The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 2
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Case studies of Houston and Chicago illustrate ways in which a focus
on energy contributes to a better understanding of how cities grow. A
comparison of the two cities also helps to identify several reasons why
energy has long remained a subject largely ignored by urban historians.
The Houston example involves a comparison of the city before and after
the Spindletop oil gusher of 1901, when the Texas Gulf Coast went from
relative energy scarcity to abundance. The case of Chicago provides a
sharp contrast to Houston during the era when coal became the primary
fuel of industrialization. Beginning in the 1860s, the midwest entrep8t
enjoyed a glut of coal analogous to the oil wealth enjoyed by Houston
after the turn of the century. The two examples show that studying the
influence of energy resources on the growth of a particular city is a useful
and rewarding new approach. Moreover, the history of energy also of-
fers fresh perspectives on regional and national patterns of urban growth.
Houston, before and after the great oil boom of the early 1900s, pro-
vides a valuable test case because most of the variables of urban growth
are held constant. A list of these persistent influences would include the
geographical position of the city and the natural wealth of the surround-
ing hinterland, the pattern of immigration and the resulting composition
of the population, as well as the basic social, political, and cultural rela-
tionships of the city dwellers.2
Besides the oil boom, one other event radically changed conditions on
the Gulf Coast at the turn of the century. Just four months before the
first great gusher came in near Beaumont in January, 1901, a hurricane
literally washed Galveston away. The storm, which swept the center of
the city and 6,000 people out to sea, remains the nation's worst natural
disaster. The destruction of Galveston ended its close rivalry with Houston
and shifted commercial activity from the island to the safer, inland port.
After 1900, then, part of Houston's gain represented Galveston's loss,
since the Island City would have undoubtedly shared in the economic
rewards of the oil boom." The Galveston disaster meant that the urban
2Most of these variables are described in Weber, The Growth of Cities, 155 - 229, and
remain central to urban studies today. See, for example, David R Goldfield and Blaine
A. Brownell, Urban America From Downtown to No Town (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1979).
Two general histories of Houston are Harold L Platt, City Buzlding in the New South The
Growth of Public Services in Houston, Texas, 1830 - 1910 (Philadelphia: Temple University
Press, 1983), and David G. McComb, Houston, the Bayou City (Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1969). A revised edition of the latter work, which takes the story of Houston up
through the 1970s, was issued as Houston A Hstory (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).
"For a more extensive discussion of this urban rivalry, see Harold L. Platt, "Houston
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/28/: accessed May 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.