YEARS OF READJUSTMENT (1945-1950)
Houston recognized in 1946 that the economic progress of the area rested as directly as ever upon the success of the farmer, and the Chamber of Commerce expanded its activity in farm and ranch services. Houston was the hub of a vast agricultural trade territory, with excellent rail, water, air and highway transportation serving an expanding market. The more immediate area embraced 35,100 farms totaling 6,455,000 acres, including 1,422,000 acres under cultivation. Factors contributing to the successful production of various types of field crops included: a long growing season, an annual rainfall of between 40 and 50 inches fairly well distributed through the year, a variety of soils, a topography permitting the use of modem machinery, and a growing local market.
The lifeline of Houston then, as now, was the Houston Ship Channel with its connecting network of waterways, railways, highways and airways. Speaking in May, 1946, Oveta Culp Hobby said, "World War II froze commercial shipping through Port Houston like an Arctic ice pack. Now the floes of war are thawing, and the question confronting Port Houston is: what of the future? Will the Ship Channel subside into the obscurity of a coast-wise backwater, or will it regain its prewar ascendancy and go forward to greater performance? The answer to this question depends partly upon the opportunities of foreign trade to develop in the new order of a changed world, and partly upon the enterprise and vision of the Port Commission and the aggressiveness of the business leaders of Houston. Both of these contingencies favor the prospect of a greater port development in the years ahead than it has yet known. For the spirit of progress pulsates as strongly in the builders of today as it did in those of yesterday. And prospects of post-war foreign trade, while as yet un-crystallized, are hopeful."
War-transportation needs had put Houston’s six trunk-line railway systems to their greatest test, and from 1940 through 1945 they increased their tonnage 128 percent, jumping from 1940’s 6,236,162 tons to 14,191,692 tons in 1945. This was done in the face of an acute manpower shortage, critical materials and equipment shortages, and other wartime restrictions. During 1945, these systems moved 43,280 freight trains in and out of Houston, an average of 146 freight trains daily, receiving and forwarding 397,976 carloads of freight and 250,302 less-than-carloads These six systems, late in 1945, had 33 scheduled passenger trains in and 33 out daily. Older type trains were being replaced by faster, streamlined trains, and steam locomotives were being replaced by diesel-power units.
A network of short-range bus lines served communities near Houston, and in addition there were seven long-line bus services, with a total of 228 schedules daily in and out. Six airlines’ daily schedules called for 30 planes in and 30 out, with the number and size of the aircraft rapidly increasing. In 1946, Harris County had a registration of 23,479 commercial trucks, an increase from 16,167 in ten years, despite the intervening war-restrictive years.
Houston was laying the foundation for the post-war period in many ways in 1946. Dr. E. W. Bertner was elected President of the Texas Medical Center, with plans being expanded for a complex of institutions chartered for "benevolent, charitable and educational purposes", but which was still largely in the planning stages. The Rice Institute was preparing for a new era, with the selection of Dr. William V. Houston, physicist and mathematician from the California Institute of Technology, as president to succeed Dr. Edgar Odell Lovett, who had been president since the opening of the university and who became president emeritus. Expansion plans were being drawn by the University of Houston.
Houston bank deposits reached the billion-dollar mark. Modern facilities for commercial aviation became one of the city’s liveliest issues. The re-development of the core city began with the ground-breaking ceremonies for Foley’s Department Store and with the City National Bank Building getting under way. Dedicating its activities to peacetime aims, the Community Chest and Council began its program of reconversion after four years of distinguished service as a War Chest. The Chamber of Commerce resumed its trade and goodwill trips to Mexico. The Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo began making ambitious long-range plans.
From the standpoint of meeting its public responsibilities Houston took its first major post-war step in July, when the voters approved by a vote of almost four-to-one a $55,225,000 public-works program for the city. This program had been developed by the Mayor’s Post War Planning Committee with the full assistance and support of the Chamber of Commerce. City improvements provided for by the various issues included storm and sanitary sewers, street and bridge improvements, airport additions and improvements, developments in the Civic Center, police and fire stations, and work on public buildings.
