Jesse H. Jones

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Jesse H. Jones
Jesse Holman Jones pers0174.jpg
9th United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
September 19, 1940 – March 1, 1945
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Harry L. Hopkins
Succeeded by Henry A. Wallace
Personal details
Born Jesse Holman Jones
April 5, 1874
Robertson County, Tennessee, United States
Died June 1, 1956 (aged 82)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Forest Park Cemetery
Houston, Texas
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Gibbs Jones
(m. 1920 - 1956, his death)
Children No children

Jesse Holman Jones (April 5, 1874 – June 1, 1956) was a Democratic politician and entrepreneur from Houston, Texas. He served as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1940 to 1945.

His most important role was to head the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), (1932–1945), a federal agency originally created in the Herbert Hoover administration that played a major role in combating the Great Depression and financing industrial expansion during World War II.[1][2] Jones was in charge of spending US$50 billion, especially in financing railways and building munitions factories.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Robertson County, Tennessee, Jones was the son of tobacco farmer and merchant William Hasque Jones and Laura Anna Holman. His mother died in 1880, when he was six years old.[4] His father sent him to manage a tobacco factory at age 14, and at 19 he was put in charge of his uncle's lumberyards. Five years later, after his uncle, M. T. Jones, died, Jones moved to Houston to manage his uncle's estate and opened a lumberyard company, which grew quickly. During this period, Jesse opened his own business, the South Texas Lumber Company. He also began to expand into real estate, commercial building and banking.

Business activities[edit]

In 1908, Jones constructed a new plant for the rapidly growing Houston Chronicle in exchange for a half-interest in the company, which had been solely owned by Marcellus Foster.[5] The relationship between Jones and the Chronicle lasted the rest of his life. In 1926, Jones became the sole owner of the paper and named himself as publisher. In 1937, he transferred ownership of the paper to the newly established Houston Endowment Inc.

Sometime after 1908, Jones organized the Texas Trust Company. By 1912, he had become president of Houston's National Bank of Commerce. This bank later merged with Texas National Bank in 1964 to become the Texas National Bank of Commerce, renamed to Texas Commerce Bank which grew into a major regional financial institution. It became part of JP Morgan Chase & Co. in 2008.[6]

In 1911, Jones purchased the original five-story Rice Hotel from Rice University although the university retained the land on which it stood. He razed the original structures and constructed the present building, which he then leased from Rice. The 17-story Rice Hotel opened on May 17, 1913 and was closed in 1977. From 1998 to 2014, this building was known as the Post Rice Lofts. Jones soon made his mark as a builder across Houston, and helped to secure federal funding for the Houston Ship Channel, which opened in 1914 and made the city a viable port.

Political activities[edit]

Jesse Holman Jones
Jesse Jones, center, as Chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1935.

President Woodrow Wilson offered him the position of Secretary of Commerce, but Jones decided instead to focus on his businesses — though he could not refuse when Wilson asked him to become director general of military relief for the American Red Cross during World War I.

Reconstruction Finance Corporation chairman[edit]

When the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was established in 1932, President Hoover appointed Jones to the RFC's board, even though Hoover was a Republican and Jones a Democrat. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made him the Chairman of the RFC, while also expanding the RFC's powers to make loans and bail out banks. This led some to refer to Jones as "the fourth branch of government."[7] Roosevelt reportedly called Jones "Jesus H. Jones."[8][9] According to Joseph P. Lash, the President considered Jones too conservative and shot down a strong movement to make Jones the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1940.[10]

Jones retired from the RFC on July 17, 1939, to become Federal Loan Administrator (head of the Federal Loan Agency, which supervised the RFC and some other bodies).

Secretary of Commerce[edit]

Jones later served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's United States Secretary of Commerce from 1940 to 1945.

