Did You Know?
1. Who’s counting? The city of Houston encompasses 647 square miles, with a population of more than two million. Only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are larger.
Houston is the seat of Harris County, the nation’s third most populous county.
Houston’s Statistical Metropolitan Area covers more than 10,000 square miles. With 5.6 million residents, it is the sixth-largest metro area in the nation.
Over 100 languages and dialects are spoken in the Houston Independent School District.
From the turn of the 20th century to the 1980 U.S. Census, Houston’s population at least doubled every twenty years. Much of this growth stemmed from migration – people coming to Houston because it was the city in the news, the place where the action was, an area where unemployment stayed down and job creation always climbed.
The U.S. Census in the year 2000 showed that the Houston metropolitan area has no racial or ethnic majority, meaning that it already reflects what the United States will look like in 50 years.
2. Texas means friend. “Tejas” is the Hasinai Indian word for friend or ally. According to www.TexasIndians.com, Caddo Indians farmed in East Texas before the Spanish explorers arrived in the early 1500s. There were two main groups of Caddo in Texas – the Kadohadacho who lived in large villages along the Red River near the present-day Oklahoma-Arkansas border and the Hasinai who lived around present-day Nacogdoches. The Hasinai were made up of several tribes organized into a confederacy called the Tejas. Tejas is the Spanish spelling and Texas is the English spelling. So Texas really does mean friend.
3. Six Flags Over Texas is not just an amusement park. Texas has flown the flags of six nations: Spain (1519-1685; 1690-1821); France (1685-1690); Mexic0 (1821-1836); Republic of Texas (1836-1845); United States of America (1845-1861; 1865-); and the Confederate States of America (1861-1865). Texas became the 28th state in the United States in 1845.
4. Sam who? The city’s namesake, Sam Houston, held more elected offices than any other U.S. politician. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Tennessee, Governor of Tennessee, President of the Republic of Texas, a member of the U.S. Senate from Texas, and Governor of Texas.
5. Houston is the Energy Capital of the World. Houston exists only because it lies at the confluence of two bayous. A bayou is a slow-moving, sluggish stream, similar to a creek. When the Allen Brothers (Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen) discovered the point where White Oak Bayou flowed from the north into Buffalo Bayou, which then flowed eastward to upper Galveston Bay and on into the Gulf of Mexico, they chose it as the site of their future “great commercial emporium.” The Allens and their successors dredged and widened Buffalo Bayou, located 50 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, creating the Port of Houston in 1914. Located 8 miles east of downtown Houston, today the Port of Houston is the largest foreign tonnage port in the U.S and the 7th largest container port. On its docks, you’ll find everything from steel to Toyotas to wind turbines.
The first railroad chartered in Texas was built along the northern banks of Buffalo Bayou. Thanks to this infrastructure, in 1901, when oil was discovered at Spindletop near Beaumont, east of Houston, wildcatters and oil giants both realized that Houston was the natural location for their companies. In the 1920s and 1930s, oil refineries proliferated along the Houston Ship Channel, taking advantage of inexpensive waterborne shipping.
In the 1940s, petrochemical plants began to cluster here as a new industry burgeoned, taking its feedstock from the refining companies already in place. Today, Houston has a $15-billion petrochemical complex, second in size only to Rotterdam.
At the same time, Houston rose to worldwide pre-eminence in offshore drilling and production. In the 1960s, the city began to attract a growing concentration of headquarters of major oil companies. Houston today is known for the advanced technology of its oil industry, and that technology is exported to the world.
But Houston is more than energy. In fact, it is one of the top 10 up-and-coming tech cities in the United States, according to Forbes: “Houston hasn't exactly earned a reputation as a city teeming with techies. But that's changing. ‘Fifteen years ago, we had all the assets, but we weren't really developing them,’ says Walter Ulrich, chief executive of the Houston Technology Center, the state's largest technology incubator. ‘So all the leaders of Houston got together and recognized that the city needed to diversify its economy. There's been this tremendous transition.’”
Houston's strategy: Smash different discoveries together. To wit: Houston's itRobotics, founded in 2002, has developed new cost-cutting robots that inspect a variety of boilers and energy pipelines for structural flaws.
Other Houston start-ups are commercializing technologies originally developed at local research institutions. Nanospectra Biosciences, a local drug delivery company, is working on a nano-scale particle (pioneered at Rice University) that destroys cancerous tumors. The particles are injected into the bloodstream and accumulate inside cancerous tumors. When the tumor is exposed to a laser, the particles absorb the near-infrared light and convert it into thermal energy, destroying the tumor.”
