The Port of Corpus Christi is located on the south-central coast of Texas on the southern shores of Corpus Christi Bay. The Port of Corpus Christi is some 190 nautical miles southwest of the Port of Houston, Texas, and almost 350 nautical miles north-northeast of the Port of Tampico, Mexico. Sheltered from the open seas of the Gulf of Mexico by Mustang and Padre Islands, the Port of Corpus Christi lies at the mouth of the Nueces River almost 150 miles southeast of San Antonio. It is affectionately called the Sparkling City by the Sea by those who love the Port of Corpus Christi. In 2006, more than 285 thousand people called the Port of Corpus Christi home, and almost 416 thousand lived in the metropolitan area.
The Port of Corpus Christi has a low rate of unemployment, with many of its residents working in the services, trade, and government. The Port of Corpus Christi is the Gulf of Mexico's deepest in-shore port, and it is the sixth biggest port in the United States, handling primarily agricultural products and oil. The local Port of Corpus Christi economy depends on the oil and petrochemical industry and on tourism. The port is also the base for two large US military bases, the Corpus Christi Army Depot and the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, that employ over six thousand local civilians. At one time, the Port of Corpus Christi was home to the fast-food chain, Whataburger. The Port of Corpus Christi was the first large city that offered free city-wide Wi-Fi service which it sold to Earthlink in 2007.
Before Europeans arrived, the Port of Corpus Christi area was home to the Karankawa and other native tribes. Receiving its name from Spanish settlers, "Corpus Christi" means the "body of Christ."
In 1839, Colonel Henry Kinney established a trading post at the site of the future Port of Corpus Christi to sell supplies to the Mexican army. The Port of Corpus Christi was involved in the Mexican War and was the site of blockades during the American Civil War. Local rumor has it that pirate Jean Lafitte established his headquarters in the Port of Corpus Christi after receiving a presidential pardon for helping Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans in 1812. The pirates are thought to have been there 12 years before Kenney's trading post appeared.
The Port of Corpus Christi was a small settlement until 1845 when General Zachary Taylor's troops made camp there preparing for the war with Mexico. The town was incorporated in 1852, and the city charter was adopted in 1876.
In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, railroads brought a land boom to the Port of Corpus Christi area. The local economy was built upon the discovery of natural gas in 1923, development of a deep-water port in 1926, and discovery of oil in 1939. The Corpus Christi Naval Air Station was commissioned in 1941.
The Port of Corpus Christi began in 1920 when local leaders convinced the US Congress to authorize a feasibility study by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether it would be possible to create a deep-water port. Located on the highest point on the Gulf Coast between Miami and Veracruz, Corpus was the best choice for development in the Corpus Christi Bay area.
The Port of Corpus Christi was born as a result of a local referendum to authorize tax bonds for $1 million and to create the Navigation District. Between 1922 and 1981, the Port of Corpus Christi's operating authority was called Nueces County Navigation District No. 1. In 1923, the US Congress authorized construction of a 25-foot deep channel from the Gulf, through Port Aransas to the north, ending at the Port of Corpus Christi shoreline. Dredging for the Port of Corpus Christi channel started in 1925 and ended a year later, costing the United States $1.8 million.
In the Port of Corpus Christi's first days, cotton was truly king, and the surrounding area led the State's cotton production. When cotton picking season ended, the Port of Corpus Christi was full of vessels loading cotton and lead from Mexican smelters. The venture was so successful that, in just two years, expansion efforts began in the Port of Corpus Christi. The channel was deepened and a turning basin was created inside the breakwater.
Major industry came to the Port of Corpus Christi in 1930 when the Southern Alkali Corporation, a subsidiary of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, located there. The Board of Navigation then provided a 1-1/2 mile channel for the facility, called the Industrial Canal today, in 1933. Dredged materials were used for levees and to fill land that was then used to add wharves and docks to the Port of Corpus Christi.
When oil was discovered in the early 1930s, the Port of Corpus Christi Navigation District undertook construction of oil docks, and refineries began to appear along the Industrial Canal and at the turning basin of the Port of Corpus Christi. During the 1930s, the Port of Corpus Christi's significant cargoes shifted from cotton to petroleum and petroleum products.
By 1947, the area was producing grain sorghum, and the Corn Products Refining Company located a plant in the Port of Corpus Christi to convert the grains to syrups, starch, and sugar. Farmers were paying stiff prices to store train in Houston and Galveston, and the Port of Corpus Christi provided a self-financed grain elevator that opened in 1953. By 1959, the elevator had to be expanded.
When the Port of Corpus Christi was built in 1925, large ships were blocked from entering the port by a two-lane highway bridge and a railroad bridge. To allow large ships to enter the Port of Corpus Christi, the Bascule Bridge was built with a vertical height about 14 feet above the water. Adequate for ships of the time, by the 1950s, the bridge had become known as the "Bascule Bridge Bottleneck" because modern ships could not enter the port. The Port of Corpus Christi desperately needed an unobstructed entry for ocean-going vessels. The result was the Upper Harbor Lift Bridge, a high-lift bridge accommodating both vehicles and railroad.
The Port of Corpus Christi was designated a Foreign Trade Zone in 1985. It was also selected as homeport for the US Navy's Gulf of Mexico battle action group. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Port focused on diversifying its cargo-handling capacity. The Port built a 9.3 thousand square meter refrigerated warehouse on the north side of the channel where imports and exports are traded with Latin America, Mexico, Europe, Russia, and Africa as well as other areas of the United States. Further, the Port of Corpus Christi renovated cargo docks to create a multi-purpose cruise terminal and meeting facility.