Port Celebrates 75th
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bring the sea to I
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In 1837, though Houston rested 50 miles from the
Gulf of Mexico on the banks of a minor stream
called the Buffalo Bayou, the town wanted a sea
Years later, in November of 1914 President
Woodrow Wilson officially opened the deep-water
port, predicting the new harbor would usher in a
new era of prosperity and growth for the Bayou
The 28th President was correct in his assessment,
as Houston's gateway to the world has grown to the
third-busiest port in the nation and the eighth largest in the world, with nearly 5,000 ships entering
The Port of Houston celebrated its 75th anniversary on November 10, 1989, marking the date
with a rededication ceremony and three days of
festivities at the Port's Turning Basin Terminal.
It was noted that following the original dedication
humorist Will Rodgers was so impressed he wrote,
"Houston dared to dig a ditch, and bring the sea to
Today, the Port of Houston is home to the second-largest petrochemical complex in the world.
About 150 companies with $15 billion worth of
investment line the Ship Channel. The port provides 28,000 direct jobs and 138,000 indirect jobs.
"Without the port, Houston would be the size of
Victoria," James Pugh, the port's executive director
Houston's quest for the port began in 1837, when
the town's founders, John and Augustine Allen,
demonstrated that steam ships could navigate the
Buffalo Bayou to reach the foot of Houston's Main
However, progress was slow, as skepticism about
building a port persisted. But in 1840, the Houston
Chamber of Commerce sponsored a project to
dredge the waterway, and by the 1850s steam-ship
traffic between Houston and Galveston was brisk.
In subsequent years, other improvements were
made, and many 19th century visitors were impressed and puzzled at Houston's insistence upon
transforming Buffalo Bayou into an international
"Houston is so intent on deepening and straightening her bayou that any vessel that can pass at the
bar in Galveston may discharge at her wharves, 50
miles away," wrote Horace Greeley, the famous
But in 1896, Galveston opened a 25-foot channel,
assuring its dominance as a major port until a hurricane and flood devastated the island in 1900,
causing about $30 million in damage.
Shipping companies in search of a safe haven
turned to Houston. As a result, the U.S. Congress
authorized $1 million to dig a 25-foot channel.
However, the funding was only enough to dig an
18-foot channel. Seeing this, Houstonians backed
the project with a $1.25 million bond issue called
the "Houston Plan."
Work began in June 1912 and was completed by
September 7, 1914. Two months later, Houston
officially opened a world-class port that dwarfed
Galveston's and challenged New Orleans' for dominance of the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, the Port of Houston continues to broaden
its horizons. Despite skeptics, on November 7, 1989
voters approved a $130 million bond issue that will
fund the local contribution for an expansion plan to
deepen the channel from 400 to 530 feet and widen
it from 40 to 45 feet.-Ed Huber