The community is best known as the boyhood home of author Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and as the setting of his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with numerous historical sites related to Mark Twain and sites depicted in his fiction. Hannibal draws both American and international tourists. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum marked its 100th anniversary in 2012 and has hosted visitors from all fifty states and some sixty countries. Most Hannibal residents enjoy the visitors, and the town at large benefits from tourism revenue.
The site of Hannibal was previously occupied by early settlers and Native American tribes. It was laid out as a town in 1819 by Moses Bates, and named from Hannibal Creek (now known as Bear Creek). The name is ultimately derived from the hero of ancient Carthage, Hannibal. Although the city initially grew slowly to a population of only 30 by 1830, access to the Mississippi river and railroad transportation fueled growth to 2,020 by 1850. The town of South Hannibal was annexed to it in 1843. Hannibal had gained “city” status by 1845. The city served as a bustling regional marketing center for livestock and grain as well as other products produced locally, such as cement and shoes, throughout the remainder of the 19th century and on to the present time.
Hannibal was Missouri’s third largest city when the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was organized in 1846 in the offices of John M. Clemens (Mark Twain’s father). It connected to the state’s then second largest city (St. Joseph, Missouri) and was the furthest west railroad before the Transcontinental Railroad and was used to deliver mail to the Pony Express.
The town has other distinctions as well. In the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, Hannibal was the hometown of the protagonist’s assumed persona (Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO). In television, Hannibal was the hometown of Col. Sherman T. Potter (portrayed by actor Harry Morgan) on the long-running comedy series, M*A*S*H. Hannibal was also the birthplace of singer and actor Cliff Edwards (“Ukelele Ike”) and ‘The Unsinkable Molly’ Brown. Other natives include inventor Bill Lear and NBA basketball coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. The Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse was constructed in 1933. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President John F. Kennedy, and President Bill Clinton each have taken turns lighting the structure. Rockcliffe Mansion sits upon a knoll in Hannibal, is listed on the National Register of Historic places.
Visit the Hannibal History Museum to learn more about Hannibal.