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This article traces the history of Dallas, Texas (USA).

Territorial Period (1500s-1838)

Flag of New Spain
Flag of New Spain, the viceroyalty of Spain in which Dallas was included

The Caddo inhabited the Dallas area before it was claimed, along with the rest of Texas, as a part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of New Spain in the 16th century. The area was also claimed by the French, but in 1819 the Adams-Onís Treaty officially placed Dallas well within Spanish territory by making the Red River the northern boundary of New Spain.

One European who probably visited the Dallas area was Athanase de Mezieres in 1778. De Mezieres, a Frenchman in the service of the King of Spain probably crossed the West Fork of the Trinity River near present-day Fort Worth, having followed the western edge of the Eastern Cross Timbers from the Tawakoni Village on the Brazos River near present Waco. He then proceeded north to the Red River. He wrote:

It is worthy to note that from the Brazos River on which the Tuacanas are established, and until one reaches the river which bathes the village of the Taovayzes (Red River), one sees on the right a forest that the natives appropriately call the Grand Forest. ...it is very dense, but not very wide. It seems to be there as a guide to even the most inexperienced, and to give refuge in this dangerous region to those who, few in number and lacking in courage, wish to go from one village to another. -De Mezieres

De Mezieres' biographer, Bolton, was convinced de Mezieres was describing the Eastern Cross Timbers and the route would have him crossing the West Fork of the Trinity River between the present Fort Worth and Arlington.

Present-day Dallas remained under Spanish rule until 1821, when Mexico declared independence from Spain, and the area became part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. The Republic of Texas broke off from Mexico in 1836 and remained an independent country for nearly 10 years.

Settlement (1839-1855)

John Neely Bryan, looking for a good trading post to serve Native Americans and settlers, first surveyed the Dallas area in 1839, perhaps drawn by the intersection of Caddo trails at one of the few natural fords for hundreds of miles along the wide Trinity floodplain. Bryan also knew that the planned Preston Trail was to run near the ford — the north-south route and the ford at Bryan's Bluff became more important when the United States annexed Texas in 1845.

After Bryan surveyed the area, he returned home to Arkansas. While there, a treaty was signed removing all Native Americans from Northern Texas. When he returned in November 1841, half of his customers were gone. He decided that, rather than a trading post, he would create a permanent settlement, which he founded in November 1841. In 1844 J. P. Dumas surveyed and laid out a 0.5 square miles (1.3 km2) section of blocks and streets near present downtown. The origin of the name is uncertain, as there were a number of people named Dallas who could have been the inspiration for the name.


In 1855, a group of European artists and musicians, notably French, Belgians and Swiss, set up a utopian community west of Dallas called "La Reunion". When that venture collapsed in 1857 many of the artists moved to Dallas, where they established the base of a culture which, a century and a half later, is reflected in creative neighborhoods like Deep Ellum (east of downtown), and lower Greenville Avenue.

Early years (1856-1873)

Dallas, Texas downtown map 1871
Map of central Dallas c. 1871

On 2 February 1856, Dallas was granted a town charter during the Regular session of the Sixth Texas Legislature. Samuel Pryor was elected the first mayor along with a constable, a treasurer-recorder, and six aldermen. By 1860, the town's population reached 678, including 97 African Americans (mostly enslaved), as well as Belgian, French, German, and Swiss immigrants. By that year, the railroad was approaching from the south, and several stage lines were already passing through the city.

In July 1860, a fire broke out in the square, destroying most of the buildings in the business district of Dallas. Out of fear, many white residents assumed that slaves were behind it, and two abolitionists were run out of town. They lynched three African-American slaves, and officials ordered all other slaves in Dallas to be whipped, as part of event that is known as the "Texas Troubles". On the eve of the Civil War in 1861, Dallas County voted 741-237 in favor of secession. On 8 June of that year, a state of war was declared, and citizens were very supportive of the effort. The town was a long way from any battles, and suffered no damage from the war.

The Reconstruction period brought many challenges for Dallas and some benefits for the state. On 19 June 1865 (Juneteenth), Texan slaves were emancipated, as announcement of the end of the war was delayed. Many African Americans migrated to Dallas after the war for work, because the city was thriving compared to other Southern cities. They also wanted to leave rural areas to escape the supervision of whites and establish their own communities. Freedmen's towns were scattered throughout Dallas. In attempts to maintain white supremacy, white insurgent veterans established a Ku Klux Klan chapter in 1868. By 1871, Dallas legally became a city. In 1869 the Reconstruction legislature established a funding mechanism to support public education for the first time, and authorized school districts to be set up across the state.

