The city is named after Jean Baptiste de Girardot, who established a temporary trading post in the area around 1733. He was a French soldier stationed at Kaskaskia, Illinois between 1704-1720. The 'Cape' in the city name was a rock promontory overlooking the Mississippi River, later destroyed by railroad construction. As early as 1765, a bend in the Mississippi River about 60 miles (97 km) south of the French village of Ste. Genevieve had been referred to as Cape Girardot or Girardeau. The settlement there dates from 1793 when the Spanish government, which had secured Louisiana in 1764, granted Louis Lorimier, a French-Canadian, the right to establish a trading post, which gave him trading privileges and a large tract of land surrounding his post. Lorimier was made commandant of the district and prospered from the returns on his land sales and trade with indigenous peoples such as the Ozark Bluff Dwellers and the Mississippian. Also in 1793, Baron Carondelet granted the Black Bob Band of Hathawekela Shawnee land near Cape Girardeau. The Band became known as the Cape Girardeau Shawnee, and successfully resisted moving to Indian Territory with the rest of the Shawnee tribe until 1833. The town of Cape Girardeau was incorporated in 1808, prior to Missouri statehood, and was reincorporated as a city in 1843. The advent of the steamboat in 1835 led it to become the biggest port on the Mississippi River between Saint Louis and Memphis. It was established on January 4, 1793. The Civil War Battle of Cape Girardeau took place April 26, 1863. The Union and Confederate armies collided in a fierce, four-hour artillery barrage on this day in which 23 Union and 30 Confederate soldiers were killed. The Old Federal Courthouse, located at Broadway and Fountain Streets and built in the late 1940s, was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Carmack, in which the Court upheld the federal government's authority under the Condemnation Act of 1888 to seize land owned by a state or locality. In December 2003, a new four-lane cable-stay bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau was opened. Its official name is "The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.", honoring former U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson who led the fight in Congress to appropriate federal funding for the bridge's construction. The two towers of the bridge reach a height of approximately 91 meters. The "Old Bridge" was completed in September 1928 to replace a ferry and was only 20 feet (6.1 m) wide. It was demolished after the completion of the Bill Emerson Bridge. On May 21, 1949 a tornado touched down and ripped through Cape Giradeau. It cut a swath 200 yards wide, pulverized 233 homes, and killed 23 people. The city is known to some as "The City of Roses" because of a 9-mile (14 km) stretch of highway that was once lined with dozens of rose bushes. Although there used to be many prominent rose gardens around the community, few of these gardens exist today. The city is also known as Cape Girardeau: Where the River Turns a Thousand Tales, due to the history of the town, the Mississippi River, and the annual Storytelling Festival.
Cape Girardeau Municipal Airport offers flights to and from St. Louis daily.
I-55, Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge connects Cape Girardeau to Illinois.
Buses are offered to the citizens by the Cape Transit Authority and have several stops throughout the city. A general admission is $2, senior citizens are $1, and children ages 6 and under are free. Special pick-ups can be made to those who are disabled and live within three-fourths of mile from a designated stop. Greyhound buses are also available for long distance transit. The Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority handles the city's taxi service.
In 2011, Cape Girardeau launched the Ride the City campaign. This dedicated 16 miles of bicycle lanes in city streets. There are lanes that are used only by bicycles and lanes where cars and bicycles can share space.
Most standard American big box stores, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Lowe's. The city also has numerous antique stores and second-hand shops.
Cape Girardeau offers many dining establishments, catering to all budgets.