Mobile is the third most populous city in the U.S. state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. The population within the city limits was 198,915 as of the 2000 census. Mobile is the principal municipality of the Mobile Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 399,843 residents which is composed solely of Mobile County and is the second largest MSA in the state. Mobile is included in the Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope Combined Statistical Area with a total population of 540,258, the second largest CSA in the state.
The earliest origins of Mobile began with a Muskhogean Native American people in the fortified Mississippian town of Mauvila, also spelled Maubila, which Hernando de Soto's Spanish expedition destroyed in 1540. This earlier town is believed to have been further north than is the current city, but the later Mobilian tribe that the French colonists found in the area of Mobile Bay is theorized by scholars to have been descended from this earlier group of people. It is from this latter tribe that Mobile gained its name. The city began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702, and 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, left the United States with Alabama in 1861 to become a part of the Confederate States of America, and then back to the United States in 1865.
Located at the junction of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay on the northern Gulf of Mexico, the city is the only seaport in Alabama. The Port of Mobile 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 10th largest port in the United States.
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/Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, as well as the oldest Carnival mystic society, dating to 1830. People from Mobile are known as Mobilians.
The settlement of Mobile, then known as Fort Louis de la Louisiane, was first established in 1702, at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on the Mobile River, as the first capital of the French colony of Louisiana. It was founded by French Canadian brothers Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in order to establish control over France's Louisiana claims with Bienville having been made governor of French Louisiana in 1701. Mobile’s Roman Catholic parish was established on 20 July 1703, by Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec. The parish was the first established on the Gulf Coast of the United States. The year 1704 saw the arrival of 23 women to the colony aboard the Pélican, along with yellow fever introduced to the ship in Havana. Though most of the "Pélican girls" recovered, a large number of the existing colonists and the neighboring Native Americans died from the illness. The population of the colony fluctuated over the next few years, growing to 279 persons by 1708 yet descending to 178 persons two years later due to disease.
These additional outbreaks of disease and a series of floods caused Bienville to order the town relocated several miles downriver to its present location at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay in 1711. A new earth and palisade Fort Louis was constructed at the new site during this time. By 1712, when Antoine Crozat took over administration of the colony by royal appointment, the colony boasted a population of 400 persons. In 1713 a new governor was appointed by Crozat, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of Detroit. He did not last long due to allegations of mismanagement and a lack of growth in the colony, and he was recalled to France in 1716. Bienville again took the helm as governor, serving the office for less than a year until the new governor, Jean-Michel de Lepinay, arrived from France. Lepinay, however, did not last long either due to Crozat's relinquishing control of the colony in 1717 and the shift in administration to John Law and his Company of the Indies. Bienville found himself once again governor of Louisiana and in 1719 decided to move the capital elsewhere.
The capital of Louisiana was moved to Biloxi in 1720, leaving Mobile relegated to the role of military and trading outpost. In 1723 the construction of a new brick fort with a stone foundation began and it was renamed Fort Condé in honor of Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon and prince of Condé. Mobile would maintain the role of major trade center with the Native Americans throughout the French period, leading to the almost universal use of Mobilian Jargon as the simplified trade language with the Native Americans from present-day Florida to Texas.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the French and Indian War. The treaty ceded Mobile and the surrounding territory to the Kingdom of Great Britain, and it was made a part of the expanded British West Florida colony. The British changed the name of Fort Condé to Fort Charlotte, after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, King George III's queen. The British were eager not to lose any useful inhabitants and promised religious tolerance to the French colonists, ultimately 112 French Mobilians remained in the colony. In 1766 the population was estimated to be 860, though the town's borders were smaller than they had been during the French colonial efforts. During the American Revolutionary War, West Florida and Mobile became a refuge for loyalists fleeing the other colonies. The Spanish captured the town in 1780 during the Battle of Fort Charlotte. The Spanish wished to eliminate any British threat to their Louisiana colony, which they had received from France in 1763s Treaty of Paris. Their actions were also condoned by the revolting American colonies due to the fact that West Florida remained loyal to the British Crown. The fort was renamed Fortaleza Carlota, with the Spanish holding Mobile and the surrounding Mobile District as a part of Spanish West Florida until 1810 when the Mobile District became part of the briefly independent Republic of West Florida. The Spanish continued to hold onto the town of Mobile itself until 1813, when the weakly defended port was seized by the U.S. General James Wilkinson during the War of 1812.
