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The First Texas News Barons

[ Regional/Texas ]

The First Texas News Barons

By Patrick Cox

A fascinating look at how newspaper publishers including A. H. Belo and George B. Dealey (Dallas Morning News), William P. Hobby and Oveta Culp Hobby (Houston Post), Jesse H. Jones (Houston Chronicle), and Amon G. Carter Sr. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) played a crucial role in transforming Texas into a modern state.

Don Carleton, series editor

2005

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Paperback

6 x 9 | 288 pp. | 19 halftones

ISBN: 978-0-292-70977-5

Newspaper publishers played a crucial role in transforming Texas into a modern state. By promoting expanded industrialization and urbanization, as well as a more modern image of Texas as a southwestern, rather than southern, state, news barons in the early decades of the twentieth century laid the groundwork for the enormous economic growth and social changes that followed World War II. Yet their contribution to the modernization of Texas is largely unrecognized.

This book investigates how newspaper owners such as A. H. Belo and George B. Dealey of the Dallas Morning News, Edwin Kiest of the Dallas Times Herald, William P. Hobby and Oveta Culp Hobby of the Houston Post, Jesse H. Jones and Marcellus Foster of the Houston Chronicle, and Amon G. Carter Sr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram paved the way for the modern state of Texas. Patrick Cox explores how these news barons identified the needs of the state and set out to attract the private investors and public funding that would boost the state's civic and military infrastructure, oil and gas industries, real estate market, and agricultural production. He shows how newspaper owners used events such as the Texas Centennial to promote tourism and create a uniquely Texan identity for the state. To balance the record, Cox also demonstrates that the news barons downplayed the interests of significant groups of Texans, including minorities, the poor and underemployed, union members, and a majority of women.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Texas Newspapers and Modernization
  • Chapter 2. The Evolution of the Texas Press
  • Chapter 3. Expansion and Consolidation: Individual Publishers
  • Chapter 4. "An Enemy Closer to Us than Any European Power"
  • Chapter 5. The Forces of Traditionalism and the Challenge from the Invisible Empire
  • Chapter 6. Texas Newspapers, the Crash of 1929, and the Great Depression
  • Chapter 7. Newspapers and the 1936 Texas Centennial
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Newspaper publishers and journalists from across Texas gathered in Galveston on October 12, 1939, to honor the "Dean of American Journalism," George Bannerman Dealey of the Dallas Morning News. Dealey, eighty, was marking his sixty-fifth year with the A. H. Belo Corporation, owner of the Dallas News and founder of the Galveston News. The Texas Newspaper Publishers Association hosted the tribute to Dealey, a man with "an integrity that has never known the slightest tremor of compromise or irresolution, a vision that recognizes no narrow boundaries of place or moment."

More than 400 men and women converged on the port city of Galveston to recognize the distinguished Texas publisher. Fort Worth Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter Sr. served as the toastmaster. Former Texas governor and Houston Post publisher William P. Hobby and many of his peers delivered tributes. Carter, Hobby, and San Antonio Express publisher Frank Huntress were the organizers of the event. The host committee also included Jesse H. Jones of the Houston Chronicle, Ed Kiest of the Dallas Times Herald, and W. L. Moody of the Galveston News. Journalists, business leaders, educators, ministers, attorneys, elected officials, and bankers came to the celebration in Galveston, where Dealey had begun his career as an office boy for the Galveston Daily News. National Broadcasting System president Lenox B. Lohr attended, and his network broadcast the program nationally. Newspapers throughout the state treated the story as front-page news, with extensive commentary and photographs.

In his special message to Dealey, President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended congratulations from the White House. "The completion of 65 years of continuous and varied service in the making of a newspaper is an outstanding event, and as you near this notable milestone I want to join with the Texas Newspaper Publishers Association in extending hearty congratulations and warmest personal regards," the president stated. President Roosevelt called Dealey a "pioneer" who played a role in "the great Texas Southwest," in the building of which he had "borne so distinguished a part."

Dealey addressed the assembled cast and quoted the motto of the Galveston and Dallas papers. In order to be a "great newspaper," a publication "must be a distinct personality, a moral and responsible person." Personal opinions and prejudices interfered with the newspaper's role as a "faithful collector and disseminator of news." The newspaper served as "a voice, an intelligence and a reasoning conscience, to interpret for the reading public the ripest thought and best judgment of the time, touching all questions of public concern."

The Texas publishers recognized Dealey's role as a publisher and advocate for the community and region. Dealey and the Morning News "inspired the people of Dallas" to construct a public education system, encourage civic improvements and contributions, promote business and agricultural interests, encourage city planning and public safety, and encourage growth and expansion. Dealey also served on the boards of many charitable groups and fraternal organizations and was an active Presbyterian. In the minds of most publishers of this era, Dealey represented the ideal newspaperman, business leader, and civic activist. He provided a distinctive character and image in his time, the "era of the press barons." In the course of the four decades prior to U.S. entry into World War II, Dealey and his small club of Texas newspaper publishers expanded their media holdings and thoroughly asserted their influence over public opinion and policy making. They solidified both their ties with the growing commercial concerns in the state and its dominant political forces. They fostered an expanding urban middle class of consumers and civic activity. In addition, they transformed the images of their cities and the entire state.

