What to do on a momentous occasion when there is no Internet, no smartphones and Twitter is strictly for the birds? One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson did a remarkable job with that era's limited technology. He pushed a button from the White House and by some magical remote control, a cannon was fired 1,400 miles away officially opening the Houston Ship Channel and launching the Port of Houston.
That was Nov. 10, 1914.
In addition to the cannon shot, there was a 21-gun salute as thousands of people gathered at the Turning Basin for the ceremony. The Port of Houston Authority notes in its history of the opening, "A parade was held in downtown and 40 blocks were strung with a new invention: incandescent lights."
Since that time the port has proven to be an integral part of the city's economy. According to a 2012 study by Martin Associates, ship-channel related businesses contribute 1,026,820 jobs throughout Texas, an increase of more than 785,000 jobs cited in a 2007 study. The Port of Houston website reports, "This activity helped generate more than $178.5 billion in statewide economic impact, up from nearly $118 billion. Additionally, more than $4.5 billion in state and local tax revenues are generated by business activities related to the port, up from $3.7 billion."
The latest trade statistics from 2013 are impressive with the Port of Houston ranked first in the U.S. in foreign tonnage, second in the U.S. in terms of cargo value and seventh in container cargo capacity.
Tonight on the exact 100th anniversary, Houston Public Media will premiere at 9 p.m. Houston Ship Channel: Deep Water Centennial, a 60-minute documentary highlighting the history of the ship channel and the port. The film was produced by the Texas Foundation for the Arts.