The Port of Texas City is located on the southwest shore of Galveston Bay between the Port of Houston some 16 nautical miles to the north and the Port of Galveston just 6.5 nautical miles to the southeast. Part of the Galveston-Texas City complex and the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown metropolitan area, this deep-water port is one of the State's busiest. Since World War II, industrial activities in the Port of Texas City have grown quickly with increased production of oil refineries, tin smelting facilities, and petrochemicals manufactures.
In the early 1890s, Great Lakes shippers recognized the potential of the area for a port. Minnesota citizens Captain Augustus Wolvin and Henry and Jacob Myers purchased over four thousand hectares of bayshore land to develop a port and industrial center. They hired Frank Davison to oversee their enterprise. Davison became the new Texas City's first postmaster and grocer, and he is considered the founder of the Port of Texas City.
In 1983, the Texas City Improvement Company was created. Planning for the town site and construction of the Port of Texas City began that year. Giving the Port of Texas City its first connections to national railroads, the company built seven kilometers of rail track that joined two regional railroads in Galveston and Houston. The new Port of Texas City had stiff competition with the existing ports in those cities for grain and cotton cargoes.
The first ocean steamer, the SS Piqua, entered the Port of Texas City in 1904 after the channel had been deepened. The bulk of the trade was handled by the Texas Steamship Company for domestic cargoes and by the Wolvin Lines for trade with Mexico. Hugh Benton Moore was hired to manage the Port of Texas City terminal and the sale of land. For the next 40 years, Moore worked hard to develop the Port of Texas City's terminal, facilities, and the community.
In 1905, the Texas City Independent School District was established, and the population was almost 1170 by 1911 when the city was incorporated. By 1925, about 3500 people lived in the Port of Texas City, which was quickly becoming a prosperous community. By that time, it had two gasoline-producing refineries, two cotton compressing plants, and the Texas City Sugar Refinery.
The Great Depression, combined with competition from Imperial Sugar Industries, forced the sugar refinery by 1930. Many local businesses and stores closed, and the survivors struggled to keep their doors open. Fortunately, continued growth in the oil industry helped the Port of Texas City begin to recovery.
Over five thousand people lived in the Port of Texas City by 1939, and the coming World War II further boosted its position to the fourth busiest port in Texas. The war brought spectacular growth to the Port of Texas City. With the world's only two tin smelters in England and Holland threatened by the Axis powers, the Defense Plant Corporation built a tin smelter on a site that was donated by the Texas City Terminal Railway Company. Being the only tin smelting plant in the western hemisphere, the Longhorn Tin Smelting Company provided for the military and industrial needs for Allied nations through the decade of the 1940s. By 1950, more than 16.6 thousand people lived in the Port of Texas City.
The Port of Texas City was the site of the United States' worst industrial disaster in 1947 when three freighters (the Grandcamp, High Flyer, and Wilson B. Keene) exploded at the docks. A longshoreman tossed a burning cigarette on the Grandcamp, starting a slow-burning fire. The ship was carrying a load of ammonium nitrate. When the ship exploded, it ignited fires on the other two vessels, both of which exploded later in the morning. The explosions killed almost 600 people, many of whom were never found, and injured more than 5000. This experience led Texas City to call itself "the town that would not die."
In 1987, a crane at the Marathon Oil refinery dropped its load on a tank of liquid hydrogen fluoride, releasing 36 thousand pounds of gas into the environment and forcing the evacuation of three thousand residents. A more recent disaster in 2005 rocked the Port of Texas City again when a local oil refinery exploded, killing 15 and injuring more than 100.
The Port of Texas City is home to a 70-year-old man-made breakwater called the Texas City Dike. Built with granite blocks, it was designed to prevent silting of the Houston Ship Channel. Stretching some seven kilometers toward the mouth of Galveston Bay, locals proudly call it the "world's longest man-made fishing pier."
In 2008, Hurricane Ike brought a 3.7-meter storm surge into the Port of Texas City, washing over the sturdy dike. The dike survived the storm, even though the surrounding buildings, piers, and streets were destroyed. Still, the Port of Texas City suffered considerably less damage than other areas in Galveston County due to the 27.3-kilometer levee system surrounding the city, and it became a main staging center for relief efforts.