Compiled by Ashley Streetman
1836 – On April 21, General Sam Houston’s Texas army wins independence from Mexico in the Battle of San Jacinto.
1836 – A. C. and J. K. Allen purchase land from Mrs. Elizabeth Parrott, widow of John Austin, and name the site Houston after their friend and hero, General Sam Houston.
1836 – Houston founded on Aug. 30 by brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen, who pay just over $1.40 per acre for 6,642 acres of land near the headwaters of Buffalo Bayou.
1836 – Allen Brothers call on Gail Borden (publisher, surveyor, and originator of condensed milk) and Thomas H. Borden to survey and map the site. Gail Borden laid out the town’s streets 80′ wide, with the principal east-west thoroughfare (Texas Avenue) 100′ wide.
1837 – General Sam Houston, first president of the Republic of Texas, signs an act authorizing Houston to incorporate. Houston was capitol of the Republic from 1837 until 1839, in which the capitol was moved to Austin. The capitol building was located at the corner of Texas Avenue and Main Street.
1837 – The Laura is the first steamship to visit Houston.
1837 – The city incorporates and the first mayor is elected. Population: 1,000.
1839 – The city charter provides for a town of nine square miles. Two aldermen are elected from each of four wards. They are required to be free white inhabitants who are citizens of Texas, who have resided in Houston for at least six months, and have held more than $100 in real estate for three months.
1840 – On April 4, seven Houston businessmen form the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
1840 – The first local dock was constructed as the Texas Congress authorized the city to build and maintain wharves.
1840 – Houston is divided into four wards when the city’s charter was altered.
First Ward: The North of Congress and West of Main.
Second Ward: The North of Congress and east of Main.
Third Ward: The south of Congress and east of Main.
Fourth Ward: The south of Congress and west of Main.
1840 – The city council passes an ordinance prohibiting the carrying of deadly weapons.
1840 – Seventy-five resident German families founded the Deutscher Verein fur Texas to aid newcomers.
1841 – The Houston-Austin stage line begins operations.
1841 – A city council ordinance establishes the Port of Houston, giving it control over all wharves, landings, slips, and roads on the banks of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous as well as the right to collect wharfage fees and invest the funds in Bayou improvements.
1842 – President Sam Houston orders the capitol of Texas to move back due Houston when Mexican troops threaten San Antonio in 1842. Houston sent men to Austin to fetch the archives, however Austin citizens feared Austin would permanently lose its status as capital if the papers were moved. In what became known as the “Archive War,” citizens from Austin stopped Houston’s men and returned the archives to Austin. During 1842 through 1845, officials met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and in the city of Houston. Austin became the capital again in 1844.
1842 – The city of Houston extends from the bayou on the north to Walker Street on the south, from Bagby on the west to Caroline on the east.
1842 – Texas’ oldest newspaper, The Galveston Daily News, starts publication.
1842 – After a Mexican army invades Texas, Congress, by order meets in special session at Houston, using the Presbyterian Church building by order of President Sam Houston.
1842 – The first city hall is built.
1845 – Texas is admitted to the Union.
1846 – Texas becomes 28th state.
1846 – Houston hosts a pioneer convention of primary school teachers.
1847 – A treaty is signed between German settlers and Comanches.
1847 – A local census sets the Harris county population at 4,737, with 607 qualified voters and 622 slaves.
1850 – First census after Texas joins the Union counts 2,397 Houstonians. Galveston is the state’s largest city.
1851 – Two treaties are signed by federal commissioners and representatives of major Texas tribes. Neither treaty is ever implemented.
1853 – Houston’s first railroad–the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroad–begins operations.
1853 – Texas Legislature appropriates $4,000 for Buffalo Bayou improvements.
1853 – Houston connects via telegraph with Shreveport, Louisiana.
1854 – Free public education as provided by state law comes to Houston.
1856 – Construction was begun on the Houston Tap. Built with slave labor, it would link Houston to national lines by 1873.
1858 – City pays $2,500 for land and “good buildings” for a municipal hospital.
1859 – One of Houston’s two recorded lynchings claims the life of George White, an accused rapist.
1860 – Houston’s population reaches 5,000.
1861 – Houston and Harris County vote to secede from the Union. During the war, the closest fighting was at Galveston.
