Our Mobile – Past & Present
Founded by the French in 1702, Mobile is Alabama’s oldest city and, today a major port facility for the region and country. The city’s three-plus centuries of history have been inextricably tied to the development of its port and the economic prosperity of the adjoining area. The city hosted the first Mardi Gras festivities in North America and has a rich cultural heritage. Mobile was the final destination of the last enslaved Africans brought to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. During the turbulent years of the civil rights movement, Mobile earned a reputation of tolerance in part because of the absence of violent demonstrations seen in many southern cities. Today, Mobile continues to serve a crucial economic role as a major port facility for the country and region.
Spanish explorer Alonzo Álvarez Pineda first explored the area that would become Mobile in 1519 during a voyage on which he charted much of the Gulf of Mexico. Pineda met with local Indian groups in the interior along the Mobile River. Two decades later, Hernando de Soto, traveled to the area in search for gold. Unlike Pineda, de Soto’s encounters with local Indian peoples were violent and many Spanish troops and Indians were killed. In 1559, a final Spanish explorer, Tristán de Luna, established a short-lived settlement near Mobile. After a hurricane devastated the expedition, the Spanish government abandoned its search for gold in the area. It would be another century before a European country explored the Gulf Coast.
French interests in the region prompted the settlement of Mobile in 1702 by naval hero Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his younger brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. But this city was located up the Mobile River, near Twenty-Seven Mile Bluff, rather than at the mouth of the river.
Life in Old Mobile was difficult. Frequent floods and epidemics plagued the colonists. More dangerous, however, were the raids from Alabama Indians, who attacked the colonists, and the Mauvila Indians who lived near their fort. When an attack damaged the fort at Old Mobile beyond repair, Bienville finally convinced the colonists to move the city closer to the mouth of Mobile Bay and away from danger. Many of the Mobilian Indians relocated with the colonists.
Colonial Mobile was a city of limited size and potential, largely because of the stagnant economic prospects of the French (1702-1763), British (1763-1780), and Spanish (1780-1813) settlements in the New World. Mobile was, however, a key settlement along the Gulf of Mexico, and its location near the deep waters of the Gulf was coveted by the European powers seeking to gain a foothold in the region. It was the capital of French Louisiana until 1720 and, for a short time in the 1760s served as the temporary capital of British West Florida until the seat of government was moved to Pensacola. By the time Mobile became an American city in 1813, its population had already become multicultural, a trait that would distinguish it from other Alabama cities throughout its history. Yet it was not until American investment provided Mobile with much-needed capital to make improvements and strengthened its economic standing that the city experienced true growth. On November 20, 1818, just prior to Alabama’s statehood, the Alabama Territorial Legislature charter the city’s first bank, the Bank of Mobile, which would operate in the city until 1884. Wealthy businessmen financed new building projects that enhanced the potential of the city’s port. By the 1820s, Mobile became a major exporting center for Alabama and the South to markets in the northeast and Europe. Cotton proved to be the most profitable export of antebellum Mobile, and the city’s economic fortunes prospered along with the wealthy plantations of the interior region.
In recent years, large industrial developments have characterized the area around Mobile, including the Tennessee -Tombigbee Waterway and natural gas platforms along the coast. In 2010, German steel manufacturer Thyssen-Krupp opened a large facility just north of the city; now owned by AM/NS Calvert, it employs some 1,500 people. Several large hospitals in Mobile serve the region of south Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The workforce in Mobile, according to 2016 Census estimates, was divided among the following industrial categories:
Educational services, health care, and social assistance (26.2 percent)
Retail trade (12.8 percent)
Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (10.9 percent)
Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (10.5 percent)
Manufacturing (9.5 percent)
Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (5.6 percent)
Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.2 percent)
Other services, except public administration (5.1 percent)
Construction (4.9 percent)
Public administration (3.8 percent)
Wholesale trade (2.7 percent)
Information (2.1 percent)
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.6 percent)
Marcus Walker – Waters Edge Realty