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(recreation no. LC-USZ61-294) Houston established as a rail centre, with 12 railways by 1891. After a destructive hurricane and flood in 1900 damaged Galveston's port facilities, Houston became the state's leading port. The very first dock had been built in 1840, and widening and deepening of Buffalo Bayou (now part of the Houston Ship Channel) had actually started in 1869.

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Oil, discovered in the area in 1901, brought considerable industrial advancement, setting off the city's growth and prosperity from its 19th-century financial base of cotton and lumber. The completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914 led to the establishment of refineries along it in the 1920s and '30s. The Second World War brought shipbuilding and petrochemical industries to Houston, and chemicals stayed important after the war ended.

In 1961 the Manned Spacecraft Center (relabelled the Lyndon B. Johnson Area Center in 1973), the command post for flights by U.S. astronauts, was opened near Clear Lake, about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of downtown, making Houston a focus of the country's space program. Houston experienced an economic boom in the 1970s and ended up being a world leader in the energy service; numerous business located their head office there.

By the early 1990s the city had recovered, although it sustained another blow when Enron Corp. (headquartered there) collapsed in 2001. The city hosted the Republican politician National Convention in 1992, and the downtown area went through a resurgence in the late 1990s as new entertainment venues opened. Houston's quick growth after World War II was accompanied by increases in air and water contamination and urban sprawl.

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In 2001 Hurricane Allison eliminated 22 people in the location, harmed workplace structures and thousands of homes, and caused prevalent flooding in the city. , though responsible for far fewer deaths, triggered comparable damage to Houston soon after making landfall in neighboring Galveston in September 2008. Typhoon Harvey, the strongest storm to make landfall in the United States in more than a years, drenched the Houston location in August 2017.

In politics, Houston made news in December 2009 when city controller Annise Parker was chosen mayor. Parker, who campaigned on a platform of financial obligation, was the first openly gay person to be chosen mayor of a big U.S. city.