Manufacturing Industries

By: Clara H. Lewis and John R. Stockton

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: November 30, 2019

The development of the manufacturing industries in Texas has been that of the typical frontier region with its colonial economy in gradual shift from pastoral toward mature economic status. The Texas region has had the advantages of rich and varied natural resources, a geographic position encouraging the expansion of population, and the increase of transportation facilities. Utilization of these assets has come, predominantly, by export of the raw materials but increasingly by manufacture in Texas into semiprocessed and consumers' products, as rail lines have been laid and deep-water ports excavated, while the tide of American migration shifted westward. Prior to 1900 Texas industries were of either the kind that had necessarily come to the source of raw materials, such as lumbering, stone cutting, and brick manufacturing, or the kind that produce for the immediate demands of a local market, as the milling of flour and corn meal and the manufacture of harness and saddlery. Much industry was on a toll basis, notably early flour and grist milling; weaving, ceramics, stonework, and other industries were developed around the Spanish missions at San Antonio, but it was not until the period of Anglo-American colonization that permanent industrial development began. Lumbering and flour and grist milling were the first permanent industries established in Texas and remained the two leading industries throughout the early period of development. What was probably the first sawmill was built near San Augustine in 1825. One was built on Buffalo Bayou in 1831 and another on Adam's Bayou in 1836. A steam sawmill was constructed at Harrisburg in 1836 and another at Turner's Ferry in 1841. From a small beginning in the colonial period, sawmilling developed rapidly after independence was established, bringing a wave of immigration from the United States with a demand for homes. Probably the first power-driven gristmill in Texas was that at of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission in San Antonio. With Anglo-American colonization small horse and water driven buhrstone mills became numerous. Wine, brandy, rum, and whisky were also produced in Texas during the colonial and republic periods and even during the preceding mission era. As early as 1839 there were makers of natural cement, furniture, tin and sheet iron products, and saddlery and harness. Galveston was the principal industrial center. There had been quarrying and stonecutting at San Antonio during the Spanish era, and this industry spread northward as the westward tide of immigration reached the limestone-based Blackland and Grand Prairies. Sugar cane was used to manufacture sugar as early as 1844.

The annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845 brought on a new wave of immigration and public confidence that stimulated industrial development and pushed it inland from the coast. By 1850 the new capital city of Austin had a saddlery, boot and shoe shops, a wagon factory, tin and sheet metal works, and other industries. Two casting foundries and a woolen mill were in operation in the state. By 1857 four flour mills were located at Dallas and Lancaster, in Dallas County. Brick was made in Dallas as early as 1850. On Alum Creek, near Bastrop, a stoneware and pottery factory was operated. In Galveston, Hiram Close, M. L. Parry, and James A. Cushman produced steam engines, boilers, sugar mills, kettles, and other iron and brass products. I. F. W. Ahrens of that city manufactured saddles, harness, and furniture. Just prior to the Civil War development of the iron ores of East Texas began with a foundry at Kellyville. The cutting off of the state from industrial supplies brought into existence several war industries, including a woolen mill at Huntsville and a factory to produce cannon, caps, and cartridges at Austin (see CIVIL WAR INDUSTRY, and GUN MANUFACTURING IN TEXAS DURING THE CIVIL WAR). The economic stagnation during Reconstruction was short-lived. The census of 1860, on the eve of the war, had shown 3,449 wage earners and $3,209,930 total value of manufactured products. That of 1870 showed 7,927 wage earners and $5,244,209 value of products; that of 1880 12,159 and $7,753,659, respectively.

From the Civil War to the end of the century lumbering and flour and grist milling were the leading industries, except that cottonseed crushing supplanted flour and grist milling in second rank, according to the census of 1900. The rise of the cottonseed oil industry beginning with a small mill at High Hill in Fayette County in 1867 was the most significant development of the period. By 1900 this industry had climbed to second rank among Texas industries with $14,005,324 value of products, and it has remained among the leading Texas industries in each succeeding census. There was a rapid expansion of building materials manufacture and also of railroad construction and repair work. In 1891 the first permanent cotton mill was established at Dallas, and several others were constructed before the end of the century. There had been an earlier flurry of cotton and woolen mill building, growing primarily out of the dire need for fabrics during the Civil War, but these older mills disappeared prior to 1900. The Bastrop Cotton Mill was in operation in 1867 with 1,100 spindles, and there were cotton mills during this early period at Hempstead, Waco, Houston, Tyler, and Gonzales, while one at New Braunfels produced both cottons and woolens. Between thirty and forty corporations were formed to manufacture cotton and woolen goods, but most of them never were in operation. The most successful woolen mill prior to 1900 was the Slayden-Kirksey mill at Waco, which began about 1885 producing both cloth and men's suits. It operated successfully for more than a decade. During the 1880s and 1890s there was also considerable development of the iron industry, with blast furnaces at Rusk and New Birmingham in Cherokee County and at Jefferson in Marion County. One of these was state-owned and operated by prison labor. This industry declined later because of lack of a coal adaptable to the production of coke. Several small meat packing plants were established, though it was not until 1901 that the first two large plants were built at Fort Worth.

