YEARS OF EXPANSION (1950-1955)
In May, 1953, the "Houston Magazine" said: "Probably the largest single factor in Houston’s rise to the rank of the South’s largest city has been the development of the Port of Houston from an almost insignificant waterway into the nation’s second largest port, in terms of total tonnage." It was estimated that approximately twelve dollars out of every hundred dollars spent in Houston derived in some way from the port. Total tonnage moving through the Port of Houston in 1952 was announced as 46,607,179, a substantial increase over the total of 43,774,781 in 1951, thus preserving Houston’s second-place ranking among the nation’s ports in total tonnage.
What was considered the most important decision affecting shippers and receivers of iron and steel products in the Houston area in many years was announced by the Interstate Commerce Commission in July, 1953, when a lower level of rates was prescribed within Southwestern Territory and between points in that Territory and the State of Kansas on the one hand and Western Trunk Line, Official and Southern Territories on the other. This eliminated the 15-mile penalty which had been permitted in a 1939 decision to allow equalization of Galveston with Houston to points beyond 150 miles of Houston and which had placed Houston shippers at a disadvantage with other producing and distributing points throughout the Southwest. The Traffic Department of the Chamber of Commerce had worked diligently on this issue for more than a decade.
Notice was taken in November of the role of the Intracoastal Waterway as a part of Houston’s water-transportation network. It was estimated that 12,000 barges would move about 15,000,000 tons of freight through the Port of Houston in 1953, as a part of the total movement on the nation’s 28,383 miles of inland waterways.
Air transportation was also showing growth. The new terminal building was nearing completion on the 1,240-acre airport. The cost of the terminal building was estimated at $5,000,000. Seven airlines were serving the city—Braniff, Chicago & Southern-Delta, Continental, Eastern, Pan American, Pioneer, and Trans-Texas. Gross receipts of the airport in 1952 reached $223,905.53, compared to $204,800.92 in 1951. The year accounted for 117,360 landings and takeoffs, with a total of 733,798 passengers, compared to 667,231 passengers the year before.
The trucking industry observed its 50th anniversary in 1953. There were 50,513 of all types of commercial vehicles in Texas in 1917; 470,913 in 1940; and 917,350 in 1953.
There were many highlight activities in Houston in 1953. Construction of the San Jacinto water-supply project was proceeding on schedule, with operations estimated to begin within a year. Traffic on the Gulf Freeway showed an increase of 52 percent in the first three months after it was opened. Construction was under way on one of the city’s long needed facilities for the produce business — the new $3,500,000 market terminal just off Old Spanish Trail and Delafield Street. The center was designed to enable farmers to move from congested areas to more sanitary and roomy buildings congested. KUHT-TV, the world’s first educational television station, began operations from the University of Houston studios on May 25, 1953. The newly completed Harris County court house was occupied. By 1953, including buildings under construction, the Texas Medical Center represented an investment of $56,000,000, of which $36,923,589 had come from foundations, estates and other private sources. The Baytown-La Porte tunnel, costing $12,000,000, was opened September 22, 1953. Construction was scheduled on the Gulfgate Shopping Center.
A survey early in 1953 showed that Houston had 197,107 tons of air conditioning installed, compared to 166,667 for Chicago and 86,152 for Dallas. Figures on a comparable basis for New York were not available. Only seven Houston churches were air conditioned in 1946, with 29 more scheduled to be air conditioned during the next four years. Thirty more were air conditioned in 1951, and another 34 in 1952, out of a total of 787 churches in Houston.
The Chamber of Commerce created a Jury Service Committee to encourage greater interest on the part of citizens for serving on juries and to foster more equitable decisions in jury trials. The program had three main goals: (1) to publicize the importance of the jury system in our American way of life; (2) to encourage every citizen to welcome the opportunity for jury service; and (3) to bring home to the public that the quality of juries is the first line of defense against excessive judgments and jury awards in damage suits. The program succeeded in turning the tide of jury-service quality in Harris County, and recognition for the program came in the form of a national first-place award from the Freedoms Foundation.
The Chamber of Commerce sponsored a city-wide observance of Texas Industrial Week on April 1-7, 1953, and took the top state award for major cities. One of Houston’s winning factors was its industrial-development forum for smaller communities in the area. This was said to be the first of its kind in the nation. The forum offered the smaller cities a range of ideas and methods on how to attract new business and industry.
Paying tribute to the vital role of the petroleum industry to Houston, Oil Progress Week was observed October 11-17, 1953. This Was the sixth annual observance, and Houston received national honors for its program in 1952. Initiated by the Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the American Petroleum Institute, the event was eventually turned over to the Oil Industry Information Committee of the API.
Through its Military Affairs Committee, the Chamber of Commerce cooperated in the civil defense program. Indicating Houston’s progress in civil defense, the city was chosen by the Federal Civil Defense Administration as the site for a regional civil defense rescue institute in October, 1953. The program was centered around existing agencies, with their activities augmented in some cases by auxiliary groups.
More than 1,200 businessmen and businesswomen, from all types of industry, went back to school for a day on November 10th, visiting all of the 141 schools in the Houston Independent School District. The occasion was Business-Education Day, sponsored by the Education Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, to return the visit made by some 4,000 teachers to business and industry the year before. The program was designed to give business people a better understanding of the public schools and teachers a better understanding of business.
A highlight event in Houston in 1953 was the visit on November 18th of King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece. They paraded through downtown streets, were formally received in the Music Hall, attended religious services at the Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church, and then went to a ranch barbecue.
With the economy experiencing substantial variation during 1954, the trend continued generally upward throughout what was an eventful year of major achievements for Houston. Foreign news continued to dominate the front page, with Indochina as a major point of interest. Following a French defeat at Dien bien phu, Vietnam was partitioned—as a result of the diplomatic negotiations in Geneva— into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Adjustments in the economy here in the United States following the cease-fire in Korea had been primarily in the area of inventory adjustments and decreased governmental purchasing. Cold-war tension continued at a high pitch.
Fourteen major companies formed a tobacco-industry committee to investigate charges that cigarette smoking contributed to lung cancer, and cigarette advertising slumped 38 per cent as a result of the lung-cancer talk. The United States Supreme Court ruled separate but equal" school facilities unconstitutional on May 14, 1954. The McCarthy-Army hearings dragged on for 36 days, with the nation sitting in by television and with Senator McCarthy being condemned by the United States Senate for some of the tactics he used during his investigations. Although home televisions were only in their eighth year, already three out of five households in the nation had television sets.
Looking at the Texas economy early in 1954, Dr. F. A. Buechel of the Chamber of Commerce staff said: "Features of former frontiers, important and fascinating as they are, should not blind us to more recent and less publicized achievements on the industrial frontier of the state—particularly since these latter accomplishments promise outstanding significance for the future." He was referring to the growth of consumer products in the nation and in Texas and their role in the direction of national and state economic development.