a sad event which stuck in the minds of Louisianans: twenty years later Governor Huey Long would rail against this loss when he ran for the office of U.S. Senator against incumbent Joseph Ransdell, who Long claimed had allowed this ignominious closing of the mint to occur. The building, constructed in the Neoclassical style like most 19th-century public buildings in the U.S. at the time, functions today at the north end of the French Quarter as a museum of both the minting activity and jazz music that has made New Orleans famous.

New Orleans was the capital of the state of Louisiana until 1849, then again from 1865 to 1880. As a principal port it had a leading role in the slave trade, while at the same time having North America's largest community of free persons of color. Early in the American Civil War it was captured by the Union without a battle, and hence was spared the destruction suffered by many other cities of the American South. It retains a historical flavor with a wealth of 19th century structures far beyond the early colonial city boundaries of the French Quarter. The city hosted the 1884 World's Fair, called the World Cotton Centennial. An important attraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the famous red light district called Storyville.

New Orleans panorama from
New Orleans panorama from 1919

20th century

Much of the city is located below sea level and is bordered by the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, so the city is surrounded by levees. Until the early 20th century, construction was largely limited to the slightly higher ground along old natural river levees and bayous, since much of the rest of the land was swampy and subject to frequent flooding. This gave the 19th century city the shape of a crescent along a bend of the Mississippi, the origin of the nickname The Crescent City. In the 1910s engineer and inventor A. Baldwin Wood enacted his ambitious plan to drain the city, including large pumps of his own design which are still used when heavy rains hit the city. Wood's pumps and drainage allowed the city to expand greatly in area.

Canal Street, looking away from the river, 1920s

In the 1920s an effort to "modernize" the look of the city removed the old cast-iron balconies from Canal Street, the city's commercial hub. In the 1960s another "modernization" effort replaced the Canal Streetcar Line with busses. Both of these moves came to be regarded as mistakes long after the fact, and the streetcars returned to a portion of Canal Street at the end of the 1990s, and construction to restore the entire line was completed in April of 2004.

The suburb of Metairie, Louisiana saw great growth in the 2nd half of the 20th century.

While long one of the USA's most visited cities, tourism boomed in the last quarter of the 20th century, becoming a major force in the local economy. Areas of the French Quarter and Central Business District which were long oriented towards local residential and business uses switched to largely catering to the tourist industry.

A century after the Cotton Centennial Exhibition, New Orleans hosted another World's Fair, the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition.

A view across Uptown New Orleans, with the Central Business District in the background, 1990s


The modern New Orleans skyline, as seen from across the Mississippi River in the
The modern New Orleans skyline, as seen from across the Mississippi River in the Algiers neighborhood

New Orleans is well known for its creole culture and the persistence of Voodoo by a few of its residents, as well as for its music, food, architecture and good times.

New Orleans is usually pronounced by locals "Noo Or-lins" "N'Awlins," or "Noo OR-lee-anns". The distinctive local accent is unlike either Cajun or the stereotypical Southern accent so often misportrayed by film and television actors. It is similar to a New York "Brooklynese" accent. There are many theories to how the accent came to be, but New Orleans being geographically isolated by water, and the attempt of immigrant Germans trying to learn the Irish-accented English of the earlier arrived Irish is one of them.

 The City has the nicknames the Crescent City the Big Easy, and the City that Care Forgot. Many visitors consider New Orleans' motto to be "Laissez les bontemps rouler", or, "Let the good times roll." 

New Orleans created its own spin on the old tradition of military brass band funerals; traditional New Orleans funerals with music feature sad music (mostly dirges and hymns) on the way to the cemetery and happy music (hot jazz) on the way back. Such traditional musical funerals still take place when a local musician, a member of a club, krewe, or benevolent society, or a noted dignitary has passed. Until the 1990s most locals preferred to call these "funerals with music", but out of town visitors have long dubbed them "jazz funerals". Younger bands, especially those based in the Treme neighborhood, have embraced the term and now have funerals featuring only jazz music.

New Orleans has always been a center for music with its intertwined European, Latin American, and African-American cultures. The city engendered jazz with its brass bands. Decades later it was home to a distinctive brand of rhythm and blues that contributed greatly to the growth of rock and roll. In addition, the nearby countryside is the home of Cajun music, Zydeco music and Delta blues.

The city is also famous for its food. Specialties include beignets, square-shaped fried pastries that are sometimes called French doughnuts (served with coffee and chicory "au lait"); Po'boy and italian Muffaletta sandwiches; Gulf oysters on the half-shell and other seafoods; etoufee, jambalaya, gumbo and other Creole dishes; and the Monday evening favorite of red beans and rice. (Louis Armstrong often signed his letters, "red beans and ricely yours".)

A true-color satellite image of New Orleans taken on NASA's Landsat 7

Government and law

New Orleans has a mayor-council government. City Govt Site (http://www.cityofno.com/) The city council consists of 5 councilmembers that are elected by district and 2 at large councilmembers. Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Jr. was elected in May, 2002.

