The meandering maps of the Mississippi river by Harold Fisk must be the most beautiful maps I’ve ever seen. These stunners look more like works of art than geographical diagrams.
I first came across these maps in the gift shop of the V&A Museum of London. And actually mistook them for a piece of artwork. The maps are full of colorful curves and swirls. I have since seen prints of the maps for sale for hundreds of dollars in fancy interior shops.
These maps of Harold Fisk are in the Public Domain. I have managed to find some good digital downloads of them. In my search, I also came across some other wonderful vintage Mississippi river maps. Which you can also download and print for free.
If you like maps of rivers then the chances are you will probably enjoy the wonderful mountain sketches and charts on Pictureboxblue. Some of these illustrations have the world’s longest rivers on them too.
Harold Fisks’ Meandering Maps of the Mississippi River
Harold Fisk was a geologist and cartographer employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. In 1944 he published a rather bland government report “The Nature and Origin of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River”. There was a visual gem within this report, 15 colorful maps of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi Alluvial Valley represents the historic floodplain and valley of the lower Mississippi River.
Fisk had spent three years researching the historical flow of the river. By using a mixture of aerial photography and geographical study, Fisk plotted the geographical history of the Mississippi in an artistic way.
The maps were designed as a visual way of showing how the meandering flow of the Mississippi River had changed over time.
Fisk used greens blues reds and oranges wandering across the maps. The colors represent the Mississippis fluctuations and flow over time.
The path of the river when the map was drawn in 1944, is in black. The green path is the course of the river in 1880, the salmon-pink 1820, and the light blue 1765.
The maps also illustrate the color-coded traces of where the river flowed even earlier, stretching back to prehistoric times.
As well as cartographers and geographers the artistry of these river maps has been appreciated by creatives. Some have even used them as inspiration for their own creations, such as the stunning art quilts of Timma Tarr and Cathy Fussell.
Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt
There are fifteen of these colorful maps. Click on the title above the map you want to download, and the menu option will appear to save it to your device. These maps can then be either printed at home or sent to an online print service. Warning these are large files.
All these maps are stunning, but if I’d just have to pick two to print and frame, I’d probably pick maps 3, 13 & 14.
Fun Facts About the Mississippi River
Whilst hunting for the wonderful Mississippi river maps of Harold Fisk, I came across some other wonderful vintage maps of the river. Before I share these below, I will share some fun facts about the river.
Even though I’m a Brit living in the UK, I have a romantic idea of the Mississippi river from the writings of Mark Twain. Many of his famous stories center around the river.
These books included the famous Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which depicted the people and places along the river. The adventures of Tom Sawyer, the story of a young boy growing up along the watershed. He also wrote Life on the Mississippi, which was about his life as a Mississippi steamboat pilot.
- The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles from beginning to end this makes it the third-longest river in the US. But it’s probably the most famous!
- It takes 90 days for a single drop of water to travel the Mississippi River’s entire length.
- The Mississippi River starts from its water source, fed by Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota. It then flows all the way down into the Gulf of Mexico.
- The river flows through 10 states in the U.S. These include, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota
- At its narrowest point at Lake Itasca, the river is 20 -30 ft wide.
- The widest point is at Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, MN, where it is wider than 11 miles.
- The Environmental Protection Agency says that over 50 cities rely on the Mississippi for daily water supply.
- A quarter of all fish species in North America live in the Mississippi River. That’s over 260 different species.
- At least 145 species of amphibians and reptiles inhabit Mississippi
The translation on this French map showing the Mississippi river flowing into the Gulf of Mexico is, “The course of the Mississippi, or of St. Louis, the famous river of North America around which is the not called Louisiana.”
Map of the Lower Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico. Exhibiting the sugar and cotton plantations, cities, towns, landings, sand bars, islands, bluffs, bayous, cut-offs, the steamboat channel, mileage, fortifications, railroads along the river.
Map of the lower Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico.
Print of four maps, charting the Mississippi River from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico. The map on the far left is a representation of where the Ohio River runs into the Mississippi at Cairo.
From left to right the river is mapped going from north to south. The map on the far right shows the Mississippi River delta and the Gulf of Mexico.
Hand-colored map showing landowners shows plantations with names of owners.
Mississippi river steamboat and tourist map from 1895.
Bird’s-eye view of the Mississippi River: from the mouth of Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, 1884.
You can find more bird’s view maps here, these are of San Francisco Bay.
I hope you have enjoyed all these wonderful maps, especially those of Harold Fisk which are stunning.
If you liked the maps for their geographical qualities, then you should check out the amazing educational Geography posters of Yaggi.