Exit from politics[edit]

After a request on January 20 from president Roosevelt to relinquish the post, Jesse Jones resigned as Secretary of Commerce on January 21, 1945.[11] His resignation sparked an outcry from business leaders and politicians across the United States, particularly in the South.[12] The involvement of the United States Department of Commerce with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Jones’s sustained effort to recover business from the ravages of the Great Depression won him many sympathizers.[13] The lack of business experience in his successor Henry A. Wallace, added to the dissatisfaction of the people.[14] Wallace’s failure to secure the nomination as Vice President and his loyalty to Roosevelt’s campaign, encouraged the president to offer Wallace a secretary position of in any capacity.[15] Despite Wallace’s conviction that he could perform best as the Secretary of Commerce, his previous post as Secretary of Agriculture and his lack of business experience did little to comfort business leaders in this politically motivated decision.[16] Jones himself along, with a majority of Congressmen and Senators, publicly denounced this decision and refused several senior diplomatic roles under the Roosevelt administration in protest.[17] Wallace’s contested confirmation was one of the most controversial actions of the 79th Congress due to leaked correspondences between Jones and President Roosevelt concerning the political debt that the president owed Wallace.[18]

Suite 8F Group[edit]

Jones was also an active participant in the so-called "Suite 8F Group." This was composed of very wealthy, politically active businessmen who met in Suite 8F of the Lamar Hotel in downtown Houston. The group raised money to elect influential politicians who supported their conservative business and political views. Beneficiaries included, but were not limited to, Congressman, Senator and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Congressman Albert Thomas, and Governor and Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally, Jr.

Houston Endowment Inc.[edit]

In 1937, Jesse Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, established Houston Endowment Inc., which eventually became the largest private foundation in Texas. It was the principal beneficiary of the Jones's estates, ultimately owning a large number of businesses and buildings, mostly in Houston. Jones was named president of the foundation, and remained so until his death. He was succeeded as president by his nephew, John T. Jones.


In 1925, Jones was granted an LL.D. honorary degree from Southwestern University.[19]
In 1941, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from Oglethorpe University.[20]

Later years and death[edit]

He retained the title of publisher of the Houston Chronicle until his death on June 1, 1956, at the age of 82. His remains were interred in Houston's Forest Park Cemetery.[21]


Jesse Jones Building of the Houston Public Library.

Thanks in large part to the largesse of the Houston Endowment, the name of Jesse H. Jones is memorialized throughout Houston. The home of the Houston Symphony is Jesse H. Jones Hall in the Houston Theater District.[22] Jones High School[23] and Texas Southern University Jesse H. Jones School of Business are historically black institutions. The Jones family had a strong influence on Rice University as well, with the eponymous Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management founded in large part by a gift from Houston Endowment Inc., and Jones College named for Mary Gibbs Jones. The Jesse H. Jones Student Life Center, a recreation facility at the University of Houston–Downtown was also named for Jones.

In the Texas Medical Center (Houston), there are the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House Hotel, a hotel for MD Anderson Cancer patients and family members,[24] the Jones library building for the Houston Academy of Medicine/Texas Medical Center;[25] and the Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones Pavilion (1977) connecting Memorial Hermann Hospital to the University of Texas Medical School.[26] The original site of Texas Woman's University Houston campus, across the street from the HAM/TMC library, included Mary Gibbs Jones hall; TWU moved to a new location in 2006 and the original site became part of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Other Jones buildings include the Houston Public Library's Central Library building[27] and the headquarters for the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross.[28]

The University of Texas at Austin's College of Communication is named after Jones, where there is also the Jesse H. Jones Chair in the Liberal Arts, held by the renowned philosopher T. K. Seung. Baylor University's central libraries comprise the Jesse H. Jones Library (1992) and the Moody Memorial Library (1968).[29]

Jesse H. Jones Physical Education Complex at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin

The Jesse H. Jones Physical Education Complex on the campus of Texas Lutheran University in Seguin bears his name.

In 1956, the Jesse Holman Jones Hospital was built in Springfield, Tennessee, to replace the original hospital there. This hospital operated until 1995, when a new facility, NorthCrest Medical Center, was constructed.

