Located in the extreme southwest corner of the state, Mobile County is home to Alabama's only seaport and is the state's second most populous county. The county is steeped in history, having been occupied by the French, Spanish and British, prior to being annexed by the United States in 1813. The city of Mobile, the first European settlement within the state of Alabama and one of the oldest cities in the United States, was established in 1702. Both the city and the county derive their name from this settlement, which was known as Fort Louis de la Mobile. During its period of French control, the city was briefly capital of the French colony of louisiana and home to the nation's first Mardi Gras celebration. Mobile, long a major seaport and commercial center, saw a great period of industrial growth during the twentieth century. A commission form of government currently governs Mobile County, with three members elected from districts to concurrent four-year terms. Mobile is also home to American baseball's long-time home run champion, Hank Aaron, whose record stood for nearly a quarter century until broken in 2007.
· Founding Date: December 18, 1812
· Area: 1,644 square miles
· Population: 412,992 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Mobile Bay, Mobile River, Dog River, Fowl River
· Major Highways: I-10, I-65, I-165, U.S. 90, U.S. 98, U.S. 31, U.S. 43, U.S. 45, Ala. 193
· County Seat: Mobile
· Largest City: Mobile
The territory that would become Mobile County had a colorful colonial history. Variously controlled by the French, the Spanish, the British, and finally the United States, the area and its major city, Mobile, were host to many cultural shifts prior to its official establishment as a county. Mobile County was created by proclamation of the governor of Mississippi Territory, David Holmes, on December 18, 1812, soon after the U.S. Congress had annexed the Mobile District of West Florida. Spain initially maintained its claim over the area, peacefully coexisting with the Americans in the territory. The following year, however, General James Wilkinson occupied the district with a military force, and the Spanish commandant surrendered his garrison on April 13, 1813. The northern portion of Mobile County is home to the MOWA (Mobile and Washington County) band of Choctaw Indians, whose ancestors settled in the area after the Creek War ended in 1814. Although the MOWAs have not received official recognition from the federal government, the group was formally recognized as a tribe of Alabama in 1979, making the MOWAs eligible for such services as education and housing.
After coming under American control, Mobile prospered as a port, with the increasing use of steamboat technology making upstream transportation possible. By the 1850s Mobile ranked second to New Orleans among the South's seaports on the Gulf Coast, exporting lumber and cotton from a huge drainage area to the interior of the state. Through Mobile, Alabama was able to maintain a steady trade with Europe and the West Indies up until the time of the Civil War. Although Mobile was able to escape occupation by Union troops until the very end of the war, the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 resulted in the defeat of the Confederate Navy and the capture of strongholds around Mobile. It was in this battle that Union Admiral David Farragut is believed to have shouted the famous rallying cry, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
Major Cities and Demographics
Alabama's second most populous county, in 2010 Mobile County had an estimated population of 412,992. Of that total, 60.2 percent
of respondents identified themselves as white, 34.6 percent as African American, 2.4 percent as Hispanic, 1.8 percent Asian,
1.5 percent as two or more races, and 0.9 percent Native American. The county's median household income was $39,998, slightly
below the state's median income of $40,547, and the per capita income was 21,274, compared with $22,732 for the state as a
whole. The city of Mobile, the largest city within the county with an estimated population of 195,111, serves as the county
seat. Other population centers in the county include Prichard, Saraland, Chickasaw, Satsuma, Citronelle, Bayou La Batre, and Creola.
Mobile County's economy after the Civil War was driven by the success of the Port of Mobile, where the shipping channel had been deepened and shipbuilding increased. The port's success as a major distribution center was also furthered by railroad expansion. In the 1870s, the cotton trade was supplemented by coffee, and the port became a major center for the importation of Brazilian coffee. The Port of Mobile continued to modernize and expand at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1922 the Alabama State Docks Commission was created and empowered to build, operate, and maintain wharves, piers, docks, grain elevators, warehouses and other terminals, structures, and facilities. Mobile's shipbuilding industry played a vital role in contributing to the nation's war efforts in both World Wars I and II.
