TURN OF THE CENTURY (1900-1910)
With the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the United States had reached 75,994,575, and that of Texas totaled 3,048,710. Houston had become a thriving city of 44,633, with the population of Harris County being 63,786. This put Harris County in the third place in the state, edging Grayson County by less than 100 and trailing Dallas County with 82,726, and Bexar County with 69,422.
By the turn of the century, the United States had become the world's foremost industrial country, with a population larger than any European country save Russia and with exports greater than those of the United Kingdom. The country by that time was producing 31.9 percent of the world's coal, 34.1 percent of its iron and 36.7 percent of its steel. The trend from the farm to the city had started, with less than four workers in 10 being in agriculture and with four families out of 10 already living in urban areas. The business man had become an important figure in society.
The first decade of the new century saw the United States adopt the gold standard, start construction of the Panama Canal, and initiate the income tax. The Wright brothers made their first heavier-than-air flight in 1903, but six years later the endurance record was still standing at only one hour, one minute and 40 seconds. Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the English Channel in 1909. Immigration reached an all-time high, with 8,795,386 for the decade, and 1,285,349 in 1907 alone. In 1900, the United States had 18,000,000 horses and mules, 10,000,000 bicycles, and only 4,000 automobiles. Carry Nation started her anti-saloon career, and New York City made it illegal for women to smoke in public places. The era of modern skyscrapers began, with the 47-foot Singer Building in 1908 and the 50-story Metropolitan Tower and the 60-story Woolworth Building five years later, all in New York City.
With the coming of a new century, Texas was on the threshold of a new era. It had organized local government, railroads to supply transportation to all developed sections of the state, a public school system with a number of institutions of higher learning, and the first stages of a period of industrialization. Although oil had been produced in the Corsicana area prior to 1900, the gusher at Spindletop in 1901 indicated to the world the potential oil wealth in Texas. Oil and gas gave the state the fuel supplies it had been lacking. It was not, however, until 1927 and 1928, respectively, that Texas became the number one state in the production of natural gas and oil.
With the spectacular discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, the economy of Texas began to change perceptibly. The state became identified with the oil industry, although the first stage of the rapid oil-industry transformation waited to coincide with World War I and the rising momentum of the motor industry.
Writing of the "Spindletop" development in their book by that name, Michael T. Halbouty and James A. Clark said: "There, on January 10, 1901, a new age of human progress was born when the first great oil gusher roared in. There and then America was blessed with the supply of energy and the incentive to move up from secondary position in world affairs to that of undisputed leadership. Before Spindletop, oil was used for lamps and lubrication. The famous Lucas gusher changed that. It started the liquid fuel age, which brought forth the automobile, the airplane, the network of highways, improved railroad and marine transportation, the era of mass production, and untold comforts and conveniences."
Texas started the century with good business conditions; and in a new spirit of unity and vision, the people of the state plunged into an aggressive campaign for economic development. Urban growth and the enhanced influence of business brought new forces into the economic limelight of Texas. Under these circumstances, the Chamber of Commerce movement in the state entered a new period of influence and effectiveness.
The foremost objective of the Houston Chamber of Commerce continued to be a deepwater port. Not all of the people in Houston shared its enthusiasm that a port miles inland would prove profitable. Galveston uniformly ridiculed the idea and could hardly believe that Houston could be serious about the proposal. The "Galveston News" chuckled editorially when Galveston merchant Sampson Heidenheimer's six barge loads of salt melted in a rain and ran into Buffalo Bayou en route to Houston. Its headlines announced: "Houston at last has a salt water port. God Almighty furnished the water; Heidenheimer furnished the salt!"
Suddenly, however, a hurricane-tidal wave smashed across Galveston Island on September 8-9, 1900, costing probably 8,000 lives and property losses in uncountable millions of dollars. As the advantages of a protected, inland port became apparent, the balance of commercial power began to shift toward Houston, which jumped from third to first place among Texas cities in the volume of commerce and industry, with bank deposits reaching $5,265,981.
After the Houston Chamber of Commerce redoubled its efforts, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 signed a bill appropriating one million dollars for Houston's port. On March 3, 1905, Congress modified the project by locating the terminus at the head of deep water at "Long Reach," the present Turning Basin, which was dredged to 18.5-foot depth in 1906-1907. Other appropriations were slow on the proposed 25-foot depth. Realizing that some extraordinary effort would have to be made if the project were to be completed in any reasonable time, the Chamber of Commerce organized a delegation to propose to the national government that they be permitted to continue contracting for the 25-foot channel from Bolivar Roads to the Turning Basin and that the taxpayers of Harris County would pay one-half of the construction cost, as well as providing adequate publicly owned water-terminal facilities. The delegation was headed by Mayor Baldwin Rice, nephew of William Marsh Rice.
This novel proposition was promptly accepted by the Congress, and the Texas State Legislature enacted the necessary Navigation District Law. On June 25, 1910, Congress appropriated one-half of the estimated $2,500,000 costs with "local interest to pay one-half thereof." The final contract was for $2,412,595.66, and the Navigation District paid its half, or $1,206,297.83, contributing an additional $200,000 towards the construction cost of two dredges for maintenance work. This negotiation resulted in a new national policy of local participation in river and harbor work.
Shortly after 1900, the Chamber of Commerce helped secure $100,000 to pave the muddy extension on Main Street, and in another project, the Chamber of Commerce marshaled civic-minded citizens in the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts.
President William McKinley came to Houston May 3, 1901, to make a major address, and President William Howard Taft spoke from the balcony of the Rice Hotel in 1909. He was the third national president to visit Houston while holding office, President Benjamin Harrison having spoken here in 1891.
The coming of the automobile created a demand for a good roads movement for which Chambers of Commerce supplied the initiative and leadership. However, efforts in 1903 failed to get the Texas Legislature to establish a Bureau of Highways to provide engineering counsel to counties on road building. Industrial interest was stimulated by a tour of Texas businessmen to Chicago and other Midwestern centers and by the creation of the Texas Industrial Association. It was recognized that adequate supplies of water, electric power and fuel were basic to the location of industry, and the Houston Chamber of Commerce addressed itself to these goals, to a study of the effect of legislative measures on industry, and to efforts for legislation to encourage the investment of home and foreign capital in Texas enterprises. John Kirby Allen, sometimes called the "father of industrial Texas," declared that "Texas today is on the high road to marvelous achievements." He said the state needed a "concert of action" to "bring to our borders the brain and the brawn and the capital of our sister states and of foreign countries."