Of the more than 94,000 firms in the Houston area, only about 3,000 are tied to the energy industry. In fact, energy accounts for less than half of the employment in Houston. Other notable industries are business services, information technology, medicine and biotechnology, aviation and aerospace, as well as manufacturing. Twenty-six of the Fortune 500 companies have their home offices in Houston. And more than half of the world’s largest foreign-based corporations have operations here.
6. Houston is the most air-conditioned city in the world. Since the 1940s, to attract tourists and conventions, Houston has promoted itself as “the most air-conditioned city in the nation.” Originally, no statistics were presented to back up the claim but, by 1980, 95 percent of area homes had some form of air conditioning. That made Houston the most air-conditioned place on earth.
7. “Houston” was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon. In September 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood behind a podium at Rice University’s stadium in Houston and announced to the world that the United States would “put a man on the moon by the end of this decade.” Within a few years, NASA’s Manned Space Center – now Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center – was a reality. And, on July 20, 1969, “Houston” was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon.
To re-establish contact with NASA, Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.” The Eagle was the lunar module (LM) that sat down on the Sea of Tranquillity.
A few minutes later, Armstrong said, “I’m going to step off the LM now.” It took him fifteen seconds to exit the LM, step down a ladder, and put his left foot onto the surface of the moon. Then came the famous words: “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Today, when you visit Disney-designed Space Center Houston’s Destiny Theatre, you can pose for a photo behind the podium Kennedy used at Rice in September 1961. You’ll also find Texas’ largest IMAX Theatre, live demonstrations, space capsules, space suits, and the world’s largest collection of moon rocks.
8. Houston’s Visitors Center is the largest in the United States. Located inside City Hall, the Visitors Center features a ten-minute video about “A Day in Houston”; 10,000 free brochures, magazines, and fliers about what to do in Houston; and a unique selection of gifts and souvenirs. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (901 Bagby Street, www.VisitHoustonTexas.com)
9. Houston’s Theater District is the second largest in the United States. Downtown Houston’s Theater District spreads out over 12 walkable blocks and offers 13,000 seats in five venues featuring professional resident companies in ballet, opera, symphony, and theater, all surrounded by parks, fountains, and gardens.
10. Downtown Houston is a mecca for sports enthusiasts. Houston’s Major League Baseball team, the Astros, play at Minute Maid Park, only eight walkable blocks north of Toyota Center, home to the Houston Rockets (National Basketball League) and Houston Aeros (American Hockey League).
Between the two stadiums, you’ll find Lucky Strike Lanes inside the Houston Pavilions.
Coming the in the spring of 2012 is a new 22,000-seat stadium for the Houston Dynamo (Major League Soccer) on the east side of downtown, four blocks from Minute Maid Park.
The National Football League’s Houston Texans play in Reliant Stadium, a 30-minute ride south of downtown on MetroRail.
11. Houstonians eat out more than residents in any other U.S. city. With one of the nation’s most culturally diverse populations, food lovers in Houston can enjoy everything from Tex Mex to Vietnamese to Ethopian to Bombay Pizza in one of the city’s 8,000 restaurants.
12. The Texas Medical Center is the largest in the world. The Texas Medical Center, located eight miles south of downtown, is accessible by MetroRail. It is the largest in the world, with 93,500 employees, equivalent to the twelfth largest business district in the United States. Its 49 research and treatment institutions include 14 hospitals with 6,800 patient beds, 3 medical schools and 6 nursing schools educating 71,500 students each year, of whom 5,600 are international students. These institutions are housed in 162 buildings on a 1,000-acre campus. The TMC hosts 6 million patient visits each year, of which 18,000 are by international patients.
One of the top ten heart centers in the country, the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System was founded by Dr. Denton Cooley, who, in 1969, became the first heart surgeon to implant an artificial heart in man. Cooley and his associates have performed more than 100,000 open heart operations--more than any other group in the world.
