History of Houston

History of Houston

This article documents the wide-ranging history of the City of Houston, the largest city in the state of Texas and the fourth-largest in the United States.


Houston's Turbulent Beginning

On the heels of the Texas Revolution, two New York real estate promoters, John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen were seeking a location where they could begin building "a great center of government and commerce." In August 1836, they purchased 6,642 acres (27 km²) of land (on a site adjacent to the ashes of Harrisburg) from T. F. L. Parrot, John Austin's widow for $9,428. The Allen brothers first landed in the area where the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou served as a natural turning basin, now known as Allen's Landing. [Kleiner, D.J., "Allen's Landing," The Handbook of Texas Online (Texas State Historical Association, February 3, 2005). [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/AA/hvabg.html] ] The "city to be" was named after Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto, whom the Allen brothers admired and anticipated to be the first President of the Republic of Texas. Gail Borden, Jr., a publisher and surveyor, who would later found Borden, Inc., exercised foresight when he laid out wide streets for the town.

After it was established, it started out as a hamlet. Its population later swelled into the thousands. The "Laura", the first ship ever to visit Houston and Galveston, arrived on January 1837. The city was granted incorporation by the state legislature on June 5, 1837 and was made as the temporary capital of Texas. At this time, lawlessness, diseases, and financial difficulties began to become a problem in early Houston. According to legend, the first business opportunity for the city vaporized when a businessman, who was considering relocating his carriage making business to Houston, heard accounts of violence witnessed by his uncle in a Texas saloon. Rather than relocate, the businessman left the state never to return.

Soon, Houstonians were prompted to put an end to their problems. And so, they wanted to make a Chamber of Commerce just for the city. A bill had been introduced on November 26, 1838 in Congress that would establish this entity. President Mirabeau B. Lamar signed the act into law on January 28, 1840. This move could not have come sooner; some creditors had already cut off some Houston businessmen, and there were numerous yellow fever outbreaks, including an 1839 outbreak that killed about 12 percent of its population. Also, on January 14, 1839, the capital had been moved to Austin, known as Waterloo at the time. On April 4, 1840, seven men met at the Carlos City Exchange and enacted the Chamber of Commerce. The seven men were Thomas M. League, Henry R. Allen, George Gazely, John W. Pitkin, Charles Kesler, E.S. Perkins, and Dewitt C. Harris. The chamber's community development efforts would revive the dying frontier village.

In 1840, the town was divided into four wards, each with different functions in the community. The wards are no longer political divisions, but their names are still used. The Texas Government started to promote colonization of the state. The Allen brothers started to promote their town at the same time that the Republic of Texas started promoting settling of Texas. The Allen brothers were not particularly honest to the people whom they settled. They boasted of waterfalls in their advertisements when all Houston had were bayous. However, Houston did get many perks very quickly, since the brothers really wanted their city to succeed. Digging for a proposed Port of Houston began when Congress approved a move to dig out the Buffalo Bayou on January 9, 1842. Funding was awarded which amounted to $2000. Houstonians had mixed opinions over the apparent statehood of their country. When Mexico was again threatening Texas, President Sam Houston moved the capital to Houston on June 27, 1842. However, the Austin residents wanted to keep the archives in their city. This would be known as the Archive Wars. The capital was then moved to Washington on-the-Brazos on September 29. Austin became capital again in 1844.

German immigrants started arriving in Texas and Houston after the revolution of 1848. Many were educated and arrived with capital to set up businesses or buy farms. The port in Houston was getting some shipping business, but the shallowness of the water hampered massive shipping. During the 1850s, the Houstonians decided to build a rail system to connect their port with rail links. Eleven companies built 451 miles of track before 1860. Mexicans, who were one of the earliest immigrant groups to Houston, worked as railroad builders and stayed in the area.

Houston first started shipping cotton, lumber, and other manufacturing products. Alexander McGowen established the iron industry, and Tom Whitmarsh built a cotton warehouse. A fire ravaged Houston on March 10, 1859, but the city rebuilt itself soon after.

