The Port of Houston

Though the Port of Houston Authority did not come into being until 1927, the origins of the Ship Channel and the Port date back to the 1820s and 1830s when docks emerged along Buffalo Bayou at Harrisburg, Lynchburg, and the Allen Ranch. In 1837, the steamboat Laura became the first ship to anchor at Allen’s Landing, the site first settled by John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen that later became the city of Houston. The convergence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou at Allen’s Landing formed a natural turning basin, and dredging during the late 1800s and early 1900s increased the size of ships that could navigate the channel.

In 1909 the voters of Harris County renamed the bayou the Harris County Houston Ship Channel Navigation District and in 1914 the ship channel officially opened for business and was christened as the Port of Houston, where “the boats of all nations may come and receive hearty welcome.” Many of the original docks eventually became established shipping terminals and the additions of Barbours Cut Terminal and Bayport Terminal in 1977 and 2006 respectively have only increased the length and capacity of the Port.

Through ongoing expansion projects, constant dredging, and federal support, the Port of Houston and Houston Ship Channel have since become the second largest port in the country for total tonnage. The Port is first in the nation in foreign tonnage and imports and second in total tonnage. In 2008, the Port of Houston welcomed 8,058 ships and handed 225 million tons of cargo, over 95 million of which was from the petroleum industry. In addition, it is estimated that the Port creates 785,000 jobs throughout the state and is the source of nearly $118 billion of the Texas economy. The Port also generates more than $3.7 billion in state and local tax revenues, and all these numbers are only expected to increase with the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014. Having long since passed other Texas ports in its significance, there is no question that the Port of Houston plays a large, though rather underappreciated, role in the economic base of Houston, the state of Texas, and the nation.

Judith-Ann Saks -Port of Houston Bicentennial Paintings

The lithographs above the entrance reflect six paintings by artist Judith-Ann Saks that commemorate the bicentennial of the Port of Houston. The first image, “The Laura,” depicts the first vessel to navigate Buffalo Bayou to Allen’s Landing in 1837. “As the Rail Meets the Sea” shows the General Sherman train, which was the first locomotive in Texas, and the St. Clair paddle wheeler, both of which reflect the combined influence of railroads and waterways in Houston. “Dedication of the Houston Ship Channel, 1914” reveals the bayou after being deepened and widened to accommodate ocean-going vessels. The fourth image, “The Container Revolution,” depicts the 1956 arrival from Port Elizabeth, New Jersey of the Ideal X, the first container ship to travel between ports. “The Bicentennial Year” salutes the nation’s birthday with an image of the turning basin, while “Over the Horizon – The Year 2001” represents the artist’s idea of what Barbour’s Cut Terminal would look like twenty-five years after her painting’s completion.