The New Orleans Police Department provides professional police services to the public in order to maintain order and protect life and property. The Orleans Parish civil sheriff's employees serve (deliver) papers involving law suits. The Criminal Sheriff's department maintains the parish prison system.

By law and government, the city of New Orleans and the parish of Orleans Parish are one and the same 6. Before the city of New Orleans became co-extensive with Orleans Parish, Orleans Parish was home to numerous smaller communities. Some of these communities within Orleans Parish have historically had separate identities from the city of New Orleans, such as Irish Bayou, Carrollton, and Treme. Algiers, Louisiana was a separate city through 1870. As soon as Algiers became a part of New Orleans, Orleans Parish ceased being separate from the city of New Orleans.



New Orleans has only one major interstate highway that travels through the city proper, I-10. Interstate 10's spur highways of I-510 and I-610 also travel through the city proper. There are highways that are freeways that travel through New Orleans. One, the Pontchartrain Expressway (U.S. Highway 90's business route), becomes the West Bank Expressway south of the Mississippi River. Greater New Orleans, on the other hand, has numerous interstate highways such as I-12 which travel north of Lake Pontchartrain, I-55, I-59, and I-310, another spur highway of I-10. In Saint Tammany Parish, I-59 and I-12 both end at an interchange with I-10 which turns south toward New Orleans proper. There are also plans on board to extend I-49 from Lafayette to just west of New Orleans in Saint Charles Parish. The route would follow U.S. Highway 90 and turn I-310 into the ending route for I-49.

Public transit

Public transit around New Orleans proper is maintained by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority ("RTA"). There are three active streetcar lines, the Riverfront line (also known as the Ladies in Red since the cars are painted red) which runs parallel to the river from Canal Street through the French Quarter, the St. Charles line (green cars, formerly connecting New Orleans with the then independent suburb of Carrollton), and the recently restored Canal Street line (which uses the Riverfront line tracks from Esplanade Street to Canal Street, then branches off down Canal Street and ends at City Park Avenue with a spur running from the intersection of Canal and Carrollton Avenue to the entrance of City Park at Esplanade). The city is also the scene of the Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire." The streetcar line to Desire Street became a bus line in 1948, but will be restored as a light rail line.


The city is served by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which is located in Kenner in densely populated Jefferson Parish.


It is an industrial and distribution center, and a major U.S. seaport. New Orleans is considered one of the busiest seaports in the United States and as well in the world. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal in the mid-20th century to accommodate New Orleans' barge traffic.

Like Houston, New Orleans is located in proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the many oil rigs lying just offshore. There are a substantial number of oil companies that either have their regional headquarters if not world headquarters within New Orleans' corporate limits, such as:

The federal government and military, especially the Navy and NASA, has a significant presence in the area with a NASA facility, Michoud Assembly Facility located in the eastern portion of Orleans Parish. Lockheed-Martin also has a large manufacturing facility located in the Greater New Orleans area that produces external fuel tanks for space shuttles.

Other companies with a significant presence in New Orleans includes:

  • BellSouth
  • Entergy
  • Hibernia Corp.
  • IBM
  • Navtech
  • Harrah's, a downtown casino
  • Popeye's Fried Chicken
  • Zatarain's


New Orleans is one of the most visited cities in the United States, thus tourism is one of the major staple in the area's economy. The city's colorful Carnival celebrations during the pre-Lenten season, centered on the French Quarter, draw particularly large crowds. Mardi Gras is a tradition that stretches back for years. During this time, Bourbon street is closed and open only to pedestrians or police. The Sugar Bowl game, played in early January, is a major tourist attraction, as well as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Higher education

New Orleans is home to Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans, Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, the University of New Orleans, and Delgado Community College.


New Orleans is the home of the New Orleans Saints National Football League team. The city also has an Arena Football League team, the New Orleans VooDoo, owned by the Saints' owner. The New Orleans Zephyrs AAA minor league baseball team plays in adjacent Metairie. The New Orleans Hornets of the National Basketball Association moved to the city starting in the 2002-2003 season; they were previously based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Historical teams included the New Orleans Pelicans baseball team (1887 - 1959), the New Orleans Night of the Arena Football League (1991 - 1992), and the New Orleans Brass ice hockey team (1997 - 2003). Former basketball teams were the New Orleans Buccaneers (c. 1967-1970), and the New Orleans Jazz (1974 - 1980) which became the Utah Jazz.

Sports venues


Location of New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is on the banks of the Mississippi River about 100 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico at 30.07°N, 89.93°W. New Orleans is an unique city because some areas of the city range from 1 foot to 6 feet below sea level. In addition to the urban areas of the city, New Orleans includes undeveloped wetland, especially in the east. This makes New Orleans very flood-prone, so if it rains more than 1 inch there is usually some form of area flooding. Because of this, nearly all of New Orleans' cemeteries use above ground crypts rather than underground burial.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 907.0 km² (350.2 mi²). 467.6 km² (180.6 mi²) of it is land and 439.4 km² (169.7 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 48.45% water.

