There has been a port on the Tyne at least since the Romans used their settlement of Arbeia to supply the garrison of Hadrian's Wall. Around 1200, stone-faced, clay-filled jetties were starting to project into the river in Newcastle, an indication that trade was increasing. As the Roman roads continued to deteriorate, sea travel was gaining in importance. By 1275 Newcastle was the sixth largest wool-exporting port in England. The principal exports at this time were wool, timber, coal, millstones, dairy produce, fish, salt, and hides. Much of the developing trade was with the Baltic countries and Germany. Coal was being exported from Newcastle by 1250, and by 1350 the burgesses received a royal licence to export coal. This licence to export coal was jealously guarded by the Newcastle burgesses, and they tried to prevent any one else on the Tyne from exporting coal except through Newcastle. The burgesses similarly tried to prevent fish from being sold anywhere else on the Tyne except Newcastle. This led to conflicts with Gateshead and South Shields.
From 1600 the growth in the export of coal brought prosperity to Newcastle. Until the 19th century the port was the responsibility of the City of Newcastle, but navigation became difficult, and in 1850 the Tyne Improvement Commission was established to better maintain the port and river. In 1881 they published a review of their achievements. A major force through this period were the Keelmen.
The TIC deepened the river to 9.83 metres, and built the North and South Piers, and the Northumberland, Tyne and Albert Edward Docks. In 1928 the TIC opened the Tyne Commission Quay at North Shields, now known as the Northumbrian Quay, to handle mail and cargo trade with Bergen in Norway.
In 1968 the TIC was dissolved and replaced by the Port of Tyne Authority. Since then, with the decline in the coal industry, the port has switched to the export of cars manufactured in the northeast of England.
The Port of Tyne is the navigation authority for the tidal reaches of the River Tyne, from the mouth to the Tidal Stone at Wylam, a distance of 17 miles. It also has jurisdiction for one mile past the roundheads at the piers at the river mouth.
The port handles conventional and bulk cargoes at the Riverside Quay. There are two car terminals, one on either side of the river, a cruise terminal at Northumbrian Quay on the north side, and a ferry terminal at North Shields.