Houston, city (1990 pop. 1,630,553), seat of Harris co., SE Tex., a deepwater port on the Houston Ship Channel; inc. 1837.
The fourth largest city in the nation and the largest in the entire South and Southwest, Houston is a port of entry; a great industrial, commercial, and financial hub; one of the world's major oil centers; and the second busiest tonnage-handling port in the United States (after New York). Houston has numerous space and science research firms; electronics plants; giant oil refineries; high-tech and computer-technology industries; one of the world's greatest concentrations of petrochemical works; steel and paper mills; shipyards; breweries; meatpacking houses; and factories manufacturing oil-drilling equipment, clothing, glass, and seismic instruments. More recently, Houston has become a major center of finance with a large number of banks, many of them foreign. The Texas Medical Center is the world's largest hospital complex and a leading medical research facility. Houston is served by two international airports and Ellington Field, a joint use civil and military airport. Cruise ships began sailing from the port in 1997. Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the city is subject to hurricanes.
Points of Interest
The city is the seat of Rice Univ., Texas Southern Univ., the Univ. of Houston, the Univ. of St. Thomas, Dominican College, Houston Baptist Univ., Baylor College of Medicine, and the Univ. of Texas Health Science Center. Its many parks include the large Hermann Park, which has a zoo, a museum of natural science, and a planetarium. Houston has several notable art museums including the Museum of Fine Arts and The Menil Collection, the Space Center Houston museum, and a children's museum. The Wortham Theater Center houses the opera and ballet companies; the city's Alley Theatre is one of the country's foremost repertory companies. The civic center includes the Sam Houston Coliseum and Music Hall; the massive George R. Brown Convention Center, one of the nation's largest; and the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, home of the symphony orchestra. The city is also home to the Astros (baseball), Texans (football), and Rockets (basketball) professional sports teams.
Other tourist attractions include the Galleria, a huge enclosed mall noted for its luxury stores; Old Market Square; and Sam Houston Historical Park, which contains restored homes (built 1824–68) and reconstructed buildings. The San Jacinto battlefield is in nearby Pasadena.
Harrisburg (now part of Houston) was settled in 1823, and Houston itself, founded in 1836 by J. K. and A. C. Allen and named for Sam Houston, was promoted as a rival to Harrisburg and soon served (1837–39) as capital of the Texas republic. In the course of the 19th cent. Houston grew from a muddy town on Buffalo Bayou to a prosperous railroad center. However, its phenomenal expansion came after the digging (1912–14) of a ship channel on Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay, linking it to the Gulf and making it a deepwater port. The development of the coastal oil fields poured quick wealth into the city; the natural gas, sulfur, salt, and limestone deposits also in the area laid the basis for its great chemical production.
Shipbuilding during World War II spurred further growth; and the establishment (1961) nearby of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Manned Spacecraft Center (renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973) brought the aerospace industry. In 1948 several suburbs were incorporated into the city, and it spreads wide across the prairie. In 1981, Kathryn J. Whitmire became the city's first woman mayor. Its first African-American mayor, Lee P. Brown, was elected in 1997. Houston benefited from high oil prices in the 1970s but suffered in the 1980s as oil prices collapsed. Since the early 1980s, Houston has made efforts to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Houston hosted the 1992 Republican national convention.
See J. E. Buchanan, Houston (1975); D. G. McComb, Houston: A History (1981); J. R. Feagin, Free Enterprise City: Houston in Political and Economic Perspective (1988).