Thousands of enslaved African-Americans lived near the city before the Civil War. Many of them near the city worked on sugar and cotton plantations, while most of those in the city limits had domestic and artisan jobs. In 1860 forty-nine percent of the city's population was enslaved. Frost Town, a nearby settlement south of the Buffalo Bayou, was swallowed by Houston. [ [http://www.hal-pc.org/%7Elfa/BB03.html Before there was Houston, there was Frostown] . Louis F. Aulbach, Buffalo Bayou: An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings. Last accessed November 19, 2006.]

The Civil War

In 1860, most Houstonians supported John C. Breckenridge, an independent Democratic candidate. However, he lost the election. As the civil war went underway, people loyal to the Confederacy and people loyal to the Union had a falling out. The Chamber of Commerce kept the city together during the conflict. Galveston got blockaded on October 4, 1862, which in turn soured Houston's economy. On January 1, 1863, John B. Magruder's Confederate forces recaptured the city. However, the war was won by the Unionists. Texas was governed under a military district during Reconstruction, but Federal forces could not control the anarchy and lawlessness that broke out after the war. Civilians settled old grudges and several counties were essentially without civilian government.

In 1869, the Ship Channel Company was formed to deepen Buffalo Bayou and improve Houston as a shipping port. Despite the postwar social unrest, migrants flocked to Texas for new opportunities. Texas businessmen joined together to expand the railroad network, which contributed to Houston's primacy in the state and the development of Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso.

In May 1870, Houston was the site of the State Fair. The fair remained until 1878.

Reconstruction through 1900

After Texas was readmitted to the Union on April 16, 1870, Houston continued its growth. Houston became a port of entry on July 16, 1870. Its new charter drew up eight wards. Many freed slaves opened businesses and worked under contracts. The Freedmen's Bureau stopped abuse of the contracts in 1870. Many African Americans at the time were in unskilled labor. Many former slaves legalized their marriages after the American Civil War. White legislators insisted on segregated schools. After white Democrats regained power in the state legislature in the late 1870s, they began to pass laws to make voter registration more complicated, with the effect of disfranchising African Americans. The elections of 1876 were accompanied in many southern states with fraud and violence to suppress black voting. As white Democrats secured their power, they passed Jim Crow laws to establish and enforce legal segregation across the state.

Lumber became a large part of the port's exports, with merchandise as its chief import. The Houston Post was established in 1880. The Houston Chronicle followed on August 23 of that year. Former U. S. President Ulysses Grant came to Houston to celebrate the opening of the Union Station, which had rail links with New Orleans. Fifth Ward residents threatened to secede from Houston because they felt they already had been separated. An iron drawbridge built in 1883 pacified them, and they did not secede. In 1887, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word established a hospital that would become Saint Joseph's Hospital.

In 1893, George H. Hermann donated a site for the purpose of a charitable hospital, which would later become Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. In 1898, Houstonians appealed before Congress for permission to turn the Buffalo Bayou into a deepwater port, prompted in part by the Spanish-American War; construction of the Port of Houston was approved by Congress in 1899.


The Early 1900s

On September 8-9, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 savagely tore apart the city of Galveston, Texas. After the incident, investors were afraid of its location, and invested in Houston instead. The oil discovery at Spindletop in Beaumont, Texas in 1901 prompted a new industry to be developed in Texas; the oil trade would transform Houston, the raiload hub of east Texas, from a smaller town into a large city. In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt approved a one-million dollar fund for the Ship Channel. 1902 also saw the arrival of the first Japanese in Texas, after Sadatsuchi Uchida gave a fact-finding tour of the Gulf Coast region. He helped establish rice as a major crop of the Gulf Coast area. With a large grant from Andrew Carnegie, the Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library, later known as the Houston Public Library, was founded in 1904. By 1910, the population of Houston was larger than that of Galveston.

Mexicans displaced by the Mexican Revolution started flooding the city of Houston after 1910, and have been a strong influence in the city ever since. In 1912, the Rice Institute (now Rice University) opened in the West University area. By 1913, twelve oil companies had located themselves in Houston. President Woodrow Wilson opened the Port of Houston in 1914, 74 years after the digging started. Service started with the "Satilla", a ship that ran from Houston to New York, New York. World War I put the gasoline-combustible automobile into widespread use, causing oil to become a precious commodity. However, the war caused the amount of tonnage arriving in the Port to drop. After the war, the rice business fell flat, causing many Japanese-Americans to find other work or to move out of Texas.

