Ranching has predominated throughout Laredo's history. As early as 1757, 11 families owned 100 cattle, 125 mules, 712 horses, and 9,089 sheep and goats, according to a Spanish inspection report. One of the largest Spanish ranches was Dolores, owned by José Vásquez Borrego. Over 9,000 animals were run on a 29,000 acre grant.
In the 1870's cattle were driven to area rail heads for shipment north. Barbed wire fences brought an end to open range ranching in the 1880's, but the windmill fostered large spreads throughout Webb County.
Laredo became a major thoroughfare for trade between the United States and Mexico. The city's population of 3,512 in 1880 grew to 11,319 in 1890. Emigrants from Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Scandinavia, and all parts of the United States moved to Laredo seeking employment and business opportunities.
Known since Spanish times, coal deposits located 27 miles upriver were mined by Refugio Benavides and Charles Callaghan as early as 1873. By 1900, the mines shipped 23,000,000 pounds of coal to Laredo and kept the railroads operative.
Onion Agriculture was practiced on a large scale in 1898 by Thomas C. Nye on irrigated acreage north of the city. The 1917 Souvenir Album of Laredo boasted, "The Laredo area is foremost in the world in the production of Bermuda onions."
A second boom resulted with the discovery of gas and oil. In 1921, Oliver Winfield Killam drilled the first commercial well of the Mirando Oil Company and later established Misko Refineries Company. Numerous fields were discovered, making the area a major center of oil and gas production.