The Port of Galveston lies on the northeastern shores of Galveston Island off the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast of Houston, Texas. It is an important deep-water port on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the South United States. In 2007, over 57 thousand people called the Port of Galveston home.
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike did considerable damage to the Port of Galveston. Many parts of the city were flooded with seawater, and some of its most popular landmarks were destroyed. While many businesses and hotels have reopened, full recovery will take some time.
Tourism accounts for almost one-third of all jobs in the Port of Galveston. The Port of Galveston is also home to one of the State of Texas' biggest teaching hospitals and one of the biggest life insurance companies in the United States. The Port of Galveston, which is also called the Galveston Wharves, handles all types of cargo and has a busy cruise ship terminal that serves cruise lines operating in the Caribbean. It is homeport to two Carnival Cruise Lines vessels and the Royal Caribbean International's Voyager of the Seas.
Juan de Grijalva discovered Galveston Island in 1519. Historians believe that Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528. René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, visited the island in 1686, but it remained occupied only by the indigenous Karankawa peoples into the 18th Century.
In 1777, Spanish troops occupied the island for a brief time, naming it Galvez after the governor of Spanish Louisiana. Mexico's governor for Texas sent French privateer Louis-Michel Aury to create a port on Galveston Island in 1816 from which Mexican ships could attack royalists towns on the coast and Spanish ships in the Gulf.
The island was headquarters to pirate Jean Laffitte from 1817 until 1821. Laffitte created a fortified village, Campeche, with pirate huts, a large slave market, a shipyard, boarding houses, and gaming establishments and saloons. He also built himself a mansion in the settlement.
By 1825, the Port of Galveston was a small trading post. The city was established by an act of the Congress of Mexico in 1825 when the land was still part of Mexico. The site of the future Port of Galveston was long reported as the best natural harbor in the Texas colony, and it became the oldest port in the Gulf of Mexico to the west of New Orleans. Mexico's Congress designated the Port of Galveston as a port and customs entry point and established a customs house there in 1831.
In 1835 after the Texas Revolution, the Texas Navy made the Port of Galveston its homeport, and it became a port of entry to the Republic of Texas in 1837. For a brief time, it was the capital for the new republic. Texas became a State in the United States in 1845.
In 1836, Canadian Michel B. Menard bought a plot of 18.6 square kilometers from the Austin Colony to establish what would become the modern city of Galveston. In 1839, the City of Galveston was incorporated into the Republic of Texas.
The State of Texas chartered the Galveston Wharf and Cotton Press Company in 1854, consolidating the privately-owned docks and warehouses in the Port of Galveston. At that time, trains unloaded cargoes onto ferries to transport goods to the Port of Galveston. In 1860, a railroad bridge was finished, and railroads could serve the docks directly.
The Port of Galveston was an important supply port for the Confederate States during the American Civil War. It was captured for a few months during 1862 by a Union fleet. In 1865, the nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, Juneteenth, began when Union forces brought the new of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Port of Galveston.
In 1889, the US Congress approved improvements at the Port of Galveston, including deepening the natural channel and building a system of protective jetties. The Port of Galveston got its first grain elevator in the 1890s.
During the 19th Century, the Port of Galveston was the site of many firsts for the State of Texas. The first post offices and the first naval base were established in 1836. The first Roman Catholic Cathedral was built there in 1839. The first Texas chapter of the Masons began in 1840. The first cotton compress appeared in 1842, and the first parochial school opened in 1847 (Ursuline Academy). The first insurance company opened its doors in 1854, and the first gas lights were introduced in 1856. The State's first Jewish Reform Congregation came to town in 1868, and the first orphanage began operating in 1876. Galveston had the first telephone (1878) and the first electric lights (1883). It was home to the first nursing school (1890) and the first medical college (1891).
By 1900, the Port of Galveston was a fast-growing urban center with a population of 37 thousand. It was the country's biggest exporter of cotton and the third biggest exporter of wheat in the United States. During the early 20th Century, Imperial Sugar Company began to operate on the Port of Galveston docks to import sugar from Cuba.
