The town was founded in 1849 in conjunction with an Army installation. It declined during the Civil War to just another small settlement clinging to the edges of the Texas frontier. Local lore has constructed a legendary version of Fort Worth as an isolated frontier outpost complete with rugged dragoons, land barons, hostile Indians, and famous visitors. In reality, new civic-minded settlers and promotion people envisioned Fort Worth's potential and made a concerted effort to improve things. Finally in 1876 a railroad rescued the town from oblivion. By 1900 it was a flourishing West Texas marketing and trade center.
The railroad enabled Fort Worth to build the largest cattle stockyards in the West. The city owed much of its late 19th century economic growth to the cattle industry and especially to the 'Big Five' meat packers - led by Swift and Armour - who controlled the Fort Worth Stockyards Co. after 1902. Beginning in the 1920s, legalistic efforts to break the monopoly of the Big Five gradually accomplished that goal, but by the 1950s, the major packers faced a declining business and subsequently trimmed their operations. Recent efforts to renovate the stockyards and restore the Exchange Building have proven successful as numerous small businesses have opened in the area. The local butchers struck during the nationwide strike by the Amalgamated Butcher Workman Union against the 'Big Five' meat packers of Chicago during 1921-22. The strike failed, devastating the union; skilled workers were able to go back to their jobs, though many unskilled laborers could not.
As a transportation hub, the city had a notorious red light district. The prostitutes worked in parlor houses, dance halls, or independent shacks, did not make much more money than a local domestic servant, were subject to arrest in periodic crackdowns, suffered from disease, and frequently committed suicide.The Stockyards District is now a National Historic District attracting many tourists.
The Dallas-Fort Worth airport is one of the world's largest airports, and the hub of American Airlines.
General Dynamics built huge airplane plants in World War II; they now form part of Lockheed Martin. Bell Helicopter (part of Textron) is another major presence.
The Hispanic population grew slowly from the town's founding in 1849 to become 2.9% of the population by 1949.
Southern Baptists are strong in Fort Worth, where the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is based. J. Frank Norris, a Baptist, was a major leader of Fundamentalism from 1920 to 1950. He was pastor of First Baptist Church from 1909 to 1952. Through his influential newspaper, the Baptist Standard, Norris attacked the evils of racetrack betting and succeeded in getting the practice outlawed in 1908. His greatest political triumph came in 1928 when he waged a vigorous partisan attack against the Catholic Democratic presidential candidate, Al Smith, and helped in getting staunchly Democratic Texas to go for Republican Herbert Hoover.
The city and surrounding Tarrant County are both Republican. Most of the city is in the 12 Congressional District, which has reelected moderate Republican Kay Granger since 1996; she was mayor, 1991-96. The fast growing western and northern suburbs are in CD 16, represented since 2002 by Republican Michael Burgess. He replaced Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey (b. 1940), who held this district from 1985-2002
Democrat Jim Wright (b. 1922) represented the city from 1954-1989; he was the powerful House Majority Leader (1967–87) and Speaker of the House 1987-89 until he was forced to quit because of an ethics scandal.
Ida Darden published the conservative weekly newspaper Southern Conservative from 1950 to 1961. Her early political views were influenced by Texas senator Joe Bailey, who opposed women's suffrage, taxes, labor unions, prohibition, and Woodrow Wilson. The Southern Conservative championed anti-Communist politicians such as Senator Joe McCarthy and excoriated civil rights, minorities, unions, the UN, and the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic Party. Funded by a few wealthy Texas businessmen, the newspaper struggled financially and ended in 1961, when Darden left to care for her terminally ill only child.
Founded in 1961, the Amon Carter Museum houses the nation's finest collection of paintings, sculpture, and photography of Western subjects. Based on the late Amon G. Carter's collection of original works by Charles M. Russell (1865-1926) and Frederic Remington (1861-1909). The museum also has a theater, bookstore, and research library that stress history as well as art.
Gospel singer Anna Carter Gordon Davis, second wife of Governor Jimmie Davis of Louisiana, died in Fort Worth in 2004 at the age of eighty-seven, where she had spent her last years. She was a long-term member of the Chuck Wagon Gang, founded in Lubbock, Texas, by her father, David Parker "Dad" Carter.
After 1957 the city collaborated with Dallas to attract a major league team. Though civic and structural preparations fell into place rather quickly, Byzantine political processes frustrated the acquisition of a team to represent Texas. The Washington Senators' relocation in 1972 finally fulfilled the community's aspirations.
- article in Handbook of Texas
- Cuéllar, Carlos E. Stories from the Barrio: A History of Mexican Fort Worth (2003). 240 pp.
- Garrett, Julia Kathryn. Fort Worth: A Frontier Triumph (1972) 366 pp. popular history with and legends mixed in
- Hankins, Barry. God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (1996)
- Myres, Sandra L. "Fort Worth, 1870-1900," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1968 72(2): 200-222,
- Oates, Paula, ed. Celebrating 150 Years: The Pictorial History of Fort Worth, Texas, 1849-1999 (1999). 226 pp.
- Pate, J'nell L. Livestock Legacy: The Fort Worth Stockyards, 1887-1987 (1988) 332 pp
- Rich, Harold W. "Beyond Outpost: Fort Worth, 1880-1918" PhD dissertation Texas Christian U. 2006; Dissertation Abstracts International; 67(2): 693-A. DA3207513, 319p.
- Sanders, Leonard. How Fort Worth Became the Texasmost City, 1849-1920 (1986) 201 pp.
- Selcer, Richard F. "Setting the Record Straight: Fort Worth and the Historians," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1997 100(3): 361-379, on 1840s and 1850s
- Sherrod, Katie, ed. Grace and Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women (2007). 308 pp.
- Richard F. Selcer, "Fort Worth and the Fraternity of Strange Women," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 1992 96(1): 54-86,
- Darwin Payne and Kathy Fitzpatrick, From Prairie to Planes: How Dallas and Fort Worth Overcame Politics and Personalities to Build One of the World's Biggest and Busiest Airports (1999). 317 pp.
- George N. Green, "Ida Darden and the Southern Conservative", Gulf South Historical Review 2001 16(2): 6-33
- Patricia Junker et al., An American Collection: Works from the Amon Carter Museum (2001). 288 pp.