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New Orleans, La.

Learn about the history of New Orleans, from its founding to the current state of the city.
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New Orleans, the largest city in Louisiana, is located in the southeast part of the state, between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain. It is coextensive with Orleans Parish.

One of the few cities of the nation that has been under three flags, New Orleans has belonged to Spain, France, and the United States. The French founded it in 1718 and named it in honor of the Duke of Orleans. In 1762, France ceded the city and the territory to Spain. In 1800, the territory was returned to France, but government authorities did not take over until 1803, just 20 days before the region became part of the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

Many Arcadians–a settlement of French Canadians–relocated to New Orleans after the Great Expulsion of 1755. With them, they brought their own style to the French language. The descendants of these Nova Scotia exiles are commonly known as Cajuns.

New Orleans is famous for its French Quarter, with its mixture of French, Spanish, and native architectural styles. The Mardi Gras—a week of carnival held in New Orleans before the beginning of Lent—is the most spectacular festival in the U.S. and is a popular tourist attraction. Despite Hurricane Katrina, the 2006 Mardi Gras was still scheduled to be held.

New Orleans has one of the world's greatest international ports and it is a major focus of the city's economy. New Orleans is home to the corporate offices of oil companies with major offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the distribution and service centers of offshore equipment suppliers and fabricators.

The manufacturing industry is a significant part of the economy, with petroleum, petrochemical, shipbuilding, and aerospace industries all playing a role. The New Orleans region also functions as a mining, processing, and transportation center for other minerals, principally sulfur. Service industries are playing a larger role, with health care and telecommunications leading the way. The New Orleans region is widely regarded as a leading center of medicine and health care in the South.

On Aug. 29, 2005, the Category 4 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, flooding the city on Aug. 30 and disabling its pumps. This was followed by the breaching of the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain, flooding 80% of the city. Federal and local officials were widely criticized for their slow and inadequate response. A year after the disaster, many evacuees had not returned to the city and the city population had dwindled to about half of its pre-Katrina numbers.

Selected famous natives and residents:

  • Louis Armstrong musician;
  • Truman Capote author;
  • Fats Domino musician;
  • Louis Gottschalk pianist and composer;
  • Bryant Gumbel TV personality;
  • Lillian Hellman playwright and author;
  • Al Hirt musician;
  • Mahalia Jackson singer;
  • Dorothy Lamour actress;
  • Wynton Marsalis musician;
  • Huey Newton activist;
  • Marguerite Piazza soprano;
  • Rusty Staub baseball player;
  • Ben Turpin comedian;
  • Shirley Verrett mezzo-soprano;
  • Carl Weathers actor;
  • Del Williams football player.

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