YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION (1955-1960)
The year 1959 brought Houston an influx of headquarters moves. This included the consolidation of all producing, refining, marketing and marine operations of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey affiliates in the United States into a new merged company called Humble Oil & Refining Company. Mobil Oil Company, Gulf Oil Corporation, Texaco, Inc., Tidewater Associated Oil Company, and Sunray Mid-Continent Oil Company all expanded headquarters operations in Houston. The trend had been started a few years earlier with the move of the headquarters for Continental Oil Company to Houston.
Headquarters growth for long-range gas transmission companies contributed substantially to the consolidation years of Houston. By the close of 1959, these included Tennessee Gas Transmission Company, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corporation, Trunkline Gas Company, Columbia Gulf Transmission Company, Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation, Transwestern Pipeline Company, and Anchorage Gas Corporation.
Since a hectic day in 1543 when survivors of DeSoto’s expedition patched their boats with an oily substance found near Sabine Pass, the black magic from the earth was destined to play a major role in the dynamic drama of the development of Texas. From this tiny, but first recorded, use of oil in North America, a huge industrial giant arose to spread over the earth, leaving in its wake, vast pools of wealth and a new era in the history of mankind. This is the story the Houston Chamber of Commerce sought to tell for several years through its sponsorship of "Oil Progress Week."
Situated as it is, in the heartland of the North American oil country, Houston reaped the benefits of oil; its growth lubricated by the sometimes slippery fortunes of petroleum. But this industry remains as electrifying as the old-time boom towns which blossomed wherever a drill bit hit pay sand.
For Houston and the Gulf Coast, and to a major extent the world, the oil era began with Spindletop, that epoch-making gusher which blew in on January 10, 1901, near Beaumont, and flooded the Gulf Coast with an oil fever which has never subsided. From Colonel Drake’s discovery at Titusville in 1859, to the first drop of oil to fall back upon earth from Spindletop, America produced a little more than a billion barrels of crude oil. Beginning in 1951, however, Texas alone has averaged a billion barrels a year. And since Drake’s discovery, until 100 years later, in 1959, Texas had produced more than 36 percent of the nation’s oil.
Even today, one would be hard pressed to find a home or a business in metropolitan Houston where the presence of oil is not intimately felt. For oil, and its kindred products, provides employment for some 100,000 metropolitan Houstonians, who feed their families, clothe them, support their schools and their churches, give to charity, buy cars, buy boats and homes. So, at the centennial of the oil industry, oil’s imprint was deep in the metropolitan Houston economy. Its payrolls amounted to some $250,000,000 each year, and in 1958, the industry had invested some $166,000,000 in drilling operations. In Houston’s 30-county trade territory, oil values had reached a staggering $450,000,000, while some $100,000,000 worth of natural gas was produced. For the entire state, oil and gas production amounted to $3,350,000,000 in 1958.
In urging the city to give higher priority to the Civic Center, President Lockwood pointed out that the first purchase of land for the Civic Center had been made in 1927, and that the Center was still far from complete. "This is an astounding record of inaction on a project which could be so meaningful to our community if properly developed," he said. From the very inception of the idea, and continuing through eleven successive bond issues prior to 1959, the Chamber of Commerce had given consistent support to every step in the development of the Civic Center. During this time, the citizens of Houston had voted $6,900,000 in bonds to purchase land for the center, and $2,200,000 had been approved in 1958 to acquire land to expand the Center. With $1,600,000 in funds on hand, the city still had not purchased all the land included in the original boundaries, although appraisals of these parcels had been made in 1954, 1956 and 1957. The city was urged to proceed immediately to buy the remainder of the land, to develop a plan for the Center, and to carry it out with all possible dispatch. "Nothing should be left undone to bring the Civic Center to complete fruition," President Lockwood said. "Thirty-two years is a long time to wait."