In early 1917 the War Department ordered two military installations to be built in Harris County: Camp Logan and Ellington Field. The Army deployed a battalion of the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment to guard the construction site at Camp Logan. Racial tension in the city rose as the black soldiers received hostile treatment in the racially segregated city. Tensions flared into a full-blown riot in August 1917; the Houston Race Riot of 1917 resulted in the deaths of 15 whites (including 4 policemen) and 4 black soldiers, and scores of additional injuries. [Handbook of Texas|id=HH/jch4|name=|retrieved=2007-07-02]


On May 30, 1922, George Hermann, a millionaire, donated land to the city that would later become the Hermann Park. September of the same year saw the start of the Houston Zoo. The zoo was started when Houston schoolchildren bought two ostriches. The zoo was later moved from Sam Houston Park to Hermann Park. September 26 saw the first international-bound ship in the port. During the Roaring Twenties, more specifically 1927, the state highway to Houston was built. Bus and truck operations also fell into swing. Houston Junior College opened its doors that same year, which would later become the University of Houston. August 1929 saw the first Sears into Houston. Then Black Tuesday threw devastating blow to the economy of the entire United States. Houston's growth was much smaller, but the city still grew. Mexican Americans no longer found it as easy to obtain jobs, yet several were successful by catering to the Anglo market in the city.


The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo came in 1932. In 1934, Houston Junior College became a four-year institution and changed its name to the University of Houston. A flood in 1935 suddenly turned conditions for the worst, and Houstonians were forced to clean up the mess. Air service by Braniff Airways and Eastern Air Lines came in 1935 and 1936. By the end of the decade, Houston was encountering growth pains, as the city had inadequate air service and that it was no longer a frontier town. Houston became the largest city in Texas in terms of population in 1939. Many immigrants and African-Americans from Louisiana and other parts of Texas moved to the city to find education or work. The city obtained a very multicultural atmosphere, with large African-American and immigrant communities scattered about. However, African-Americans faced bad housing and poor jobs during this time period. Nevertheless, African-American society developed so much that the city was, and still is, the African-American capital of Texas. The University of Houston moved to its present-day location donated by the Cullen family off of what would later be the first freeway in Houston, U.S. Highway 75 (now called Interstate 45), or Gulf Freeway.


When World War II started, tonnage levels fell and five shipping lines ended service. April 1940 saw streetcar service replaced by buses. Pan Am started air service in 1942. World War II sparked the reopening of Ellington Field. The Cruiser "Houston" was named after the city. It sank after a vicious battle in Java, Indonesia in 1942. August 1942 also saw the new City Manager government enacted. The M. D. Anderson Foundation formed the Texas Medical Center in 1945. That same year, the University of Houston separated from HISD and became a private university. Aircraft and shipbuilding became large industries in Texas as a result of the war. Tonnage rose after the end of the war in 1946. During the same year, E. W. Bertner gave away 161 acres (0.65 km²) of land for the Texas Medical Center. Suburban Houston came to be in the period from 1946 to 1950. When Oscar D. Holcombe took his eight term in 1946, he abandoned the city manager type government. Foley's department store opened in 1947. The Alley Theatre got its first performance in 1947. Also the same year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum for citywide land-use districts--zoning. The banking industry also rose to prominence in the late 1940s.Fact|date=February 2007 Houston carried out a large annexation campaign to increase its size. When air conditioning came to the city, it was called the "World's Most Air Conditioned City". The economy of Houston reverted back to a healthy, port driven economy.