When Mobile was captured by the United States and made a part of the Mississippi Territory in 1813 the population had dwindled to roughly 300 people. The city was included in the Alabama Territory in 1817, after Mississippi gained statehood. Alabama was granted statehood in 1819 and Mobile's population had increased to 809 by that time. As the inland areas of Alabama and Mississippi were settled by farmers, Mobile came to be settled by merchants, attorneys, mechanics, doctors and others seeking to capitalize on trade with these upriver areas. With its location at the mouth of the Mobile River, a river system that served as the principal navigational access for most of Alabama and a large part of Mississippi, Mobile was well situated for this purpose. By 1822 the population was 2800.
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 fire-proof brick warehouses. The exports of cotton grew in proportion to the amounts being produced in the Black Belt and by 1840 Mobile was second only to New Orleans in cotton exports in the nation. With the economy so focused on this one crop, Mobile's fortunes were always tied to those of cotton and the city weathered many financial crises during this period. 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 population in the whole of Mobile County, including the city, consisted of 29,754 free citizens, of which 1195 were African American.
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 the 12th of 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 the 25th of 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 (9 m) 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 after the war saw the economy in near total ruin. Reconstruction in Mobile 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. The aftermath of the war left Mobile with a spirit of governmental and economic caution that would limit it for a large part of the next century.
The turn of the century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile and saw Mobile's economic structure evolve along with a significant increase in population. The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbor improvements, which drastically deepened the shipping channels in the harbor. During and after World War I manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile's economic health with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important.
World War II led to a massive military effort causing a considerable increase in Mobile's population, largely due to the huge influx of workers coming into Mobile to work in the shipyards and at the Brookley Army Air Field. Between 1940 and 1943, over 89,000 people moved into Mobile to work for war effort industries. Mobile was one of eighteen U.S. cities producing Liberty ships at its Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company to support the war effort by producing ships faster than the Axis powers could sink them. Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation, a subsidiary of Waterman Steamship Corporation, focused on building freighters, Fletcher class destroyers, and minesweepers. The years after World War II brought about changes in Mobile's social structure and economy. Instead of shipbuilding being a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to take over and most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the city council and former mayor, Mike Dow, began an effort termed the "String of Pearls Initiative" to make Mobile into a competitive, urban city. This effort would see the building of numerous new facilities and projects around the city and the restoration of hundreds of other historic downtown buildings and homes. This period also saw a 50% reduction in the rate of violent crime and a concerted effort by city and county leaders to attract new business ventures to the area. The effort continues into the present with new city government leadership. Shipbuilding began to make a major comeback in Mobile with the founding in 1999 of Austal USA, a joint venture of Australian shipbuilder, Austal, and Bender Shipbuilding.
The 2000 census determined that there were 198,915 people residing within the city limits. Mobile is the center of Alabama's second-largest metropolitan area, which consists of all of Mobile County. Metropolitan Mobile (MSA) had a population of 399,843 as of 2000 census. As of the 2006 census estimates there were 87,297 total housing units in the city of Mobile. The racial makeup of the city was 48.2% White, 47.9% Black or African American, 0.2% Native American, 1.8% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 0.5% from other races, 0.9% from two or more races, and 1.2% of the population were Latino.
There were 73,057 households out of which 22,225 had children under the age of 18 living with them, 29,963 were married couples living together, 15,360 had a female householder with no husband present, 3,488 had a male householder with no wife present, and 24,246 were non-families. 20,957 of all households were made up of individuals and 7,994 had someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.59 and the average family size was 3.23.
The population was spread out with 7.1% under the age of 5, 73.6% over 18, and 13.4% over 65. The median age was 35.6 years. The male population was 47.6% and the female population was 52.4%. The median income for a household in the city was $37,439, and the median income for a family was $45,217. The per capita income for the city was $21,612. 21.3% of the population and 17.6% of families were below the poverty line.
Since 1985 the government of Mobile has consisted of a mayor and a seven member city council. The mayor is elected at-large and the council members are elected from each of the seven city council districts. A supermajority of five votes is required to conduct council business. Municipal elections are held every four years.
The current mayor, Sam Jones, was elected in September of 2005 and is the first African American mayor of Mobile. As of January 2006, the city council is composed of Fredrick Richardson, Jr. from District 1, William Carroll from District 2, Clinton Johnson from District 3, John C. Williams from District 4, Reggie Copeland, Sr. from District 5, Connie Hudson from District 6, and Gina Gregory from District 7. Reggie Copeland, Sr. is currently serving as Council President with Fredrick Richardson, Jr. serving as Council Vice President.
In January of 2008, the city hired EDSA, an urban design firm, to create a new comprehensive master plan for the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. The planning area is bordered on the east by the Mobile River, to the south by Interstate 10 and Duval Street, to the west by Houston Street and to the north by Three Mile Creek and the neighborhoods north of Martin Luther King Avenue.