About the same time, the Chamber of Commerce was urging Harris County to authorize a preliminary engineering survey of metropolitan Houston’s flood-control needs. Pointing to a "basic lack of over-all information" about the county’s flood-control needs, the Chamber of Commerce suggested this study as a first step toward a master flood-control program, and that it include: (1) an analysis of the county’s drainage problem; (2) a complete picture of existing flood-control facilities; and (3) basic requirements for future flood-control projects. Noting the worthwhile dividends reaped by the city and county in using a master plan for an area highway and street program, President Lockwood stressed the need for a similarly comprehensive program for flood control.
Economists looked forward to 1960 with high hopes of acceleration of the upward trends that dominated the national scene the year before. There was talk of the "soaring sixties" and of the "surging sixties," but early in the decade this was to change to the "sagging sixties." This was the year that the U-2 was shot down over Russia, scuttling the Summit Conference in Paris. The decennial census counted 179,323,175 inhabitants of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The average per capita income set a new record in the nation of $2,218. For the first time in history, a series of presidential campaign debates were televised. John F. Kennedy was elected President. The Soviet-Chinese ideological rift began to become apparent to the free world. Descending to 37,800 feet, the Bathyscaphe found life existing at those ocean depths. The Echo satellite became the first communications satellite when signals were bounced off of it, and it was also the first that could be seen in orbit by the naked eye. France became the fourth member of the atom club.
In accepting the presidency of the Chamber of Commerce for 1960, Leon Jaworski said: "Had I been blessed with the power freely to choose a time to serve as president of the Chamber of Commerce, I would have chosen 1960—the beginning of what promises to be a dynamic new decade of plenty. What the future holds for Houston is limited only by the imagination of its people. And it is through the Houston Chamber of Commerce that the community’s business and professional leaders voluntarily bring their imagination, their resources and their talents to bear on the complex problems and issues inherent in constantly striving to make Houston a better city in which to live and do business."
Downtown Houston was experiencing an outstanding example of urban renewal through the enterprise economy. The $100,000,000, seven-acre Cullen Center was getting under way. In the works were the 44-story Humble Building, the new 31-story First City National Bank Building, the $15,000,000 Sheraton Lincoln Hotel and Building, the 12-story Federal Office Building, a new main Post Office, and the 11-story World Trade Center.
As the door swung shut on one decade and open on another in the long passage of time, metropolitan Houston stood on the threshold of an era which promised to become the most productive in its remarkable history. By the turn of the century, 64-year-old Houston had a population approaching 45,000, representing a slow but steady growth. In the next 60 years, Houston added 20 times that number. The first major thrust came during the 1910-1920 period when the opening of a deep-water port, the beginning of the oil industry and the rapid increase in the use of the internal-combustion engine combined to accelerate growth in the Houston area.
During the 1920’s, oil developments plus port operations pushed Houston up into metropolitan status and established the city’s importance in the economy of the nation and of the world, as Houston had climbed to rank third among the cities of Texas. But by 1930, Houston had surpassed Dallas and San Antonio to assume first place as the largest city in the state. Building on the previous decade’s rapid but sound growth, Houston had developed a widely diversified economy and was able to draw strength from many different industries to ride out the depression with less economic displacement than was suffered by most comparable areas.
Even greater economic impetus pushed Houston still further ahead during the war-torn decade beginning in 1940. Houston had the recourses and industrial potential to assume a commanding role in building the arsenal for war. Expanding job opportunities attracted an increasing population, enriching this area’s purchasing power in proportion. By 1950, it was becoming obvious that this war-time growth was but the beginning of a new industrial-development pattern which would take Houston to the top as the nation’s leader in oil, natural gas, petrochemicals and their allied industries.
Called the "Fabulous Fifties" by the more flair-minded phrase-makers, the 1950-1960 period became recognized both literally and alliteratively as the "Dynamic Decade" for Houston and its surrounding area. This remarkable progress was a logical extension of a trend based on a sound foundation of natural resources, primary industry, expanding population, high-purchasing-power markets, and a strategic world commerce by land, sea and air.