During Dealey's tenure, his community and state changed dramatically, yet they retained many features of traditional culture and customs. When Dealey arrived in town to take his new position as business manager at the newly formed Morning News in 1885, Dallas was still a relatively small city by the South's humble standards. The population reached only about 38,000 in the 1890 census. Far from later salad days when Dallas would share with Houston the distinction of being a center of the international petroleum economy, residents still earned their keep manufacturing saddles, cigars, bricks, tiles, and other unglamorous exports. At the meeting place of the South, the West, and the Mexican borderlands, Dallas in the early 1880s still had the flavor of a frontier town that served as temporary residence to some of the nineteenth century's most infamous gunmen, such as John B. "Doc" Holliday and Sam Bass. Although the town's population stood at only 10,000 at the start of the 1880s, Dallas was already burdened with a reputation for violence and boasted fifty-two saloons, or one for every 192 residents.

Dallas as it appeared in the late nineteenth century had vanished by the time of Dealey's 1939 testimonial. On the surface, Dealey's hometown, other major Texas cities, and much of the state looked substantively different than their southern neighbors. Dallas had blossomed into an important city of nearly 300,000 people. An oil boom in nearby East Texas turned Dallas into a corporate headquarters. With an antiunion, low-wage reputation, the city turned into a national manufacturing center, with Ford Motor Company and other blue-chip firms setting up plants within the city limits. A branch of the Federal Reserve Bank had opened as far back as 1913, and Dallas lending institutions made the growing metropolis a regional financial colossus. The state's insurance industry was also centered in Dallas. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Dealey played a central role in taming the city's frontier mood, moving voters to implement a central growth plan. In the early 1920s, Dealey served as a leading opponent of the Ku Klux Klan, which controlled much the state and the city but, with Dealey's help, collapsed into irrelevance by the midtwenties. Despite the 1930s Depression, Dallas author Darwin Payne notes, in that decade the city emerged from being "a rather nondescript town with agrarian ways . . . [into] a smart city of sophistication and accomplishment." Many in Texas and across the nation believed that George B. Dealey played a central role in that transformation.

Dealey's career captures the role major newspapers played in the modernization of Texas in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Many Texas and other southern historians have attributed this startling metamorphosis to the influx of defense spending and other investments by the federal government, starting in the Depression and continuing through World War II and the cold war. This book will argue that Texas modernization began early in the twentieth century and that the state's newspaper industry and publishers played a central role in the process. In the 1930s change accelerated, establishing the foundation for the modern state. This metamorphosis occurred at the height of influence of Dealey and other Lone Star media barons.

The influence of news owners during this era resulted from a number of factors. All institutions of mass communications inevitably fall--or at least they have since the time of early classical civilizations. Noted journalism historian Donald Shaw reached this conclusion based on extensive research of many forms of communications existing over thousands of years. Based on a combination of historical events, leadership decisions, and cultural shifts in the population, mass media institutions in the United States have evolved and declined over the nation's brief history. From the early print age to the electronic era, major media enterprises have risen to the highest levels of their medium and remained there for a period of time. In order to remain at the top, the leadership maintained a systematic economic and accepted authority through a combination of financial success and popular appeal. In order to ensure this dominant position, innovative technology was utilized. But despite all efforts, every form of mass media ultimately succumbs to its successors, and this was the case with the newspaper medium.

From the earliest days of the nation's history, the U.S. press provided continuous news, entertainment, and commercial promotion. Newspapers reached their greatest market penetration in the period from World War I to the 1920s. Competition, suppression of many foreign language newspapers, and the economic slump that hit the nation at the end of the 1920s led to an overall decline in newspaper circulation. Also, commercial radio appeared in the 1920s and provided stiff competition for revenue and audiences that continued until World War II. Another adversary appeared on the scene after the war and created further diversion of the media market. Television blitzed its way into U.S. homes during the 1950s. During these decades of economic and social change, newspapers rose and fell based on their individual abilities to deal with changes in technology, consumer tastes, and internal organization.

Throughout this time period, some newspapers managed to maintain an edge through a combination of strategies. Better printing processes, lower costs, improved delivery systems, the use of color and photography, the utilization of wire services, special editions, and a host of other innovations allowed some publications to remain on top for a period of time that extended beyond the pinnacle years of the 1920s. As Shaw notes, "[N]o mass medium has gone down without a struggle." The leadership of some major daily newspapers made adjustments that allowed them to retain leadership in their respective communities and regions. The ability to recognize change and remain aggressive and creative was central to the continued success of these publications. "Historically, it is difficult to find leaders . . . who remain creative throughout the cycle of the medium," Shaw explains. Those with the knowledge and foresight to adjust to the needs of the medium and the audience represented the most successful enterprises over a long period of time.

