Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
  Brother, Can You Spare A Billion? The Story of Jesse Jones  
Jesse Jones

That America not only survived the decade, but came out of it stronger is in great part due to the efforts of two men. One of them, Franklin D. Roosevelt, has become a national icon; the other, Jesse H. Jones, has been all but forgotten. But scholars are starting to realize that if Roosevelt can be credited with saving the country's political system, then Jones can be credited with saving its economic one. He may, in fact, be the man who rescued capitalism.

Jones salvaged the American economy by entwining government and business in a way never before tried in the United States. As head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), a central pillar of Roosevelt's New Deal, Jones directed billions of dollars toward needy banks, industries, farmers and citizens. He had almost complete autonomy in deciding where the government's money should go and he parceled it out not as charity, but as an investment by America in its people. Under Jones, the RFC did not just make grants or loans, it bought stock in struggling enterprises, giving the government a voice in how those enterprises were run. During the bleakest years of the Depression, Jones was arguably the most powerful man in the world financial community. He was, in the words of observers at the time, nothing less than a "fourth branch of government."

According to executive producer Steven Fenberg, "Brother, Can You Spare A Billion? The Story Of Jesse H. Jones is a reminder of just how important Jesse Jones was in creating the world in which we live, and how, without men such as him, that world could easily have been lost."

Early in life, Jones exhibited the ambition that would drive his career. He was only 14 when his father, a successful tobacco grower in central Tennessee, put him in charge of running the family's curing shed. In 1894, Jones headed to Texas to run a lumberyard owned by his uncle. When his uncle died four years later, Jones became executor of his estate, a move that at age 24 brought him to Houston and his destiny.