Segregation was not as rampant and vicious as it was in other parts of the South. As demonstrated by the NAACP voting drive in the time period, many African-Americans in the city started to more openly challenge segregation laws.Fact|6 Apr 2008 - ? More explanation would help?|date=April 2008


The medical center became operational in the 1950s. The Galveston Freeway and the International Terminal at Houston International Airport (nowadays Hobby Airport) were signs of increasing wealth in the area. Millions of dollars were spent replacing aging infrastructure. In 1951, the Texas Children's Hospital and the Shriner's Hospital were built. Existing hospitals had expansions being completed. July 1, 1952 was the date of Houston's first network television. Later on that same year, the University of Houston celebrated its 25th anniversary. Another problem Houston had back in the 1950s was the fact that it needed a new water supply. They at first relied on ground water, but that caused land subsidence. They had proposals in the Texas Congress to use the Trinity river. Hattie Mae White was elected to the school board in 1959. She was the first African-American to be elected in a major position in Houston in the 20th Century. Starting in 1950, Japanese-Americans as a whole were leaving horticulture and going into business in larger cities, such as Houston.


In the year 1960, Houston International Airport was deemed inadequate for the needs of the city. This airport could not be expanded, so Houston Intercontinental Airport (now George Bush Intercontinental Airport) was going to be built north of the city. September 1961 saw Hurricane Carla, a very destructive hurricane, hit the city. On July 4, 1962, NASA opened the Manned Spacecraft Center in southeast Houston in the Clear Lake area, now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. This would bring many jobs to the Houston, especially the Clear Lake area. Also in 1962, Houston voters soundly defeated a referendum to implement zoning--the second time in fifteen years. In 1963, the University of Houston ended its status as a private institution and became a state university by entering into the Texas State System of Higher Education after a long battle with opponents from other state universities blocking the change.

In April1965 the Astrodome opened, under the name of the Harris County Domed Stadium. In July 1965, the Houston Metropolitan Area was expanded by the inclusion of Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, Liberty County, and Montgomery County. AstroWorld, a theme park adjacent to the Astrodome was opened in 1968. Houston Intercontinental Airport was built in 1969. Houston International Airport, renamed to Hobby Airport, was closed to commercial aviation until 1971.

Barbara Jordan was elected to the US House of Representatives by Houston residents on November 8, 1966.

1970s and integration

In the 1970s, the Chinese-American community in Houston, which had been relatively small, started growing at a rapid rate.

The Sharpstown scandal, which concerned the neighborhood of Sharpstown occurred in 1970 and 1971.
One Shell Plaza and Two Shell Plaza were completed in 1971. One Shell Plaza was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Because the Houston Independent School District was slow to desegregate public schools, on June 1, 1970, the Federal officials struck the HISD plan down and forced it to adopt zoning laws. This was 16 years after the landmark ruling of "Brown v. Board of Education" in which the Supreme Courthad determined that segregated schools were inherently unequal. Racial tensions over integration of the schools continued. Some Hispanic Americans felt they were being discriminated against when they were being put with only African-Americans as part of the desegregation plan, so many took their children out of the schools and put them in "huelgas", or protest schools, until a ruling in 1973 satisfied their demands.

The Third Ward became the center for the African-American community in the city. By 1979 African Americans were elected to the City Council for the first time since Reconstruction. During the time period, five African Americans served on city council.

Water pollution of the Houston Ship Channel became notorious in 1972. Work on the Texas Commerce Tower, now the JPMorgan Chase Tower, began in 1979.

The late 1970s saw a population boom thanks to the Arab Oil Embargo. People from the Rust Belt states moved into Houston, at a rate of over 1,000 a week.

The city made changes in higher education. The Houston Community College system was established in 1972 by HISD. In 1977, the University of Houston celebrated its 50th anniversary. The Texas Legislature established the University of Houston System, a state system of higher education that includes three other universities.


