History of Houston

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Many cities have an interesting history and Houston is certainly no exception. From its humble beginnings as a cotton-shipping port to being called the "Energy Capital of the World", the city has enjoyed more than 160 years of existence.

The Early Years

The first settlement in this area was actually started by John Harris in 1826 and was called Harrisburg. At that time, the area was still under Mexican rule, but Texans were growing increasingly discontent. Ten years later in 1836, war between Texas and Mexico was in full swing, and Harrisburg was destroyed by Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna as he chased the Texas army across the area. A short week later, General Sam Houston led the Texas troops to victory and independence at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Later that same year, two brothers and land speculators from New York, Augustus and John Allen, purchased land near the burned-out remains of Harrisburg and started a new settlement. They decided to name the new city after Sam Houston, in honor of his amazing victory at San Jacinto and his new status as the first president of the Republic of Texas. They also managed to convince the first Congress of the Republic of Texas to move to Houston, but it was a move that didn't quite take and the government relocated to Austin after two short years.

Industrial & Scientific Growth

With its economy based primarily on the shipping of cotton, the town grew slowly during the early years. After the widening and deepening of Buffalo Bayou (now part of the Houston Ship Channel) in 1869 and the periodic addition of railway systems, the town began to grow into a transportation center for southeast Texas. The city's full-blown surge into expansion and prosperity was brought about by the discovery of oil in the area in 1901. The construction of refineries and other petroleum-related industries began during World War I and were expanded during World War II. The completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914 established Houston's importance in the shipping world, and the city hasn't stopped growing since.

Houston's prestigious billing as the "Energy Capital of the World" is a fact that's well known, but that's only a small part of what makes it the thriving corporate center that it's become. The chemical industry produces almost half of the U.S. petrochemical supply. Manufacturing firms are valued at over $54 billion, and one out of every three jobs in the area is tied to international business in some way. With the Port of Houston serving as the second largest port in the U.S. in total tonnage, the import/export trade always thrives.

Numerous computer companies have located their headquarters and data processing operations here, including Compaq Computer Corporation, and over 400 local firms are involved in software development. Electronics companies abound and engineering firms employ nearly 47,000 engineers and architects in various fields.

The health of residents and people across the globe is taken care of at facilities that provide some of the best patient care, medical research, and medical education in the world. The renowned Texas Medical Center is highly respected for its pioneering work in cardiac and organ-transplant surgery and cancer treatment. Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital, M.D. Andersen Cancer Center and many other prestigious institutions are located here.

And last, but certainly not least'remember those first fateful words spoken from the moon,  'Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.' Houston's past and future impact on the aerospace industry is in a league of its own. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, the mission control headquarters for manned U.S. space flights, has played a significant role in further developing and expanding Houston's contribution to scientific fields.

Ethnic Diversity

The city's extreme industrial diversity has resulted in a cultural blend that is equally impressive. With over 60 primary languages spoken in the homes of Houston Independent School District families, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. It's been further estimated that an additional 30 languages are also spoken on a smaller scale.

Residents typically have a broad knowledge of and respect for other world cultures and enjoy numerous cultural events every year. Along with common neighborhood events, Express Theater has become extremely popular over the years by offering productions that illustrate the values of these different ethnic cultures. Needless to say, ethnic diversity has also broadened the horizons in the restaurant world. The number of cultures and cuisines represented throughout Houston is both impressive and appreciated.

Cultural & Artistic Growth

Ima Hogg, a local philanthropist, first decided that the Bayou City needed some culture in the form of classical music back in 1913, and the Houston Symphony was born. In the years since then, Houston has gained a formidable reputation as a world-class center for the arts. The 17-block Theater District is home to numerous performing arts organizations, and is second only to New York's Broadway for number of theater seats (over 12,000) in a concentrated area. It's also one of the few U.S. cities that has its own professional symphony orchestra and resident professional companies in ballet, opera and theater. More than 200 visual and performing arts organizations are currently active on the Houston arts scene.

The visual arts are equally represented in numerous museums and galleries that are located primarily in the Museum District. In 1987, The Menil Collection opened and added a new sense of prestige to Houston's museum scene. It boasts what is recognized as one of the finest private collections in the country. With more than $100 million poured into the economy by the television and motion picture industry in the last two years, the city is also emerging as a prominent force in this industry.


The growth and development of Houston has been based to a large extent on the education of its residents. The city has always put significant emphasis on the education of children at both the primary and secondary levels. Several of the local school districts traditionally win state and national achievement awards for the academic aptitude of students in the district.

To this day, residents of Houston are more likely to have completed four years of college than the rest of the U.S. adult population. They weren't all educated here, of course, but the city does boast some excellent universities and colleges. Among them are the very prestigious and highly acclaimed Rice University, which first opened for classes in 1891, the University of Houston (1927), Texas Southern University (1947), University of Saint Thomas (1947) and Houston Baptist University (1960). Also, both Baylor and the University of Texas have prominent medical schools in the Texas Medical Center. More than 240,000 students are currently enrolled in colleges and universities in the area.

The Big Picture

From tiny cow-town to the fourth largest city in the U.S., Houston has had quite a historical journey. Petroleum might be what launched the city on the path to growth and success, but it's the diverse population and quality of life that make it a city worth living in and visiting. Houston is truly an international city in every sense of the word.