Notable Civil War veterans include William W. Ross. The Dallas Morning News states that, “William W. and Andrew J. Ross were early land owners who came to Dallas in 1866. One was a Civil War veteran, but, both men were farmers and real estate developers.” Ross Avenue is named in honor of the two brothers and bisects the land they formerly owned. In 2009, a Nevada-based clergy group proposed that Ross Avenue be renamed after the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.

The major north-south (Houston and Texas Central Railroad) and east-west (Texas and Pacific Railway) Texas railroad routes intersected in Dallas in 1873, thus ensuring its future as a commercial center. The arrival of the trains also meant soaring populations — the population of Dallas shot from 3,000 in early 1872 to more than 7,000 in September of the same year. New buildings and new businesses appeared daily. Dallas was the epicenter of the markets for raw materials and commodity crops, such as grains and cotton, which were shipped to the South and East. It was also the "last chance" stop for supplies for people traveling west

Industrial Period (1874-1929)

Dallas, Texas Map 1905
Dallas in 1905

The Industrial Period saw Dallas grow from a center of farming and ranching into a major, self-sustaining industrial city. The industrial growth in Dallas formed partially out of problems hurting Dallas area farmers: After buying supplies on credit during the year, farmers owed merchants the majority of their crop. Costs to ship to the coast were very high, and the price of cotton was dropping.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Advertisement 1881
An advertisement for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in an 1881 Dallas city directory

By 1880, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, under the leadership of Jay Gould, reached Dallas. In 1885, the Main Street was lit with electricity. In 1888, the Dallas Zoo opened making it the first zoological garden in the state.

In 1890, Dallas annexed the city of East Dallas, which was larger geographically than Dallas. The annexation made Dallas the most populous city in Texas. In 1893, following the national financial panic, numerous industries and five Dallas banks failed. Cotton prices dipped below five cents a pound, and the lumber and flour markets had all but vanished, so many people began leaving the city. By 1898, the city began to recover and grow again. In 1894, Parkland Memorial Hospital opened just west of Oak Lawn. In 1903, Oak Cliff, a city across the Trinity River, was annexed.

By the turn of the 20th century, Dallas was the leading drug, book, jewelry, and wholesale liquor market in the Southwestern United States. It also quickly became the center of trade in cotton, grain, and even buffalo. It was the world's leading inland cotton market, and it still led the world in manufacture of saddlery and cotton gin machinery. During the early 20th century, Dallas transformed from an agricultural center to a center of banking, insurance, fashion retailing and other businesses. Founded here were Neiman Marcus and the now-defunct A. Harris and Sanger Brothers ready-to-wear stores. The 14-story Praetorian Building was the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi River and the tallest building in Texas.

Texan blacks, Mexican Americans and poor whites were excluded from much of the progress by being disfranchised when the state legislature imposed a poll tax in 1902. In addition, it had earlier established Jim Crow laws, making racial segregation legal and imposing white supremacy.

Dallas, Texas Trinity Flood 1908
The Trinity River flooding on 8 July 1908.

In 1908, the Trinity River flooded, reaching a depth of 52.6 feet (16.03 m) and a width of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Five people died, 4,000 were left homeless, and property damages were estimated at US$2.5 million. After the flood, the city wanted to take action to control the Trinity and to build a bridge linking Oak Cliff and Dallas. In 1911, George Kessler, a city planner, created a plan for both the Trinity and the city. His plans were initially ignored but ultimately brought back, updated, in the 1920s. By the 1930s, many of his plans had been realized.

The expansion of industrial jobs attracted migrants from across the region, as well as weaves of immigrants, first from southern and eastern Europe. Many neighborhoods of Dallas have demonstrated the process of ethnic succession, whereby immigrants or migrants move into lower cost housing until they can get established. One group moves out to newer housing and another new group fills the area. For instance, Polish Jewish immigrants settled together beginning in the late 19th century. As they got established, they gradually moved to newer housing.

The area bordered by Maple Avenue, McKinney Avenue and the MKT (Missouri, Kansas, Texas) Railroad became known as Little Mexico following 1910, when it was settled by a wave of Mexican immigrants, who left the disruption following the defeat of President Porfirio Diaz and his government, and the start of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Mexicans from all walks of life came to the Dallas area to take jobs in factories, agriculture and the railroads.

In 1911, Dallas was chosen as the location of the eleventh regional branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. That year millionaire Dr. William Worthington Samuell, purchased the first ambulance for the city of Dallas, and later donated thousands of dollars to expand Parkland Hospital.

