Odessa, the largest town and county seat of Ector County, is the chief shipping point for the surrounding livestock area as well as a center for the oil and gas industry. Located at 31°51' north latitude and 102°22' west longitude in the heart of the vast oil-rich area known as the Permian Basin, it is 321 miles west of Fort Worth and 280 miles east of El Paso on the Texas and Pacific Railway. U.S. highways 80 and 385 and Interstate Highway 20 are the major transportation links. The warm dry climate and 300 days of sunshine per year make it a haven for retirees from the colder climates. Situated at the hub of West Texas, Odessa traces its founding to the extension of the Texas and Pacific Railway across the South Plains in July 1881, and to a real estate promotion by the Odessa Land and Townsite Company. A local legend associates the town name with a Native American princess who wandered into the railroad camp of the Texas and Pacific Railroad. Used as a water stop by the railroad, Odessa was more likely named by the railroad workers who thought the region resembled their home in Odessa, Russia. In 1885 C. W. Rathburn became the first postmaster of the newly established post office. The actual platting of Odessa took place in 1886; 300 acres of the original townsite are now at the center of the city's downtown. Odessa became the county seat when Ector County was formally organized in January 1891. In 1927 it incorporated as a city and elected its first mayor, S. R. McKinney.
Odessa was a sleepy little cowtown until the first producing oil well in the county was brought in on the W. E. Connell ranch, about sixteen miles southwest of Odessa, on December 28, 1926. Its limited production of twenty barrels a day did not bring about an immediate boom, but with the opening of Penn Field in 1929 and Cowden Field in 1930, Odessa became an established oil center and grew rapidly. In 1925, just prior to the discovery of oil, the population in Odessa was 750; by 1929 it had risen to 5,000. As the demand for oil grew during World War II the population exceeded 10,000, and Odessa became the world's largest inland petrochemical complex. In the 1950s and 1960s the population rose to over 80,000. The Petrochemical Complex began operations in 1957–58 as the nation's first privately financed, fully integrated plant for synthetic rubber manufacture. The plant, a joint venture of El Paso Natural Gas Company and General Tire and Rubber Company, was designed to use waste products from gas and oil production to make the rubber. From this beginning Odessa developed as a major distribution and processing point in the petrochemical industry. The city's economy has long been subject to the boom and bust cycles of the oil patch linked to fluctuations in world demands for petroleum products. These cycles, normally in ten-year intervals, began in the 1920s with the discovery of oil in the area. Realizing that petroleum is a nonrenewable resource, Odessa's leadership has begun to look for other means of support for its economy. Efforts to aid in diversifying the economic base include the establishment of the Center for Energy and Economic Diversification by the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in 1990.
The Ector County school system's three high schools—Odessa, Permian, and the Career Center—are located in Odessa. Odessa and Permian high schools are widely known for their football prowess; Odessa High won the Texas state high school championship in 1946, and Permian High captured it in 1965, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1989, and 1991. Higher educational needs are served by Odessa College, a two-year community college founded in 1946 under the guidance of Murry Fly, and by the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, which began classes in 1973. Medical care in the city is provided by Medical Center Hospital, a general hospital and teaching facility for Texas Tech Regional Academic Health Center's residency programs; Odessa Regional Hospital (formerly Women's and Children's Hospital), a medical facility handling obstetric, gynecologic, and pediatric patients; and the Permian Basin Rehabilitation Center for speech, hearing, and orthopedic therapy.
Since its origin Odessa has grown from a cattle-shipping point to an influential urban center. In the 2000 the area within the city limits was just under 4,000 acres and the population was 90,943. Odessa's water supply comes from lakes on the Colorado River (see COLORADO RIVER MUNICIPAL WATER DISTRICT) supplemented by wells in Ward and Ector counties. It has a council-manager form of government, with a mayor and five councilmen. The annual Sand Hills Hereford and Quarter Horse Show and Rodeo is the first rodeo of the year for those following the rodeo circuit. Odessa is home to the only museum in the United States devoted exclusively to the office of the presidency (dedicated in 1965) and to an authentic replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Globe of the Great Southwest, located on the Odessa College campus. Odessa boasts the world's largest jackrabbit, whose temporary home is in front of the Ector County Independent School District administration building; the Meteor Crater at Odessa, one of the nation's largest known craters; and the internationally famous Odessa Chamber of Commerce Chuck Wagon Gang, founded in 1940, which serves as a goodwill ambassador for Odessa. Thousands have enjoyed the barbecue served up by this group made up of business and professional men who donate their services. The Permian Basin Oil Show is a biannual event staged at the Ector County Coliseum and features more than 600 exhibitors of oilfield products. Odessa's museums and theaters include the Permian Playhouse, the Art Institute for the Permian Basin, and the White-Pool House. The latter, built in 1887, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Texas Recorded Historical Landmark and a Texas Archeological Landmark.