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INDUSTRY FOR WAR AND PEACE (1910-1920)

The 1910 census indicated a national population of 91,972,266, and a state population of 3,896,542, with Texas thus taking fifth place among the states of the union. Houstonís population was 78,800, ranking it 73rd among the nationís cities, and Harris County reported 115,693, still trailing Dallas and Bexar counties in Texas. Indicative of the growing importance of industry to the state and local economy, the census of manufacturers in 1909 showed 4,588 industrial establishments with 80,079 employees in Texas, and 249 plants with 6,289 employees in Harris County.

This was an eventful decade for Texas and the nation. Sparked by the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, war broke out in Europe in mid-1914, and quickly took on world-wide significance. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, and the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. The war cost the United States 349,000 armed-forces casualties, with 112,000 dead, and a direct expense of $32,800,000,000.

The federal-aid road act in 1916 established a federal-aid program for state highway building. Illiteracy in the United States reached a new low of 7.7 percent, a decline from 12.3 percent in 1870. The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank with a loss of 1,502 lives. The influenza epidemic took a heavy toll of lives during the war years. The 18th Amendment, prohibiting liquor traffic, was adopted. The 8-hour day became standard for railroad workers.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard, in 1914, received the first U. S. patent for multi-stage rockets, a development that attracted little notice until the coming of the space age. The first cross-country airplane flight consumed 82 hours and 4 minutes in flying time. Automobile Owners found that people were willing to pay for a short ride, and so the taxicab was born, with a standard price of a nickel, or "jitney", a term that was soon applied to the cars themselves.

More than 200,000 Texans saw service during World War I, and because of the mild winters and dry climate in much of Texas, some of the principal training camps of the nation were located here, with Camp Logan being located in what is now Memorial Park in Houston. Middle West Texas suffered one of the most severe droughts of its history in 1917 and 1918. The public school system of the state was strengthened during this period with a new compulsory attendance law and provision for free textbooks. Women voted for the first time in Texas in 1918, even prior to the adoption of the 19th Amendment nationally.

Houstonís progress had gained national attention, and new business was being attracted, particularly in connection with the oil industry.

With the new decade only ten days old, voters in Harris County approved a port-improvement bond issue for $1,250,000 which the Chamber of Commerce pushed to a 16-to-1 victory. This provided the matching funds for the federal program for a 25-foot channel, as has been indicated. At that time, the city had been expanded to 15.84 square miles, and bank deposits totaled $29,178,678. In 1913, the Rice Institute opened, while during the year that followed, the Main Street viaduct opened and parcel-post service was inaugurated. During the same year George H. Hermann gave Houston 278 acres near the Rice campus; that tract has become the Hermann Park and Zoo and the site of the Texas Medical Center.

By June, 1914, the Ship Channel dredging had been completed to a 25-foot depth from the Turning Basin to the Gulf, and on November 10, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House to fire, by remote control, the mortar gun which officially opened the Port of Houston to ocean-going commerce. The first deep-water vessel to call at Houston was the Southern Steamship Companyís Satilla, which arrived on August 22, 1915. It had been delayed five days by the hurricane of that year which left Galveston with 200 dead and $50,000,000 in property damage.

Captain Frank P. Robinson of the Satilla greeted Mayor Ben Campbell with: "Your channel is great! We came from the mouth without any trouble whatever." Speakers for the occasion included Lieutenant Governor (later Governor) William P. Hobby, Port Commission Chairman Jesse H. Jones, and R. M. Farrar, who said: "The arrival of the Satilla, inaugurating regular steamship service between New York and Houston, marks an epoch in the commercial and industrial life of this city." Even more prophetically, D. D. Peden declared: "The arrival of the Satilla is one of the biggest events the City of Houston will ever know . . . The saving in freight rates, inevitably, will bring many manufacturing plants to the banks of the Houston Ship Channel."

Once again the curious timing of history emphasized the value of Houstonís inland and protected port. Three developments linked together a chain of timely coincidences which would tie Houston to an exciting future. World War I brought the development and widespread usage of the internal combustion engine to open vast markets for gasoline that could be refined from the oil that had been produced in increasing quantities in this area since the Spindletop discovery. Thus the discovery of oil, the opening of the Ship Channel and the expansion of markets for gasoline and lubricants combined to give Houston an economic momentum that continues to accelerate.

The Texas Company, organized in 1908, built its skyscraper at Rusk and San Jacinto streets in 1914. The Humble Oil and Refining Company was chartered in 1917, the same year that Gulf Oil decided to come to Houston. In 1918, Sinclair Oil Companyís 700-acre site became the first refinery staked out on the Houston Ship Channel.

During World War I, the Chamber of Commerce marshaled the civic forces of the community for the war effort, providing leadership for Liberty Bond drives, rationing programs, and for "wheatless", "porkless" and "meatless" days. Construction started on the Ellington Air Base in 1917, and in recognition of Houstonís potential as a war-industry shipping port, the federal government earmarked $3,500,000 to deepen the Ship Channel to 30 feet. The Southern Aircraft Company became the first commercial airline to serve Houston.

At the end of the war, the Chamber of Commerce busied itself with plans for postwar adjustment. Its representatives participated in a statewide readjustment conference which studied all aspects of the postwar situation in the state. The need for coordination of economic development activities was recognized, but it was felt that because of its size, Texas did not lend itself to a single statewide organization. Thus began the creation of the Regional Chambers of Commerce.

 

 





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