History of Houston : The Evolution of Space City Over the Years 

The history of a state or a nation is where its heritage is rooted in. Houston is no exception. Centuries of socio-political evolution on Houston's soil have led to Houston's commercial and tourism hub. The city also has one of the largest skylines in the USA.  Here’s a look into the history of Houston. Explore the timeline of Houston’s history since its independence to modern times in chronological order. 

Post-Independence Era

San Jacinto Monument and Battleground
San Jacinto Monument and Battleground (Source)
The Battle of San Jacinto won Texas its independence from Mexico in 1836. After a few months, two brothers, Augustus Chapman and John Kirby Allen bought a piece of land about 6,600 acres right at the banks of Buffalo Bayou with the motive of building a new town on this land. This is the earliest recorded incident in the history of Houston post-independence. 

With a net investment of less than $10,000, the brothers became the ‘founding fathers’ of Houston. What started with their risky business venture ended up being the fourth largest city of the United States and the nation’s industrial capital.  Further investment that followed the purchase by Chapman and Allen paved the way for Houston's emergence. They were seeking to build a new townsite at the Galveston Bay navigation system. 

The victory in the Battle of Texas put Houston on the United States map, metaphorically speaking. Soon, Houston would catch the fever of commercial and architectural growth that had already spread across the nation by then. 

The Journey to Individual Identity (1836 -1838)


Later during 1836, The Allen Brothers called Thomas H. Borden and Gail Borden (surveyor, publisher, the originator of condensed milk) for the site survey. Under Gail Borden’s initiative, the town street got 80’ wide and Texas Avenue east-west Street 100’ wide. 

By 1837, Houston had reached an independent platform in business and heritage. The first president of the Republic of Texas, General Sam Houston, signed an act permitting Houston to integrate with Texas. Following this act, Houston was declared as the Republic’s capital in 1839.

In January 1837, Houston got the first steamship visitor – The Laura. Built-in 1835, Laura was the first steamboat to set sail emerging from the famous Louisville, Kentucky shipyard. By the end of 1838, Houston got the first bucket fire brigade, Protection Fire Company No. 1 to fight fire emergencies for its citizens. This was a big addition to the growing infrastructure of the city. 

Phases of Houston ushering in the Chamber of Commerce (1840 – 1870)

San Jacinto Street Bridge Over Buffalo Bayou
San Jacinto Street Bridge Over Buffalo Bayou (Source)
1840 - Phase I  
On 4th April 1840, a meeting was hosted by John Carlos, at the City Exchange Building, discussing the Houston Chamber of Commerce. 
Soon after the meeting, in 1841, Houston took a step forward to the Legislation by forming the Houston Police Department - yet another addition to strengthening the infrastructure. 
By 1842, the first newspaper – The Galveston County Daily News – had been published in Houston. The day has immense historical importance as the newspaper is the oldest publication in Texas, United States.

1850 – Phase II
1850 started with Houston increasing their number of citizens. Galveston was announced the largest city of the State with 4.117 residents. The United States refreshed the count with 2,396 Houstonians, after Texas. By 1853, Houston had its first railway road - The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroad. 
Seeing Houston’s fast progress, the Texas Legislature approved a budget of $4000 for Buffalo Bayou Development. In this phase of the Chamber of Commerce’s development, Houston achieved financial help from the Texas Legislature to strengthen their transportation. 
By 1859, Houston Volunteer Fire Department welcomed three competitive firefighting companies to their team, further strengthening the city’s fire safety and protection unit. 

The 1860 – Phase III 
In 1861, the city council approved separate land and buildings to treat yellow fever and smallpox. With this, Houston ushered in a new era of Public Healthcare and Hygiene. 
By 1866, Houston had got the First National Bank, which was the first band of Houston. The city transport system enlarged with the first mule-drawn trolley cars of Houston for Public Accessibility.

Houston entered into the Global Trading Hub (1870-1880)

Port of Houston
Port of Houston (Source)
In 1870, Congress declared Houston’s designation to the port, which is now one of the country’s largest and busiest along the Gulf of Mexico. The first survey of Houston’s channel was conducted to determine its navigability. The state’s rapid progress encouraged Congress to increase the budget to $10,000 to improve the ship channel, shaping the course of the maritime history of Houston. 

By 1874, Houston had organized the Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange shaking hands in the Textile industry, forever impacting Houston's manufacturing history.

The next decade started with the establishment of the very first telephone exchange in Houston. 1880 saw Houston improving the communications infrastructure and electric power to become a force to be reckoned with. The first cornerstones of the commercial hub Houston would become were being laid down in facilities and infrastructure. Soon, Houston became the first city along with New York to establish electric power plants. In 1882, arch lights arrived in the city and later on, Houston Electric Light Co. was set up. 

