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Explore the History of Houston

Just months after Texas won its independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, brothers John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen purchased a little over 6,600 acres on the banks of Buffalo Bayou for a new town. For an investment of less than $10,000, the duo would become the founding fathers of Houston and what began as a struggling trading post would in time become the fourth largest city in the nation and a capital of industry.

Explore the history of Houston by decade in this interactive timeline. 

Houston in the 1830s

Houston's birth coincides with Texas' battle for independence as the new town struggles to create an identity. 

1836

On April 21, General Sam Houston’s army wins Texas’ independence from Mexico in the Battle of San Jacinto.

1836

Houston founded on August 30 by brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen, who pay just over $1.40 per acre for 6,642 acres near headwaters of Buffalo Bayou.

1836

Allen Brothers call on Gail Borden (publisher, surveyor, originator of condensed milk) and Thomas H. Borden to survey the site. Gail Borden lays out the town’s streets 80’ wide, with the principal east-west street (Texas Ave.) 100’ wide.

1837

General Sam Houston, first president of the Republic of Texas, signs an act authorizing Houston to incorporate. Houston is capital of the Republic from 1837-1839.

1837

The Laura is the first steamship to visit Houston.

1838

A bucket brigade, Protection Fire Company No. 1, is formed to fight fires.

Caption
A replica of one of the original maps for the new city of Houston created by Gail Borden, who was hired by the Allen brothers.
Caption
A replica of one of the original maps for the new city of Houston created by Gail Borden, who was hired by the Allen brothers.

Houston in the 1840s.

The decade ushers in a Chamber of Commerce for Houston, the first sustained media outlet for the region, and statehood for Texas. 

1840

On April 4, seven Houston businessmen form the Houston Chamber of Commerce.

1841

The Houston Police Department is formed.

1842

Texas’ oldest newspaper, The Galveston County Daily News, is first published.

1846

Texas becomes the 28th state.

Caption
Old Market Square on what is today the north end of Downtown.
Caption
Old Market Square on what is today the north end of Downtown.

Houston in the 1850s

Houston's identity as a trading hub emerges with improvements to Buffalo Bayou and the first railroad.  

1850

First census after Texas joins the United States counts 2,396 Houstonians. Galveston, with 4,117 residents, is the state’s largest city.

1853

Houston’s first railroad — the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroad — begins operations.

1853

Texas Legislature appropriates $4,000 for Buffalo Bayou improvements.

1859

Three competing firefighting companies combined into the Houston Volunteer Fire Department.

Caption
Main Street between Congress and Preston in 1856. Source: University of Houston Digital Library
Caption
Main Street between Congress and Preston in 1856. Source: University of Houston Digital Library

Houston in the 1860s

Commerce continues to grow in the 1860s as Houston introduces the first iteration of public transportation. 

1861

City provides “land and good buildings” for a smallpox/yellow fever hospital.

1861

Houston and Harris County vote to secede from the Union. During the Civil  War, the closest fighting is at Galveston.

1866

Houston’s first bank, First National Bank, is founded.

1867

Houston Stonewalls defeat Galveston  Robert E. Lees 35-2 in first recorded baseball game in Houston.

1868

Houston’s first trolley cars (muledrawn) appear.

Caption
Mule drawn trolleys first appear in Houston in the 1860s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
Mule drawn trolleys first appear in Houston in the 1860s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1870s

The idea of a dedicated ship channel crystallizes, setting the stage for Houston's future as a global trading hub. 

1870

Texas readmitted to the Union.

1870

Census shows Houston’s population up to 9,332. Harris County’s has reached 17,375, ranking it second in the state.

1870

Congress designates Houston a port; first survey of Houston’s proposed ship channel is conducted.

1872

Congress makes its first appropriation — $10,000 — for ship channel improvements.

1874

Houston Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange are organized.

1875

First grain elevator is built on the Houston Ship Channel.

1877

Houston’s first free public school is established.

