The City of Galveston was chartered in 1839. The role of Galveston as the principal port and gateway to the Southwest during the 19th Century has placed the entire city in a unique position in relation to the history of Texas. The city furnished shipping, goods, money, and transportation necessary to settle the state, nurture its trade, and help accomplish its independence.
In 1836, Michael Menard bought "one league and a labor of land" from the Republic of Texas. He helped organize the Galveston City Company in 1838. From 1840 to 1870, the city was a major immigration port for over a quarter million Europeans. Texas' secession from the Union and the Civil War halted development temporarily. The mid 1870s to the mid 1890s was the apex of Galveston's prosperity. The Strand area became the Wall Street of the Southwest. Fortunes were made in cotton, mercantile house, banks, publishing and printing, flour and grain mills, railroads, land development, and shipping. In 1891, the University of Texas Medical Branch was established.
The boom period of the "Queen City of the Gulf" ended with the great 1900 storm, which killed 6,000 people and left 8,000 homeless. After the storm, the 16-foot-high, 17-foot-wide seawall was begun; the first section was completed in 1904. Behind it, 2,200 structures were raised an average of five feet.
In 1914, the Houston Ship Channel was deepened, which took much of Galveston's trade. From 1924 to 1957, until a crackdown by the State Attorney General's Office, Galveston was primarily known as a wide-open port city where gambling and all sorts of amusements could be found. During World War II, the island had an air base where B-17's received their final briefing before leaving for the Pacific.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, there were forward looking innovations in Galveston. The council-manager form of government was adopted in 1961. The Texas Maritime Academy, Galveston College, and the Marine Biomedical Institute were established. The first container terminal opened in 1972. Rosenberg Library was expanded. The Galveston County Cultural Arts Council was founded. A 40-block residential historical district was established in the east end; the Strand area and a number of notable buildings were placed on the National Register.
The City of Galveston is located on the upper Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico and occupies virtually all of a 32-mile-long island located approximately 2 miles off the Texas mainland 50 miles southeast of Houston, Texas. Principal economic support is provided by the Port of Galveston and related interest, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and other health institutions, financial institutions, tourism, shrimping, and fishing.