The beginning of the twentieth century was for several reasons a point of transition into a different era of industrial development. The discovery of the Spindletop oilfield, Texas's first great oil reservoir, was the outstanding single factor. As the first of a long series of petroleum discoveries, it marked the beginning of the greatest contribution from a single source to Texas economic expansion. In the preceding twenty years the cultivated acreage of Texas had increased from 12,650,314 to 19,576,076, and barbed wire fences had cut the range into ranches, giving stability to cattle raising. At the same time population had increased from 1,591,749 to 3,048,710, railroad mileage from 3,244 to 9,867, and commerce through the Gulf ports was getting under way. In 1901 two big slaughtering plants were established at Fort Worth by national packing companies, inaugurating an era of interest in Texas industrial opportunity by outside capital.

In the decade following 1900 the number of industrial wage earners almost doubled, and "value added by manufacture" more than doubled. At the same time there was a rapid increase in variety of manufactured products. This development continued until the Great Depression decade of 1930–40, in which there was a slight decline in number of wage earners. It was followed by the war industry boom of 1941–44 with a postwar decline, which, however, readjusted in 1945 to production of civilian goods at a level considerably higher than in 1940. The period from 1900 to World War I was characterized primarily by the development of petroleum refining. Progress was rapid during the 1910–20 decade, and the census of 1920 reported it as the leading industry of the state with $241,757,313 of products in the preceding year. Slaughtering and meat packing also developed rapidly, standing, with $42,530,000, in first place of products in 1909 and ranking second to petroleum refining in 1919 but with an increased value of $125,191,873. A number of cotton mills were built, and there was a rapid expansion of the clothing manufacturing industry, notably in Dallas. There was also rapid development of the building materials industries, including brick and tile, Portland cement, and gypsum products, in ice and ice cream manufacture, and in cabinet and millwork and furniture manufacture. World War I did not bring to Texas the new industries nor the decentralization of old ones, but it stimulated temporarily, and permanently in most instances, the development of basic factors favorable to Texas industrial development. Notably, it brought into production hitherto unutilized minerals.

The decade of 1920–30 was notable for the establishment of the first cheese, condensed milk, and general dairy products plants in Texas and also the first poultry packing plants with nation-wide markets. The first creamery in Texas was established at Terrell as early as 1885, but there had been only slow development of commercial production for other than local markets until 1925. Several new cotton mills were built during the 1920s. The Great Depression of the early 1930s brought an abrupt decline in Texas industrial payrolls and value of products, as well as a cessation of new industrial development. The decline was less than in most older industrial areas, however, and the census of 1940 showed a recovery almost to the level of that reported in the census of 1930. The six leading industries in value of products, according to the census of 1940, were (1) petroleum refining-$698,850,077; (2) meat packing (wholesale)-$85,461,048; (3) cottonseed (oil cake, meal, and linters)-$44,406,882; (4) flour and other grain-mill products-$41,250,858; (5) oilfield machinery and tools-$41,149,017; and (6) bread and other bakery products-$32,994,866. From the beginning of the century to World War II the value of manufactured products in Texas increased 1,647 percent, compared with a gain of 480 percent for the country as a whole.