1861 – Sam Houston resigns as governor after refusing to take Confederate oath of allegiance.
1861 – The city of Houston becomes the military headquarters for the confederate district of Texas.
1862 – A group of pro-Union German settlers are massacred.
1862 – Houston becomes inundated with refugees from Galveston when federal troops occupy Galveston. Many of the refugees chose to remain after the end of the war.
1865 – Three black schools are established by the Freedman’s Bureau.
1865 – Major General Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston and proclaims the emancipation of Texas slaves, becoming what would be known as “Juneteenth.”
1866 – First National Bank founded.
1868 – First trolley cars (mule-drawn) appear; first gaslights installed.
1868 – The Ku Klux Klan appears in Houston.
1868 – The Houston City Railway places its first trolley car in operation on McKinney Avenue. They were pulled by mules.
1870 – Texas readmitted to the Union. 1870 census shows Houston’s population up to 9,332. Harris County’s has reached 17,375, ranking it second in the state.
1870 – Congress designates Houston a port; first survey of Houston’s proposed ship channel conducted.
1870 – Congregation Beth Israel establishes the first synagogue in Houston, at Franklin and Crawford.
1870 – The first 300 Chinese immigrant laborers arrive in Houston.
1872 – Congress makes its first appropriation–$10,000–for ship channel improvements.
1874 – The City Council is enlarged to five wards, with 10 aldermen.
1874 – Houston Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange organized.
1875 – First grain elevator built on Houston Ship Channel.
1876 – Free public schools are opened. Teachers receive 10 cents per day per pupil.
1877 – Houston’s first free public schools established.
1877 – Houston’s first telephone is installed. Its range was about one mile.
1881 – Last battle with the Apache in Texas.
1885 – Prairie View State Normal School, first black land grant college, holds first classes.
1890 – Houston becomes the railroad center of Texas.
1880 – First telephone exchange created.
1882 – Houston Electric Light Co. organized. Houston and New York were the first cities to build electric power plants.
1897 – The first horseless carriage appears; the first asphalt paving is installed. City Council has six wards, 12 aldermen.
1899 – First city park opens. (This site–now Sam Houston Park–contains several of Houston’s earliest buildings.)
1900 – A devastating hurricane and tidal wave strikes Galveston, costing some 8,000 lives and untold property damage.
1900 – Houston’s population reaches 44,600.
1900 – Jesse Jones comes to Houston to work for his uncle. Jesse Jones would ultimately become one of Houston’s most influential citizens.
1901 – Houston Left Hand Fishing Club purchases the city’s first automobile.
1901 – Oil discovered at Spindletop. Spindletop, and later discoveries of oil at Humble in 1905 and Goose Creek in 1906, put Houston in the center of new oil and oilfield equipment development.
1902 – Congress appropriates $1 million for work on the Houston Ship Channel.
1903 – The city council orders separate compartments on streetcars for blacks and whites.
1904 – The City adopts a poll tax of $2.50, effectively eliminating 7,500, mostly black, voters from the electorate.
1905 – Houston has 80 automobiles.
1905 – The City changes to the commission form of government. A mayor and four aldermen are now elected at large.
1907 – The first traffic control measures are instituted, with horses having the right-of-way.
1910 – A group of Houston businessmen headed by the Houston Chamber of Commerce proposes to Congress–and Congress accepts–a novel plan to split ship channel development costs between Houston and the federal government.
1911 – The Ship Channel Navigation District is established. A bond issue of $1,250,000 for channel improvements is authorized. The federal government matches the amount — a precedent.
1912 – Rice Institute (now Rice University, one of the nation’s premier universities) begins classes.
1912 – One of the most destructive fires in the city’s history swept forty blocks in the Fifth Ward, rendering about 1000 people homeless.
1913 – Houston Symphony established.
1913 – The city provides segregated drinking fountains in front of City Hall, and Union Station establishes divided waiting rooms.
1913 – The first suffragette parade is led by Mrs. Angelina Pankhurst on Main Street.
1914 – 25′ deep Houston Ship Channel completed and formally dedicated.
1915 – First deep water vessel, the S.S. Satilla, calls at Houston.
