YEARS OF EXPANSION (1950-1955)
The mid-century period found all systems "go" in Houston as well as throughout the state and nation. Post-war readjustment had been largely accomplished, and by the beginning of 1951 a normal flow of supplies and equipment was being recorded. Business expenditures in new plant and equipment, corporate profits, construction contracts (both public and private), and the gross national product were setting new records.
This was a period of expansion throughout the Houston area. The index of industrial activity as measured by the non-residential consumption of electric current in Harris County went from 146 in 1951 to 270 in 1955, while the index for the non-residential consumption of natural gas climbed from 149 in 1951 to 192 in 1955. During the same period, department store sales moved from an index of 127 to 153, and bank debits to individual accounts from 146 to 194. Automobile and truck registrations in the county increased from 333,462 in 1951 to 475,212 in 1955, while bank deposits increased from $1,411,901,000 to $1,899,855,000. During this five-year period, 88,091 residential units were completed in Harris County at a cost of $737,982,000.
It was during this five-year period that the Galveston freeway was opened as the first unit of the Houston area’s master freeway system, the new Houston International Airport terminal building was dedicated, and metropolitan Houston or Harris County passed the magic million mark in population. Under the leadership of Governor Allan Shivers, Texas had an unprecedented period of prosperity, and the skyline of Houston was changing with the addition of the following buildings: Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, Great Southern Life Insurance Company, Prudential Insurance Company, Bank of Commerce, Harris County Courthouse, San Jacinto, Melrose, Gulf Interstate, 1114 Texas Avenue, Old National Life, Houston Club, Texas National Bank, and J. Robert Neal Building.
This was a period of many records in the achievements of mankind. Dr. Wernher von Braun predicted that a doughnut-shaped space station would orbit the earth 1,075 miles out. Direct long-distance dialing was introduced, and mass trials of the Salk polio vaccine were made. Five primates were dropped in a weightless state for three minutes and it was found that no significant blood change resulted. The electronic computer was demonstrated, and for the first time the general public had the privilege of seeing the national party conventions on television. Peaceful uses of the atom were being explored.
But there were also shadows over the earth. The Korean war began to take on the appearance of a stalemate, and the problem of economic mobilization forced all other issues into low priority positions. The cold war assumed a different hue with the death of Joseph Stalin, and Communist propaganda shifted from social revolution and international class war to a peace propaganda designed to exploit the world’s natural and legitimate desire for peace and economic reconstruction. France accepted a hard and humiliating peace in Indochina, and the U. S. Congress authorized the president to use armed forces in the defense of Formosa.
In Texas, the issue of state ownership of submerged coastal lands was finally settled, a state land scandal made headlines, and prolonged drought conditions in some sections of the state created serious water shortages both in farm and municipal supplies.
Following World War II, with the Soviet Union fostering a Communist government north of the 38th Parallel in Korea and the United Nations sponsoring a Western-oriented government south of that line, Korea became both a political and a military problem for the United States. The day after North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea, on June 26, 1950, United Nations members were called upon to aid the Republic of Korea. The United States provided a disproportionate share of troops for this action, and the strain was soon felt throughout the country.
Steps were taken nationally to curb inflation as the Korean campaign brought the United States to the brink of World War III, and the year saw a marked intensification of the atomic armament race. President Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of all his commands, and General Dwight Eisenhower was put in command of the Supreme Allied Headquarters in Europe. There he saw Berliners rigged out in "space suits" and helmets to advertise a motion picture made in this country entitled "Destination Moon".
During 1951 the crime investigation by a Senate committee headed by Estes Kefauver attracted wide attention. The nation experienced the most damaging flood in its history with the Midwest suffering one billion dollars in losses. Paper-bound books soared to popularity, while universities and colleges were concerned over a sharp drop in enrollment as the armed-force strength reached 2,900,000, and employment of women in American industry surpassed the World War II peak. The year also saw the first electricity generated from atomic energy, and the first transcontinental television broadcast.
The Korean emergency soon brought back into production the rubber plants in the Houston area which had been in mothball status since shortly after the close of World War II. Aluminum firms were active in new plant-location studies, spurred by the government’s stockpiling agreements, and production was already coming from the Point Comfort works of the Aluminum Company of America. The important gains registered by the chemical industry in the Texas Gulf Coast area during 1950 continued through the new year, with new and expanded facilities being announced.
Recognizing the possible impact of the war threat, W. N. Blanton on resigning late in January, 1951, after 22 years as executive vice president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce (to become president of the Starworth Drilling Company) said: "I feel strongly that Houston and the entire Gulf Coast area are on the threshold of another great period of industrial growth and expansion which will be influenced to a great measure by the present national emergency."