The World War II period in Texas, 1941–45, brought greater industrial developments, as measured in number of wage earners and value and physical volume of products, than in all preceding history. No official census was taken during this period, but data from war agencies indicated that there were 380,000 wage earners in the early part of 1945 against 126,996 reported for 1939. There was a corresponding jump in the total value of products from $1,530,220,676 to $6,500,000,000. This great increase came from federal construction and subsidization of private industry expansion. Airplane building was centered largely at Dallas and Fort Worth; shipbuilding was centered at Houston, Galveston, and Orange; while ordnance was decentralized at smaller inland points, principally at Texarkana, Karnack near Marshall, McGregor near Waco, and Amarillo. There was also a revival of iron and steel industries during the war period both for the purpose of utilizing scrap iron and for consuming Texas native ores. The largest of these were the American Rolling Mill blast furnace and steel hearths at Houston, utilizing both scrap and ore, and the coke ovens and blast furnace of the Lone Star Steel Company at Daingerfield, constructed to utilize East Texas ore. A small plant was constructed at Rusk to smelt iron ores in charcoal furnaces for the production of pig iron and chemical by-products. These industries declined precipitately with the end of the war, but most other industries, including both the new ones and those that had been expanded to meet war needs, continued during the immediate postwar years to operate at capacity. Notable among the new industries were the synthetic rubber producing plants at Beaumont, Houston, and Borger. Several large chemical plants closed down or decreased operations, but the net result of the war period was a large permanent expansion of Texas chemical industries, of which the Dow plant at Freeport, producing magnesium and a number of other products from seawater was probably the largest. Because most Texas industries were primarily producers of basic manufactured products such as cement, flour, petroleum products, cottonseed oil products, lumber, and textiles, there was little problem of retooling either for conversion to war industry or for reconversion to peacetime production, a factor which aided in sustaining the level of Texas production during both critical periods. Notable among developments intended primarily for the postwar period were the construction of the DuPont nylon salt plant at Orange, the Celanese Corporation's chemical plant at Bishop, and the General Tire Company plant and the Owens-Illinois Glass Company factory, both at Waco.

The period after World War II continued the war-stimulated growth in Texas manufacturing. The first postwar census of manufactures gave data for 1947, which showed an increase over 1939 of 93 percent in production workers and 285 percent in value added by manufacture. By 1947 the conversion to peacetime activities was generally complete, so the comparison between 1939 and 1947 census figures reflects the permanent effect of the wartime expansion on Texas manufacturing. The increase in the value added by manufacture between 1939 and 1947 was due in part to the rise in the level of prices. The wholesale price index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics was 92 percent higher in 1947 than in 1939, but even after making allowance for this price increase the output of manufacturing plants doubled. The difference between the percentage increase in employment and in output represented the rise in the productivity of labor. Much of the manufacturing capacity added during the war was highly automated, resulting in increased output per worker. Both measures of manufacturing activity are significant, since a factory not only turns out products, but also provides jobs, which add to the total income in the state. The composition of Texas manufacturing in 1947, as shown by the census of manufactures, differed substantially from the prewar years. The greatest relative increase in value added by manufacture was in instruments, primary metals, chemicals, transportation equipment, paper and allied products, electronic machinery, and fabricated metals. The largest industry in 1939, petroleum refining, and the second largest, food processing, showed substantial growth and retained their respective positions in 1947, although their rates of growth were substantially below those registered by the smaller, newer industry groups. The postwar changes in Texas manufacturing in general were a continuation of trends established during the war. The greatest rate of growth between 1947 and 1967 was shown in electronic machinery, which was forty-one times as large in 1967 as in 1947. The value added by manufacture compiled by the Bureau of the Census is affected by changes in the level of prices, but during the period 1947 to 1967 the wholesale price index increased only 30.7 percent, so most of the rise in value added by manufacture reflected an increase in the physical volume of output.

The chemical industry, which was the fifth largest in the state in 1939 and third largest in 1947 had advanced to first place in 1967, with value added by manufacture almost nine times the 1947 level. Although the rate of increase in the chemical industry was lower than for electronic machinery, transportation equipment, and primary metals, its size makes the rate of growth it achieved spectacular. Twenty percent of the total increase in value added by manufacture for the entire state was concentrated in the chemical industry. Food processing dropped from second place in value added by manufacture in 1947 to fourth place in 1967 but continued by a wide margin to employ the largest number of persons of any industry group in the state. The disparity between the growth in the number of employees and value added by manufacture is the result of the difference in the productivity of labor, which is largely the result of variations in the amount of capital investment required by the industry. In 1967 the petroleum industry produced $75,970 of value added by manufacture per production worker, while the food-processing industry produced $22,941 per production worker. The apparel industry showed the lowest productivity per production worker at $7,198. It ranked third in employment in 1967 but tenth in value added by manufacture. Petroleum and coal products, which in Texas consist almost entirely of petroleum products, showed a value added by manufacture per production worker of $12,000 in 1947 and $75,970 in 1967. The number of production workers in the industry decreased 20 percent during the period, while value added by manufacture increased 400 percent. The chemical industry showed almost as high a value added by manufacture per employee as petroleum, $66,348. These two industries in 1967 represented 66 percent of the value added by manufacture in Texas but employed only 11 percent of the production workers.