1917 – After the city is placed under martial law, a race riot erupts when black soldiers from Camp Logan enter the city to avenge alleged maltreatment of black soldiers by Houston police. By the time order is restored on August 27, seventeen people were killed and sixteen were wounded. Thirteen black participants were later hung at Fort Sam Houston.
1917 – Houston’s first policewoman, E. J. Backer, goes to work.
1918 – Women vote in Texas for the first time. Mrs. Hortense Ward is the first woman to register at the courthouse to vote. In Houston, 15,640 women register for the first time for a national election.
1920 – The local Houston chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is formed.
1921 – Oscar Holcombe is elected to the first of 11 intermittent terms as mayor. His last term ends in 1958.
1921 – Censors banned the showing of films in a black theater, because black boxer Jack Johnson acted in them with whites.
1921 – In a mammoth ceremony, 2,051 Houstonians were inducted into the Ku Klux Klan.
1922 – Edith E.T. Wilmans is first woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
1922 – Radio station WEV began broadcasting music and impromptu speeches for about 300 receivers.
1923 – Second National Bank becomes Houston’s first air-conditioned building.
1923 – Mayor Oscar Holcombe is banished from the Ku Klux Klan for defying their mandates.
1924 – Miriam A. Ferguson is elected first woman governor of Texas.
1924 – The Jefferson Davis charity hospital for blacks was dedicated. In the same year, the Negro Hospital, a gift of J.S. Cullinan, was dedicated.
1924 – The Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, the first in Texas, opens.
1926 – Margie Elizabeth Neal becomes the first woman in Texas Senate.
1926 – Natural gas first piped into Houston.
1927 – Houston Junior College (now the University of Houston) established.
1927 – Houston Colored Junior College is established as part of the city’s school system. The school would become Texas Southern University in 1951.
1928 – First airmail arrives at the Houston airport, a cow pasture without runways, lights, or drainage.
1928 – Robert Powell, a twenty-four-old black man, was lynched for allegedly murdering a policeman. Two men tried for the lynching were acquitted even though they had signed a confession.
1928 – National Democratic Convention held in Houston.
1929 – City officials reject park and zoning recommendations developed in a two-year planning study; Houston remains unzoned.
1929 – Houston experiences a major flood with Buffalo Bayou rising at the rate of 1 inch every 5 minutes.
1930 – Lyndon Baines Johnson teaches school in Houston for two years.
1930 – Census ranks Harris County as state’s most populous at 292,352.
1933 – State legislature passes a law prohibiting “Caucasians” and “Africans” from boxing and wrestling against each other.
1933 – City authorities reject plans for a Southern Pacific Station because blacks and whites would use the same ramps to reach trains.
1934 – Intracoastal Canal links Houston to Mississippi River navigation system.
1935 – Braniff International inaugurates air service to Houston.
1935 – The worst flood in the city’s history: Buffalo Bayou inundates sections of downtown Houston. Efforts to establish a county flood control program begin.
1936 – The M.D. Anderson Foundation is established to benefit the public, advance knowledge and alleviate human suffering. Upon his death in 1939, the trust received nearly $20,000,000.
1940s – Petrochemical complex develops, taking feedstocks from nearby refineries.
1940 – The bus system replaces a 60-year tradition of streetcars. In an agreement between the city and the Houston Electric Company, streetcar lines are abandoned in favor of an all-bus transit system.
1941 – New master plan for Houston thoroughfares emphasizes a loop system.
1942 – Houston voters authorize the sale of land adjacent to Hermann Park to the M.D. Anderson Foundation. The 134-acre site near Hermann Hospital, would become the massive Texas Medical Center.
1942 – Mrs. W.P. Hobby of Houston is named head of the U.S. Women1s Army.
1943 – Texas Medical Center founded.
1943 – The City changes to a city-manager form of government with a part-time mayor and eight councilmen.
1947 – Holcombe is elected mayor on a strong-mayor platform. The charter change eliminates the city manager.
1947 – Legislature establishes Texas State University for Negroes (now Texas Southern University).
1947 – Alley Theatre established.
1947 – Engineering begins on Gulf Freeway, Texas’ first freeway.
1948 – Houston voters reject proposed zoning ordinance.
1948 – Dec. 31 annexation expands Houston’s area from 74.4 to 216 sq. mi.