Houston’s Architectural Development (1890 – 1900)

The skyline of Houston
The skyline of Houston (Source)
Houston is known for its rich heritage and architectural development across the world since its inception. It is now the home for 9 professional performing art organizations and public theatres. 

Houston’s history has never compromised in this field. By 1899, The Sam Houston Park was established along with the earliest buildings that would later become one of the USA’s largest skylines.

1900 – Houston was Hit with the deadliest Hurricanes in its History.

In around 1900, Galveston received the deadliest Category 4 Hurricane, costing between 6000 and 12,000 lives. It is believed to be the single greatest natural disaster at that point, and one of the most destructive Atlantic storms. The property damage exceeded a total of $30 million ($929.39 million in 2020 dollars).

Despite the damages, Houston stood still throughout the era in progress and development.

Houston in 1900s – Art, Science, Literary, and Socio-Cultural developments

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Source)
In 1901, Houston's Left Hand Fishing Club purchased the first automobile from Olds Motor Works of Detroit. Spindletop discovers Oil production for the first time. Later on,  Houston established new oilfield equipment in this area. In 1902, Congress appropriated $1 million to the Houston Ship Channel budget to develop maritimely. 

The decade started with establishing The Museum of Fine Arts in 1900, Houston, and ended with the Houston Scientific Society in 1909, as the city took several steps forward for cultural education. 

1912 witnessed Rice University begin its first classes to impart the best quality education as the rest of the country. Later in 1914, George Hermann announced a donation to the public park of Rice University for entertainment and preservation of heritage. In 1913, the House of Symphony was also established for progress in culture and entertainment. 
Other significant incidents to take place in Houston’s history during this era are:
  • 1923 - Houston got the Second National Bank as the first air-conditioned building in Houston. 
  • 1926 - The people started receiving piped natural gas at their homes, making necessities more accessible in the modern era. 
  • 1928 - Houston hoisted the flag of democracy high by starting to hold the National Democratic Convention in 1928, giving people the liberty to cast their votes. 
  • 1934 - Trade and commerce strengthened with the Intercoastal Canal link from Houston and the Mississippi River navigation system in 1934. 
  • 1943 - The Texas Medical Center was founded in 1943. 

Houston became the ‘Space City’

Johnson Space Center Mural (Source)
The Second World War changed the world as we knew it forever. As one of the most prominent participants, the USA had a massive recession to recover from, despite being on the winning side. Keeping aside the casualties and life losses, only the property damage and economic loss were humongous. But Houston stood strong and became one of the cities to lead the country out of the crisis. 

Houston saw new light after the Second World War ended. In 1953, the first public broadcast TV station, KUHT-TV, went on air all over the city. Right after two years, in 1955, the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet were founded. But what made Houston into the ‘Space City’ we know today is NASA basing its moon mission in Houston. Historian Douglas Brinkley, the author of the book American Moonshot on the USA’s 1969 moon mission, said that NASA considers Houston to be the “Vatican of Space”. 

NASA announced Houston as the new location of their Staffed Space Center on September 19, 1961, forever putting the city on the map of America’s space missions. It became the home to the Apollo and Mercury spacecraft astronauts. Eight years later, America became the first and only country till date to land on the moon, as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins made their way to space in Apollo 11.  Half a century later, Houston is now hoping to take an even bigger leap for humankind, hoping to reach Mars this time. 

Houston in the 2000s: Hurricane Ike, Katrina, and Harvey lashes all over Houston

During 2005, Hurricane Katrina powerfully swept a part of the Southern Louisiana population to Houston. Over 1000,000 evacuees shifted to Houston for shelter and to start life anew. But within three years, on September 13th, Galveston witnessed yet another massive Hurricane, named Ike. The disaster claimed over 70 lives and caused over $27 billion property damage along the Texas Gulf Coast. It was the third deadliest hurricane in the United States’ history as far as property damage is concerned. 

Recovering from the damage cost little time for Houston as always. By 2013, it constructed a 460 billion boom chemical plant along the Gulf Coast. The employment rate increased all over the country because of the establishment. In 2017, another hurricane Harvey flooded Houston with five days of continuous rainfall. It exceeded 50 inches in several parts of the entire region. 

By the end of the 19th century, the city led the nation in Art, Science, Sports, and Architecture. Today, Houston is the economic hub of the United States. Over the centuries, the city has proved to be one one of the nerve centres of progress and development in the United States of America.

This post was published by Anwesha Nag

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