History of Houston, Texas

Two entrepreneurs from New York, the brothers Augustus and John K. Allen, went to Texas in 1832 to find wealth and fortune, and in so doing, founded a city. They met and befriended former Tennessee governor Sam Houston who President Andrew Jackson had sent to Texas to sow revolution against Mexico. In 1836, Santa Anna attempted to put down the rebellion and killed many of the leaders at the Alamo in San Antonio. Sam Houston took his revenge a month later when he and his troops killed over 600 Mexican troops and captured Santa Anna. This victory resulted in the formation of the Republic of Texas.

In order to pay off its public debt, the Galveston Land Company was authorized to sell land scrips at a cut rate. The two Allen brothers bought 6,642 acres of land on the Buffalo Bayou in southeast Texas. With an eye towards forming a city on their land, they named the town after Sam Houston and worked to get it named the state capital of the new Texas Republic. They succeeded. In 1837, Houston was named the capital by the Texas Congress. A land rush ensued and the Allens became rich by selling plots. Everyone and their brother wanted in on this new frontier town with all of its opportunities. Various vices flourished as well and there was little to keep the drunken fighting and prostitution in check.

Mexico threatened to take back Texas and Houston only kept the capital for two years before it moved to Austin, but out of the mud blossomed a transportation center. Railroads and wagon trains transported cotton, timber and animal hides to Houston on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The ensuing economic growth quickly made the city the center of commerce for Texas. A fire in 1859 burned down most of the city but that couldn’t hold it back. It was quickly rebuilt.

The German revolutions of 1848 saw an influx of educated Germans along with money enough to go into farming and to open businesses. Railroad construction brought Mexicans to the area. In 1860, about half of Houstonians were slaves. Texas achieved statehood on December 29, 1845. It seceded from the Union at the start of the Civil War and Galveston was blockaded by Union ships, thereby hurting Houston’s economy. After the war, Reconstruction was presided over by a military command authorized by the Federal Government, but this could not prevent the disintegration of order and damage to the economy.

City promoters first named its small wharf on Buffalo Bayou the Port of Houston when the steamboat Laura arrived from Galveston in 1844. Transportation along the bayou progressed through the decades but it was just in time for World War I when the Houston Ship Channel was dug out of the bayou in order to support a deep sea port. The Galveston hurricane of 1900 ruined the port there and Houston benefited from the traffic Galveston lost. The Spindletop gusher near Beaumont, Texas in 1901 marked the beginning of the Texas oil rush and after the dredging was completed, refineries were built along the Houston Ship Channel. Oil and chemical companies moved shop to the new boom city of Houston.

A growth spurt in the 1920’s occurred as people followed the oil money. People moved to Houston during the Depression to find work. In 1943, the Texas Medical Center was founded and it has become the world’s largest medical center. The Port of Houston played a vital role in World War II. Houston opened the first air-conditioned mall in 1961. In 1963, the Manned Spacecraft Center opened. “Houston” was the first word spoken by Neil Armstrong when he stepped foot on the moon. The Astrodome was built in 1965 and, true to its self-promotional origins, Houston proclaimed it to be the 8th wonder of the world.

Houston is the United States’ fourth largest city and the Port of Houston is the 74th largest in terms of number of containers passing through. There is no majority ethnic group as whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asian and others share its multicultural heritage. Its location on the Gulf of Mexico and its status as a hub for air transportation marks Houston as a thoroughly modern city with access to the entire world.