The Port of Los Angeles district of Wilmington was included in the 1784 Spanish land grant of Rancho San Pedro. Phineas Banning acquired the land that would become Wilmington from Manuel Dominguez, heir of the original concession holder Juan Jose Dominguez, in 1858 to build a harbor for the city of Los Angeles known as New San Pedro from 1858 to 1863, it was subsequently renamed Wilmington by “Father of the Harbor” Banning after his birthplace, Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Banning and Benjamin Wilson gave the federal government 60 acres of land to build Drum Barracks to protect the nascent Los Angeles harbor from Confederate attack. Wilmington was a township in the 1870 census. The township consisted of the present-day South Bay communities, Compton and western Long Beach. Census records report a population of 942 in 1870. The township had been named San Pedro Township in 1860.
Wilson College, precursor to the University of Southern California, opened in Wilmington in 1874 as the first coeducational college west of the Mississippi. Los Angeles annexed Wilmington in 1909, and today it and neighboring San Pedro form the waterfront of one of the world's largest import/export centers. Citizens of Wilmington were dubious that annexation would be in their best interests, fearing that it would shift economic activity out of their city and towards Los Angeles. Because the city government of Los Angeles so strongly wanted to have the growing port inside the city limits, it made a number of promises to Wilmington and also to the equally-dubious citizens of the-then independent city of San Pedro. Among these promises were that $10 million would be invested in improvements to the port and that as much would be spent inside the city on public works as was collected in taxes. In the 1920s, William Wrigley Jr. built innovative housing in Wilmington that was dubbed the “Court of Nations.”
Wilmington is adjacent to the Wilmington Oil Field, discovered in 1932. It is the third largest oil field in the continental United States. Consequently, there are at least 8 major refineries in the Wilmington area, many of them dating back to the original strike.
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