1948 – Port of Houston ranks second nationally in total tonnage.
1948 – Houston annexes six suburbs and doubles in size to 216 square miles.
1948 – Voters reject zoning. Houston continues as the only unzoned major city in the U.S.
1949 – KLEE-TV broadcasts first Houston commercial TV program.
1950 – The population reaches 596,000.
1950 – Five blacks filed suit to gain access to the Municipal Golf Course.
1953 – Houston becomes the nation’s most air-conditioned city.
1953 – KUHT-TV, the nation’s first public broadcast TV station, goes on the air.
1954 – Segregation on city buses ends.
1954 – KPRC-TV made Houston’s first color broadcast.
1955 – Houston Grand Opera Association and Houston Ballet founded.
1955 – Houston metro area population reaches 1,000,000.
1955 – A biracial school committee suggests desegregation “if the superintendent finds it possible, under existing circumstances.”
1956 – Sponsored by the NAACP, Dolores Ross and Beneva Williams file suit to counter the segregation policy of Houston’s school system.
1956 – The Census Bureau noted a trend in population movement toward the suburbs.
1957 – To head off criticism during impending law suits, the school board adopted a vague policy of no desegregation before the completion of the existing building program and none before 1960.
1958 – Houston is dubbed “Murder town, USA” by Time Magazine for maintaining the highest murder rate in the nation, 15 per 100,000.
1958 – Jefferson Davis Hospital, a city charity institution, was struck by an epidemic of staphylococcus infection in which 279 cases and 17 deaths occurred, serving to highlight the low quality of health care for the poor.
1958 – Mrs. C.E. White becomes the first black person to be elected to the School Board. Shortly after her election, a cross is burned at her home.
1958 – Kenny Rogers of Houston has his first national hit record with “Crazy Feeling.”
1959 – The school board reveals a 373-page report to the District Court that it has no desegregation plan and requests additional time to prepare one. Judge Connally orders the board to submit a plan by June 1, 1960.
1960 – Rice Institute becomes Rice University.
1960 – Black students from Texas Southern University initiate the first sit-in in Texas, demanding equal lunch counter service.
1960 – District Court Judge Connally labeled the school board’s desegregation plan a “palpable sham and subterfuge.” He ordered desegregation to commence in all first grades in September 1960 and to proceed at one grade per year thereafter. A month later, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the Houston School Board’s appeal to defer integration of public schools. When city of Houston complies with this request, restrictions are so severe that few benefit from desegregation. Thus, six years after the historic Supreme Court decision, only 12 out of the city’s 46,000 black children enjoyed its benefits.
1962 – NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center moves to Houston.
1962 – Houston voters reject proposed zoning ordinance.
1962 – Mayor Cutrer ends desegregation in all city owned buildings.
1962 – The Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned Houston’s brother-sister rule, which prohibited registration by a black child in a “white school” if the child had an older brother or sister in an all-black school.
1962 – Rice University begins admitting students of all races, introduces tuition fees, and for the first time becomes eligible to participate in federally funded programs.
1963 – A study illustrates that flight from center city continues. In 1940, 70 percent of the doctors, 76 percent of the engineers, and 30 percent of the architects worked in the central business district. In 1963 the percentages were 14 percent for doctors, 24 percent for engineers, and 10 percent for architects.
1963 – The new Ben Taub Hospital for city-county patients opened.
1963 – Rice University became the first U.S. university to establish a Department of Space Science.
1963 – University of Houston allows blacks to be eligible for intercollegiate athletic programs.
1963 – Texas state law limits annual annexations to 10 percent of existing city areas, somewhat constraining Houston’s land growth.
1964 – The city of Houston drops the item of race designation on job applications.
1964 – Seven hundred black students are integrated into the public schools.
1965 – First event held in Astrodome, originally named Harris County Domed Stadium.
1965 – In May, segregation issues reach near crisis levels. Led by the NAACP, 85% of the black students boycott five black high schools to protest the slow pace of integration in Houston. While blacks led by Rev. W.A. Lawson pressed for public school integration and rallied to protest a projected bond issue financed segregated facilities, voters approved the school bond. In July after a warning from the Justice Department, the school board votes four to three to integrate all grades by 1967 and seek federal aid for Houston’s schools.