In 1992 manufacturing represented 16 percent of the state's gross product; it generated $65 million. Manufacturers around the state employed 968,000 people, making them the fourth largest employer after the service industry, wholesale-retail trade industry, and state and local government. The three biggest manufacturing employers were industrial machinery makers with 111,000 employees, the electronics industry with 98,000 people, and food producers with 96,000 employees. The chemical industry continued to be a major employer with 86,000 jobs. The highest paid workers in manufacturing in 1990 were malt beverage employees, who averaged $20.25 an hour working 45 hours a week. The lowest paid work in the field was the textile employee who made an average of $6.12 for a 37-hour work week. Chemical workers maintained high wages with an average of $18 an hour for a 45-hour work week. These figures represent a decline in manufacturing from the early 1980s, but analysts in the 1990s predict that the industry will improve in coming years with the opening of markets in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. Many believe that growth in the computer industry will also improve the state of manufacturing in Texas. Defense transportation equipment, oilfield machinery, petroleum refining, and textile and apparel production are expected to continue to decline as they have been doing since the mid-1980s.

The major concentrations of manufacturing in Texas are in the northern portion of the state with a narrow strip across the blacklands to San Antonio and in the southeastern part of the state along the Gulf of Mexico. The Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange, Houston, and Galveston-Texas City standard metropolitan statistical areas reported 42 percent of the total value added by manufacture in the state in 1967. The Dallas and Fort Worth standard metropolitan statistical areas accounted for 28 percent of the total, leaving only 30 percent of the total for the remainder of the state. The standard metropolitan statistical areas not in the two major concentrations accounted for 15 percent of the total, with 15 percent in smaller cities throughout the state. Individual industries show a considerable degree of geographic concentration. Petrochemicals and refining activity are largely concentrated in the Beaumont-Port Arthur and Houston areas with smaller concentrations along the Gulf Coast, in the Panhandle, the Permian Basin, El Paso, and East Texas. Apparel plants are concentrated in the Dallas area and to an increasing degree along the Rio Grande and in San Antonio, where a large pool of labor is available. Food-processing plants are scattered throughout the state and are the major representatives of manufacturing industry in the lower Rio Grande valley. Aircraft and automobile production is largely concentrated in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas. The aircraft industry came to North Texas during World War II, and the automobile industry is market-oriented. In recent years defense cutbacks have made a major impact on the aircraft industry, with General Dynamics selling its Fort Worth fighter jet production facilities to Lockheed. Marine transportation manufacturing is found along the Gulf Coast, particularly in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange, Galveston-Texas City, and Houston standard metropolitan areas. The leading areas of concentration of the manufacture of electronic machinery and scientific instruments are Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth. Central Texas, in particular Austin, provides a home for computer hardware and software development in the state.

The future growth of manufacturing in Texas appears to be dominated by the new industries founded on recent advances in science and engineering. This does not mean that all growth will be concentrated in these industries, for other classifications may be expected to continue to expand with the growth of population in the Southwest. The fastest growth rates, however, are likely to be achieved by these science-oriented industries. The upward trend in the industries related to the exploration of space was given substantial support by the location of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, and future historians may find that the location of this facility in Texas will rank as important to the industrial history of the state as the discovery of oil at Spindletop, which ushered in the oil industry at the beginning of the century. The first impact of the center was felt by industry in the Houston area, but cities all over the state have benefitted from the attraction this facility has for supporting industries. The increased support of the leaders in the state for improvements in education from the elementary schools through the graduate schools is an encouraging sign, for the newer industries are influenced in their location by the quality of research and graduate-level teaching in the universities. It is also significant that a strong nucleus of science-oriented manufacturing firms in the state has developed. The firms that have developed instruments, the science of oil exploration, the manufacture of petrochemicals, aircraft, and electronic devices for civilian and military uses have attracted other science-oriented concerns. Industries of this type offer the greatest potential for expanding the manufacturing output of the state in the next decade. See also AERONAUTICS AND SPACE INDUSTRY , CEMENT PRODUCTION, CHEMICAL INDUSTRIES, CLOTHING MANUFACTURE, COTTONSEED INDUSTRY, ELECTRICAL POWER, ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY, FOOD PROCESSING, HIDE AND TALLOW TRADE, IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY, LEATHER INDUSTRY, LUMBER INDUSTRY, MEAT PACKING, MILLING, MINERAL RESOURCES AND MINING, OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY, PAPER MANUFACTURE, SYNTHETIC RUBBER MANUFACTURE, SHIPBUILDING, SUGAR PRODUCTION, TEXTILE INDUSTRY, and WATER POWER.

William R. Hogan, The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; rpt. 1969). Francis B. May, Economic Statistics of Texas, 1900–1962 (Austin: University of Texas Bureau of Business Research, 1964).

Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clara H. Lewis and John R. Stockton, “Manufacturing Industries,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 30, 2019