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Map of Cameron County

Harlingen's strategic location at the intersection of U.S. highways 77 and 83 in northwestern Cameron County fostered its development as a distribution, shipping, and industrial center. In 1904 Lon C. Hill envisioned the Arroyo Colorado as a commercial waterway. He named the town he founded on the north bank after a city in Holland. The town's post office was established that year. The first school opened with fifteen pupils in 1905 near the Hill home, the first residence built in Harlingen. Harlingen was incorporated on April 15, 1910, when the population totaled 1,126. In 1920 the census listed 1,748. The local economy at first was almost entirely agricultural. Major crops were vegetables and cotton.

World War II military installations in Harlingen caused a jump in population from 23,000 in 1950 to 41,000 by 1960. Harlingen Army Air Field preceded Harlingen Air Force Base, which closed in 1962. The city's population fell to 33,603 by 1972, then climbed to 40,824 by 1980. Local enterprise, focused on the purchase and utilization of the abandoned base and related housing, laid the groundwork for continuing progress through a diversified economy. The estimated population in July 1985 was 49,000, of which about 80 percent was Hispanic. In the late 1980s income from tourism ranked second only to citrus fruit production, with grain and cotton next in order. The addition of wholesale and retail trade, light and medium manufacturing, and an array of service industries has broadened the economic base. Large-scale construction for multifaceted retirement communities is a new phase of industrial development.

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Minnie Gilbert | © TSHA

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Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

Belongs to

Harlingen is part of or belongs to the following places:

Currently Exists


Place type

Harlingen is classified as a Town

Associated Names

  • (Lon Hill's Town)
  • (Six-Shooter Junction)


Latitude: 26.18999020
Longitude: -97.69448800

Has Post Office


Is Incorporated


Place Type Population (Year/Source) Currently Exists
College or University Yes

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Harlingen by the Numbers

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Population Counts

Pop. Year Source
71,829 2020 United States Census Bureau
68,328 2019 Texas Demographic Center
64,849 2010 United States Census Bureau
57,564 2000 United States Census Bureau
48,746 1990 United States Census Bureau
43,543 1980 United States Census Bureau
33,503 1970 United States Census Bureau
41,207 1960 United States Census Bureau
23,229 1950 United States Census Bureau
13,306 1940 United States Census Bureau
12,124 1930 United States Census Bureau
1,784 1920 United States Census Bureau