Houston’s development from a small settlement to a prosperous international city took place in a short period of time. European exploration of the area began in the 1500s. Claim for the land alternated between Britain and France, and was finally ceded to the United States through the Louisiana purchase of 1803.Early settlement of the region to become Texas began in the 1820s. Buffalo Bayou, an area on the northern edge of Houston’s business district, was first settled in 1826. Ten years later the Allen brothers settled here and the city began to rapidly develop as a trade center. Population quadrupled between 1837 and 1842 rising to 4700.
Innovation in railroad transportation and a booming cotton trade contributed to the growth of Houston. A naval blockade during the Civil War was stifling, but Houston boomed through the Reconstruction era. Technological innovations included introduction of telephone service in 1878, electric streetcars in 1891, and the automobile in 1897.
Discovery of oil in 1901 caused the local economy to further transform and expand. A destructive tidal wave and hurricane hit nearby Galveston Island in 1900. When added to the construction of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914, this allowed Houston to emerge as an international trading center. Rice University was established in 1911 and the University of Houston sixteen years later. By the 1930s Houston surpassed Dallas as the most populous city in Texas. Discovery of the Tomball Oil field in 1933 further added to the city’s fortunes.
In the post-war period the Texas Medical Center and NASA Manned Spacecraft center brought further acclaim to Houston. While energy crises during the 1970s devastated places throughout the country and world, Houston benefited from inflated energy costs. This oil boom was replaced by an oil glut however in the 1980s, crippling the local economy. Through the 1990s Houston recovered somewhat, with a boom in downtown development and adaptive reuse projects, construction of a mass transit system to be completed by 2004, and a boom in cultural and environmental conservation activities.
View of the Houston skyline at sunset.