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

Jones in Red Cross Uniform

The Red Cross called him "Big Brother to four million men in khaki."

World War I: The War to End All Wars

It has been over 80 years since the signing of the armistice agreement that ended World War I. The conflict lasted four long years and claimed the lives of more than 10 million people. It was a struggle between Europe's greatest powers, which were grouped into two hostile alliances: the central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey) and the allied powers (British Empire, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy and the U.S.A). World War I is regarded as the first "total war," meaning troops mobilized all of their resources -- military, industrial and human -- on a scale never before thought possible.

For the first time, new technology including airplanes, tanks and submarines were used in battle, but the lasting images of World War I are the bloody battles of trench warfare. Trench warfare created an endless demand for men, munitions and supplies. Over 65 million men fought in World War I. The war ended in 1918 and left much of Europe with a radically reshaped map and economic devastation.

Jesse Jones: "Business Would Have to Wait"

When the United States entered World War I, Jesse Jones had reached a level of success in Houston and Texas that made him a local celebrity. As the first chairman of the Houston Harbor Board, he was busy developing the port of Houston. Even though he participated in public service, he did not feel ready to serve on a national scale. But, he changed his mind when he received a telegram from President Woodrow Wilson at the beginning of World War I. At the request of the President, Jones met in Topeka, Kansas with Henry P. Davidson, chairman of the American Red Cross War Council.

At the meeting, Davidson outlined a plan to raise $100,000,000 in order for the agency to meet its immediate war needs. Jones was sent back to Houston to raise the city's part of the quota--- $150,000. Although a good fundraiser and businessman, Jones felt that this was an exceptionally large sum. However, he had a strategy. When Jones returned to Houston he wrote a personal check to the Red Cross for $5,000. He showed that check to all of his wealthy colleagues and personal friends in Houston and challenged them to match his offer. In a few short weeks he had raised twice his quota and was the first fundraiser to send funds to Washington. Shortly after his successful fundraising event, President Wilson once again called on Jones.

This time it was an urgent request for him to relocate to Washington to serve as Director General of Military Relief for the American Red Cross. Jones accepted and adjusted his business affairs in Houston by handing over the reigns of power to his principal associate, Fred J. Heyne. The new post in Washington presented Jones with one of the biggest challenges of his career. He immediately put his genius for organization to work. In an incredibly short time, Jones created four principal military relief bureaus that touched the American soldier at all points of service -- from enlistment to discharge.