Mobile, Alabama, located at the junction of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay on the northern Gulf
of Mexico, is
the county seat for Mobile County. The population within the city limits was 198,915 during the 2000 census.
The Port of Mobile, the only seaport in Alabama, has always played a key role in the economic health of the city beginning with the city as a key trading center between the French and Native Americans down to its current role as the 9th largest port in the United States.
Mobile's Alabama State Docks underwent the largest expansion in its history by expanding its container processing and storage facility and increasing container storage at the docks by over 1,000% at a cost of over $300 million, thus positioning Mobile for rapid container processing growth.
In 2005 Austal USA, based in Mobile, expanded their production facility for US defense and commercial aluminum shipbuilding. Austal announced in late December upon winning another multibillion dollar defense contract it will yet again expand its facilities in downtown.
In 2007 German steel manufacturer ThyssenKrupp announced plans for a $4.65 billion steel mill, which upon completion in late 2009, will become the largest steel plant in the world with over 1,200 acres under roof at 7.7 million square feet. The new plant is currently under construction in northern Mobile County. Company officials state that 2,700 permanent jobs will be added to the local economy.
As one of the Gulf Coast's cultural centers, Mobile houses several art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera, a professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture. Mobile is known for having the oldest organized Carnival celebrations in the United States, dating to the 1700s of its early colonial period. It was also host to the first formally organized Carnival mystic society or "krewe" in the United States, dating to 1830.
Today, Mobile has the honor of having the tallest building in the state of Alabama, the RSA Tower.
Mobile began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. The city gained its name from the Native American Mobilian tribe that the French colonists found in the area of Mobile Bay. During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony for France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile first became a part of the United States of America in 1813. It then left that union in 1861 when Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, which collapsed in 1865.
From the 1830s onward, Mobile expanded into a city of commerce with a primary focus on the cotton trade. The waterfront was developed with wharves, terminal facilities, and fireproof brick warehouses. The exports of cotton grew in proportion to the amounts being produced in the Black Belt; by 1840 Mobile was second only to New Orleans in cotton exports in the nation. With the economy so focused on one crop, Mobile's fortunes were always tied to those of cotton, and the city weathered many financial crises.
Though Mobile had a relatively small slave-owning population compared to the inland plantation areas, it was the slave-trading center of the state until surpassed by Montgomery in the 1850s. By 1853, there were fifty Jewish families living in Mobile, including Philp Phillips, an attorney who was elected to the Alabama State Legislature and then to the United States Congress.
By 1860 Mobile's population within the city limits had reached 29,258 people; it was the 27th largest city in the United States and 4th largest in what would soon be the Confederate States of America. The free population in the whole of Mobile County, including the city, consisted of 29,754 citizens, of which only 1195 were black. Additionally, 1785 slave owners held 11,376 slaves, for a total county population of 41,130 people. For more details of slave trade, go to the Africa Town section.
During the American Civil War, Mobile was a Confederate city. The first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, the H. L. Hunley, was built in Mobile. One of the most famous naval engagements of the war was the Battle of Mobile Bay, resulting in the Union taking possession of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. On 12 April
1865, 3 days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, the city of Mobile surrendered to the Union army to avoid destruction following the Union victories at the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely.
Ironically, on 25 May 1865, the city suffered loss when some three hundred people died as a result of an explosion at a federal ammunition depot on Beauregard Street. The explosion left a 30-foot deep hole at the depot's location, sunk ships docked on the Mobile River, and the resulting fires destroyed the northern portion of the city.
Federal Reconstruction in Mobile began after the Civil War and effectively ended in 1874 when the local Democrats gained control of the city government. The last quarter of the 19th century was a time of economic depression and municipal insolvency for Mobile. One example can be provided by the value of Mobile's exports during this period of depression. The value of exports leaving the city fell from $9 million in 1878 to $3 million in 1882.