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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/19

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15
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER PROBLEM

The logical solution of all the difficulties lies clearly enough in the utilization of the great arterial system of waterways afforded by the Mississippi and its tributaries. The time was when these rivers were the life currents of the region. In the days when river craft plied the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio are found the conditions which gave birth to, and stimulated the growth of, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, St. Joseph, Kansas City, Omaha and a host of other river cities of all sizes. To-day these cities are railroad centers, but by that very fact of having ready-made terminals the development of the water route takes on added value. Take, for example, St. Paul and Minneapolis, at the head of navigation on the Upper Mississippi, the greatest flour-milling centers in the world, shippers of hundreds of thousands of tons for both home and foreign markets and at the same time the logical railroad centers for a large section of our own northwest and Canada. Kansas City, almost in the geographical center of the country and undoubtedly destined to become one of the greatest inland cities of the continent, with St. Joseph, Omaha and Sioux City, all lie in the range of former navigation on the Missouri and stand as important shipping centers for the great corn, wheat and cattle trade of the country back of them. The vast quantities of products handled at these places are mainly bulky goods which do not suffer seriously from relatively slow transit, but which do need most urgently the means of getting to market at the lowest possible transportation charge. No better illustration of the advantage of shipment by water can be found than that afforded by the coal trade from Pittsburg to points on the Mississippi. Coal can be sent from Pittsburg to New Orleans by river, 2,000 miles, for about 75 cents a ton, while the rate by rail to Memphis, 807 miles, is over $3 per ton. On the basis of the charge per ton per mile, the latter rate is about ten times as heavy as the former, a fact which becomes strikingly significant when it is considered that a saving of a single mill per ton mile means $1,000 saved on every shipment of 1,000 tons going 1,000 miles. A similar saving on a comparatively small part of the annual cereal crop alone in those states bordering the Mississippi system would very soon reach a total surprisingly close to the entire cost of improving the navigation.

A waterway with a depth of fourteen feet from New Orleans to Chicago, with channels of less depth in the Ohio and Missouri, would almost unquestionably solve the problem of traffic congestion and high freight rates for a great area of the productive west. It would be a movement directly in line with the policies of various European nations, where far less valuable waterways in thickly settled districts have been utilized most profitably. It is an enterprise which the United States must inevitably undertake sooner or later as the density of population increases throughout the Mississippi Valley. Railroads,