The Great Depression and the World Wars in Arizona

The Great Depression and the World Wars in Arizona

In 1912, women in Arizona gained the right to vote, and in 1917, World War I brought an economic boom to Arizona. It recovered from The Great Depression with the New Deal and another economic boom after World War II, leading the cotton, copper, farming, and mining industries to flourish. In 1946, Arizona's right to work became effective, allowing workers to decide whether or not to join or financially support a union. In 1948, Motorola built the first plant in Phoenix that marked the beginning of high tech industry in Arizona, and American Indians gained the right to vote.

World War II

Economic impact

The economic boom following World War II, argues historian Gerald Nash in "World War II and the West" changed Arizona as much in four years of war as would have happened in forty years of peace. By 1945, Arizona and the other Western states were bristled with defense plants, military bases, and research laboratories. In addition to the extractive industries, manufacturing fueled their economies, causing their cities to expand at exponential rates.

The partnership between big government and big business set the change in motion. By 1939, Franklin Roosevelt was admitting that "Dr. New Deal" was losing ground to "Dr. Win-the-War." As the president and his advisors monitored developments in Europe and the Pacific, they realized the United States was going to confront Germany and Japan, generating a demand for tanks, planes, and soldiers. Although many New Dealers such as Harold Ickes wanted to make sure that small businesses received attention, the generals in The Pentagon found it easier to deal with a few large enterprises than many small ones. The New Deal subsidized agricultural business in the West, and World War II did the same for the aircraft, shipbuilding, steel, mining, and oil industries.

Most Arizonans did not mind, however, because the war revitalized the economy. Metal prices started to climb in 1939, enabling Arizona mines to recover from their second major collapse of the decade. By 1942 the state was producing more minerals than it had since its peak in 1929. While copper remained the most important metal, zinc and lead production soared as well, breaking records year after year.

The only limiting factor of production was labor, which was in short supply because of the draft. Mining companies therefore made hiring practices less restrictive and brought more Mexicans into the workforce. Soon even women were toiling in the copper mines. Trade union activity also intensified. The mining companies responded with red baiting and the arrests of union organizers, but they were never able to engender the level of hysteria achieved during World War I. The International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW) even won a series of grievances against Phelps Dodge and other corporations before the National Labor Relations Board and the War Man Power Board. In 1944 injunctions filed against the Miami Copper Company, the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company, and the International Smelting and Refining Company ended the dual wage system in Miami, Arizona, where Mexican miners made $1.15 less per shift.

There was also a short-lived boom in long-staple cotton, but the real growth occurred in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economy. The biggest market for services, at least at first, was the U.S. military. In January 1941 the city of Phoenix bought convert|1440|acre|km2 west of Glendale and leased it to the War Department for a dollar a year to build an advanced aviation training field. Named after Arizona World War I ace Frank Luke, the base churned out more than 13,500 pilots during the war, making it the largest advanced flying school in the world. Luke Air Field also generated an estimated $3.5 million a year for local businesses.

Promoted by Senator Carl Hayden, Arizona's clear skies and year-round flying weather soon attracted other installations. In the Salt River Valley, Williams Field east of Chandler was a basic and immediate school, Thunderbird II north of Scottsdale trained cadets, Falcon Field in Mesa trained RAF pilots, and Litchfield Naval Air Facility tested planes and flew them to their destinations. Meanwhile, Tucson supplied Davis-Monthan, the municipal airport commandeered by the army, Ryan Field to the west, and Marana Air Base the northwest, which trained 10,000 pilots before it was deactivated in 1945. The army also established three bases in western Arizona, Camps Bouse, Horn, and Hyder, to prepare soldiers for desert warfare. When they went off-duty, those soldiers headed for Phoenix, where, marveled one former mayor, "They'd just walk through town and buy everything there was, meat cigarettes, and liquor."

Civilians flocked to the state as well. To minimize the danger of attack, the government decided to disperse strategic defense points across the country. Paul Litchfield, President of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which had stimulated a cotton boom during World War I, recommended the Salt River Valley to his friends in Washington. "It is well inland and thus protected from any possible air attacks," Litchfield noted. It was also well-connected by air, rail, and highway to the rest of the nation, especially southern California, where many of the aircraft plants were being built. In July 1941 the federal Defense Plant Corporation (DPC) leased land from the Southwest Cotton Company, a Goodyear subsidiary. The DPC then erected a government-owned plant operated by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation.

