Brother, Can You Spare A Billion? The Story of Jesse Jones  

Houston at the turn of the century

"Mr. Houston"

During the nationwide economic panic of 1907, Jesse H. Jones shocked Houston with the news that he would construct the city's three tallest buildings. The ten-story Texas Company Building helped make Texaco and the petroleum industry a permanent part of the city's business community; the ten-story Chronicle Building provided Jones with a half-interest in the thriving Houston Chronicle newspaper; and the nine-story Bristol Hotel elevated Houston's stature by offering visitors luxurious accommodations.
        At the same time, Jones began his banking career by investing in local banks and becoming chairman of the National Bank of Commerce, known today as the Chase Bank of Texas. However, Jones and his fellow business leaders realized that without access to the sea, Houston's growth was limited. City leaders went to Washington and convinced Congress to pay half the cost of building the Houston Ship Channel. Jones rallied his friends and raised the other half.

Houston Ship ChannelThe Houston Ship Channel internationalized the city almost overnight, provided jobs and elevated the economy of the whole region. Jones had built three ten-floor office buildings on Main Street and the Rice Hotel, which was one of the largest and most luxurious hotels in the South, in anticipation of the Channel's opening. A shrewd businessman, he knew he would prosper if his community thrived. Jones' many contributions to the city's growth earned him the name "Mr. Houston." However, Houstonions were not the only ones impressed. Jones had grabbed the attention of President Woodrow Wilson.

World War I And The Red Cross

President Wilson had offered Jones two ambassadorships and a post in his cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, but Jones turned him down so he could continue to build his businesses and his city. When Wilson approached him again at the start of World War I, he felt compelled to help the nation. Jones became Director General of Military Relief for the American Red Cross. He recruited nurses and doctors for the battlefields, organized hospitals, canteens and ambulance networks throughout Europe and established rehabilitation centers for the wounded. The Red Cross called him "Big Brother to four million men in khaki."
At the end of the war, Jones was a delegate to the Red Cross meetings in Paris, Cannes and Geneva, helping to establish the organization as a permanent worldwide relief association. After the war, Jones went back to his many business interests in Houston and married the love of his life, Mary Gibbs Jones. During the 1920's, he continued to build his financial empire and began to construct office buildings and hotels in Dallas, Fort Worth and New York.
He also became director of finance for the Democratic National Committee. In 1928, Jesse set out to shake the shackles of the post-Civil war image off of Houston for good. He offered up the city as host of the 1928 Democratic national convention and secured the event with a $200,000 check and a promise to build a new convention hall within a matter of months. Houston was now on the map and so was Jesse Jones. A 1940 Fortune magazine article noted, "He built Houston up from a one-night stand on Buffalo Bayou into the second-largest and fastest growing metropolis in the South."