Although his monumental contribution to the national welfare is largely forgotten today, Jesse Jones (1874–1956) was widely considered to be one of the most powerful men in America—second only to FDR—during the years of the Great Depression and World War II.
Fenberg—an officer for the Houston Endowment and the producer and writer of the Emmy Award–winning documentary “Brother Can You Spare a Billion: The Story of Jesse H. Jones”—chronicles how Jones played a central role in the development of Houston into a major commercial and financial center, before moving to Washington D.C. to head the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and its many spinoff agencies. The author locates his work on the national scene within the broader context of what he views as the successes of the New Deal. As a leading Texas Democrat, Jones came to the attention of Woodrow Wilson and was given an important role in coordinating international-relief efforts along with Herbert Hoover. Upon assuming office, Roosevelt chose Jones to head the RFC, which rapidly morphed into a leading institution of the New Deal, with chief responsibility for getting the economy back on track. By 1934, Jones faced problems similar to issues today. Despite the massive infusion of capital into failing banks to increase their liquidity, credit to industry remained largely frozen. Jones then sought and received authority to make loans directly to credit-worthy businesses, both large and small, and began financing national infrastructure development. Jones warned against balancing the budget by cutting back on New Deal stimulus and relief efforts, and his views were borne out in the 1937 recession. During WWII, the RFC, under his direction, played a major role in the reconversion of American factories, the development of synthetics such as rubber and the maintenance of an international supply line where possible.
A somewhat-forgotten page of U.S. history that holds enormous relevance today.