The growth of aviation generated new development in the city in World War I. Love Field was established as an aviation training ground. Fair Park was the home of Camp Dick, a training facility as well. The city purchased Love Field in 1927 to use as a municipal airport. In 1915, Southern Methodist University opened.

Oil Period (1930-1945)

Elm St at night Dallas TX 1942
Night view of Elm Street, January 1942

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, business in construction was flourishing in 1930. That year, Columbus Marion "Dad" Joiner struck oil 100 miles (160 km) east of Dallas in Kilgore, spawning the East Texas oil boom. Dallas quickly became the financial center for the oil industry in Texas and Oklahoma. Banks made loans to develop the oil fields, and Dallas became the financial center for all oil fields in the Texas Panhandle, the Permian Basin, East Texas, Gulf Coast, and Oklahoma. This put off most thoughts of depression until the middle of 1931, when falling prices and overproduction affected the city economy negatively. By then, more than 18,000 people in the city were unemployed. Before the New Deal policy began, the city had a work-for-food program that helped many.

After a long campaign in the years leading up to 1936, the state of Texas chose Dallas as the site of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. More than fifty buildings were built for the Exposition in Fair Park, and 10 million visitors came to see the US$25 million spectacle (US$384 million in today's terms).

During World War II, Dallas served as a manufacturing center for the war effort. In 1942, the Ford Motor plant in Dallas converted to war-time production, producing only jeeps and military trucks. In 1943 the city began war rationing, with 376,085 ration books distributed.

Mid Century (1946-1974)

Kennedys arrive at Dallas 11-22-63
President Kennedy and his wife Jackie arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963

In 1958 a version of the integrated circuit was invented in Dallas by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments; this event punctuated the Dallas area's development as a center for high-technology manufacturing (though the technology Mr. Kilby developed was soon usurped by a competing technology simultaneously developed in the "Silicon Valley" in California by engineers who would go on to form Intel Corporation). During the 1950s and 1960s, Dallas became the nation's third-largest technology center, with the growth of such companies as Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV Corporation) and Texas Instruments. In 1957, developers Trammell Crow and John M. Stemmons opened a Home Furnishings Mart, designed by Donald H. Speck, that grew into the Dallas Market Center, the largest wholesale trade complex in the world. The same year, the Dallas Memorial Auditorium (now the Dallas Convention Center) opened near Canton and Akard Streets in what is now the Convention Center District of downtown. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Elm Street while his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. The upper two floors of the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, the Texas School Book Depository, have been converted into a historical museum covering the former president's life and accomplishments.

Recession (1986-1995)

From the mid-1980s to 1995, not a single highrise structure was built within the downtown freeway loop. Over-speculating, over-building, the Savings and Loan crisis, and the early 1980s recession practically destroyed the city economically. In 1989, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center opened in the Arts District of downtown. Dallas celebrated a major landmark during this period, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 1991.

Current Period (1996-present)

W Dallas Victory Hotel and Residences
Construction in Victory Park in early 2005

In the late 1990s, the booming telecom industry exploded in Dallas, especially in areas like Las Colinas and the Telecom Corridor. During this time, Dallas became known as Texas's Silicon Valley, or the "Silicon Prairie". Another recession prompted by the dot-com bubble-burst and the 2001 terrorist attacks hurt several of the city's vital industries. By 2004, signs of an economic turnaround began to appear. In 2005, three towers began construction amid tens of residential conversions and smaller residential projects. By the year 2010, the North Central Texas Council of Governments expects 10,000 residents to live within the loop. Just north, Uptown is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. At the beginning of 2006, nine highrise residential buildings or hotels were under construction in that area. Leading the way is the $500M phase two of Victory Park, a $3B+ project. At full build-out, it should contain more than 4,000 residences and 4M ft² of office and retail space.

The Arts District in downtown is also expected to become a major point of growth. As the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation implements construction on several new projects in its master plan for the area. When the new Winspear Opera House (Foster and Partners) and Wyly Theatre (Office for Metropolitan Architecture - Rem Koolhaas) join the existing Nasher Sculpture Center (Renzo Piano) and Meyerson Symphony Center (I.M. Pei and Partners), Dallas will be the only city in the world that has four buildings within one contiguous block that are all designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winners.

On May 31, 2016, several cities experienced record setting flooding.

On July 7, 2016, multiple shots were fired at a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas, held against the police killings of two black men from other states. The gunman, later identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, targeted police officers, killing five and injuring nine. Two bystanders were also injured. This marked the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the September 11 attacks. Johnson told police during a standoff that he was upset about recent police shootings of black men and wanted to kill whites, especially white officers. After hours of negotiation failed, police resorted to a robot-delivered bomb, killing Johnson inside El Centro College.

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