The State of Texas

AT A GLANCE

Name: Texas is a Spanish version of a Native American word meaning «friends» or «allies.»
Nickname: Lone Star State
Capital: Austin
Size: 266,874 sq. mi. (691,201 sq km)
Population: 27,469,114 (2015 est)
Statehood: Texas became the 28th state on December 29, 1845.
Electoral votes: 34 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 30 (until 2016)
State tree: pecan
State flower: bluebonnet
State bird: mockingbird
Highest point: Guadalupe Peak, 8,749 ft. (2,667 m)

Texas map

THE PLACE

As the second-largest state in the United States, Texas is larger than Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin combined. Land along the Gulf of Mexico coast is low and has subtropical weather. The Rio Grande, which ends in the Gulf of Mexico and forms part of the boundary between the United States and Mexico, is surrounded by some of the most fertile soil in Texas. Toward the interior of Texas, the land is characterized by rolling plains, with a number of hills and forests. Under the fertile soil of these plains lie oil deposits that have made Texas the nation’s leader in the production of petroleum.

The Great Plains region reaches down from Canada into Texas and forms the state’s Panhandle, or the region where it runs along New Mexico and Oklahoma. The western Panhandle is treeless grassland; the southern Panhandle lies above the underground Permian Basin, the site of the state’s best deposits of oil and natural gas. Western Texas consists of dry and level plains crossed by spurs, or extensions, of the Rocky Mountains known as the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos Ranges. A number of sandbars lie off the coast of Texas, including Padre Island.

About 15 percent of Texas is forested, and more than 500 kinds of grasses grow in the state. The greatest mineral resources are oil and natural gas.

Texas also benefits from fertile soil, which enables farmers to grow many kinds of crops.

Climate varies throughout the state. The Rio Grande Valley is the warmest place in Texas; the coldest area is the Panhandle in the northwest. The Gulf Coast has a warm, humid climate with mild winters; central Texas is mild, but northeastern Texas is cold. More rain falls in the eastern portion of Texas than the other regions.

Facts and Firsts

  • Texas is the second-largest state in the United States, smaller than only Alaska. Texas’s King Ranch is bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
  • Texas is the only state that has been part of six different nations, including Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States. Texas was once an independent country and therefore is the only state to have entered the United States by treaty instead of territorial annexation.
  • Three of the 10 most populous U.S. cities are in Texas: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.
  • Texas produces more cotton, cattle, and sheep than any other state.
  • Texas is home to the largest herd of whitetail deer in the United States.
  • Central Texas is sometimes called the Silicon Valley of the South because it is home to major computer companies such as Dell and Compaq.
  • In 1885, the soft drink Dr. Pepper was invented in Waco.

THE PAST

Spain was the first European country to claim the area that is now Texas. Explorers who traveled northward from Spain’s Mexican settlements in 1519 returned with tales of fabulous gold and silver deposits. The Spanish sent many expeditions to look for “golden cities” known as the Seven Cities of Cibola. In 1682, Franciscan friars built the first Spanish settlements in Texas—Catholic missions near present-day El Paso. Very soon, most of Texas was part of Mexico. Although the French began to explore northern Texas in 1685, their attempts to settle there were unsuccessful.

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and Texas then became part of the country of Mexico. Mexico gave permission for a growing number of Americans to settle in the area. Mexican officials soon became alarmed, however, because American settlements grew rapidly.

In 1834, Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna overthrew Mexico’s government and made himself dictator. American settlers were outraged, and revolted against the new Mexican leader. Texas rebels lost a bloody battle at the Alamo, a Spanish mission, but a small army led by Texas hero Sam Houston later captured Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto. In 1836, the Republic of Texas was founded, with Houston as president.

When Texas joined the United States in 1845, an outraged Mexican government contested the state’s borders. The United States, easily provoked into war, gained Texas and other southwestern lands as a result of victory in the Mexican-American War.

In 1861, Texas left the Union to join the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war ended in 1865, cattle ranches became numerous in Texas, and cowboys drove their cattle north to railroad centers in Kansas and Missouri to be shipped east. Oil was discovered in 1866, which prompted the construction of oil refineries and manufacturing plants. Between 1900 and 1920, railroads and irrigation systems were completed.

Texas industries continued to expand during World War II, when the state was the training site for more than a million American soldiers. In 1962, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established a Manned Spacecraft Center at Houston, which is now the control center for all piloted space missions.

This facility, renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973, helped attract many other space research facilities and corporations to Texas during the following decades.

THE PRESENT

Texas is the second-most populous state, after California. People of many backgrounds and races live there. A large majority of the Texas population lives in metropolitan areas, including Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Texas’s natural resources have helped to make it one of the wealthiest states. Texas leads the country in oil production — drilling and refining about one-third of the nation’s oil—and natural gas mining.
The agricultural industry contributes to the state’s economy, and Texas has more farmland than any other state.

Mild winters and rich grasses allow cattle to graze outdoors year-round, and as a result, Texas produces more beef cattle than any other state. Northeastern Texas has a number of dairy farms, while the central plains and the Panhandle have most of the state’s hog farms. Cotton is the leading agricultural crop, and Texas produces more of it than any other state. Corn, hay, rice, and wheat also grow well on the plains of Texas.

Although Texas’s economy has traditionally depended on its production and processing of oil and natural gas, unrelated industries have flourished during recent decades. Major retail stores, including J.C. Penney, 7-Eleven, and Radio Shack, have headquarters in the Dallas–Fort Worth area.

Important transportation companies, such as Continental Airlines and American Airlines, are also headquartered there. Texas companies produce benzene, ethylene, fertilizers, propylene, and sulfuric acid in plants along the Gulf Coast. Factories also manufacture computer and office equipment. Texas Instruments, which produces calculators, electronics equipment, and military communications systems, has factories throughout Texas.

Born in Texas

  • Alvin Ailey Jr., dancer and choreographer
  • Mary Kay Ash, cosmetics entrepreneur
  • Gene Autry, singer and actor
  • Carol Burnett, comedienne
  • Laura Welch Bush, first lady
  • Joan Crawford, actress
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. president and general
  • Buddy (Charles Hardin) Holly, musician
  • Howard Hughes, industrialist and film producer
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. president
  • Tommy Lee Jones, actor
  • Janis Joplin, singer and composer
  • Scott Joplin, composer
  • Willie Nelson, singer
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, jurist
  • Quanah Parker, last chief of the Comanche
  • Selena (Quintanilla) Perez, singer
  • Katherine Ann Porter, novelist
  • Dan Rather, television newscaster
  • Robert Rauschenberg, artist
  • Nolan Ryan, athlete
  • Sissy (Mary Elizabeth) Spacek, actress
  • Rip Torn, actor