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 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
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."