Taft is on U.S. Highway 181 and the Southern Pacific Railroad near the center of San Patricio County. It originated shortly after the railroad crossed the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company land in 1886 as a flag stop installed at the request of Thomas M. Coleman. A company windmill nearby was known as the Mesquital Mill, and when Coleman-Fulton built cattle-shipping pens on the railroad the small company settlement that grew up was known as Mesquital. In 1900, when Joseph F. Green took over management of the company, he decided to build a town at the location. He named it Taft, after Charles P. Taft of Cincinnati, half-brother of President Howard Taft. The change in name took place in 1904, and a post office was opened that year with Imogene Warburton as postmistress. For the next seventeen years Taft was a company town. When Green took charge, all of the land in and around Taft was ranchland. In 1903 the company planted 200 acres in cotton near Taft. By 1909 2,300 acres were devoted to cotton, and Taft was fast becoming the agricultural center for the company. A surplus of buildings was available in Portland, Aransas Pass, and Rockport due to fizzled land booms; Green moved several across the open pastureland to Taft and started the nucleus of a town. A bunkhouse was moved from the ranch headquarters and later turned into a hotel. A school was established in the back of a warehouse, and several businesses were built on the south side of the railroad. The Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company sold improved acreage to farmers.
In 1909 the first dependable water supply on the Gulf Coast was discovered at Taft. Within a few weeks Coleman-Fulton started construction of an agricultural-industrial complex to process farm products. Funds were authorized to build a slaughter and packing house, a cold storage and ice factory, a light plant, a cottonseed oil mill, and cotton gins. Later a feed mill, a cotton compress, and a creamery were added. These industries enabled the company almost to guarantee anyone who bought land over the next two decades a market for agricultural products and enabled Coleman-Fulton to realize higher profits from its farm and ranch land. During the next decade the company town acquired a hospital, a bank, and a new school, which doubled as a meeting hall. In 1909 President Taft spoke in the school. In 1918 the directors decided to sell the entire ranch, including the city of Taft and its utilities, industries, and businesses. In June 1921 a huge auction attracted over 5,000 people, and the city of Taft was launched as a privately owned community. The company sold its last holdings in 1928. Green, who died in 1926, had purchased a considerable amount of choice land and several businesses in the sellout. In 1988 his heirs still owned part of the land. The company's last office, which also housed the two company-owned banks, now belongs to the Taft Blackland Museum, which displays pioneer items from the ranch era.
The city was incorporated in 1929 with Ben Ivey as mayor. In 1935 oil was discovered north of town, and the boom that followed helped Taft survive the Great Depression. During the 1930s, when local farmers began planting vegetables, packing sheds were built in Taft along the railroad. Vegetables continued to be packed in Taft until the 1950s, when the last shed was torn down. Two large grain elevators now serve the area farmers, who largely plant sorghum, cotton, and a limited amount of corn. Immediately after World War II Taft enjoyed a residential boom and growth in its school system. Retail business afterward declined, but jobs opening in industry, on the ship channel, and in Corpus Christi helped keep the population stable. The population in the city was estimated at 3,598 in 1988. In 1990 it was 3,222. The population was 3,396 in 2000.