The Port of Beaumont lies on the shores of the Neches River in southeast Texas. The Port of Beaumont is about eight nautical miles upriver (14 kilometers or 8.6 miles northwest) of the Port of Neches and about 25 nautical miles (28.5 kilometers or 18 miles northwest) of Port Arthur. About 137 kilometers (85 miles) east-northeast of Houston, the Port of Beaumont is the seat of Jefferson County. The Port of Beaumont is part of the petrochemical and industrial complex that also contains Port Arthur and Orange. In 2010, the population of the Port of Beaumont was almost 118.3 thousand, and over 388.7 thousand people lived in the Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area.
Based on tonnage, the Port of Beaumont is one of the busiest ports in the United States. In 1901, oil was discovered on Spindletop Hill in the largest oil strike in history at the time. The strike led to extensive exploration for oil across Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Forty years later, Texas was the country's well-established leader in oil production. The Port of Beaumont is home to the US Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's port-handling 842nd Transportation Battalion. Conn's Appliances, which is headquartered in the Port of Beaumont, is the city's largest employer. Jason's Deli is also headquartered in the Port of Beaumont.
The Karankawa people lived in the area that would become the Port of Beaumont before Europeans entered the area. A nomadic people possibly descended from Carib Indians, the Karankawa are now extinct as a tribe. Some Karankawa had converted to Christianity by the end of the 18th Century. Those who did not convert lived with the Lipan Apache people.
After Stephen F. Austin led American settlers into the Port of Beaumont area, conflicts with the Karankawa arose frequently. The Karankawa allied with Mexico during the Texas War of Independence in the 1830s. During that time, Chief Jose Maria and his warriors were killed. In 1858, a group of men led by Juan Nepomuceno Cortina attacked and killed an entire band of Karankawa.
The first white settlers in the future Port of Beaumont area, Noah and Nancy Tevis started a farm on the banks of the Neches River in 1824. A community quickly arose around the farm. In 1835, Henry Millard, Joseph Pulsifer, and Thomas B. Huling bought the Tevis land and the neighboring community of Santa Anna. The three began planning the town that would give birth to the Port of Beaumont. J.P. Pulsifer and Company donated the first 50 acres for the Port of Beaumont.
Real estate, construction, transportation, and lumber, communications, and retail businesses grew up in the Port of Beaumont. The Port of Beaumont was soon an important center for regional shipping. By the 1880s, the Port of Beaumont was an active river port, and it became important in the lumber and rice-milling industries. The Port of Beaumont lumber industry peaked in the late 1800s, largely as a result of rebuilding and growth after the American Civil War.
Growth of the Port of Beaumont economy attracted many new residents to the area. By the beginning of the 20th Century, several railroads (including the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe; Southern Pacific; Missouri Pacific; and Kansas City Southern) served the Port of Beaumont.
When oil was discovered in the Port of Beaumont at Spindletop in 1901, the site became the United States' first major oil field. The population of the Port of Beaumont boomed from nine thousand in January to thirty thousand in March. Since then, oil has been a major export for the Port of Beaumont and an important part of the United States' economy.
The Port of Beaumont became a deep-water port in 1908 when a 2.7-meter (nine-foot) deep canal was dug from Beaumont to the Port Arthur ship channel. A turning basin was created in 1916, and the channel was deepened to 7.6 meters (25 feet). Local businesses developed docks and facilities at the Port of Beaumont waterfront. In 1922, the channel was further deepened to 9.1 meters (30 feet). The Port of Beaumont achieved its current depth of 12.2 meters (40 feet) in the 1940s.
In the 1920s, contributions from Captain William Casper Tyrell led to opening the commercial Port of Beaumont and the development of the rice industry there. During World War II, the Port of Beaumont became an important center for ship-building, and more workers flocked to the city from rural Texas. Scarce housing led to a race riot in 1943 when a white woman accused a black man of rape.