Galena Park is in a highly industrialized area near the Houston Ship Channel in eastern Harris County. The site was settled by Ezekiel Thomas, who received it as part of a grant from the Mexican government and moved there with his family in 1824. When Thomas died in 1835 the land was sold to Isaac Batterson, who built a small settlement on Buffalo Bayou and named it Clinton. During its early years Clinton was a farming and ranching community, but the development of the port of Houston after 1876 changed the character of the settlement. Clinton resident Charles Morgan, owner of the Morgan Steam Ship Company, dredged Buffalo Bayou and excavated a canal opposite Morgan's Point to open a channel for the port. He also built a cotton compress and constructed a railroad from the main line in Houston to a location opposite Buffalo and Sims bayous. Clinton continued to be the terminus for much of the bayou shipping until a turning basin was constructed in later years. By the early 1880s cotton warehouses and compresses were located along the bayou and railroad, and Clinton prospered in its new role as a railroad and shipping center.
In the early 1900s the petroleum industry began to take advantage of Clinton's prime location. The first refinery there was built by the Galena Signal Oil Company of Texas, which was later bought out by Texaco. Another refinery, established by C. D. Keen and W. C. Woolf of Shreveport, Louisiana, was eventually acquired by Gulf Oil Corporation. Other important early industries in Clinton included the United States Steel Company, which constructed an office and warehouse adjacent to the Southern Pacific terminal facilities in 1927. In 1935 Clinton changed its name to Galena Park, in honor of the oil company, after an initial request for a post office was denied because another Clinton, Texas, already had the name. In 1936 the town had 300 residents and twelve businesses. However, beginning in the late 1930s, with the development of Houston as a major port, Galena Park grew rapidly. In 1952 the population was 7,162. Growth continued until the mid-1970s, when the town reported a peak population of 12,645. Afterward, however, residents declined to 9,957 in 1988, when the town had 101 businesses. In 1990 the population was 10,033, and in 2000 it was 10,592. Since the 1940s the town has been considered a part of greater Houston. The original name survives in the town's main street, Clinton Drive.