Mobile is represented in the Alabama Legislature by three senators and nine representatives. Mobile is represented in the Alabama Senate by Democrat Vivian Davis Figures from the 33rd district, by Republican Rusty Glover from the 34th district, and by Republican Ben Brooks from the 35th district. Mobile is represented in the Alabama House of Representatives by Democrat Yvonne Kennedy from the 97th district, Democrat James O. Gordon from the 98th district, Democrat James Buskey from the 99th district, Republican Victor Gaston from the 100th district, Republican Jamie Ison from the 101st district, Republican Chad Fincher from the 102nd district, Democrat Joseph C. Mitchell from the 103rd district, Republican Jim Barton from the 104th district, and Republican Spencer Collier from the 105th district.
Local airline passengers are served by the Mobile Regional Airport which directly connects to six major hub airports: Charlotte, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, and Memphis. It is served by American Airlines, Continental Express, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlink and US Airways Express. The Brookley Complex serves corporate, cargo and private cargo aircraft.
Mobile is served by 6 railroads. Five of these are Class I railroads and include the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN), the Canadian National Railway (CNR), CSX Transportation (CSX), the Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS), and the Norfolk Southern Railway (NS). All 5 of these converge at the Port of Mobile, which provides intermodal freight transport service to companies engaged in importing and exporting. The sixth railroad is the Central Gulf Railroad, which is a rail ship service to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz in Mexico. The city was served by Amtrak's Sunset Limited passenger train service until 2005, when the service was suspended due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Two major interstate highways and a spur converge in Mobile. Interstate 10 runs northeast to southwest across the city while Interstate 65 starts in Mobile at Interstate 10 and runs north. Interstate 165 connects to Interstate 65 north of the city in Prichard and joins Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile. Mobile is well served by many major highway systems. United States Highways US 31, US 43, US 45, US 90 and US 98 radiate from Mobile traveling east, west, and north. Mobile has three routes east across the Mobile River and Mobile Bay into neighboring Baldwin County, Alabama. Interstate 10 leaves downtown through the George Wallace Tunnel under the river and then over the bay across the Jubilee Parkway to Spanish Fort, Alabama/Daphne, Alabama. US 98 leaves downtown through the Bankhead Tunnel under the river onto Blakeley Island and then over the bay across the Battleship Parkway into Spanish Fort, Alabama. US 90 travels over the Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge to the north of downtown onto Blakeley Island where it becomes co-routed with US 98.
Mobile's public transportation is the Wave Transit System which features buses with 18 fixed routes and neighborhood service. The Wave Transit System also operates the Moda! electric trolley service in downtown Mobile with 22 stops Monday through Saturday. Baylinc is a public transportation bus service provided by the Baldwin Rural Transit System in cooperation with the Wave Transit System that provides service between eastern Baldwin County and downtown Mobile. Baylinc operates Monday through Friday. Greyhound Lines provides intercity bus service between Mobile and many locations throughout the United States. Mobile is served by several taxi and limousine services.
The Port of Mobile has public, deepwater terminals with direct access to 1,500 miles of inland and intracoastal waterways serving the Great Lakes, the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys (via the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway), and the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama State Port Authority owns and operates the public terminals at the Port of Mobile. The public terminals handle containerized, bulk, breakbulk, roll-on/roll-off, and heavy lift cargoes. The port is also home to private bulk terminal operators, as well as a number of highly specialized shipbuilding and repair companies with two of the largest floating dry docks on the Gulf Coast.
Mobile's Press-Register is Alabama's oldest active newspaper, dating back to 1813. The paper focuses on Mobile and Baldwin counties and the city of Mobile, but also serves southwestern Alabama and southeastern Mississippi. Mobile's alternative newspaper is the Lagniappe. The Mobile area's local magazine is Mobile Bay Monthly.
Mobile is served locally by four television stations: WPMI 15 (NBC), WKRG 5 (CBS), WALA 10 (FOX), and WBPG 55 (The CW Television Network). The regional area is also served by WEAR 3 (ABC) and WJTC 44, an independent station. They are both based in Pensacola, Florida. Mobile is included in the Mobile-Pensacola-Fort Walton Beach designated market area, as defined by Nielsen Media Research, and is ranked 61st in the United States for the 2007-08 television season.
Twelve FM radio stations transmit from Mobile: WBHY-FM, WHIL, WBLX, WKSJ, WKSJ-HD2, WRKH, WRKH-HD2, WABB, WDLT, WMXC, WMXC-HD2, and WQUA. Eight AM radio stations transmit from Mobile: WNTM, WBHY, WGOK, WLPR, WIJD, WMOB, WLVV, and WABB. The content ranges from Christian Contemporary to Hip hop to Top 40. Arbitron ranks Mobile's radio market as 93rd in the United States as of autumn 2007.