PERIOD OF ACCELERATED GROWTH (1920-1930)
After World War I, when the census bureau counted heads, it found that the population of the United States had increased to 105,710,620, and for the first time in the nationís history the rural population accounted for less than 50 percent of the total population. Texas had 4,663,228 people, but in this state 67.6 percent were still classified as rural. With its corporate limits expanded to 38.7 square miles, Houstonís population reached 138,276, the nationís 45th largest city, with 186,667 in the county, which still left it third in Texas behind Dallas and Bexar counties. The increased industrialization of Texas was shown by the census of manufacturers in 1919, reflecting 5,390 plants with 124,110 employees. For Harris County, this census showed 422 plants, with 11,411 productive employees. Houstonís bank deposits in 1920 soared to $87,462,936, and building permits to $8,531,447.
This was a decade of "boom and bust" in the United States and of revolutionary political developments overseas. Mussolini seized power in Rome; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed; the United States Senate refused to ratify the League of Nations; and although Adolph Hitler was unsuccessful in his Beer Hall "Putsch", he charted his future course in "Mien Kampf". Womenís suffrage was approved in the 19th Amendment, knee-length skirts and the Charleston dance were in vogue, and crossword puzzles became the rage. Charles A. Lindbergh made the first solo flight from New York to Paris in 33.5 hours, and Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Home radios became popular, with the first play-by-play broadcast of a world series and the first commercially sponsored program. "Talking movies and then colored motion pictures were introduced. Colonel Billy Mitchell sought to demonstrate the superiority of air power by bombing a captured ship, but was court-marshaled for his insistent advocacy of an independent air arm. Life expectancy reached 54.09 years, railroad mileage reached an all-time high of 253,000, and the Teapot Dome oil scandal broke. A wave of lawlessness was associated with the Ku Klux Klan and Oklahoma was placed under martial law because of Klan activities. Then, on October 29, 1929 the Wall Street stock market crashed to begin the "great depression".
The construction of a coordinated highway system in Texas began in 1925, and the State Highway Department was given the responsibility for planning, constructing and maintaining highways built with state and federal funds. Earlier road building by counties had given little consideration to the connecting of roads from one county to another for a system of through highways. Motor bus and overland truck operations came with highway improvements. Transportationís growth encouraged the start of commercial aviation.
The Port of Houston began seeking foreign markets as well as sources of supply, and the Chamber of Commerce organized the first of its many trade and goodwill trips into Latin America by chartering a steamship for a Caribbean cruise. By 1926, the Port of Houston ranked 11th in the nation in tonnage, and cotton receipts reached almost two million bales. By this time, the taxpayers of the county had invested $11,000,000 in port improvements. New million-dollar freight terminals were being built by the Southern Pacific and the M-K-T railroads.
Reminiscing on his staff service with the Houston Chamber of Commerce since 1914, G. C. Roussel said in 1931 that if he were called upon to select the one most important community service of the Chamber of Commerce over the years, he would name its role in building the Port of Houston. "In every campaign to vote bonds for this work," he said, "the Chamber of Commerce had taken a leading part, shouldering the task of reaching the voters personally, and selling them on the community benefits to be derived from such a waterway. None of us who had a part in this work can travel the channel as it exists today without feeling a sense of personal pride and satisfaction. Yet no one individual has ever been glorified because of his contributions to that cause. The great port stands as a mighty testimonial to the faith of a few men, who transmitted that faith to others."
In 1922, Houston received its first motorized fire-fighting equipment. By 1923, a skyscraping young skyline had pushed building permits up to $20,000,000. Among the buildings erected during this decade are the following: C. & I. Life, West, Bankers Mortgage, Abstract & Title, Cotton Exchange, State National, United Gas, Bettes, Heights State Bank, Niels Esperson, Shell, South Coast Life, Electric, Medical Arts, Petroleum, Chamber of Commerce, Gulf, and Federal Land Bank.
Houston railroads organized the Port Terminal Railroad in July, 1924. A bus line began the Houston-Dallas run in 1925, with 30 to 40 hours being required in bad weather for a one-way trip. The Ship Channel was dredged to 30 feet, and the Southern Steamship Company started Houston-Philadelphia service. Natural gas, piped in from Refugio County, was distributed in Houston for the first time in 1926. On February 26, 1928, a Pitcairn biplane with Houstonís first air mail landed at the Houston airport, which did not officially open until March 2nd. Anticipating the definitive importance of the coming air age, the Chamber of Commerce had organized early civic support for aviation facilities and services.
One of the most significant events in the history of Houston came during this period with the hosting of the National Convention of the Democratic Party. As a civic service, the Chamber of Commerce took the main responsibility for organizing facilities and arrangements. The convention, meeting July 26-29, nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York for the presidency on June 28 and Senator Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas for the vice presidency on June 29th, each on the first ballot.
During the five years prior to the stock market crash in 1929, Houston experienced one of its greatest periods of development. Building permits climbed from $22,594,564 in 1924 to more than $40 million in 1929; bank clearings from $1,560,707,890 to more than two billion dollars; postal receipts from a million and a half dollars to over two million; water connections from 25,559 to more than 50,000; telephone connections from 43,157 to almost 70,000; and electric light connections from less than 50,000 to almost 85,000.
This type of development prompted B. D. Sartin, editor of "County Progress", the official publication of the County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas, to write: "Houston is a city of no mean reputation and in fact is the fastest growing city in the South, and the writer predicts that it is destined to be the greatest city within the entire South within the next ten years.
In 1929, W. N. Blanton came to Houston as executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce to a new era launch of effective service for the organization. He said: "Houston is growing rapidly and we must keep her abreast of the time. She is already recognized as one of the most progressive cities of the nation. Surely, every citizen wants to feel that he has contributed something to the community in which he lives and prospers; and if he will acquaint himself with the avenues through which these benefits flow to him, we feel that he will find membership in the Chamber of Commerce to be not only a desirable thing, but a civic duty."
After Mr. Blantonís resignation early in 1951 to go into the oil well drilling contracting business, the "Houston Magazine" expressed the thoughts of the Houston business community, when it said editorially: "Few men, in the history of Chambers of Commerce, have been more honored by colleagues, or have been more universally recognized as a leader in their profession, than has William Neal Blanton, who this month leaves the Houston Chamber of Commerce, of which he has been executive vice president and general manager for twenty-two years. Under his able and energetic leadership the city he has ever served with a sincere devotion has tripled in size and worldly importance, and the Houston Chamber of Commerce has become recognized as one without a peer in efficiency and productivity."