Caption
An engraving depicting Buffalo Bayou at Allen's Landing in the 1870s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
An engraving depicting Buffalo Bayou at Allen's Landing in the 1870s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1880s

Electric power and a dedicated communications grid top infrastructure improvements in the 1880s. 

1880

Houston’s first telephone exchange is created.

1882

Houston Electric Light Co. is organized. Houston and New York are the first cities to build electric power plants.

1882

Houston gets its first arc light.

1887

Sisters of Charity open Houston’s first general hospital.

Caption
Houston's Grand Central Station. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
Houston's Grand Central Station. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1890s

A professional fire department and a dedicated city park help elevate Houston moving into the 1900s. 

1891

Houston is first Texas city with electric streetcars. 

1895

Houston Business League is founded (became Houston Chamber of Commerce in 1910).

1895

Houston Fire Department replaces Houston Volunteer Fire Department.

1897

Automobile first appears in Houston as an advertising gimmick.

1897

Houston's first asphalt street paving is laid on Franklin Street. 

1898

Galveston Country Club opens with Texas’ first recorded professionally designed golf course.

1899

First Houston city park opens. (This site, now Sam Houston Park, contains several of Houston’s earliest buildings.)

Caption
First opened in 1899, today Sam Houston Park sits across the street from City Hall. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
First opened in 1899, today Sam Houston Park sits across the street from City Hall. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1900s

A devastating hurricane in Galveston and the discovery of oil at Spindletop set in motion a reversal of fortunes for Houston and Galveston as economic momentum moves from the island community to its inland sister. 

1900

A Category 4 hurricane — deadliest in U.S. history — strikes Galveston, claiming more than 6,000 lives and causing property damage exceeding $30 million ($902 million in 2019 dollars).

1901

Houston Left Hand Fishing Club purchases the city’s first automobile from Olds Motor Works of Detroit.

1901

Oil discovered at Spindletop, and later discoveries at Humble in 1905 and Goose Creek in 1906, put Houston in the center of new oil and oilfield equipment development.

1902

Congress appropriates $1 million for work on the Houston Ship Channel.

1905

Houston has 80 automobiles.

1908

Houston city council sets speed limit of 8 mph.

1909

Houston Museum and Scientific Society, Inc., predecessor of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, is organized.

1909

Houston police begin using motorcycles to enforce speed limits.

1909

Houston Country Club opens with Houston’s first professionally designed 18-hole golf course.

Caption
Spindletop oilfield, east of Houston. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
Spindletop oilfield, east of Houston. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1910s

A higher education institution and a large public park add to the infrastructure investments in Houston while a new ship channel opens a gateway to global trade. 

1910

Congress accepts, from a group of Houston businessmen headed by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, a novel plan to split ship channel development costs between Houston and the federal government.

1912

Rice Institute (now Rice University) begins classes.

1913

Houston Symphony is established. 

1914

The 25-foot-deep Houston Ship Channel is completed and formally dedicated.

1915

First deepwater vessel, the S.S. Satilla, calls at Houston.

1914

George Hermann donates 285 acres to the city for a public park near Rice Institute.

Caption
A WWI victory parade through the streets of downtown in 1918. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
A WWI victory parade through the streets of downtown in 1918. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1920s

Air-conditioning is first introduced in a public building in the 1920s. In later decades the technology would revolutionize Houston's quality of life, minimizing the effect of the sub-tropical climate on its residents and prompting a building boom. 

1920s-1930s

Oil refineries proliferate along the Ship Channel, taking advantage of inexpensive waterborne shipping.

1921

Houston adopts ordinance dedicating tax monies to its library system.

1923

Second National Bank becomes Houston’s first air-conditioned building.

1924

Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the first fine arts museum in Texas, opens.

1926

Natural gas first piped into Houston.

1927

Houston Colored Junior College, the forerunner of Texas Southern University, established.

1927

Houston Junior College (now the University of Houston) is established.

