Alvin is twelve miles southeast of Houston in northeast Brazoria County, on land originally granted to the Houston Tap and Brazoria Railroad. In the 1860s the Santa Fe Railroad established a flag station near the head of Mustang Slough on its Galveston-to-Richmond branch line. Santa Fe hired Alvin Morgan in 1872 to supervise the loading and shipping of cattle at the stock pens. Morgan built the first house in the area in 1879 and persuaded many travelers to settle there. In 1881 the settlement acquired a post office, and the residents named the community Morgan but renamed it Alvin upon learning of another Morgan, Texas. City folklore recalls Morgan's inseparable companions—a dog, a goose, and a white buzzard. Alvin was incorporated in 1891 and again in 1893.
By the mid-1890s Alvin had experienced a population explosion, with the number of residents increasing from 100 in 1890 to an estimated 2,000 by 1896. Businesses in the community included an ice factory, a pickle works, a cotton gin, a bank, an opera house, six hotels, four churches, and two weekly newspapers. Alvin's economy was based primarily on farming and fruit growing. Methodists organized the first church in Alvin in 1881, and other denominations soon followed: Baptist in 1886, Presbyterian in 1892, Episcopal in 1896, Nazarene in 1934, and Lutheran in 1938. Alvin's first public school classes met in the Methodist church building, but by the 1890s the school had facilities of its own. In 1910 the community raised funds for a two-story brick schoolhouse. Alvin became an independent school district in 1925. A community college opened at the high school in 1949 but moved to a separate campus in 1963.
Alvin had a population reported at 3,087 in 1940 and 3,701 by the mid-1950s. The community's economic growth was based on livestock, poultry, dairying, agriculture, jasmine, oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals. During World War II businessmen persuaded the United States government to place an internment camp in Alvin. About 500 Germans from the camp worked in the local canning factory and rice fields for two years.
Between 1960 and 1970 Alvin grew 89 percent, from 5,643 to 10,671. In addition to the public schools and community college, it had several private schools and more than 100 civic organizations. Alvin had 100 acres set aside for parks and recreational facilities in 1980. In 1988 the population stood at 18,484; in 1990 it was 19,220. By 2000 the population was 21,413. Annually, from July through November, the city braces for floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The Galveston hurricane of 1900 destroyed or damaged most Alvin businesses and homes. In 1979 tropical storm Claudette dumped forty-three inches of rain near Alvin within twenty-four hours, a state record. Four years later Alicia, generally called the most expensive storm in American history, battered the Alvin area (see WEATHER).
At least two Alvinites have achieved widespread recognition. Dr. F. R. Winn, an Alvin resident, was nationally praised for his 1898 Cuban Report to Theodore Roosevelt and his eyewitness newspaper report of the battle of Santiago. His distinguished record as medical corpsman in World War I brought international recognition and requests for assistance from foreign governments. Alvin's baseball superstar Nolan Ryan pitched for the New York Mets and California Angels before signing with the Houston Astros; he finished his career with the Texas Rangers in 1993, having set many major-league records, and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.