At its peak, the Goodyear plant employed 7,500 people, making it the largest employer in the Salt River Valley. The Alcoa plant in southwest Phoenix, with 3,500 employees, and AiResearch at Sky Harbor Apartment, with 2,700, followed in 1942. Since the labor pool was limited, the plants recruited people across the country. Tucson, with its huge Consolidated Vultee Aircraft plant employing thousands of workers, soon followed Phoenix in Arizona's economic boom.

Political impact

In 1940, about half of Arizona's population lived in Phoenix and Tucson. Ten years later, two-thirds did, a direct consequence of federal and military policy. In Maricopa County alone, the population rose from 186,000 to 332,000 during the decade. Not since the territorial period had the U.S. military played such a role in Arizona's history. The immediate problem was housing. The federal government spent millions of dollars to construct public housing projects like Alzona Park near Alcoa and Duppa Villa near AiResearch. Meanwhile, the town of Goodyear sprang up to accommodate newcomers west of the city.

Transportation was the next major challenge. Because of wartime shortages, new automobiles and buses could not be purchased, so city employees scoured the country for secondhand buses "in any condition as long as they ran," according to Mayor Newell Stewart. Because the plants never closed, the city did not sleep, either. Restaurants, movie houses, and swimming pools stayed open all night. Other forms of entertainment flourished as well. At the beginning of the war, Phoenix was a corrupt, wide-open town. Police and city officials had long tolerated gambling and prostitution because "fines" from those businesses provided city revenue and bribes. This brought conflict with new military commanders who wanted their troops free of venereal disease and out of jail until they were ready for war.

The conflict came to a head on November 26, 1942, when a black soldier from the 364th Infantry Regiment at Papago Park was shot while resisting arrest after a brawl. Other African Americans objected, so the military police rounded up about 150 black soldiers. The soldiers panicked and run, the police cordoned off twenty-eight blocks on the city's southeast side, and armored personnel carriers rolld down the streets, spraying houses with 50-caliber machine guns whenever the soldiers refused to surrender. By the time the violence was over, 180 soldiers had been arrested and three men had died.

Four days later, Colonel Ross Hoyt of Luke Air Field declared Phoenix off-limits to army personnel. He claimed that his order had nothing to do with the "Thanksgiving night riot" and everything to do with the "venereal disease situation." Rioting blacks confirmed Anglo stereotypes and reinforced the army's policy of segregation. Machine-gun fire in African American neighborhoods was easily justified in a community with an essentially Southern mentality. Still, Hoyt and other base commanders announced, "The city will stay out-of-bounds until it has become untenable for prostitutes." The verereal disease rate at his base had tripled in four months and he demanded "an immediate drive on all loose women... no matter who it hurts."

Recognizing that the army was one of the community's largest sources of revenue, more than seventy-five business leaders grilled Mayor Newell Stewart and his city commissioners in the card room of the Adams Hotel. After hours of such pressure, the commissioners agreed to fire the city manager, clerk, magistrate, and chief of police. Payoffs from pimps, madams, gamblers, and drug dealers were no longer acceptable. Three days later, Colonel Hoyt lifted his ban.

It was the beginning of a revolution in Arizona politics. In 1947 many of the same leaders who had met in the Adams Hotel spearheaded the bipartisan Charter Revision Committee, which sponsored the successful drive to revise the city charter and allow a professional city manager to run the government. Two years later the same group formed the Charter Government Committee (CGC) and elected its own slate of candidates to the city council. Established civic leaders like Snell, Walter Bimson, banker Sherman Hazeltine, and Eugene Pulliam, the conservative newspaper publisher who bought both the "Arizona Republic" and the "Phoenix Gazette" in 1946, were powerful forces on the committee. One of the first CGC council members was a department store owner named Barry Goldwater.

The CGC set the tone for the image postwar Phoenix wanted to convey. Most members were white, male upper-middle-class businessmen and lawyers, and even though Arizona was a predominantly Democratic state, most CGC members were conservative Republicans. They lived in North Phoenix or Paradise Valley and belonged to the Phoenix Country Club. Their wives ran the Junior League. A number of women, like Sandra Day O'Connor and Margaret Hance, went on to have successful judicial or political careers of their own several decades later.