In 1981, Kathryn J. Whitmire became the city's first female mayor and held that position for 10 years; after she left office, terms limits were enacted to prevent future mayors from serving for more than 6 years. [ [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/mack/4125326.html Keeping the momentum going on the rail project] . Kristen Mack, "Houston Chronicle". August 17, 2006. Last accessed October 20, 2006.] Several new construction projects, including The Park Shopping Mall, the Allied Bank Tower, the Gulf Tower and several other buildings were being carried out in downtown. The Transco Tower, the tallest building in the world outside of a central business district, was completed in 1983. METRO wanted to build a rail system connecting the city with the suburbs, but the plan was rejected by voters on June 11, 1983. The voters did approve plans for the George R. Brown Convention Center. On August 18, 1983 Hurricane Alicia struck Galveston and Houston and caused $2 billion in damage. [ [http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastcost.shtml Costliest U.S. Hurricanes 1900-2004 (unadjusted)] . National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service. Last accessed November 19, 2006.] In 1985, the University of Houston changed its name to the University of Houston-University Park in order to separate its identity from the other three universities within the UH System. Houston's massive population boom was reversed when oil prices fell in 1986, leading to several years of recession for the Houston economy. The space industry also took a blow that year with the explosion of the Challenger in Florida. The first nine months of 1987 saw the closure of eleven banks, but also the opening of several cultural centers including the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Wortham Theatre, and the Menil Collection. In 1988, the University of Houston-University Park reverted its name back to the University of Houston after much controversy over its name change in 1985. On August 7, 1988, Congressman Mickey Leland died in a plane crash in Ethiopia. On October 3, a Phillips 66 plant exploded in adjacent Pasadena, Texas, killing 23 and injuring 130. The Houston Zoo began charging admission fees for the first time that year.


1990 saw the opening of Houston Intercontinental Airport's new 12-gate Mickey Leland International Airlines terminal, named after the recently deceased Houston congressman. In 1991 Sakowitz stores shut down; the Sakowitz brothers had brought their original store from Galveston to Houston in 1911. August 10, 1991 saw a redrawing of districts for city council, so that minority groups could be better represented in the city council. 1993 saw the G8 visiting to discuss world issues, and zoning was defeated for a third time by voters in November. The master-planned community of Kingwood was forcibly annexed in 1996, angering many of its residents. Rod Paige became superintendent of Houston Independent School District in 1994; during his seven-year tenure the district became very well known for high test scores, and in 2001 Paige was asked to become Secretary of Education for the new George W. Bush administration. Lee P. Brown, Houston's first African-American mayor, was elected in 1997.

2000 to present-day

The sports teams had outdated stadiums, and they had threatened to leave Houston. The Houston Oilers did so after several threats, so the city built Enron Field, now Minute Maid Park for the baseball team. Reliant Stadium was erected for the Houston Texans. Tropical Storm Allison devastated many neighborhoods with flooding in June 2001. At least 17 people were killed around the Houston area when the rainfall from Allison that fell on June 8th and 9th caused the city's bayous to rise over their banks. [Hegstrom, E., & Christian, C., "17 deaths attributed to storm," "Tropical Storm Allison" (Houston Chronicle, June 11, 2001). [http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/storm2001/937282.html] ] In October 2001 Enron, a Houston-based energy company, got caught in accounting scandals, ultimately leading to collapse of the company and its accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and the arrest and imprisonment of several executives. In 2002, the University of Houston celebrated its 75th anniversary with an enrollment of 34,443 that fall semester. At the same time, the University of Houston System celebrated its 25th anniversary with a total enrollment of over 54,000. The new international Terminal E at George Bush Intercontinental Airport opened with 30 gates in 2003. The Toyota Center, the stadium for the basketball and hockey teams, opened in fall 2003. METRO put in light rail service on January 1, 2004. Voters have decided by a close margin (52% Yes to 48% No) that METRO's light rail shall be expanded. In the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, about 35,000 New Orleans residents resettled in Houston. Six Flags Astroworld, Houston's only large theme park, closed in 2005.

ee also

*Historical events of Houston
*List of mayors of Houston
*Houston, TX


External links

*Handbook of Texas|id=HH/hdh3|name=Houston, Texas
* [http://www.houstonhistory.com/ 172 Years of Historic Houston] a Chronology of Houston From 1836 to Present Day
* [http://vi.uh.edu/public_history/houston_history_project/oral/index.html The Oral History of Houston]
* [http://texashistory.unt.edu/permalink/meta-pth-24649:1 "A thumb-nail history of the city of Houston, Texas, from its founding in 1836 to the year 1912"] , published 1912, hosted by the [http://texashistory.unt.edu/ Portal to Texas History]
* [http://texashistory.unt.edu/permalink/meta-pth-24646:1 "True stories of old Houston and Houstonians: historical and personal sketches / by S. O. Young."] , published 1913, hosted by the [http://texashistory.unt.edu/ Portal to Texas History]

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