INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN FENBERG (cont.)
Executive Producer and Co-Writer
Q: Why do you think it has taken so long for
historians to give Jones his due for the role he played in ending
the Great Depression?
I have been trying to figure that out. Jones did
not seek the limelight, even though he did receive a lot of press
coverage throughout his thirteen years of government service.
All the major news magazines ran cover stories on him. In fact,
he was on the cover of TIME magazine twice. But, when you think
about it, how many of us know about the figures of the New Deal
and World War II outside of Franklin Roosevelt? Who can tell you
who Harold Ickes or Harry Hopkins were? They also played very
important roles and are a little more familiar than Jesse Jones,
but basically they have also been forgotten.
Q: Why was Jesse Jones driven to make so much
money, when he already had so much? Was it, in fact, like a game
I believe that it was just part of his nature to
build, create and contribute. There was probably an element of
his personality that drove him to amass wealth and to use that
wealth as a marker of his success. I think that when it came to
his fellow capitalists, he was very competitive and a true wheeler-dealer
who always made sure he made the very best deal possible. But
he also used that approach to make the very best deals for the
American people when he was in public service. He did everything
he could to make sure that people could keep their homes, their
farms and their businesses, and he also made sure he negotiated
sharp deals on their behalf.
Q: In 1914, Jones was involved in the remarkable
venture that internationalized Houston overnight -- the dredging
of the Houston Ship Channel. What was his interest in this endeavor
and how did it affect his success as a businessman and politician?
Jones raised Houston's half of the funds to build
the Houston Ship Channel. This was one of the first, if not the
first, private/public partnerships between the Federal government
and a local community. Jones realized that the ship channel would
be good for the community and also good business for him. The
channel internationalized the city almost overnight, providing
jobs and elevating the economy of the whole region. It also filled
up all of the buildings Jones had built in anticipation of the
channel's opening, including 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. Jones knew he would prosper
if his community thrived. The ship channel is a great example
of his use of capitalism for the common good.
Q: What was Jones' greatest contribution during
the time that he served as head of the Reconstruction Finance
Corporation, an agency that was the central pillar of Roosevelt's
Saving the banking system was probably the most
important contribution Jesse Jones made during the Great Depression.
After President Roosevelt closed all the banks, it was Jones who
decided which ones could reopen and for those that could not,
he determined what they needed so they could get back in business.
He realized those banks didn't need loans, which would have to
be repaid. Instead, Jones realized the banks needed working capital
so they could make loans and get the wheels of the economy turning
again. So Jones did a very radical thing. He had the Federal government
buy stock in those banks so they would have capital to lend to
consumers. This meant that the Federal government became part
owner of the nation's banks. Jones also decided who the directors
of some of those banks should be and in some cases, placed his
own RFC people in them. It was a very radical thing for a conservative
banker to do, especially in those days when there was such opposition
to government intervention in the private sector. To Jones, it
was simply good business.