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Houston in 1900 Part 1. The rise of the regional city

  • Economics


Houston in 1900: Part 1. The Rise of the Regional City - Houston Business, June, 2002 - Dallas Fed HoustonBusiness FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF DALLAS • HOUSTON BRANCH • JUNE 2002 A Perspective on the Houston Economy t the beginning of the 20th century, Houston was riding a wave of economic ex- pansion that would transform the Texas economy. Houston had a population of only 44,600 in 1900, and there were 182,000 residents in what is now the eight-county metro area, includ- ing the competing city of Gal- veston. Between 1875 and 1900, Houston found itself at the center of the state’s rapidly maturing rail network, which for the first time afforded access to the inland regions of Texas. Beginning in 1875, three resource booms—in cattle, cot- ton and lumber—transformed different parts of the state. Cattle was not a significant Gulf Coast industry, nor did Houston grow much cotton or cut much timber. But the city capitalized on the expansion of Texas cotton and lumber production on a grand scale through its transportation links, access to capital and growing managerial expertise. When Houston was founded in 1836, its economic role was that of merchant and trader. It received and marketed agricul- tural goods from the country- side and sent consumer goods, hardware and other supplies back to the farm. The original market area was centered in seven counties directly west of the city. The railroad would later extend Houston’s market area into the Blackland Prairie to the north and the Piney Woods of East Texas. Houston’s merchant and trader role continued as the city’s hinterland expanded. But by 1900 Houston had also developed into an important regional capital by offering the best transportation and commu- nications links and administra- tive and technical skills on the Gulf Coast. This article documents the Houston economy up to the turn of the 20th century, when the city transitioned from growth powered by cotton and lumber to growth fueled by oil and the opening of Houston’s

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