Captain’s Corner

Celebrating 90 Years of Advancing Maritime Commerce

Captain Diehl. President of the Greater Houston Port Bureau

In this month’s magazine, we are spotlighting the Houston Maritime Museum. The museum recently moved to a new location that will be their home over the next few years while they move forward with their building program. They have tremendous plans for the future as they work to expand their exhibits to capture the full magnitude of the history and impact of the port on this area. Their work is already attracting interest from people all over Houston, and it’s good to see opportunities like this to share the value of our maritime community with others.

The maritime story the museum is telling is a reflection of our own here at the Port Bureau. We are celebrating our 90th year of supporting maritime commerce. I find it motivating to look back on the achievements of our organization over the last nine decades. The Port Bureau was formed in 1929 to bring more business to the Port of Houston. Our triple role was to solicit cargo, protect rates, and publicize the port. To help achieve these goals, the Port Bureau had offices not only in Houston, but in New York City, Kansas City, and Dallas. Getting those offices up and running as well as orchestrating their efforts must have been an exciting adventure.

Starting out just before the Depression Era proved to be a challenge, as some of our market segments really struggled. For example, Houston’s noted grain elevator was largely empty from 1933 through 1935. The refining industry, however, proved to be a lifeline for the Ship Channel community. In 1930, there were eight refineries and some 27 tanker lines servicing the port. Ship arrivals reached 2,489 and the combined barge and ship freight was 19.2 million tons in 1934. By the end of the 30s, tonnage neared 30 million.

The advent of World War II changed the focus of the Houston Ship Channel from business to national defense, and the Port Bureau closed its regional offices, maintaining only the Houston office. When business shipping activities resumed in 1947, the Port Bureau expanded to form an Information Division to publicize the port throughout the U.S. and abroad. Publication of a semi-monthly magazine, The Port of Houston Bulletin, was initiated. The Kansas City office was reopened in 1947, the New York City office in 1949, and a traffic department to guard the rate structure was established.

These years laid the foundation for the modern services offered by the Port Bureau, including the inception of the Marine Exchange to report Houston’s ship arrivals, daily Texas Gulf ship movements, and other vital vessel tracking services. In addition, the Port Bureau branched out into hosting networking events and joining in advocacy efforts for dredging and harbor maintenance. It was the beginnings of our work to bring stakeholders together in the spirit of cooperation to address the diverse needs of the Houston Ship Channel community.

Houston’s maritime story is dramatic and significant not only to Houston, but to Texas and the nation. This makes our supporting role all the more fascinating as we pause this year to honor past achievements and to anticipate the new milestones ahead. We plan to share some golden moments from our history in upcoming publications of the magazine and would like to include member stories as well. Please send us your stories and photos from the past.

Heads up! A large part of our 90th anniversary celebration will be our Annual Dinner in August honoring James Black of Moran Shipping Agencies. Sign up early to secure your table location near the front of the room as we recognize Jim and celebrate our achievements!

  • Date March 19, 2019
  • Tags 2019 February