1969 – Houston Intercontinental Airport begins operations.
1969 – “Houston” is the first word spoken from the lunar surface.
1970 – Rothko Chapel was opened as an ecumenical chapel to house the last great works of Mark Rothko.
1970 – After a federal pollution panel inspected the ship channel, one of its members termed the waters “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.”
1970 – After the school board voted to institute voluntary integration measures which would meet federal court recommendations. Angry parents formed organizations to oppose the board’s action and to make economic reprisals against board members Drs. Robbins and Oser.
1970 – Houston receives a Model Cities grant of $13 million for the first five years of the Model Cities program.
1970 – In August, the Justice Department files suit against the Houston School District, charging that they were continuing to operate segregated facilities. The suit contended that segregation involved Mexican-Americans as well as blacks.
1970 – In September, Mexican-Americans open a boycott of Houston’s public schools and set up all-Mexican-American “hulga” schools. Demands included to be treated as a separate ethnic minority with special problems and to not be grouped with blacks or any other group.
1971 – Shell Oil Co. relocates corporate headquarters to Houston. More than 200 major firms moved headquarters, subsidiaries, and divisions here in the 1970s.
1971 – Leonel Castillo becomes the first Hispanic voted to city office as Controller. During his third term, he resigned to become director of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service during the Carter Administration.
1971 – Barbara Jordan is the first black elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the South.
1972 – The Galleria opens.
1973 – Arab oil embargo quadruples oil prices in 90 days, fueling Houston’s 1973-1981 economic boom.
1973 – The Famed Chicken Ranch at La Grange ceases operations, due to an investigative report by Marvin Zindler.
1974 – Ronald Clark O’Bryan of Pasadena kills his 8-year old son with cyanide-laced candy after a night of trick-or-treating for $20,000 in insurance money, prompting parental concerns about the safety of Halloween candy to this day.
1976 – The Houston Public Library moves into its new $11 million building in downtown Houston.
1977 – Chamizal agreement creates undisputed boundary between Texas and Mexico.
1978 – Voters approve and fund MTA (Metro Transit Authority).
1978 – The drowning of Joe Campos Torres, a man who was beaten and thrown into Buffalo Bayou by police, focuses national attention on the subject of police brutality in Houston.
1978 – Robert W. Wilson of Houston is awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.
1979 – First anniversary of Torres’ death ends with a bloody riot in Moody Park.
1979 – U.S. attorney rules that the City’s annexations have violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength. To meet this objection, voters approve a charter change that provides for nine City Council members elected from single-member districts, plus five elected at large.
1980 – 14.4 percent of the Houston CMSA (424,957 persons) are Hispanic, of whom 88 percent are of Mexican ancestry, the sixth largest Spanish origin population in the U.S.
1981 – Houston elects its first female mayor, Kathy Whitmire.
1982 – Employment peaks at 1,583,400 in March, before onset of recession.
1982 – “Ninfa,” a musical based on the life of restaurateur Ninfa Laurenzo, opens in Houston.
1982 – Death of singer Lightnin’ Hopkins of Houston.
1983 – 155 office buildings completed.
1983 – The population reaches 1,775,000; Houston becomes the nation’s fourth largest city.
1983 – Hurricane Alecia strikes the Texas Gulf Coast with Houston directly in its path.
1986 – Houston hosts the U.S. Olympic Festival.
1987 – The George R. Brown Convention Center and the Wortham Theater are completed.
1990 – Houston hosts the World Economic Summit, held at Rice University.
1991 – The population reaches 3,338,900.
1992 – Houston hosts the Republican National Convention, held at the Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center.
1994 – Voters reject a zoning ordinance in low voter turnout.
1994 – The Houston Rockets bring Houston its first National Sports Title after winning the NBA Championship.
1997 – Former Police Chief Lee Brown elected City of Houston’s first black mayor.
1998 – Dr. Ferid Murad of the UT-Houston Medical School wins the Nobel Prize in medicine.
2001 – Tropical Storm Allison devastates much of the city, flooding major medical facilities, including most hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, and debilitating nearly all communication systems.
Primary Source data:
The Houston Area League of Women Voters & Texas Best Online
Key events in Early Texas
(Information courtesy of Houston Institute of Culture)