1928

National Democratic Convention is held in Houston.

1928

Municipal airport opened; air mail service to Houston begins.

1929

City Planning Commission recommends that Houston adopt a zoning ordinance but finds scant support.

Caption
The original building of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is now part of the Caroline Weiss Building on the museum's campus. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
The original building of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston is now part of the Caroline Weiss Building on the museum's campus. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1930s

Houston becomes the most populous city in Texas for the first time in the 1930s and a new perennial event comes to dominate the city's social calendar. 

1930

Census ranks Houston as state's most populous city at 292,352 residents. 

1932

First Houston Fat Stock Show & Rodeo (now Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) held.

1934

Intracoastal Canal links Houston to Mississippi River navigation system.

1935

Braniff International inaugurates first scheduled air passenger service to Houston.

Caption
The Houston Fat Stock Show, later the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, got its start in the 1930s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.
Caption
The Houston Fat Stock Show, later the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, got its start in the 1930s. Source: University of Houston Digital Library.

Houston in the 1940s

In a single night in the late 1940s, the city of Houston nearly triples in size. Meanwhile, the beginning of the Texas Medical Center establishes the city as a hub for health care and cutting edge medical treatment. 

1940s

Petrochemical complex develops, taking feedstocks from nearby refineries.

1941

New master plan for Houston thoroughfares emphasizes a loop system.

1943

Texas Medical Center is founded.

1946

Houston Golf Assn. hosts its first PGA Tour event — now the Houston Open, 10th oldest event on the PGA schedule.

1947

Houston College for Negroes acquired by Texas Legislature; established as Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University).

1947

Alley Theatre established. 

1947

Engineering begins on the Gulf Freeway, Texas’ first freeway.

1948

Houston voters reject proposed zoning ordinance.

1948

December 31 annexation expands Houston's area from 74.4 square miles to 216 square miles. 

1948

Port of Houston ranks second nationally in total tonnage.

1949

KLEE-TV broadcasts first Houston commercial TV program. 

Caption
The Houston Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting was held in January 1945.
Caption
The Houston Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting was held in January 1945.

Houston in the 1950s

In the post-WWII years, the city turns to investing in the arts with the creation of the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet. 

1953

KUHT-TV, the nation’s first public broadcast TV station, goes on the air.

1955

Houston Grand Opera Association and Houston Ballet founded. 

1955

Houston metro area population reaches 1,000,000.

Caption
The 1954 Houston Auto Show.
Caption
The 1954 Houston Auto Show.

Houston in the 1960s

The 1960s bring the Space Age to Houston with the creation of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, later Johnson Space Center. Before the end of the decade, the nation will put two men on the moon in a mission directed from Houston. 

1962

NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center moves to Houston.

1962

Houston voters reject proposed zoning ordinance.

1965

First event held in the Astrodome.

1969

Houston Intercontinental Airport begins operations.

1969

“Houston” is the first word spoken from the lunar surface.

Caption
Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, was controlled from the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.
Caption
Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, was controlled from the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

Houston in the 1970s

The 1970s bring energy consolidation to Houston and an indoor mall that would revolutionize the shopping experience. 

1970

The Galleria opens. 

1971

Shell Oil Co. relocates corporate headquarters to Houston. More than 200 major firms move headquarters, subsidiaries and divisions here in the 1970s. 

1973

Arab oil embargo quadruples oil prices in 90 days, fueling Houston’s 1973-1981 economic boom.

1978

Voters approve and fund Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Caption
Downtown's Tranquility Park, honoring Houston's important role in the Apollo 11 mission, opens in 1979.
Caption
Downtown's Tranquility Park, honoring Houston's important role in the Apollo 11 mission, opens in 1979.

Houston in the 1980s

The recession of the 1980s hits Houston hard, particularly the dominant energy sector. Nearly one out of six jobs in the region are lost before Houston recovers. The recession prompts a new focus on diversifying the local economy. 

1982

Employment peaks at 1,583,400 in March before onset of recession.

