For the duration and beyond: World War II and the creation of modern Houston, Texas
Levengood, Paul Alejandro
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
In 1940, Houston was a town of less than 400,000 inhabitants reliant on trade and the petroleum industry. Today, it ranks as the nation's fourth largest city with a diverse economy. Key to this transformation was the five-year period of World War II. While the city's leaders had learned valuable lessons in dealing with the federal government during the Great Depression, it was not until the new era of federal spending occasioned by US involvement in a world war that their savvy truly flowered. Through the work of aggressive business leaders including George Brown, James Elkins, James Abercrombie, Houston landed hundreds of millions of dollars in federal wartime investment. With enormous federal investment in technologically complex facilities, Houston oil companies moved from being mere refiners of crude and became sophisticated producers of petrochemicals. Wartime needs, including synthetic rubber and high octane fuel, caused petroleum concerns to diversify and create products that would be enormously profitable after the war. Similarly, the conflict virtually created the natural gas industry. Long considered a waste product, gas gained acceptance during the war and when a Houston company purchased the federally-financed Inch pipelines the city became the new industry's hub. Other industries that were attracted to the city during the war included steel, munitions, and shipbuilding. Industry needed labor and to meet that demand thousands of new residents streamed into Houston in the war years, straining the city's housing supply and the local government's ability to deliver services. Among those who gained employment in war industries were a large number of women, African Americans and Mexicans, all of whom had been barred from many such high paying jobs in peacetime. The city's African American community, emboldened by their newfound prosperity, became a hotbed of civil rights agitation; the Smith v. Allwright decision was backed and funded by local blacks in this period. Industrially, economically, and socially, Houston emerged from World War II primed for postwar growth and has, indeed, been the quintessential boomtown ever since.
American history; Modern history