Background & History

Tradition For
More Than
100 years

Port Houston owns and operates the eight public facilities along the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel, including the area’s largest breakbulk facility and two of the most efficient container terminals in the nation. The Port has served as a strategic leader for this vital waterway for over a century, ensuring the free flow of commerce throughout the region as well as bolstering national and international trade. Explore more of our history and background below.

Port Houston History

In the early days of Houston, barges carrying cargo were served by the shallow draft of Buffalo Bayou—traveling from the foot of Main Street along its winding path to the Gulf of Mexico. Once in Galveston, these barges met the seagoing vessels that transported freight to and from the rest of the nation and overseas. As cargo volumes grew, along with the city and region, Houston’s lack of a deep-water port became increasingly challenging.

As the 19th century came to a close, Houston civic and business leaders shared a steady stream of information with Congress to prove the need for a deep-water ship channel. Beginning with his election in 1896, U.S. Representative, Tom Ball, spent countless hours trying to convince the state and federal government to support the development of the channel to serve the City of Houston. As the growth of Texas commerce was accelerating, Houston’s lack of a deep-water ship channel hindered its capacity to handle larger vessels to efficiently support that commerce.

Tom Ball and his local allies advanced the project by advocating that the region and the federal government share the cost of dredging a deep-water channel to Houston. His colleagues on the Congressional Rivers and Harbors Committee voted unanimously to accept that proposal, and with its success, became known as the Houston Plan.

In 1911, a campaign was launched to persuade Harris County voters to approve $1.25 million in bonds to pay for the local share to dredge the waterway. Voters approved the measure, and with it the formation of the Harris County Houston Ship Channel Navigation District, known today as Port Houston.

Despite voter enthusiasm, the bonds still had to be sold. Enter Jesse H. Jones, who took it upon himself to ask each Houston bank to purchase the bonds and soon after successfully sold out the issue, allowing dredge work to commence. Just a few short years later on the morning of September 7, 1914, the dredge TEXAS whistled completion of the channel widening, and on November 10, 1914, the opening of the Houston Ship Channel was ceremonially observed at the Turning Basin, the head of navigation.

Thousands attended the event marked by celebrations and a 21-gun salute. From his office in Washington, D.C., President Woodrow Wilson fired a cannon via remote control to officially mark the channel as open for operations, and from a barge in the center of the Turning Basin, a band played the National Anthem while Sue Campbell, daughter of Houston Mayor Ben Campbell, sprinkled white roses into the water from the top deck of the U.S. Revenue Cutter WINDOM, proclaiming: “I christen thee Port of Houston; hither the boats of all nations may come and receive hearty welcome.”