Amarillo is the fourteenth most populous city in the state of Texas, the largest in the Texas Panhandle and the seat of Potter County. A portion of the city extends into Randall County. The population was 190,695 at the 2010 census (105,486 in Potter County, and 85,209 in Randall). The Amarillo metropolitan area has an estimated population of 236,113 in four counties.
Amarillo, originally named Oneida, is situated in the Llano Estacado region. The availability of the railroad and freight service provided by the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad contributed to the city's growth as a cattle marketing center in the late 19th century. Amarillo is the regional economic center for the Texas Panhandle, and is economically important to Eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle.
The city was once the self-proclaimed "Helium Capital of the World" for having one of the country's most productive helium fields. The city is also known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (as the city takes its name from the Spanish word for yellow), and most recently "Rotor City, USA" for its V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft assembly plant. Amarillo operates one of the largest meat packing areas in the United States. Pantex, the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the country, is also a major employer. The attractions Cadillac Ranch and Big Texan Steak Ranch are located adjacent to Interstate 40. U.S. Highway 66 also passed through the city.
Large ranches exist in the Amarillo area: among others, the defunct XIT Ranch and the still functioning JA Ranch founded in 1877 by Charles Goodnight and John George Adair. Goodnight continued the partnership for a time after Adair's death with Adair's widow, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair, who was then the sole owner from 1887 until her death in 1921.
During April 1887, J.I. Berry established a site for a town after he chose a well-watered section along the way of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad, which had begun building across the Texas Panhandle. Berry and Colorado City, Texas merchants wanted to make their new town site the region's main trading center. On August 30, 1887, Berry's town site won the county seat election and was established in Potter County. Availability of the railroad and freight service after the county seat election made the town a fast growing cattle marketing center.
The settlement originally was called Oneida; it would later change its name to Amarillo. Amarillo's name probably derives from yellow wildflowers that were plentiful during the spring and summer or the nearby Amarillo Lake and Amarillo Creek, named in turn for the yellow soil along their banks and shores (Amarillo is the Spanish word for the color yellow). Amarillo's name is pronounced in Spanish as "Ah-mah-REE-yoh" and in English as "Ah-mah-RI-loh." Early residents pronounced it according to the Spanish pronunciation, but within a year, the English pronunciation is now considered a slang term. Charles F. Rudolph, editor of the Tascosa Pioneer, predicted the pronunciation change after blaming Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad employees for ignoring the word's Spanish pronunciation.
By the late 1890s, Amarillo had emerged as one of the world's busiest cattle shipping points, and its population grew significantly. The city became an grain elevator, milling, and feed-manufacturing center after an increase in production of wheat and small grains during the early 1900s. Discovery of gas in 1918 and oil three years later brought oil and gas companies to the Amarillo area. The United States government bought the Cliffside Gas Field with high helium content in 1927 and the Federal Bureau of Mines began operating the Amarillo Helium plant two years later. The plant would be the sole producer of commercial helium in the world for a number of years. The U.S. National Helium Reserve is stored in the Bush Dome Reservoir at the Cliffside facility.
Following the lead of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad established services to and from Amarillo. Each of these three carriers maintained substantial freight and passenger depots and repair facilities in the city through most of the 20th century and were major employers within the community.
In 1929, Ernest O. Thompson, a decorated World War I general and a major businessman in Amarillo, was elected mayor to succeed Lee Bivins. Thompson instituted a major capital improvements project and worked to reduce utility rates. He joined the Texas Railroad Commission by appointment in 1933 and was elected to full terms in 1934, 1940, 1946, 1952, and 1958. He became an international expert on national petroleum and natural gas production and conservation. The first Mrs. Thompson, May Peterson Thompson, a former Metropolitan Opera singer, was involved in the arts while in Amarillo and later when the couple lived in Austin.
Amarillo was hit by the Dust Bowl and entered an economic depression. U.S. Routes 60, 87, 287, and 66 merged at Amarillo, making it a major tourist stop with numerous motels, restaurants, and curio shops. World War II led the establishment of Amarillo Army Air Field in east Amarillo and the nearby Pantex Army Ordnance Plant, which produced bombs and ammunition. After the end of the war, both of the facilities were closed. The Pantex Plant was reopened in 1950 and produced nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War. The following year, the army air base was reactivated as Amarillo Air Force Base and expanded to accommodate a Strategic Air Command B-52 Stratofortress wing. The arrival of servicemen and their families ended the city's depression. Between 1950 and 1960, Amarillo's population grew from 74,443 to 137,969. However, the closure of the Amarillo Air Force Base on December 31, 1968, contributed to a decrease in population to 127,010 by 1970. In the 1980s, ASARCO, Iowa Beef Processors (present day Tyson Foods), Owens-Corning and Weyerhaeuser built plants at Amarillo. The Eastridge neighborhood houses many immigrants from countries such as Vietnam, Laos, and Burma; Many of them found employment at the nearby Iowa Beef Processors plant. The following decade, Amarillo's city limits encompassed 60 square miles (160 km2) in Potter and Randall counties. Interstate 27 highway connecting Lubbock to Amarillo was built mostly during the 1980s.