City of Hannibal

Hannibal Then

The hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River suggest the reason early settlers chose this spot to call home. However, before their arrival, Indians called this area home for thousands of years.

European explorers arrived in the 17th century, but Hannibal wasn’t established until 1819, two years before Missouri would become a state. Hannibal was founded in 1819 by Moses Bates. Hannibal was named for the brilliant black Carthaginian general who nearly brought down the Roman Empire in 219 B.C.  As a United States territory, Hannibal, Missouri’s first black residents were brought here as slaves to labor in taming the frontier.

After its founding, the river town soon flourished as a principal docking port for steamboats, flatboats, and packet steamers traveling the upper Mississippi. By 1845, Hannibal had achieved city status and by 1860, the population had more than doubled, making it the second largest city and third commercial center in Missouri.

 Like most early Americans, many of Hannibal’s early residents were immigrants or children of immigrants. They carved out livings here in various industries, including lumber, pork, hemp (rope making), leather tanning, and other hands-on endeavors. As early industries and even the railroad industry diminished, others stepped up to take their place. In the 20th century, shoe-making and cement manufacturing added to the town’s growing economy.

The city is proud of its long list of well-known sons and daughters including William Lear, designer of the Lear jet; Congressman William Henry Hatch; Navy Admiral Robert E. Coontz; sculptor John Rogers; Margaret Tobin, the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown; composer Egbert Van Alstyne; and artist Carroll Beckwith. 

Hannibal’s most famous son is Samuel Langhorne Clemens,is known worldwide by his pen name, Mark Twain. At the age of four, Sam’s family moved to Hannibal from his birthplace in Florida, Missouri, about thirty miles to the southwest. Many of the popular characters featured in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and other beloved works, were based upon people Sam had known while growing up in Hannibal.  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Hannibal from 1839 to 1853. He penned the great American classic, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, whose characters were drawn from real people, places, and circumstances in pre-Civil War Hannibal. Visitors still stand in awe on the bank of the great river and gaze across to the Illinois side contemplating the boundary between a free and a slave state.

Hannibal Today

Today, we have more parks per citizen than most towns in the Midwest, and our trail system is growing yearly. Hannibal is a wonderful place to hike, or bike. Boaters will find easy access to the Mississippi, as well as local lakes. Hannibal has grown into a thriving haven for artisans, and is included in the famous 50 Miles of Art. 50 Miles of Art includes a scenic drive on Highway 79 and focuses on the growing art communities of Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville. Hannibal is home to numerous world-class artists and craftsmen. Each year there are two studio tours (one in the Spring, and one in the Fall) that highlight artists and their studios.

If you like history, you’ll love Hannibal. It’s rich history comes to life when you walk the streets of downtown, or take a walking tour of Hannibal’s beautiful historic homes. Start at the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Center for more information on walking tours.

Hannibal boasts a diverse industrial economy that includes the production of agricultural chemicals, food products, rubber and plastic products, electrical and automotive equipment, and various other manufactured goods. The many businesses in Hannibal provide friendly service, with a strong work ethic. You’ll find wonderful and unique shops that are found only in Hannibal.

No matter what you choose to do you will find our town of nearly 18,000 very accommodating. I’m sure you will agree that Hannibal is a magical experience for individuals and families alike.