Lubbock, the county seat of Lubbock County, is located at the approximate center of the county (at 33°35' N, 101°51' W) at an elevation of 3,256 feet above sea level. The city, the largest on the South Plains, is on Interstate Highway 27, 327 miles northwest of Dallas and 122 miles south of Amarillo. Lubbock was founded as a part of the movement westward onto the High Plains of Texas by ranchers and farmers. More directly it was the result of a compromise between two groups of town promoters, one led by Frank E. Wheelock and the other by W. E. Rayner. In the fall of 1890 these groups abandoned their settlements, known respectively as Old Lubbock and Monterey, and agreed on December 19 of that year to combine into the new settlement. In 1876 the county had been named for Thomas S. Lubbock, former Texas Ranger and brother of Francis R. Lubbock, governor of Texas during the Civil War. As early as 1884 a federal post office called Lubbock existed at George W. Singer's store in Yellow House Canyon, in the northern part of the present-day city.
One of the first orders of business of the town promoters was to circulate a petition for the organization of the county. At the resulting election on March 10, 1891, Lubbock was duly elected county seat, and its permanence was assured. Settlers began to arrive. The town's first newspaper, the Lubbock Leader, began publication on July 31, 1891. Within three years the town had six lawyers and as many stores, a dentist, three land agents, a livery stable, two hotels, including the Nicolett, which had been moved across the canyon from the original settlement, and the county courthouse and jail. The jail also housed the school taught by Miss Minnie Tubbs, and there the Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists had begun holding regular services by the summer of 1891. Within a few years Lubbock had already begun to establish itself as a marketing center on the South Plains. But with its dusty, unpaved streets, its scattered rows of small wooden houses, each with its own windmill, and blasted by periodic dust storms, the town had little to distinguish it from scores of other rural settlements on the plains. Then, on October 25, 1909, the Santa Fe sent its first train south from Plainview. Lubbock incorporated as a city on March 16, 1909, and by the census of 1910 had 1,938 people. The population reached 4,051 by 1920. The first hospitals, the West Texas Sanitarium and the Lubbock Sanitarium, the predecessor of Methodist Hospital, appeared in 1917. Early physicians included Marvin C. Overton, Julian T. Krueger, J. T. Hutchinson, W. L. Baugh, and C. J. Wagner.
In 1923 the legislature authorized the establishment of Texas Technological College, and Lubbock won the contest for its location. By this time the civic infrastructure was well in place. A city election in 1917 provided for a commission city government to replace the mayor and city council, and in 1918 M. S. Ruby became the first city manager. In 1916 the city council authorized the building of a city electrical plant, which in time evolved into Lubbock Power and Light. By 1930 Lubbock had three banks with deposits of more than $5 million. Much of the city's growth and prosperity depended on production from the surrounding rich agricultural area, which during the 1930s was turning increasingly to cotton and sorghum culture as irrigation increased rapidly. In 1930 Lubbock had some sixty-seven wholesale outlets and an increasing number of manufacturing plants. By the 1980s it had 292 industrial establishments, including Texas Instruments, Gould's Pumps, Furr's Cafeterias, and Furr's, Incorporated. Lubbock was the wholesale trade center for fifty-one counties in West Texas and eastern New Mexico and the retail center for much of the same area. The city was also the world's leader in the cottonseed industry. By the 1980s Lubbock had thirteen banks with deposits approaching $1.5 billion, as well as five savings and loan companies.
Lubbock has had a newspaper throughout its history. After the Lubbock Leader was moved to Plainview in 1899, the Lubbock Avalanche was founded in 1900 and so named, editor J. J. Dillard said, because it was planned in secret so that it would hit the streets like an avalanche. The Plains Agricultural Journal began publication in 1922 and was absorbed by the Avalanche in 1926. As the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal it became an evening paper under longtime editor Charles A. Guy. After 1987 the Avalanche-Journal published only a morning edition. From 1933 to 1942 H. B. Adams was editor and publisher of the Lubbock County Herald, a weekly.
Transportation improved through the years; by the 1980s four major airlines-American, America West, Delta, and Southwest-were boarding more than half a million passengers at Lubbock each year. Lubbock was still being served by the Santa Fe, although the Burlington Northern had quit the city. By 1958 U.S. Highway 84 ran through the city from northwest to southeast, U.S. Highway 87 ran north and south, U.S. Highway 62/82 and State Highway 114 went through east to west, and a network of farm roads served the city.
Population growth intertwined itself with economic development. In the half century after its incorporation Lubbock grew from a population of 1,938 in 1910 to 128,068 in 1960, and during the decade 1940–50 it was the second most rapidly growing city in the country, lagging behind only Albuquerque. In the 1980s Lubbock ranked as the eighth largest city in the state, with a population of 187,000. Of these 70 percent were Caucasian, 21 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent black. By 2000 the population was 199,564. Like the county, the city of Lubbock has gone from being overwhelmingly Democratic to splitting its votes between both major parties. For president the city went Republican in nine of ten elections following that of 1952, voting for a Democrat only in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater. Balloting for governor and United States senator has been more evenly split, with Republicans winning six of fourteen gubernatorial races and nine of fourteen for senator. The city joined the county in supporting Republican Larry Combest for United States representative in 1984, 1986, and 1988.
From an area once called "a treeless, desolate waste of uninhabited solitude" Lubbock has grown to be a cosmopolitan, modern city. Texas Technological College became Texas Tech University in 1969 and a year later added its medical school, which grew into the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, with schools of medicine, nursing, and allied health. Added to the city's seven hospitals with more than 2,000 beds, the Health Sciences Center helped strengthen the city's status as the leading medical center on the South Plains. Reese Air Force Base had by the 1980s become an important economic part of Lubbock, though in 1995 it was scheduled to be closed. Lubbock's churches grew with the city so that by the 1980s there were some 250, including a Jewish synagogue. The city has had only one saloon, and that only very briefly soon after the town was founded. Lubbock remained legally dry until an election on April 9, 1972, made liquor by the drink, but not package sales, legal, and Lubbock abandoned its distinction as the largest dry city in the country.
As Lubbock grew it had difficulty in providing educational facilities. By the late 1980s it had forty elementary schools, eight junior highs, and five senior highs, as well as a variety of industrial, technical, and private schools. Lubbock Christian College opened in September 1957 and was restructured and renamed Lubbock Christian University in 1987. The Lubbock State School opened in 1969. The Lubbock Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1946 by William Harrod, who continued as its director until his retirement in 1985. He was followed briefly by Patrick Flynn and then in 1987 by Gürer Aykal. The Lubbock Civic Ballet was founded in 1969. On May 11, 1970, the city center was devastated by a tornado that took twenty-six lives and caused more than $135 million damage. The city quickly drew itself together and built a civic center, a library, and other replacements. With the Museum of Texas Tech and the National Ranching Heritage Center sixty-two parks, including Mackenzie State Recreation Area, three country clubs, and four public golf courses, Lubbock is well provided with recreation and cultural activities. Its arts festival in April of each year attracts large numbers of people, as do Las Fiestas Mexicanas and Juneteenth. The Lubbock Lake Site, an archeological site discovered in north Lubbock in 1936 near the site of Singer's store, has become internationally known for its unique and unbroken 11,000-year-old archeological record of early man. In 1988 it was designated the Lubbock Lake Landmark State Historical Site and subsequently the Lubbock Lake National Historic and State Archeological Landmark.