THE END AND THE BEGINNING (1940-1945)
World War II dominated the period from 1940 to 1945. In 1940, the United States recorded a population of 131,669,275, life expectancy was up to 64 years from 49 years in 1900, illiteracy was down to 4.2 percent, and the country had 30,000,000 home radios. The population of Texas was 6,414,824, up only 10.1 percent over 1930, and the rural dominance in the state was down to 54.6 percent. The census showed 384,514 in the 73 square miles of Houston, with 528,961 in Harris County, well out ahead of Dallas County’s 398,564 and Bexar County’s 338,179. In 1939, Texas had recorded 5,085 manufacturing plants with 163,978 employees, and Harris County had 620 plants with 27,116 employees.
Houston completed its first modern airport in 1940 when an administration building and hangar were constructed with the strong encouragement of the Chamber of Commerce. A few months later, Chicago & Southern Airlines, which merged 12 years later with Delta Air Lines, started Houston service. Pioneer Air Lines began flying between Houston and other Texas cities in 1943, and the following year the Chamber of Commerce was successful in prolonged efforts to overcome a federal order and Houston was designated as an international air gateway, with Pan American World Airways beginning international flights out of Houston shortly afterwards.
As the Houston Chamber of Commerce observed its 100th anniversary in 1940, the flames of war were already threatening the nations of the world. The emergency had already sparked the country to a gigantic program of preparation.
The pulse of the nation was quickened by the prospect of things to come, and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce found new responsibilities day by day.
The immediate response of the Houston Chamber of Commerce to this call to duty was prompt and generous and inspiring. It volunteered for the duration. It spearheaded the reactivation of Ellington Field, conducted surveys of plant facilities and sites, created and maintained contacts with all the procurement agencies, showed the way in civilian defense, and did a thousand-and-one other chores to help the nation gird for war.
With the build-up of the war, the Chamber of Commerce marshaled manpower and resources and facilities and led the home front into full support of the fighting front. Representation was maintained in Washington to assure constant liaison for Houston industry and commerce with war agencies. Cooperation was given to the all-out effort to recruit, to train and to equip the armed forces. A Soldiers’ Service Bureau was established for the benefit of troops in Houston.
Officials of government, the army, the navy and the maritime service looked to the Chamber of Commerce for local assistance. No one who lived through those times can forget the stirring campaign to recruit a thousand men to man the new Cruiser Houston; the hundreds of meetings and clinics to interpret wartime controls; surveys of storage, office and warehouse facilities; interviews with more than 1,500 candidates for the Army Specialists Corps; training programs in cooperation with institutions of education; and all activities, vital and essential, to give Houston a key role in the waging of the war.
Inspired rates of production, respect for wartime regulations, full cooperation with war agencies and war campaigns were generated in a great measure by the Chamber of Commerce. This organization handled gasoline rationing, the victory garden program, and other war efforts involving public performance and public conscience.
The United States in 1940 had realized it was in the position a football coach would be in at the beginning of the season if he found he had only a mass of men, the bulk of whom had not played football, and those who had played, had played only touch football. We had no equipment in bulk, except that left over from the last war, and those stores which we had were of types of weapons which were being left rapidly behind in the progress of the new war. We had almost no weapons in existence which we could use, either in the shape of planes, tanks or artillery.
Probably the most fundamental weapon of warfare is powder, and our nation had practically no powder, nor did we have any powder plants to make it. Our military leaders were going around like Israel Putnam, saying, "Powder, powder, for God’s sake give me powder!" Our citizenship generally was still not alert to the situation, due both to lack of understanding of the needs and to the unwillingness of those who recognized those needs to let the people realize just how bad the situation was.
Slowly we began to realize that under a program of national emergency there could be no "business as usual". Modern war had become total war. It was not merely a war of guns and men, but it was a civilian war as well. All-out effort became a necessity. We found ourselves in a titanic production job, for which we soon realized that the plant was unsuited, the materials short, and the organization inadequate. We had been a peace-loving nation, and for the cause of peace, we had allowed the machinery for wartime production to become obsolete.
The situation brought new problems of increasing intensity to business. Industry had to provide the tools for defense. Labor had the obligation, under our system of freedom, to keep the wheels of production turning. Agriculture had the responsibility to raise the food for the millions of workers in industry, on the training fields, and among the fighting forces. Capital had to provide the motor power to keep industry going at full speed, forgetting the profit and remembering only the cause. Business hoped to expand production to meet defense requirements as well as the normal needs of our people—both guns and butter.
Production for defense challenged the resourcefulness and capacities of American enterprise. Defense production increasingly was given the "right-of-way" all down the line. Our fleet and merchant marine had to be enlarged with all possible speed. The equipping and training of an adequate armed force had to proceed without delay. The air arm of the army and the navy had to be expanded to protect us against any contingency, and our outlying naval and air bases had to be equipped and manned with all possible dispatch.