The Port of Houston is an inland port on Texas' Gulf of Mexico coast. It is linked to the Gulf by the Houston Ship Channel and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at the Port of Galveston, which is about 20 nautical miles to the south-southeast across Galveston Bay. The Port of Houston is about 190 nautical miles northeast of the Texas Port of Corpus Christi and almost 500 kilometers west-southwest of the Port of New Orleans in Louisiana. For a couple of years, it was the capital of the Republic of Texas. Lying about 17 meters above sea level on the flat coastal plains, the Port of Houston is the biggest city in the State, and it is the fourth most populous city in the United States. In 2007, over 2.2 million people lived in the Port of Houston, and more than 5.6 million called the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown metropolitan area home.
The Port of Houston ranks first in US international commerce, and it is the world's tenth largest port. The Port of Houston is the main port in the State of Texas, in addition to being a major center for the worldwide oil and petrochemical industries and for aerospace and biomedical research and development. Perhaps the energy capital of the world, the Port of Houston is home to the US headquarters for several super-major energy companies that include ConocoPhillips, Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and BP. It is ConocoPhillips' international headquarters. The Chevron Pipe Line Company is headquartered there, as are Marathon Oil Corporation, Apache Corporation, and Citgo. Not surprisingly, the Port of Houston is also a center for the construction of oilfield and petrochemical equipment.
Rice, cotton, and cattle are also important to the Port of Houston economy. Renewable (wind and solar) energy is a growing sector in the Port of Houston economy. In 2008, the Port of Houston had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world (3.8% in April). The Port of Houston is home to 89 consular offices and 23 chambers of commerce representing foreign governments who have trade and commercial relations in the area. In 2008, the Port of Houston ranked second on the Fortune 500 list of company headquarters, ranked first on Forbes' list of the Best Cities for College Graduates, and first on Forbes' list of Best Cities to Buy a Home.
Before Europeans arrived on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in what would become the Port of Houston, the Bidais and Akokisa peoples camped and traded at Buffalo Bayou. For many years, Spaniards and the French traded with these indigenous peoples without settling there.
In the 1820s, a new European settlement was established at Buffalo Bayou that would eventually become the Port of Houston. Called Harrisburg, it was located today's Ship Channel, and it was a busy shipping center for the time. In 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna burned the infant Port of Houston settlement down as his Mexican troops advanced to engage in Sam Houston and the Texas army in the Battle of San Jacinto.
A week after the Port of Houston was burned, Santa Anna was captured by the Texans, and the new Republic of Texas was born. That year, land speculators Augustus and John Allen from New York purchased a site near the ruins of Harrisburg. They advertised the site as holding great promise as a "interior commercial emporium" for Texas. John Allen talked the first Republic of Texas Congress into moving to the settlement, which he promptly named after the Republic's first elected President, Sam Houston. The status of capital lasted only two years from 1837 to 1939.
The area of the Port of Houston was swampy and plagued with yellow fever. The town grew slowly for many years. The first dock was built in the Port of Houston in 1840. The first railroad came to the Port of Houston in 1853, bringing people and commerce to the struggling settlement. Confederate blockade runners made the Port of Houston a refuge during the American Civil War. Union forces took nearby Galveston Island briefly in 1862, but the Confederates soon recaptured the island.
In 1863, the Port of Houston became headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department that included Texas and the New Mexico territory). After the Civil War, racial segregation and conflict grew in the Port of Houston community. By 1869, efforts to deepen and widened Buffalo Bayou (now part of the Houston Ship Channel) had begun.
Through the latter half of the 19th Century, the Port of Houston grew as a center for the railroads in the area. When a terrible hurricane and flood destroyed Galveston in 1900, the Port of Houston surfaced as Texas' leading port. In 1901, oil was discovered in the area, bringing rapid industrial development and expansion of the city as the Port of Houston moved from an economy based largely on cotton and lumber to one based on petroleum. In the 1920s and 1930s, many oil refineries appeared after the Houston Ship Channel was finished in 1914. The Port of Houston ship channel was officially opened in late 1914 in an elaborate ceremony attended by then-President Woodrow Wilson. The Mayor's daughter sprinkled white roses on the water to christen the Port of Houston.
The Port of Houston's shipbuilding and petrochemical industries brought it to prominence during World War II. After the war ended, those industries continued to grow in importance for the Port of Houston. In 1948, the city's land area nearly tripled when surrounding areas were annexed. In 1961, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center was opened about 40 kilometers southeast of the Port of Houston downtown as the command post for US astronauts' flights.
In 1964, President Johnson helped celebrate the Port of Houston's 50th Anniversary by pushing a button in Washington that exploded dynamite and broke the ground for a new dock in the Port of Houston. White roses were again sprinkled on the water to christen the Port of Houston.
In the 1970s, the Port of Houston underwent another economic boom based on the energy sector. As the petroleum industry matured, the Port of Houston grew. By the 1980s, it was the third biggest port in the United States, moving over 80 million tons of cargo per year. Hundreds of companies brought their headquarters to the Port of Houston, and energy was the main pillar of the economy until the oil industry crisis of the mid-1980s. The Port of Houston recovered quickly, but it suffered another economic blow when Enron Corporation collapsed in 2001.
The Port of Houston's rapid growth and expansion in the latter half of the 20th Century brought with them severe air and water pollution problems and the specter of urban sprawl. Flooding was a regular problem in the Port of Houston despite many measures to control it. In 2001, almost two dozen people died as a result of Tropical Storm Allison, which also caused significant property damage and flooding in the Port of Houston. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused similar damage to property, although it did not take as many lives.
In late 2004, the Port of Houston celebrated its 90th Anniversary, recreating the original christening with white roses while the LaPorte High School band performed the National Anthem and the Harris County Sheriffs gave a 21-gun salute.
The modern Port of Houston is a product of tremendous growth. New high-rise office towers create the skyline. Buildings in the downtown area are connected by air-conditioned inter-connected walkways that help people escape the hot humid summers. The Port of Houston is a culturally diverse city where non-Europeans dominate. Less than half of the city's residents are of European descent. Over 33% are Hispanic, and about 25% are African American. There is also a significant Asian population in the Port of Houston.
The Port of Houston is one of the United State's busiest transportation hubs. In addition to its international commercial port, the city has extensive road, rail, and air connections. The city has two major international airports, and the Port of Houston is the second largest in the country in tonnage handled. The Port of Houston is the focal point for pipeline networks moving petroleum and natural gas. Industries based on refining, oil and gas exploration, petrochemical production, and related machinery manufacturing are critically important to the local economy.
Despite the ever-present petroleum-based industries, the Port of Houston has a diverse economy. High-technology, trade, financial services, and business are important. The Port of Houston is home to a growing medical research and healthcare community, and the Texas Medical Center is the largest single employer in the city. Other important economic sectors include engineering, software, aerospace, electronics, and computer manufacturing. Blessed with natural resources of natural gas, petroleum, sulfur, salt, lime, and water, the region has made the Port of Houston Ship Channel the center of one of the world's most densely concentrated industrial areas.
The Port of Houston is also a cultural and arts center for the southern and southwestern United States. It has its own professional symphony orchestra and professional ballet, theater, and opera companies. Southwest of downtown is a complex of art museums and galleries, the zoological gardens, and science-based museums. The Port of Houston is home to the world-famous Astrodome, the Houston Texans football team, the Astros baseball team, and the Rockets basketball team. Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center are popular attractions.