In 1940, the citizens of the Port of Galveston voted to purchase the private holdings of the Galveston Wharf Company, and the port became a public port known as the Galveston Wharves.
In 1951, the Port of Galveston set the national record for exports, largely due to exports from Elevator B. In 1954, a rail and auto causeway connected Galveston and Pelican Island. In 1965, the Port of Galveston was honored by receiving the President's award for Export Trade Development due to its contributions to increases in US foreign trade.
The 1970s was a time of growth for the Port of Galveston. Duval Corporation opened a large sulfur exporting facility in the Port of Galveston in 1970, and the port's container terminal opened in 1972. The first cruise ships docked at the Port of Galveston in 1974, and the port bought over 40 hectares of land on Pelican Island for expansions. In 1976, the Port of Galveston Channel was deepened from 11 to 12.2 meters. Foreign Trade Zone #36 was created on Galveston and Pelican Islands in 1978.
In 1984, the Port of Galveston recorded its highest tonnage volume ever. The port established its first sister port relationship in 1986 with the Port of Valparaiso in Chile. In 1989, the first day-cruises began, and the new $2 million Galveston Cruise Ship Terminal was dedicated in 1990. In 1995, the Port of Galveston celebrated its 170th anniversary with an event on the waterfront that showcased the port's contribution to the maritime industry.
During the 1990s, the Port of Galveston's international relationships grew. The Mexican Consulate opened a branch office at the Port of Galveston. In 1998, a container alliance that included the Port of Galveston, the Port of Houston, and China Ocean Shipping Company selected PHA Container Terminal in the Port of Galveston as a base for their operations. In 1999, Wallenius Lines and Wilhelmsen Lines formed the biggest roll-on/roll-off carrier in the world with Port of Galveston as their new regional headquarters.
In 1997, the Port of Galveston signed a lease agreement with the Port of Houston that allowed Houston to operate the container terminal in Galveston. The following year, the Del Monte Fresh Fruit facility held a ribbon-cutting to celebrate its $1 million investment to improve the facility. In 1999, the Port of Galveston signed a five-year lease agreement with Deepsea Flexibles, Inc., to develop a flexible pipe manufacturing facility in the Port of Galveston.
In 2000, the Port of Galveston broke ground for a $10 million renovation project on the Texas Cruise Ship Terminal on Galveston Island, and the port signed an agreement for the development of a new multi-service terminal on Pelican Island. In 2001, the Port of Galveston cruise business doubled when the Carnival Cruise Lines began home-porting a second cruise ship in the port. In 2001, the Port of Galveston was the 7th busiest cruise port for the Caribbean region based on the number of passengers using the port, and the Port of Galveston began to refurbish Cruise Terminal #2 in 2002.
In 2003, the Port of Galveston signed an agreement with River Materials LLC to develop a general-purpose bulk terminal on the site of the earlier Imperial Sugar's bulk sugar terminal. The same year, Lloyd's Cruise International ranked the Port of Galveston as the 18th top cruise port in the world and the 6th top cruise port in the Caribbean region. Also in 2003, the Port of Galveston imploded Grain Elevator B to make way for an expansion of cruise operations in the port. Later that year, the Port of Galveston signed an agreement with Cuba's largest food importer to provide food to Cuba's 11 million residents.
In 2004, Celebrity Cruises announced it would operate 11- and 12-day cruises from the Port of Galveston to the Panama Canal, and the port started a $7 million refurbishment effort for Cruise Terminal 2. That year, the one millionth passenger since 2000 passed through the Port of Galveston.
Today, the Port of Galveston economy depends on shipping, resorts, food processing, and oil refining. The major exports leaving the Port of Galveston are cotton, sulfur, and grain, and its major imports include sugar, bananas, and tea. The Port of Galveston shipyards offers repairs for all types of vessels, including nuclear-powered vessels. In addition to being the home of the University of Texas ' medical teaching hospital, the Port of Galveston houses Texas A&M University 's marine sciences and maritime resources branch.
In the fall of 2008, the Port of Galveston fell prey to Hurricane Ike, bringing winds of 110 miles per hour and waves and a storm surge of over four meters.