Beyond buildings, one may visit the Jesse H. Jones Park and Nature Center in Humble.[30] or drive across the Houston Ship Channel (for which Jones was the driving force) on what was once (1982–1994) the Jesse H. Jones Memorial Bridge.[31]

Newspaperman Bascom N. Timmons penned a biography of Jones in 1956 entitled Jesse H. Jones: The Man and the Statesman.[32]


  1. ^ Jones, Jesse H. Fifty billion dollars;: My thirteen years with the RFC, 1932-1945 (1951)
  2. ^ Mason, Joseph R. (2003). "The Political Economy of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Assistance During the Great Depression". Explorations in Economic History. 40 (2): 101–121. doi:10.1016/S0014-4983(03)00013-5. 
  3. ^ Koistinen, Paul A. C. (2004). Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700613080. 
  4. ^ Jones, Jesse Holman from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved April 3, 2010.
  5. ^ Foster, Marcellus Elliot (1870-1942) from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  6. ^ Jones, Jesse Holman from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved April 4, 2010.
  7. ^ "Brother, Can You Spare A Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones: Jesse Jones". 1956-06-01. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  8. ^ Merle Miller. Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (1974)
  9. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 73-75, 165-6, 207, Random House, New York, NY. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  10. ^ Lash, Joseph P. Eleanor and Franklin
  11. ^ Template:Jesse, Jones. "To The President." 20 Jan. 1945
  12. ^ Template:J.W, Jarett. "To Mr. Jesse H. Jones. 21 March. 1945.
  13. ^ Template:Leo, Crowley “To the Honorable Jesse H. Jones, Secretary of Commerce” 14 Feb. 1945.
  14. ^ Template:Leo, Crowley “To the Honorable Jesse H. Jones, Secretary of Commerce” 14 Feb. 1945.
  15. ^ Template:Franklin, Roosevelt “To the Honorable Secretary of Commerce” 20 Jan. 1945.
  16. ^ Template:W.A, Logan “To Senator Bourke Hickenlooper” 23 Jan. 1945
  17. ^ Template:W.A, Logan “To Senator Bourke Hickenlooper” 23 Jan. 1945
  18. ^ Template:Franklin, Roosevelt “To the Honorable Secretary of Commerce” 20 Jan. 1945.
  19. ^ "Jesse Jones to Speak at Centennial Celebration". The Megaphone. 
  20. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2015-03-18. 
  21. ^ Handbook of Texas Online, Lionel V. Patenaude, "Jones, Jesse Holman," accessed September 27, 2016, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 6, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  22. ^ [1] Archived January 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ "Jones (Jesse H.) High School / Homepage". Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  24. ^ "Rotary House International | MD Anderson Cancer Center". 2013-02-20. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  25. ^ "Texas Medical Center Library | Home Page". 2013-01-07. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  26. ^ "HERMANN HOSPITAL | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)". Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  27. ^ "Houston Public Library| Central Library, Jesse H. Jones Building". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  28. ^ "Greater Houston | American Red Cross | Volunteer, Donate, Training". Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  29. ^ "Baylor University || University Libraries". 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  30. ^ "Harris County Precinct Four". Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  31. ^ "Houston - Photo Gallery Beltway 8 Eastern Segment, US 59 North to Interstate 45 South". TexasFreeway. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  32. ^ Jesse H. Jones: The Man and the Statesman. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Buenger, Walter L. (2003). "Jesse H. Jones". In Hendrickson, Kenneth E., Jr.; Collins, Michael L. Profiles in Power: Twentieth-Century Texans in Washington. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292798423. 
  • Fenberg, Steven (2011). Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9781603444347. 
  • Jones, Jesse H. Fifty billion dollars: My thirteen years with the RFC, 1932-1945 (1951) detailed memoir by longtime chairman
  • Koistinen, Paul A. C. (2004). Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700613080. 
  • Mason, Joseph R. (2003). "The Political Economy of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Assistance During the Great Depression". Explorations in Economic History. 40 (2): 101–121. doi:10.1016/S0014-4983(03)00013-5. 
  • Olson, James S. (1988). "Saving Capitalism: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the New Deal, 1933-1940". Princeton U. Press. 
  • Sprinkel, Beryl Wayne (1952). "Economic Consequences of the Operations of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation". Journal of Business of the University of Chicago. 25 (4): 211–224. JSTOR 2350206. doi:10.1086/233060. 
  • White, Gerald Taylor (1980). Billions for Defense: Government Financing by the Defense Plant Corporation During World War II. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 081730018X. 
  • video: Strange, Eric, prod. "Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones." (1999) Color and black and white. 57 min. Distributed by Houston Public Television, Houston, Tex.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Harry L. Hopkins
U.S. Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Franklin D. Roosevelt

September 19, 1940 – March 1, 1945
Succeeded by
Henry A. Wallace