The CGC's model of government was influenced by the corporate approach to military buildup during World War II. Members of the CGC wanted a clean, efficient city run by a clean, efficient government, and they wanted that government to attract new businesses, particularly aeronautics and electronics firms with strong ties to the Pentagon. To do so, they had to eliminate old-style graft and nepotism because military contractors and corporate site-selection teams frowned upon the image of a corrupt, sluggish past they conveyed.

The right to work

Tucson and Phoenix decided that the best way to compete with other cities to attract industry was to offer low taxes and low wages. Arizona's climate was a considerable draw, but business executives demanded more than sunshine to move their companies to the desert Southwest. Lowering taxes was relatively noncontroversial. During its first campaign in 1949, the Charter Government Committee sponsored a series of measures to reduce or eliminate many taxes on businesses in Phoenix. Because CGC candidates swept the city elections, most of the proposals passed. That same year Governor Ernest McFarland established the Industrial Development Committee to recommend changes in the state tax code. During the early 1950s, the state legislature adopted all of the committee's recommendations, culminating in the repeal in 1955 of the Arizona sales tax on products manufactured for sale to the federal government.

In 1939, Arizona representatives of the railroad brotherhoods, the American Federation of Labor, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations set aside their differences and formed the Arizona League for Better Government. By the mid-1940s the creation of another prolabor progressive coalition looked possible. The IUMMSW was organizing successful strikes in the copper mines. Sidney Osborn was the wildly popular governor. Democrats remained in control of the legislature, and even though most of the legislators were conservative, their ties to the national party forced them to pay lip service to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Business leaders believed that labor had to be curbed if Arizona was ever going to realize its destiny as a mecca of light industry and high finance.

The assault began in 1945 when a group of Arizona servicemen formed the Veterans' Right to Work Committee. Their leader, Herbet Williams, had started a welding business and had lost a contract because he ran a nonunion shop. Other veterans found themselves out of work because of union seniority rules. Their resentment drove them into the right-to-work camp just as resentment against the dual wage system caused Mexican veterans in Clifton-Morenci to join the IUMMSW and take on Phelps Dodge during the same period.

After the legislature defeated several right-to-work bills, the Veterans' Committee took the battle to the Arizona public. In November 1946 an Arizona constitutional amendment guaranteeing open shops appeared on the ballot. That fall, both sides hurled slurs at each other, using Adolf Hitler and the Communists as tools. Eugene Pulliam detested unions and did everything he could to support the amendment. Since he owned two of the biggest newspapers in the state, his support carried great weight, especially given the mood of the electorate. More strikes broke out in 1946 than in any other year in U.S. history, and by the time November came, voters were tired of the disruptions. The populist Sidney Osborn won against his Republican opponent by 73,595 to 48,867. Despite Osborn's opposition to right-to-work, the amendment still passed by the margin of 61,875 to 49,557. Arizonans effectively gutted the unions except in the copper towns.

The controversy also provided a statewide organization that allowed conservative young Republicans in Phoenix to expand their base of power. One member of the Veterans' Committee was a Harvard-trained lawyer named John Rhodes. He won election as Arizona's first Republican congressman in 1952. Another was Barry Goldwater, who became a Republican U.S. senator the same year. Once in Washington, Goldwater's appointment to the Labor and Welfare Committee gave him the national antilabor exposure he needed to turn himself into "Mr. Conservative" and to lead the first change against the New Deal and later the Great Society.

As Republican power grew, unionism as a statewide political force withered and died. By 1958, at the height of the boom, fewer than 33,000 workers belonged to unions even though Arizona's workforce numbered more than 450,000. The movement died, perhaps, in 1965 when the national labor movement tried to repeal Section 14-B of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allowed open shops in businesses across state lines. By then, Morris Udall was a state congressman, the most liberal member of Arizona's congressional delegation. In 1946, Morris and his brother Stewart had ardently opposed the right-to-work crusade. Twenty years later Udall felt compelled to support it. The result was an Arizona wage structure that was 10 to 25 percent lower than in the major industrial centers of the country.


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