Mobile County suffered a severe blow from the effects of hurricane Camille in 1969, with a loss of 250 lives and $1.5 billion worth of property. Ten years later the county lost another $1 billion in property to hurricane Frederic. Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2006 left the county with additional significant losses. Despite these catastrophes, Mobile County's economy, as well as the state as a whole, continued to benefit from the activity of the Port of Mobile. In 1999, the port was the 14th largest in the nation in total tonnage, providing more than 118,000 jobs and an estimated economic impact statewide of more than $3 billion.
Mobile County's economy was given a boost in the 1970s with the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the surrounding Gulf Coast waters. Mobile has also become a center of manufacturing and produces chemicals, steel, wood pulp and paper products, furniture, rayon products, and clothing. The county's steel production will dramatically increase in light of the 2007 announcement that ThyssenKrupp AG, a German steelmaker, will invest $3.7 billion to build a production plant in Mount Vernon, located 35 miles north of the city of Mobile. This plant, with an expected completion date of 2010, is projected to have an annual production capacity of 5.5 million tons of steel, provide 29,000 jobs during its construction phase, create 2,700 permanent jobs, and yield thousands of indirect jobs from transportation to suppliers.
The workforce in present-day Mobile County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (21.9 percent)
· Retail trade (12.8 percent)
· Manufacturing (11.0 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (9.1 percent)
· Construction (8.9 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (7.8 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (6.2 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (6.0 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (5.7 percent)
· Public administration (4.3 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.5 percent)
· Information (1.5 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.4 percent)
The Mobile County School System currently employs approximately 7,000 teachers and administrators who serve 115 schools with
more than 65,000 students. Mobile County is also home to the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, the only public boarding high school in Alabama for advanced students, and numerous private schools, many of which are run
by the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile. The University of South Alabama, the county's only major public institution of higher learning, was created by act of the Alabama State Legislature in May
1963. The county also has two religiously affiliated liberal arts colleges: Spring Hill College, the first Catholic college in the South founded in 1830, and the University of Mobile, founded in 1961 and affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention.
Mobile County is located in the extreme southwest corner of the state, wholly within the Coastal Plain physiographic section, and encompasses 1,644 square miles, which includes 1,233 square miles of land and 410 square miles of water. It is bounded by Washington County to the north, Mobile Bay to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Jackson, George, and Greene counties in Mississippi to the west. Three miles off Mobile County's coast, at the entrance to Mobile Bay, is Dauphin Island, a subtropical Gulf Coast barrier island that is 14 miles long and 1¾ miles wide at its widest point. It is estimated that there are 1,300 permanent residents living on the island. Mobile's major transportation routes are I-10, which runs east-west, and I-65, which runs north-south, and U.S. highways 31, 43, 45, 90, and 98. I-165, a $100 million interstate spur completed in 1995, connects I-65 and I-10 in downtown Mobile. The Mobile Regional Airport, serviced by five major airlines, is located approximately 14 miles from downtown Mobile. Amtrak provides passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York.
Events and Places of Interest
Mobile County's residents and visitors can engage in many activities on or in adjacent bodies of water. Mobile Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and area rivers offer sailing, wind surfing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, water-skiing, swimming, and scuba diving. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove is located west of Mobile on Highway 98. Mobile is also home to the Mobile BayBears, a minor-league affiliate of the San Diego Padres baseball team; the GMAC Bowl, a post-season college match up between teams from Conference USA and the MID-American Conference; and the Senior Bowl, an all-star game featuring the nation's top-ranking college seniors.
In 1704 Mobilians celebrated North America's first Mardi Gras, which has evolved into a huge modern-day festival and tourist
attraction. The Mobile Bay area has many other festivals and tourist attractions including the Azalea Trail, the Blessing
of the Fleet in Bayou La Batre, the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, Bellingrath Gardens, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Fort Conde, the Oakleigh Historic Complex, Mobile's Church Street Graveyard and Magnolia Cemetery, the Mobile Museum of Art, the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, Fort Gaines, and Dauphin Island. Mobile's tourism industry was supplemented in 2004 by the addition of a Carnival Cruise line sailing out of Mobile.
Hamilton, Peter J. Colonial Mobile. Edited by Charles G. Summersell. 1910. Reprint, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1976.
Higginbotham, Jay. Mobile: City by the Bay. Mobile, Ala.: Azalea City Printers, 1968.
Thomason, Michael V. R., ed. Mobile: The New History of Alabama's First City. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Herbert J. "Jim" Lewis
Published August 30, 2007
Last updated June 23, 2014