The University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center is on the cutting edge of cancer treatment, with nearly 10,000 registrants in clinical trials exploring novel treatments, the largest such program in the nation. For seven of the past nine years, MD Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in the “America’s Best Hospitals” survey published by U.S. News & World Report
13. Houston is the No. 1 Top Shopping City in America. In December 2010, Forbes’ Meghan Casserly wrote, “Move over New York. When it comes to shopping, everything’s bigger in Texas. . . . Like their football and BBQ, Texans take their shopping seriously. With 16,938 retail locations, 54 shopping centers, and a low 8.25% sales tax, Houston comes in at No. 1 on the list of Top Shopping Cities in the U.S.”
“Houston might be a big city, and sure you can spend days buying up the shopping malls, but for me the best thing has always been the boutiques that are somehow both 100% Southern and completely chic,” says stylist Kate Barash, a Houston native now living in Los Angeles.
If one-stop shopping is more your style, take a drive to Texas’s biggest mall, the Galleria, which boasts 2.2 million square feet of retail pleasure.
14. Houston is No. 5 on Budget Travel’s Top 10 Budget Destinations for 2011. “Houston is home to Texas's biggest shopping mall at 2.2 million square feet; 56,000 acres of green space; and the third most Fortune 500 companies in the country, but when it comes to prices, the U.S.'s fourth-largest city is all about scaling down. Hotel rates have dropped 5 percent since 2009 and four-star rooms are going for $96 according to a recent Hotwire report. And while the city has 8,000 restaurants and a growing culinary scene -- local restaurateurs Bryan Caswell and Monica Pope both snagged Best Chef nominations from the James Beard Foundation -- good grub doesn't require a splurge. The typical meal in Houston runs $32.50, more than $2.50 cheaper than the national average. Plus, the city is flexing its cultural muscle (the Houston Zoo just unveiled its African Forest exhibit), and encouraging tourists to explore to their heart's content with the Houston CityPASS, which offers access to any combination of six attractions -- Space Center Houston, Landry’s Downtown Aquarium and Museum of Fine Arts included -- for $39 (a bargain when you consider that a similar pass goes for anywhere from $64 in San Francisco to $79 in New York).”
15. Houston is No. 7 on Away.com’s list of Top 10 U.S. Art Cities. “The Museum District is a cluster of 18 museums, most notably the Museum of Fine Arts, the biggest museum in the Southwest, where an astonishing gold jewelry and artifact collection from Africa, Indonesia, and Latin America is displayed, as well as Roman, Egyptian, and Greek antiquities, two Rembrandts, one of the world's ten biggest photo collections (more than 20,000 photographs), and a robust American painting collection. A large Surrealist collection, starring Magritte, Ernst, and Picasso -- plus items they owned that spurred inspiration -- is showcased at The Menil Collection, which also features Pop Art from Warhol and Rauschenberg, and European and Near Eastern antiquities. The Menil campus in the leafy Montrose neighborhood also includes The Rothko Chapel, a stark octagonal chapel designed by Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko, and a Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum housing 13th-century frescoes for serene sanctuary. For truly offbeat art, the Orange Show is a wildly eccentric structure of mosaic tile, concrete, and found art that a self-taught artist built to celebrate his love of the orange, while in the Art Car Museum, autos are canvases for exuberant art. In Project Row Houses, avant-garde art is displayed in shotgun-style houses.”
Other Houston-area museums celebrate history, natural science, children, health, weather, beer, and funeral memorabilia. For a list of Houston-area museums, go to www.VisitHoustonTexas.com.
16. The 30,000-square-foot Lee and Joe Jamail Skate Park near downtown boasts the largest cradle in the world.
17. The Beer Can House is covered with siding made from 50,000 flattened beer cans.
18. The National Museum of Funeral History holds the nation’s largest display of historic funeral service memorabilia and artefacts.
19. Presidents and astronauts land at Ellington Field. Ellington Field, south of downtown, is a joint civil and military airport serving the needs of the U.S. military, NASA, and general aviation. That means it’s where Air Force One lands the President and where NASA astronauts fly home from shuttle missions.
Houston’s other two airports are George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), north of downtown, which offers service to more Mexican destinations than any other U.S. airport, and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), south of downtown .
20. Houston has the world’s largest livestock show and rodeo. Every February and March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo comes to town at Reliant Park. The largest livestock show in the world, the event attracts nearly two million visitors who come to view the animal exhibits, watch cowboys compete, and see their favorite music stars perform.
Houston Urban Adventures unlock the secrets of Houston and Texas. Join us on a Heart of the Tunnel Walk or a Historic Downtown Pub Crawl to find out what makes the city tick and get acquainted with the local food, culture, and traditions.
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