The large, independent daily newspapers in Texas provide the model of those who defied the odds during this period. These publications remained dominant in the state even as film and radio increased their audiences during the 1930s and major daily newspapers declined in revenue and influence. While a number of studies exist on U.S. newspapers and their history, very few regional studies have explored the role, the contributions, and the problems that faced daily newspapers and their publishers. A regional focus must also include the identity of the newspaper enterprise and its environment. The major dailies and their publishers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio provide the material and examples for this era. These publishers and their respective media businesses, through decisive management, political leadership, and clever marketing, retained their dominance over civic affairs through World War II and into the postwar era.

Many historians of the twentieth century grappled with the problem of where to place Texas in a regional history. In spite of its modern western image, the state remained in the southern orbit throughout the early decades of the twentieth century. As a former slaveholding state, a member of the Confederacy, and a leading cotton producer, Texas' economy, political affiliations, and social structure closely resembled those of its southern neighbors.

The state's economic future depended in large part on whether outsiders defined Texas as southern, as western, more vaguely as southwestern, or--by the late twentieth century--most ambiguously as part of the Sunbelt. Individual newspaper publishers knew that their publications would rise or fall in part to the degree their home cities grew or declined. Like many southern Progressives of their time, Texas' metropolitan publishers believed that the key to their state's economic future lay with expanded industrialization and urbanization-- developments that would, fortuitously, directly benefit newspapers by providing an increased readership and advertising base. The South, however, remained the poorest and least developed region in the country. Texas modernization, by necessity, would be greased with northern capital. For Texas to achieve a modern economy, the state would have to move away from the South's defeatist moonlight-and-magnolia nostalgia to a more forward-looking self-image. Texas newspapers served as chief agents in transforming Texas regional identity from a frontier outpost where Dixie petered out to "where the West begins," as the Fort Worth city motto puts it. Texas' transfer from a southern identity to a more western one helped ease the way for more northern investment, population migration, and the increased relocation of northern businesses to the state.

By 1950 many historians had concluded that Texas had achieved a distinctive identity which diverged from the rest of the old South. As V. O. Key observed in his landmark study Southern Politics in State and Nation, Texas seemed to be more "moderate" in its racial and class politics and "more western than southern" in its social outlook. However, Texans, like other southerners, still maintained their suspicions and resentment of their northern counterparts. Texans retained their long-standing cultural and economic links to the more closely controlled, discriminatory societies that dominated the South throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries. The emerging distinctive Texas personality primarily manifested itself in the pages of the state's daily newspapers during the decades up to the 1930s.

As noted above, many historians credit World War II with changing the face of the state economically and socially. The war created thousands of jobs and new industries and resulted in a major relocation of people from rural areas of Texas, as well as from other regions of the country, to Texas cities. Civil rights for the state's minorities also received a boost from wartime demands and changes. But the groundwork for these tremendous changes was laid in the three decades that preceded the great world conflict in the 1940s. Diversification in many areas began in the years before the war. The record is mixed, as many minorities, women, economically disadvantaged, and even middle class residents failed to enjoy the benefits of this expansion. How Texans marginalized by the modernization process reacted to the state's dynamic changes in the early twentieth century will also be explored in this study.

The following pages center on these individuals and newspapers: A. H. Belo and George B. Dealey of the Dallas Morning News, Edwin Kiest and the Dallas Times Herald, William P. Hobby and Oveta Culp Hobby of the Houston Post, Jesse H. Jones and Marcellus Foster of the Houston Chronicle, and Amon G. Carter Sr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All of these individual publishers left records that are preserved in a number of archives in their respective cities and in Austin. Unfortunately, efforts to locate any papers that belonged to Frank Huntress, owner of the San Antonio Express, proved unsuccessful. The Hearst Newspapers acquired the San Antonio Light, the other major daily in San Antonio, in the early 1920s. This acquisition, combined with a lack of archival material on the Light, excluded the publication from being a major focus of this study.

This study will focus on key events, issues, and strategies from the late nineteenth century to 1940. These will include the early years of consolidation and change within the newspaper enterprises and the individual urban communities in which they were based. Actions during the early years of the twentieth century heralded this new age of modernization for the publishing business and how these cities were growing and defining their destinies. Other chapters will examine the influence of the Mexican Revolution, the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan, the onset of the Depression, and the impact of the Texas Centennial.

These first Texas news barons of the twentieth century provided a distinct contribution that defined their media enterprises, their individual communities, and the new image of the state of Texas. They provided their assessment of "modernization" and applied this interpretation to their communication businesses and their concepts of growth and social change. In contrast to many of their southern neighbors who discouraged social mobility and individual initiative, these media entrepreneurs pressed for a more dynamic, expanded urban community. Not everyone benefited from these changes, and the road was littered with obstacles and unforeseen curves. Yet some of the changes undermined longstanding racial, gender, and class distinctions in the state. The news barons advocated a fundamental change in the way that Texans should live their lives and interpret the events that impacted their livelihoods. By 1940 the image and direction of the entire state emerged remarkably close to the plan developed by this small group of decision makers. In the pages that follow, this story will examine how this transformation took place.

Patrick Cox is Assistant Director of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

"Those interested in how power is used—as well as who gets to wield it—will enjoy this contribution to the study of journalism, often called the rough draft of history."

East Texas Historical Association

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