1983

155 office buildings completed in 12 months.

1983

Voters approve creation of Harris County Toll Road Authority.

1986

An estimated 1.3 million people turn out in Downtown Houston April 5, 1986 to see French composer Jean-Michel Jarre's "Rendez-vous Houston: A City in Concert."

1987

Trough of recession in January; net recession loss of 221,900 jobs.

1987

Wortham Center, home to Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, opens.

1987

The George R. Brown Convention Center opens on 11 blocks on the east end of downtown. The center would be expanded in 2001 to 1.8 million square feet. 

1989

Houston Chamber of Commerce, Houston Economic Development Council and Houston World Trade Association combine to form Greater Houston Partnership.

Caption
The Wortham opens in 1987.
Caption
The Wortham opens in 1987.

Houston in the 1990s

The voters of Houston reject zoning laws for the third and final time in the 1990s forcing city leaders to regulate development through other means. 

1990

Houston economic recovery complete; April job count above March 1982 level.

1990

Houston hosts 16th annual Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations.

1991

Houston City Council mandates first zoning regulations.

1992

Republican National Convention held in Houston.

1993

Houston voters reject proposed zoning ordinance.

Caption
Minute Maid Park under construction in the late 1990s.
Caption
Minute Maid Park under construction in the late 1990s.

Houston in the 2000s

Major storms are a continuing theme throughout the decade. Houston opens its arms to evacuees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina only to be devastated itself three years later by Hurricane Ike. Such storms prompt a conversation around resiliency and how to make coastal communities safer. 

2000

Census finds Houston MSA has no racial or ethnic majority.

2000

Minute Maid Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros, opens.

2001

Tropical Storm Allison inundates Houston June 5-9, claiming 22 lives and inflicting $4.9 billion in property damage, with storm precipitation as high as 35.67 inches in some areas.

2002

NRG Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, opens.

2002

Hobby Center for the Performing Arts opens.

2003

Toyota Center, home of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, opens.

2004

Houston’s first modern light rail line, 7.5-miles long, begins operations.

2004

Houston hosts NFL Superbowl XXXVIII.

2005

More than 100,000 evacuees flee to Houston from southern Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

2008

Hurricane Ike makes landfall Sept. 13 at Galveston as a Category 2 storm, claiming at least 70 lives and causing some $27 billion in  property damage along the Texas Gulf Coast, ranking it third most costly among U.S. hurricanes.

Caption
Caption

Houston in the 2010s

In the years leading up to Super Bowl LI in 2017, Houston spends billions of dollars on infrastructure improvements and new projects in districts from Downtown to Hobby Airport. Though the projects - from new hotels to roadway improvements - are designed to endure, the promise of the national spotlight puts a definitive deadline on completion before the big game. 

2011

By November, Houston returns to 2008 pre-recession employment levels; first major metro to do so.

2012

BBVA Compass Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, opens.

2013

A $60-billion boom in chemical plant construction begins along the Gulf Coast. Construction boom helps to offset job losses in energy over the next two years.

Oil prices peak at $108 per barrel in June before plunging 75% over the next 18 months devastating the local energy industry. Nearly  80,000 energy-related jobs are lost.

2015

Hobby Airport launches international service with the opening of the airport’s first international terminal.

2015

Ellington Airport receives a commercial spaceport license by the Federal Aviation Administration.

2016

The energy downturn bottoms out and a slow recovery begins.

2017

Houston hosts NFL Super Bowl LI.

2017

Hurricane Harvey inundates Houston with five days of rain. Total rainfall exceeds 50 inches in many parts of the region.

2017

The American League Houston Astros defeat the National League Los Angeles Dodgers to win Major League Baseball’s World Series.

2018

Rice University announced plans to develop new hub for Innovation District in Midtown.

Caption
The view of Super Bowl Live leading up to Super Bowl LI.
Caption
The view of Super Bowl Live leading up to Super Bowl LI.
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