YEARS OF READJUSTMENT (1945-1950)
John Gunther in "Inside U. S. A." said: "Houston is the biggest city in the state . . . where the symphony orchestra is of the feeblest . . with a residential section mostly ugly and barren." Hubert Roussel retorted: "The culture of Houston has recently been under attack by some visiting authors who know nothing about it. The most interesting thing in connection with their articles is the question of how the writers obtained their impressions, since none spent more than a couple of days in the city."
During 1958, it became apparent that the Houston economy was placing too much reliance upon basic mass-production industrial plants representing investments running into many millions of dollars but employing relatively few people. Employment in these plants after 1957 not only failed to increase with growing investments but actually declined. Increases in employment of small industries were being offset by decreases in the mass production industries as automation proceeded in the effort to reduce labor costs, to stabilize operations and to meet competition. The stalemate in the growth of manufacturing employment was balanced to a considerable degree by the buoyant activity in other phases of business activity in Houston.
Houston’s leadership began to recognize that the Houston-area economy needed a broader industrial base than that which had existed during the first half century of the community’s industrial development. Before 1900, the economy of the state and the Gulf Coast region was predominately agricultural—range-cattle raising and crop production. The virgin forests were wastefully exploited in the development of the lumber industry. Between 1900 and 1920, three significant events influenced the economy—the development of the oil industry, the rapid expansion of use of the internal combustion engine to create a market for petroleum products, and the completion of the Houston Ship Channel, which provided a means of getting petroleum products to the national and world markets. World War I and its aftermath, therefore, spotlighted the abundant natural resources of the Gulf Coast region and along with water transportation served as a magnet to draw major oil-refining industries as well as organic and inorganic chemical plants to the Houston area. World War II largely initiated the petrochemical and related industries and dramatized the economic potential of this region and produced revolutionary changes in its economy.
Efforts were started to diversify the industrial base of the Houston economy, since manufacturing provided the dynamic factor for it. A better balance in the economy seemed essential if Houston were to continue its growth rate of 4.3 percent annually. While expansion potential was still present in the chemical industry, it would be necessary to intensify efforts for more diversified industries—including consumer-product industries based upon the chemical intermediates being produced in the area, and other types of activities, such as research and development and headquarters operations.
It is interesting to note how accurate the application of this 4.3 percent growth factor has been. When this rate of increase was applied to the 1940 population for Harris County, it indicated a 1950 population of 806,000, whereas the federal census officially reported 806,701 for 1950. Similarly the projected figure for 1960 through the application of this factor was 1,230,000 for Harris County, compared to the census report of 1,243,148. The further extension of this growth rate, indicates a county population of 1,780,000 in 1970, 2,308,000 in 1975, and 2,830,000 in 1980.
The combination of two elements, people and per capita income, constitute a market. It is people with money to buy. A third factor is sometimes added, the "propensity to spend." The rapid growth of population in the Gulf Coast area, the rapid rate of increase in the per capita and family income, and the urge to buy created by promotional efforts for all types of consumer commodities, created a strong market in the Houston area that became increasingly attractive to consumer-product industries.
Mobility of population has also become another prominent characteristic of our area. This was evidenced by the west-southwest movement of the center of the nation’s population, and by the shift of population from rural homes to urban centers. In addition to its production and initial processing of natural resources and other factors favorable for a growing economy, the Houston area developed an institutional setup of financial organizations, public utilities, commercial structures and transportation facilities that combined to give it a promising future.
The drive for the development of a second major airport was stalled when the voters turned down a bond issue for this purpose, but efforts were continued for improvements at the Houston International Airport. Construction of the Pasadena Tunnel got under way with completion expected late in 1949, and plans were about set for the Baytown Tunnel with a completion date scheduled for 1950. The first section of the Galveston freeway from Dowling Street to Telephone Road was completed and put into service. Grading and drainage were largely completed on most of the route between Houston and Galveston. The year also marked the beginning of major development in apartment houses.
The Battleship Texas was formally dedicated as a Texas shrine at the San Jacinto Battleground April 21, 1948. The first South American president ever to visit Houston was entertained on July 13, when President Romulo Gallegos of Venezuela arrived, flying here in President Truman’s private airplane "Independence." Cultural activities began to get increased attention, with plans made for an expanded symphony orchestra program, and the Alley Theatre was started "with little cash but big ideas".
On the national scene in 1948, the conflict between President Truman and the 80th Congress made history, as did the Supreme Court’s declaration that religious education in public schools was unconstitutional. A hurriedly-created airlift kept the beleaguered city of Berlin supplied despite a Russian blockade, and Israel gained its independence. A V-2 rocket with an American-made guidance system became the world’s first guided missile, the development of the transistor was announced, and 33 1/3-rpm phonograph records were first marketed.
In Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Coke R. Stevenson for the United States Senate by a margin of 87 votes. The State Legislature, the next year, enacted the Gilmer-Aikin law, reorganizing the public school system of Texas and transferring administration of schools from local to state authorities.
The year of 1949 was an eventful one in international affairs. Russia exploded its first atomic bomb, years ahead of predictions. West Germany was set up as a republic. The Chinese Reds proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. The Point Four program got under way for the underdeveloped nations. Production of television receivers tripled over the preceding year, with the total going past 2,500,000 and with a trend toward larger tubes and lower prices. An all-electronic system of color television was demonstrated. The first high-altitude research rocket designed in the United States reached a height of 51.5 miles and a speed of 2,250 miles per hour. Later in the year a similar rocket reached an altitude of 250 miles.