Adjacent parishes

  • Lake Pontchartrain (north)
  • St. Tammany Parish (northeast)
  • Lake Borgne (east)
  • St. Bernard Parish (south)
  • Plaquemines Parish (southwest)
  • Jefferson Parish (west)

Divisions and neighborhoods

New Orleans contains many distinctive neighborhoods.
New Orleans contains many distinctive neighborhoods.
  • Central Business District
    • Canal Street
    • Poydras Avenue
    • Old American Quarter
    • Old Warehouse District
  • Downtown
  • Uptown
    • Lower Garden District
    • Upper Garden District
    • Irish Channel
    • University District
    • Carrollton
    • Gert Town
    • Fountainbleau
    • Broadmoor
  • Mid City
  • Gentilly
    • Old Gentilly
    • Gentilly Woods
    • Pontchartrain Park
  • Lakeview
  • Lakefront
    • Lake Terrace
    • Lake Vista
  • New Orleans East
    • Versailles
  • Algiers
    • Algiers Point
    • English Turn
    • Lower Coast

Metropolitan area

As of the 2000 census, the population of the city is 484,674. This figure does not include the suburbs in neighboring Jefferson Parish, Saint Bernard and other nearby communities; the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of about 1.3 million.

Area attractions

Major attractions

Greater New Orleans has many major attractions, from the world-reknowned Bourbon Street and the French Quarter's notorious nightlife to St. Charles Avenue, home to Tulane and Loyola Universities; many stately 19th century mansions; and Audubon Park and Audubon Zoo.

Favorite tourist scenes in New Orleans include the French Quarter (known locally as "the Quarter"), which dates from the French and Spanish eras and is bounded by the Mississippi River and Rampart Street, Canal Street and Esplanade Ave. A popular visiting spot in the quarter is the French Market (including the Café du Monde, famous for café au lait and beignets). The Natchez, an authentic steamboat with a calliope tours the Mississippi twice daily.

Other significant areas and sites in the city include:


Greater New Orleans is home to numerous year-around celebrations from Mardi Gras to its New Years' celebration. New Orleans' most famous celebration is its Carnival Season. The Carnival season is often known (especially by out-of-towners) by the name of the last and biggest day, Mardi Gras (literally, "Fat Tuesday"), which is held just before the beginning of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. Mardi Gras celebrations include parades and floats; participants toss strings of cheap colorful beads and doubloons to the crowds. The Mardi Gras season is kicked off with the only parade allowed through the French Quarter (Vieux Carre), a walking parade aptly named Krewe du Vieux. Main article: New Orleans Mardi Gras.

The Louisiana Jazz & Heritage Festival each spring is the other time when all the city's hotels are usually filled to capacity. "Jazz Fest" as it is called is one of the best music festivals in the nation, and features crowds coming from all over the world to experience a wonderful time (including music, food, arts, crafts, and of course the Louisiana heat).


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 484,674 people, 188,251 households, and 112,950 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,036.4/km² (2,684.3/mi²). There are 215,091 housing units at an average density of 459.9/km² (1,191.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 28.05% European American, 67.25% African American, 0.20% Native American, 2.26% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.93% from other races, and 1.28% from two or more races. 3.06% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 188,251 households out of which 29.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.8% are married couples living together, 24.5% have a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% are non-families. 33.2% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.48 and the average family size is 3.23.

In the city the population is spread out with 26.7% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there are 88.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 83.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $27,133, and the median income for a family is $32,338. Males have a median income of $30,862 versus $23,768 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,258. 27.9% of the population and 23.7% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 40.3% of those under the age of 18 and 19.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


New Orleans has a subtropical climate with mild winters and hot, humid summers. New Orleans is especially vulnerable to hurricanes from June to November.

On rare occasions, snow will fall, the most recent being on Christmas in 2004. On December 25th, a combination of rain, sleet, and snow fell on the city, leaving some bridges icy. The last white Christmas in 1954 brought 4.5 inches or 11.3 centimeters to the city, its largest snowfall ever.

Famous New Orleanians

New Orleanians who attained note or fame have included:

Notable non-native residents have included:

External links

  • Maps and aerial photos
    • Street map from Mapquest (http://www.mapquest.com/maps/map.adp?latlongtype=decimal&latitude=29.972754&longitude=-90.059011&zoom=6)
    • Topographic map from Topozone (http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=29.972754&lon=-90.059011&s=200&size=m&layer=DRG100)
    • Aerial photograph from Microsoft Terraserver (http://terraserver.microsoft.com/map.aspx?t=1&s=14&lon=-90.059011&lat=29.972754&w=750&h=500)
  • Official Website of the City of New Orleans (http://www.cityofno.com)
  • New Orleans Times-Picayune, the area's leading newspaper (http://www.nola.com)
A presurvey was conducted which included a census of the children living in the area and a questionnaire on the number and age of children in the home, daytime activities of the children, and a history of lead testing.
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Xavier University, New Orleans, Louisiana conducted a health survey of 328 adults and children (approximately one third of the residents of ASL) who reside in Gordon Plaza and Press Park [20].
Responses were collected by the Louisiana Office of Public Health/Section of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology (LOPH/SEET) from the agencies involved with these issues, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the City of New Orleans Mayor's Office of Environmental Affairs (OEA).
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