Silsbee is at the junction of U.S. Highway 96, State Highway 327, and Farm roads 92 and 418, twenty miles north of Beaumont in eastern Hardin County. Its origins can be traced to the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City Railway, which reached the site in 1894. A project of John Henry Kirby, the railroad was intended to open East Texas forest lands to the timber industry. The Texas Pine Land Association, also managed by Kirby, established a logging camp and then a sawmill at the site of Silsbee after the railroad was completed. The growing community was first called Mill Town but was soon renamed Silsbee in recognition of one of Kirby's East Coast partners, Nathan D. Silsbee.
The Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe system bought Kirby's Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City line and built mechanical shops and a roundhouse in Silsbee in 1901. It also extended a fifty-mile line to the Trinity River, thus giving access to still more East Texas forests. In 1902 the Kirby Lumber Company took control of the Silsbee sawmill, which had been leased to the Industrial Lumber Company. By 1907 the mill, rebuilt after a 1904 fire, was producing over twelve million board feet per year.
Independent of the Kirby interests, the South Silsbee Townsite Company was formed in 1906. South Silsbee was renamed Woodrow after President Woodrow Wilson and was home for many of the town's railroad workers. Woodrow had its own post office from 1913 to 1918. Another small community, Red Cut, was also laid out in the late 1900s. The separate communities gradually became part of Silsbee proper. The Silsbee Ice, Light, and Power Corporation received the right to supply electricity to patrons in Silsbee in 1921, when the town was defined to include residents of Silsbee, Old Town, South Silsbee or Woodrow, and Red Cut.
In 1936 a major oilfield was discovered north of Silsbee. Another large field was found west of town in 1941. The most productive of the wells had produced a cumulative total of more than 23 million barrels of crude oil by 1984. Silsbee also became a center for the area's truck and fruit farmers. The Kirby Lumber Company's consolidation at its huge new plant in Silsbee, completed in 1955, further solidified the local economy. The oil, railroad, timber, and agricultural resources provided residents with a diversified economic base. The Silsbee Bee, a weekly newspaper, has served the area since 1919. The town's population, set at 162 in 1904, was 2,525 in 1941 and had risen to 7,684 by 1980. Roughly one-third of these residents were black. In 1990 the population was 6,368. The population was 6,393 in 2000.