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Port History

Discover the captivating history of the Port of Los Angeles. This world-renowned harbor was established in 1907 and helped transform the small El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula into the international City of Los Angeles we know today.

Aerial view of the Port
Aerial view of the Port

The Port of Los Angeles is located in the San Pedro Bay at the southernmost point of Los Angeles County, approximately 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the San Pedro Bay has a long history of maritime activity.

Early History

Smoke from fires set by Indians hunting game on the hillsides overlooking San Pedro Bay inspired Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, to name this natural harbor Bahia de los Fumos or "Bay of Smokes" in 1542. The tidal flats and marshes of Bahia de los Fumos remained pristine for more than 200 years after Cabrillo's visit, largely because Europe was concentrating its New World colonization on America's East Coast. Then, in 1769, Spanish officials and missionaries turned an eye toward the magnificent coastline, the resource-rich plains, and the Indian population of California.

Diagram of the Port of Los Angeles
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During this colonial period, the Spanish prohibited settlers from conducting business with other countries, restricting all trade to two ships per year and requiring those ships to carry goods from Spain's House of Trades. Despite these restrictions, San Pedro and the nearby towns and missions on the flats of San Pedro Bay prospered, largely as a result of a thriving cargo-smuggling industry.

In 1822, the newly independent Mexican government lifted the oppressive restrictions, and San Pedro soon became a robust commercial center and an attractive home for new settlers. The Mexican government granted three ranchos near the bay, Rancho San Pedro, Rancho Los Palos Verdes, and Rancho Los Cerritos. The three ranchos equaled almost 84,000 acres and were used primarily for cattle ranching.

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On February 2, 1848, when California came under American control, business at San Pedro Harbor was booming. It was evident, however, that the Harbor needed to be expanded to accommodate the increasing cargo volume coming into the bay for the growing population in Los Angeles. Recognizing these shortcomings, Phineas Banning was instrumental in bringing innovative changes to San Pedro Bay that marked the first steps toward developing the bay into one of the great seaports of the world. (For more on Phineas Banning and the fight for a free harbor, click on the People button.)

By the turn of the century, the population of Los Angeles had grown to more than 100,000. With that in mind, in 1906 the city annexed a 16-mile strip of land on the outskirts of San Pedro and Wilmington—towns that 3 years later would join the City of Los Angeles. The Port was officially founded in 1907 with the creation of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners.