Lecture Guide Part II
Most of the details, key events and reasons for Reno’s rise in popularity are contained in the lecture notes. However, it should be emphasized that Reno began as a fording (crossing) point on the Truckee River for travelers on the Old Emigrant Trial seeking to branch off and access the road to Virginia City (the Comstock Lode) and to other mining towns in the south. C. W. Fuller built the first bridge in 1860, which made this spot the preferred place to cross the river and stay dry. In 1861 Myron Lake bought Fuller out and improved the bridge and collected tolls. He soon erected a (later named the Riverside) hotel next to it for overnight stay and the place became known as Lake’s Crossing. In 1868, when Charles Crocker’s CPRR track-laying crews approached thee Truckee Meadows, Lake sold Crocker land for a low price to induce him to build a railroad division town just north of the river on Lake’s land where the railroad could change locomotives and crews. Today this is the site of downtown Reno. Dozens of stagecoach lines hubbed there, as trains constantly delivered eastern goods at the station and hauled Nevada food and ores to distant markets. Gold, railroad passengers, other travelers and crews eventually drew saloons, brothels and gambling houses to town. A divorce colony full of rich easterners later developed. Nearby scenic Lake Tahoe drew more visitors in the 1920s once highways began to connect the area with California and the East. Two world wars (defense spending), Interstate 80, a new jetport, and the emergence of casino gambling all increased Reno’s popularity before Indian casinos, Las Vegas competition, and a host of other factors covered in lecture hearkened Reno’s decline in the 1980s and 1990s, etc.
The Great Depression—
The roots of the Depression lay in laissez-faire (little regulation of Wall Street) and overproduction of food, minerals and items such as cars. As northeastern and Midwestern industry declined after 1929, western mining, oil drilling, farms, and ranches declined with it. The demand for Pacific fish and lumber also declined. As revenues fell, western governors slashed budgets and fired teachers and policemen, etc. to try and balance their budgets.
Traditionally, the West symbolized opportunity, so thousands of jobless Joads came West, but California agriculture was highly mechanized and needed less labor. California police stopped the unemployed trying to enter Calif. at the state line. The police also tried to crush migrant farm worker strikes like the Salinas Lettuce Strike of 1936.
The Northwest attracted many Okies because the region had more family farms with less mechanization. The Southwest also attracted Okies as well as Mexicans. This occurred as Dixie and the Great Plains cut jobs because of the mechanization of agriculture and the boll weevil infestation, which drove millions of poor workers and farmers westward.
The New Deal in the West-
As historian Frederick Jackson Turner noted, the federal government (with railroad and land subsidies, etc.) had always helped the West. So, the New Deal was merely the latest chapter in a long story. The West at first eagerly sought New Deal funding, and created agencies to get it much faster than states in New England. (Vermont even paid back the US government for all the aid it got!).The West embraced federal loans and had long sought federally-built dams. On the other hand, the region also had a long history of individualism (the pioneer spirit). Eventually, western employers resisted eastern ideas about workers’ rights (e.g. minimum wage, right to form unions) and FDR’s female Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. The West got the most money per capita (per person) of any region but eventually turned against FDR.
The West especially benefited from the Soil Conservation Service which bought marginal lands from dry farmers and restored the land by planting grass instead of humus-depleting crops like wheat and tobacco. Rural Electrification in the 1930s provided power for farms and small-town America where population was sparse which included much of the Far West. In virtually every western state dam construction provided power for industry and water for irrigation and urbanization. Themes: The New Deal helped unions organize workers in many industries through the National Industrial Recovery Act and later the National Labor Relations Act (also called the Wagner Act). The Taylor Grazing Act helped preserve federal rangelands and limit the Dust Bowl by restricting the number of livestock animals per acre to conserve grass. The Pittman Silver Purchase Act of 1934 put many miners back to work in NV, AZ, MT, UT and COL. The New Deal built bridges, airports, schools, streets, sewers, parks, and other public works projects. The CCC built firebreaks in the mountains to prevent fires and constructed roads and other useful improvements. World War II really helped the West with dams powering war industries like BMI in Henderson. New Deal highways and airports gave the West more accessibility.
World War II in the West--
In the 1930s, the US navy moved combat ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The base and repair business helped Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and other cities. Phoenix, Salt Lake, Las Vegas and other inland cities got huge defense plants (like BMI) as well as military bases. Albuquerque, for example, got the Sandia research labs and the Los Alamos facilities that developed the atomic bomb. Los Angeles, Seattle and Wichita, etc. got aerospace plants (L. A. in the 930-s and Seattle even earlier), which hired thousands of workers to build planes for the army and navy. Denver got many factories. Most of the cities that had heavy WWII defense spending kept their economies humming with huge defense contracts during the Cold War.
Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix (and its suburb, Goodyear, AZ) got big rubber factories to manufacture tires and belts for engines. Some tires were made of cotton not rubber. Farming, ranching and mining all boomed during the war, and many unemployed industrial workers in the 1930s depression got their jobs back or went into the military. Mexican nationals came to California and the Southwest under the "bracero program" to work. President Roosevelt used World War II to end the eastern domination of the aluminum industry. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) loaned money to Henry Kaiser who built huge aluminum plants in Spokane, Phoenix and other western cities to help Boeing and other aerospace firms in the West make airplanes.
Eastern companies like Carnegie Steel and J. P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel had monopolized the steel industry since the 1870s. Morgan charged the "Pittsburgh Price" for steel to, for example, builders as if the steel came from Pittsburgh--even though it my have come from Chicago. President Roosevelt used WWII to end this monopoly just as he did with aluminum. The RFC funded construction of the Geneva Steel Works in Provo, Utah. The Bank of California (today the Bank of America) also funded Henry Kaiser’s giant steel mill in Fontana, California, which competed with U.S. Steel. After World War II, the Federal Trade Commission forced an end to the so-called "Pittsburgh Pricing System." The Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other western companies grew during the war and in the postwar decades when Cold War defense spending in the Far west greatly increased the region’s population.
Western universities did much scientific research for the government during World War II. See the lecture notes for details. During the war President Roosevelt forcibly relocated and detained over 112,000 Japanese Americans in the Far West states except Hawaii.
The Postwar Western Economy—
After World War II, US corporations (including Standard Oil of California) replaced British, French and Dutch firms in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. US trade greatly increased. The federal government spent billions in the Far West after World War II on Cold War research, national parks, highways and dams. After 1945, railroad declined as trucks (thanks to the Interstate Highway Act of 1956) hauled more of the nation’s freight. Cars also inspired more suburbanization and roadside industries, as V-8 engines, power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning made cars an attractive alternative to mass transit in western cities. The jet plane and the growing number of air lines shrunk the distance barrier between the Far West and the rest of America, thereby promoting more tourism to the region. After 1945, Americans took more and longer vacations thanks to automation and unions. National parks in the West also attracted more tourists. More details are in the lecture notes.
Agriculture boomed during and after the war, as new machines and pesticides increased production and world food markets were opened to American farmers. But farmers became more dependent on chemicals. Indeed, the soaring price of DDT and other chemicals after 1970 (and thanks to inflation) drove many small farmers out of business. This resulted in the corporatization of farming. The Russian Grain Deal brought some profits back in the 1970s. But food prices fell again in the 1980s, as Third World countries like China mandated birth control and grew more of their own food. But corporations have taken over farming in most of the Far West, and their efficiencies (based on economies of scale) resulted in profit even as food prices dropped.
Oil, however, continued to boom especially after 1970 when OPEC and especially Iran began to cut production or cut oil exports to the US. In fact, oil companies even bought some copper mining companies (for example ARCO bought Kennecott Copper on Ely, NV) but later sold off the mines when prices for metals fell again in the 1980s.
But silver and especially gold prices rose as the US dollar fell in value. New more efficient methods of extracting gold from its rock helped Nevada which became the leading silver and gold producer of the 50 states.
Lumber also continued to be a big industry, as home construction in the suburbs boomed after 1945 especially in the West, which attracted millions of new residents. The big companies like Boise Cascade and Weyerhaeuser also developed more uses for wood’s byproducts such as particleboard and cardboard boxes. Power saws and other mechanized innovations lowered costs and increased efficiency. Gradually, the source for wood ceased to be the Northeast and California, as the industry migrated to the Ozarks and Southeast states and Canada. The western oil industry also grew as national and world demand for energy soared. See the lecture notes for more details. Oil companies tried to develop clean methods for bringing the coal they found near oil shale in Colorado, Wyoming and elsewhere, but there wasway no way to burn coal cleanly without polluting the air. Also, the strip mining of coal eventually drew he opposition of environmentalists.
The Rise of New Industries—
The West paced the nation in the growth of "service sector industries" as opposed to conventional manufacturing. Huge banking empires developed in California and Texas. The rise of the credit card along with population growth and construction in the Far West only benefitted firms like the Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Computers and electronics also helped. The growth of Silicon Valley (near San Jose) benefited from earlier (1950s) research work done at the Stanford Industrial park by small companies run by Hewlett, Packard and others.
Del Webb Construction Company helped make retirement itself an industry. Webb built a Sun City outside Phoenix in the late 1950s and 1960s and later built Sun City Summerlin (1990s), Anthem and Aliante (2000s) in the Las Vegas area. Dallas, Houston, Austin, Orange County and other western urban areas also developed computer/electronic industries.
Even with the movement of so many Rustbelt industries to Mexico and Asia (deindustrialization), American computer companies were crucial to defense research for guided missiles, drones, jet plane cockpit displays and other functions. Still, by the 1990s, much of the chip manufacturing took place in Asia.
Western ports also saw increased traffic for the import-export trade. GATT and NAFTA (1990s) helped to drop tariff barriers worldwide. Containerization helped Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Houston, especially. But so did the decline of unions, which helped many companies, including those that loaded ships, to cut costs and increase profits. This only drew more companies to the West. Even California farm workers’ unions lost thousands of members, as mechanical harvesters and other machines reduced the need for labor.
Energy could be a big new industry for the West if President Obama and his successors heavily fund wind and solar power fields in southern Nevada, Arizona and southern California, along with harnessing geothermal power, natural gas and developing methods to burn coal cleanly.
The Rise of Las Vegas
It began as with the Mormon Fort in 1855, and became a rancho and hostel for weary travelers mainly plying the trails between Utah and southern California. In 1905, Sen. Wm. Clark established the town as a division point for his railroads. The building of Hoover Dam, BMI, the army gunnery school/Nellis, and the Nevada Test Site all promoted growth as did the rise of Strip after Thomas Hull’s 1941 El Rancho Vegas. Credit cards, jet planes, air conditioning, and megaresorts like The Mirage as well as other innovations (e.g. planned communities in Green Valley, Summerlin, Aliante, CAT bus service, the beltway, etc.) all helped Las Vegas grow. See the lecture notes for much more key information.