Harrisburg (now part of Houston) was settled in 1823, and Houston itself, founded in 1836 by J. K. and A. C. Allen and named for Sam Houston, was promoted as a rival to Harrisburg and soon served (1837–39) as capital of the Texas republic. In the course of the 19th cent. Houston grew from a muddy town on Buffalo Bayou to a prosperous railroad center. However, its phenomenal expansion came after the digging (1912–14) of a ship channel on Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay, linking it to the Gulf and making it a deepwater port. The development of the coastal oil fields poured quick wealth into the city; the natural gas, sulfur, salt, and limestone deposits also in the area laid the basis for its great chemical production.
Shipbuilding during World War II spurred further growth; and the establishment (1961) nearby of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Manned Spacecraft Center (renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973) brought the aerospace industry. In 1948 several suburbs were incorporated into the city, and it spreads wide across the prairie. In 1981, Kathryn J. Whitmire became the city's first woman mayor. Its first African-American mayor, Lee P. Brown, was elected in 1997. Houston benefited from high oil prices in the 1970s but suffered in the 1980s as oil prices collapsed. Since the early 1980s, Houston has made efforts to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil. Houston hosted the 1992 Republican national convention.