Since its original printing in 1952, the publication of the Handbook of Texas has been made possible through the support of its users. As an independent nonprofit, TSHA relies on your contributions to close the funding gap for the online Handbook and keep it a freely accessible resource for users worldwide. Please make a donation today to preserve the most comprehensive encyclopedic resource on Texas history. Donate Today »


Edgar P. Sneed

COBOLINI, LOUIS (1845–1928). Louis Cobolini, "father of the port at Brownsville," was born on December 13, 1845, in Trieste, Italy, then a part of the Austrian Empire. As a young man he fought under Giuseppe Garibaldi for Italian independence and unification, and as a result he could not return to his home, which remained under Austrian control. Cobolini immigrated to Galveston, Texas, in the mid-1860s. He began as a fish and fruit peddler but soon acquired a small fishing schooner and became a commercial fisherman. He joined the Screwmen's Benevolent Association in December 1882, supported its strike in 1885, and at one time served as its vice president. He held both local and state offices in the Knights of Labor and in the Texas State Federation of Labor.qqv In 1894 Governor James Stephen Hogg appointed him state delegate to the National Farmers' Congress.

In the 1870s and 1880s Cobolini helped secure a federal project for a deepwater channel and port at Galveston. As he transferred his growing fishing business westward along the Texas coast, he helped to develop ports at Port Lavaca, Rockport, Aransas Pass, and Corpus Christi. In 1907 he moved his fishing operations to Port Isabel and settled in Brownsville. He served as Brownsville city alderman from 1910 to 1912 and as city commissioner in 1921–22. He was a strong advocate of municipally owned utilities and a nationally known lecturer on the cause of labor and the importance of seaport development.

By 1910, as secretary of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, Cobolini championed the more ambitious plan of a deepwater port for Brownsville itself. He insisted upon a major port and channel facility capable of handling ships drawing thirty feet of water. In 1911, with others, he helped organize the Brownsville Waterways Association, which employed him for both technical and political promotion of the Brownsville port project and sought federal funds through United States congressman John Nance Garner. In 1927 the Cameron County Commissioners Court also employed Cobolini to promote the project. Cobolini was married to Elizabeth Grupe; they had two sons. While conducting army engineers on a field trip over the proposed channel site in mid-February 1928, he became ill with pneumonia and died on February 27, 1928. A few months later Congress approved the Brownsville deepwater port project, and on May 14–16, 1936, Cobolini's granddaughter served as "Miss Port of Brownsville" for the port opening.

Brownsville Herald, May 10, 1936. Ellis A. Davis and Edwin H. Grobe, comps., The New Encyclopedia of Texas, 4 vols., 1929?. Frank Cushman Pierce, Texas' Last Frontier: A Brief History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Menasha, Wisconsin: Banta, 1917; rpt., Brownsville: Rio Grande Valley Historical Society, 1962). James B. Wells Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Edgar P. Sneed, "COBOLINI, LOUIS," accessed July 22, 2019,

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox