Prior to European settlement the area around Galveston Bay was settled by the Karankawa and Atakapan tribes, particularly the Akokisa, who lived throughout theGulf coast region. Spanish explorers such as the Rivas-Iriarte expedition and José Antonio de Evia charted the bay and gave it its name. The pirateJean Lafitteestablished a short-lived kingdom based in Galveston in the early 19th century with bases and hide-outs around the bay and around Clear Lake. Lafitte was forced to leave in 1821 by the U.S. Navy.
Following its declaration of independence from Spain the new nation of Mexico moved to colonize its northern territory of Texas by offering land grants to settlers both from within Mexico and from the nearby United States. The colony established by Stephen F. Austin and the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company of New York rapidly began a wave of settlement around the bay. Following a coup in the Mexican government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Texas revolted against Mexican rule in 1835. After several battles and skirmishes the final battle of the Texas Revolution took place near modern Pasadena on April 21, 1836. Santa Anna was captured at Vince's Bayou. Because this was the last conflict that led to the Mexican surrender, Pasadena and neighboring Deer Park have adopted the nickname "Birthplace of Texas".
The Galveston, Harrisburg & Houston Railroad ran through the Allen ranch. There was a problem of cattle being regularly killed on the tracks and in 1875, Allen built a 19-mile (31 km) fence along the east side of the railway right of way to keep the cattle off the tracks. The fence ran from Harrisburg to League City and had four rails and a top rail wide enough to walk on. A gate was placed in the fence at the Harrisburg-Lynchburg Road with a large sign above instructing that it should be closed at all times. The area east of this railroad fence running from Buffalo Bayou to the tracks on Sims Bayou ran all the way to Galveston Bay. It contained 100,000 acres (400 km2) of grazing land for cattle.
"Proposed" towns in or near present day Pasadena were set up but short lived and either abandoned or never even got off the ground. In 1892 Colonel John H. Burnett of Galveston established an unnamed townsite on the Vince Survey just east of the Allen Ranch. Burnett was involved in both construction and promotion of railroads and knew their impact on the value of property. The land was sold in 10 acres (4.0 ha) lots. He had also established the nearby towns of Deepwater andGenoa, later to be incorporated into Pasadena and Houston.
The 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston heavily damaged Pasadena, as well. The city received a population boost from some Galveston refugees who relocated to the mainland following the catastrophe. Donations by the newly createdRed Cross, including millions of strawberry plants to Gulf Coast farmers, helped revive the community. This and the subsequent establishment of a major strawberry farm in the area by Texaco founder Joseph S. Cullinan made Pasadena a major fruit producer for many years afterward. As the community recovered major tracts of the Allen Ranch were liquidated opening up new development. Rice farmers from Japan settled in the community further diversifying its agriculture. Champion Coated Paper Company of Ohio opened a paper mill in 1937. Other businesses began to develop.
In 1901 the Texas Oil Boom began with the gusher at Spindletop. The discovery of the oil field at Goose Creek led to increasing petroleum exploration around Galveston Bay. By 1920 refinery operations had appeared in Pasadena and continued to expand thereafter. The world wars gradually brought further industrial development, with Pasadena's growth rate surpassing even neighboring Houston.
Pasadena voted to incorporate in 1923, but residents decided to cancel the incorporation one year later. Pasadena incorporated in 1928. Because of the 1928 incorporation, Houston did not incorporate Pasadena's territory into its city limits, while Houston annexed surrounding areas that were unincorporated.
By the mid-20th century Pasadena's economy had become strongly tied to petroleum and other heavy industry. NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) was established near Pasadena in 1963 with the residential community of Clear Lake City, partially under Pasadena's jurisdiction, established nearby. These developments helped to diversify the town's economy significantly.
Former US Congressman and city councilman, Ray Barnhart described the city at the time as "a lovely community but politically corrupt." Barnhart recalled that a half dozen Pasadena officials were indicted in the late 1950s and early 1960s for public corruption.
The nearby Bayport Industrial District, one of the nation's largest chemical processing complexes, is vital to employment. High-tech businesses in the area related to the JSC have developed as well, and the opening of the Bayport shipping terminal is rapidly adding to the city's economic base.
The median income for a household in the city was $38,522, and the median income for a family was $42,541. Males had a median income of $34,330 versus $25,869 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,301. About 13.2% of families and 16.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.8% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.
The city has several museums, including the Pasadena Historical Museum, the Bay Area Museum and Armand Bayou Nature Center. Pasadena also has a community theater, an annual rodeo  and the Pasadena Philharmonic. The city's newspaper is the Pasadena Citizen
The Champion paper mill closed in 2005. Because of the odor from the plant, Pasadena had been dubbed by locals with the nickname "Stinkadena." Several country music songs have been recorded with "Pasa-get-down-dena" as the title including Kenefick on their album "Hard Road."
John Travolta, Debra Winger and other actors came to the city to film the 1980 hit movie Urban Cowboy, which depicted life and young love in Pasadena. The film centered on the city's honky-tonk bar Gilley's, which was co-owned by country music star Mickey Gilley. In 1989 Gilley's suffered an arson fire that gutted the interior, but the building's shell was still standing until 2006 when it was demolished by the Pasadena Independent School District, its current owner. Only the old sound recording studio remains. Gilley still resides in Pasadena.
Texas Strawberry Field (postcard, circa 1908-1910)
Clara Barton of the American Red Cross purchased 1.5 million strawberry plants and sent them to Pasadena to help victims of the flood get back on their feet. By the 1930s those crops had flourished so much that Pasadena was claiming the title ofStrawberry Capital of the World. At its height, the city's strawberry growers shipped as many as 28 train carloads of strawberries each day. To honor that history, the city still holds an annual Pasadena Strawberry Festival. Strawberry Road stretches through much of the city near where the old strawberry crops grew. Attendance at the annual Strawberry Festival was 56,000 in 2008.
Pasadena Philharmonic Society and Orchestra is a combination of two groups. The Society is composed of members of the local community that support the fine arts and classical music. The Orchestra is composed of local music educators, musicians, college students and selected high school students. The Orchestra presented its first performance in the fall of 1982. The Philharmonic has presented performances ever since.
The city operates 15 tennis courts, several baseball fields, and a total of 43 parks total. These include over 14 miles (23 km) of trails, four Youth Recreation Centers, an Adaptive Recreation center, three pools for Swimming or Aquatics, an Athletics department,[clarification needed] a Dog Park, Party Rentals, a Golf Course, an Historical Museum, and a Senior Citizen Center.
Harris County operates several community centers in Pasadena.
Local residents have access to tennis courts, soccer fields, jogging tracks, walking tracks, picnic tables, family gathering pavilions at Pasadena's 47 parks, 5 swimming pools, and 5 game room buildings, museum, recreation center, 15 tennis courts and 21 ball fields.