For more than two decades, Mr. Blanton had made the development of Houston’s welfare through the channels of the Chamber of Commerce his prime objective in life; and because of his unceasing and efficient endeavors, the Chamber of Commerce had a major role in practically every important business, civic and cultural undertaking during his tenure. When I succeeded him on March 1, 1951, my statement was brief. I said: "Houston offers a tremendous challenge. The past progress of this city is evidence of its future potentialities. Throughout the life span of the city, the Houston Chamber of Commerce has been in the forefront of its development. We expect Houston’s development to continue, and for the Chamber of Commerce to continue to provide the leadership for this development."
With the tidelands oil controversy still undecided, a concerted effort was being made in some quarters to deny the oil industry the essential relief provided by the depletion allowance. Speaking in opposition to this effort, Lieut. Gen. Ernest O. Thompson of the Texas Railroad Commission said: "Our men are fighting in Korea, and our national security is in peril. Every possible incentive should be offered to the petroleum industry to find more oil, rather than to weaken the tax structure which has enabled it to fuel two World Wars and at the same time to take care of essential civilian requirements."
In its April, 1951, issue, the "Houston Magazine" reviewed the first half of the 20th Century in Houston in the light of current developments, seeing progress and promise, with a citizenship possessed of a united desire and intention to see that it developed into a still greater city. In 1900, when Houston had a population of 45,000, oil was still undiscovered at Spindletop and a deepwater port was still a dream. When the new century opened, the city limits included only nine square miles. It had five national and two private banks with an aggregate capital of $3,000,000 and with total deposits of $5,265,981.
Residential construction was at a low ebb in 1900, in comparison to the record-setting pace a half century later. As late as 1935, only 1,342 family units a year were built in Houston, and the rate climbed steadily until 5,075 were built in 1940. During the war years, the total dropped under 2,000 annually; but once war-short materials became available, residential construction in Houston began to keep pace with the growth of the city. From 5,709 in 1946 and 5,881 in 1947, the annual number of family units reached 11,908 in 1950.
During the five post-war years through 1950, over $27,000,000 had been spent by the Houston Independent School District on public school buildings; and a survey of building needs for the next five years showed that funds should be provided for 22 elementary schools, six junior high schools, four senior high schools, and expansion of several existing buildings. By 1951, the University of Houston had completed a $10,500,000 post-war building program. Another $10,000,000 in construction was under way at the Texas Medical Center. The City of Houston was projecting a $56,000,000 construction program, while Harris County planned $21,000,000 in work including a new courthouse and jail. The Flood Control District had a $5,000,000 program, and the Texas Highway Department had $37,000,000 in road construction under way in the county.
Work was progressing on the Gulf Freeway in 1951 at a cost of $1,500,000 a mile, and it was being hailed as the outstanding highway engineering development since World War II as well as a model for the nation. Construction had been started in 1946, and about six miles had been completed, with four additional miles under construction. When the first section was opened, it was estimated that the freeway would reach a capacity of 70,000 vehicles by 1957, but by early in 1951, the total use had already surpassed that estimate. Travel-time studies indicated that a freeway of this type would save its users enough in a relatively few years to equal the total cost. A freeway system for the entire Houston area was being planned under the watchful eye of the Highway Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, and steps were being taken by the city and county to reserve rights-of-way for this program.
Some additional statistical comparisons reflect Houston’s growth rate for the first half of the 20th Century. Population had increased from 45,000 in metropolitan Houston to about 600,000. The number of school children in the Houston district had grown from 12,000 to 96,000. Bank deposits had zoomed from five and one-quarter millions to $1,333,053,602. Building permits had increased from $1,165,000 to $176,932,000 for the year, and postal receipts from $118,180 to $8,323,999.
Col. W. B. Bates, president of the Chamber of Commerce, reviewed progress of the Texas Medical Center in an address to the Kiwanis Club in 1951. He recalled that just five years before, Dr. E. W. Bertner, Center president, had addressed the club on plans for the Medical Center. At that time, there were no streets in the area and no buildings other than the original Hermann Hospital. Colonel Bates said that during this five-year period, more than a half-million dollars had been spent paving streets, installing storm and sanitary sewers, installing street lights and making other site improvements. He said the new Hermann Hospital had been completed, as had the 14-story Hermann Professional Building; that the Baylor University College of Medicine was in operation, and that the new Methodist Hospital would be opened in October, with the Arabia Temple Crippled Children’s Hospital to open the following month; and that construction was under way on the Texas Children’s Hospital, St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, and the M. D. Anderson Hospital for Cancer Research.
During the prior four years, more hospital beds had been added in Houston than in any other city in the state, with a further large number to be added during the balance of 1951 as well as during 1952 and 1953. In 1941, when Houston was pushing 400,000 in population, it had only 1,720 hospital beds; but by mid-1951, it had 4,368, or an increase of 154 percent, which was about three times the rate of population increase. With projects already announced, the total number of hospital beds was expected to pass 6,000 by the end of 1953.