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PROGRESS DESPITE DEPRESSION (1930-1940)

Reflecting the growth during the prosperity of the 1920ís, the United States recorded a population of 122,775,046 in 1930, and Texas had 5,824,715, with urban population having increased to 41 percent of the total. Having expanded to 72.2 square miles to accommodate its growth, Houston had a population of 292,352 in 1930, having more than doubled in ten years. It had increased its national ranking to 27th among cities of the country. Harris County had 359,352 people, surging into first place among Texas counties over Dallas and Bexar counties. In 1929 the county had 475 manufacturing plants with 26,21 3 employees.

The depression dominated interest during the first half of this decade, gradually yielding to a build-up for World War II during the last half. The "New Deal" took revolutionary steps to cope with the depression through the creation of various "alphabetical agencies", with federal bureaus administering and controlling many phases of American life. The Veterans Administration was established, and a "Bonus Army" encamped in Washington. Unemployment was estimated at 13,000,000 in 1933. The Japanese invaded Manchuria. Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Britain "for the woman I love". President Roosevelt announced a "Good Neighbor" policy toward Latin America. Scientists informed President Roosevelt of the possibility for making an atomic bomb and of the very real danger that Germany might be developing such a weapon. Howard Hughes won the "International Harmon Trophy" for his flight around the world in the record time of 3 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes. In September, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, leading to a Franco-British declaration of war. In America, the decade ended with a strong economic upsurge resulting from the tremendous volume of war orders that flooded the nationís factories.

This decade saw the state highway system taking more permanent form as local and statewide interests throughout Texas campaigned to get the state "out of the mud". The non-political nature of appointments to the State Highway Commission was established, a measure that has contributed significantly to the outstanding highway system that has kept pace with economic development since that time. Despite growing pressures for expenditures during the depths of the business depression, the finances of the state were maintained on a sound basis, although the first bond issue under the Constitution of 1876 was adopted as a depression measure. Industrial employment declined sharply during the depths of the depression and did not regain its 1929 level until 1939, and assessed valuations in the state did not regain the 1929 level until late in World War II.

Although the depression struck Houston a glancing blow, it slowed the cityís rate of progress appreciably, and a number of emergency measures had to be taken. Major buildings added to the downtown skyline during the decade included: American Investors, Chronicle, Telephone, Parcel Post, Chamber of Commerce addition, Federal, Oil and Gas, and Main Building (Humble).

By 1932 the promotional program of the Chamber of Commerce began to attract national and international attention to Houston. New investments in industry and commerce followed. What was to become one of Houstonís major annual events, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, began with strong Chamber of Commerce support during this period, and it rapidly took its place among the Southwestís most outstanding events of its type. The Chamber of Commerce continued to furnish its headquarters and a part of its staff until after World War II, when the show assumed a position of financial independence with its own full-time staff and autonomous headquarters.

The Intracoastal Canal system in 1934 linked Houston with the entire Mississippi River system of navigation, involving 9,812 miles of inland waterway spanning mid-America from Sioux City and St. Paul to Chicago and Pittsburgh. The University of Houston, founded in 1927 as a junior college, with Chamber of Commerce encouragement attained senior university status in 1934, and was on its way to its present position as second in size in the state, with almost 20,000 students, now being a part of the State University system.

With expanded air service being provided by Braniff and with the Port of Houston pushing up to rank second in tonnage in the nation, Houstonís optimistic outlook in coming out of the depression was dealt a staggering blow in 1935 when unprecedented rains overflowed Buffalo Bayou and inundated sections of downtown Houston in the worst flood the city ever suffered. With the too obvious need of flood control measures dramatizing its efforts, the Chamber of Commerce took immediate action to protect the city from this hazard in the future. Emergency measures were followed by the step-by-step development of a countywide flood control program on which the Chamber of Commerce has worked very closely with Harris County since that time.

The Centennial Year for both Houston and Texas in 1936 supplied the motivation for the Chamber of Commerce to initiate activities resulting in the construction of the nationís tallest monolithic monument to memorialize the Texans who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. This 570-foot structure, including the 125-foot-square base, was completed in 1939, and houses the San Jacinto museum.

Eastern Airlines inaugurated service into Houston in 1936, and during the same year, the City of Houston took action on a strong recommendation from the Chamber of Commerce and bought land for runways and hangars to build Houstonís first municipally owned and operated airport. The Fort Worth & Denver Railwayís 100-mph diesel-powered streamliner began Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth runs.

Then at the close of the decade, after Europe appeased its way into World War II, Houstonís leaders, recognizing that Houston with its industrial complex and with the resources of its area would become an increasingly strategic arsenal, met at the Chamber of Commerce to plan a program of cooperation with the national defense effort. It was also during this critical year that an all-bus transit system replaced street cars in the city.

When the Houston Chamber of Commerce took stock at the end of the year, it found the Port of Houston second only to the Port of New York in tonnage, and that the area was gaining increasing recognition as a desirable site for the location of industries and distribution facilities. A survey had shown that 62 percent of the cityís population were more or less directly dependent upon the petroleum industry and its related business. Wright Morrow, president of the Chamber of Commerce, considered this a challenge for achieving greater diversification in the communityís economy.

Agriculture was still basic to the economy of the area, and the convention business was being recognized as a major new industry. While the outlook for the city was optimistic, it was realized that within the last year the map of Europe had been changed, with a great part of the world plunged into another war. None could then foretell what shocks civilization might be called upon to endure or what adjustments might result from the conflict.

By the end of 1939, Houston was no longer a frontier town. While it still had youth and vigor, and while it had more than its share of vision and resolution, it was beginning to have some of the problems of maturity. A much more comprehensive highway and thoroughfare system was needed for the still relatively new automobile age. Early signs were beginning to show up of deterioration, of the need for renewal and rehabilitation. Industry was becoming a significant factor in the economy, and the need was recognized for greater diversification in Houstonís economic base. The air age was being felt, and Houstonís airline service was not adequate even for that pioneering period in airline passenger and cargo history.

Having weathered the depths of the depression better than most American cities, Houston was ready in 1939 to meet its challengesóbut, this would have to wait. As the nation steeled itself for the war effort, Houston found itself very much a part of the world conflict. Both Houston and the Houston Chamber of Commerce had enlisted in the service of their country for the duration of World War II.

 

 





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