The Chamber of Commerce, in January, declared in the preamble to its program of works: "1946 is a year of opportunity for Houston. During the shift over of national and world economics from war to peace, the vast potentials of Houston and this area are greater than ever before. They are more generally recognized by our own people as well as by business and industrial leaders throughout the country. In the pent-up demand for goods of all types, in the wealth of natural and human resources abounding in this area, and in the continuation of development trends that have made Houston the South’s largest city, prospects are bright for the most fruitful year in the long history of the Houston Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce had its own reconversion program, from war emergency operations to a structure and staff to accomplish the goals established in its expanded community-building program. A number of changes were made in 1945 and 1946. Staff men continuing from prior years included W. N. Blanton, E. E. Dullahan, Roland A. Laird, T. W. Archer, T. A. Sieferth, C. E. Gilbert and Glen R. Blackburn. Returning to the staff from military service were Gordon H. Turrentine and W. O. Cox. New staff men, other than myself, were Harry deYbarrondo, R..J. Purner, Conrad H. Collier, Harold L. Messecar, Charles Tupper, Jay L. Cannon, Leonard S. Patillo, Howard Martin, and Dr. F. A. Buechel.
The year of 1946 in Houston turned blueprints into scaffolds and reconversion into expansion. During one week in October, announcements were made of a $3,900,000 Champion Paper expansion, a $11,700,000 Sheffield Steel expansion, and a $25,000,000 Shell Oil expansion. Industrial and commercial construction announcements were made throughout the year. In colorful ceremonies September 4, the $11,000,000 United States Naval hospital was activated. Houston became an International Air Gateway, with Braniff, Pan American and Chicago & Southern airlines obtaining permission to operate international services.
Records for 1946 showed 151,428 passenger cars, and 193,255 motor vehicles of all types in Harris County; building permits of $50,693,000 within the Houston city limits; $136,000,000 in non-residential construction contract awards, and $98,000,000 in residential construction contracts to build 14,000 dwelling units; postal receipts of $5,277,387, and in Harris County 181,889 electric current customers, 159,605 natural gas customers, and 174,477 telephones in service.
During 1947 the nation’s economy became a matter of growing concern, when rising food prices as well as prices for clothing, rent and other necessities aroused bitter complaints from a restless population. The nation dedicated itself to world cooperation under the "Marshall Plan", with a program of international aid "directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." The Taft-Hartley Bill amended many of the provisions of the Wagner Act and set something of a new pattern in labor relations. Supersonic speed was achieved by experimental jet aircraft, and Dr. J.A. Van Allen predicted space flight.
The most newsworthy event in Texas in 1947 was the explosion in Texas City on April 16 of the French SS Grandcamp, loaded with chemicals, which set off a series of explosions that killed more than 500 people and injured about 3,000, with property damage estimated in excess of $50,000,000. The State Legislature established the Texas State University for Negroes at Houston, its name later being changed to Texas Southern University. The 1947 Census of Manufacturers showed growth in the value added by manufacture in the state since 1939 from $453,105,423 to $1,727,464,000. Wage earners increased from 126,996 to 242,014, and wages from $128,138,703 to $558,420,000. In Harris County, 915 industrial plants were listed With employment of 58,254.
When Mayor Oscar Holcombe started his 8th term in the City Hall in January, after a six-year absence from the mayor’s office, the short-lived city manager type of government was soon to return to the full-time, strong mayor type. Earlier estimates of public works were revised upward with a total program of $145,114,117 being indicated, and with the City of Houston estimating a program of $75,419,506 in improvements. Climaxing their many outstanding philanthropies over the years, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Roy Cullen established a foundation worth an estimated $160,000,000 for the purpose of aiding educational, medical and charitable institutions in the State of Texas. Discussing their generosity, Mr. Cullen said:
"Many of our wealthy citizens are much less selfish than are we. For they are willing to allow their successors or the trustees of their estates to get the pleasure of giving money to these welfare organizations after they are dead and gone... We are selfish because we want to enjoy our money while we live.
Commenting editorially on the 10th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the San Jacinto Monument, the "Houston Magazine" said: "Houston has made great strides in the decade just completed. It has made this progress in the face of history’s most devastating war, and it has made it only because its business leaders were men of vision and men who were possessed of such patriotic zeal that it permitted them to work in unison for the good of the city they loved. Yes, it takes great men to make a great city and fortunate is Houston, for the passing decade has proven that it is the home not only of great men but also of unselfish men, who possessed with rare vision the will and determination to make realities out of dreams.