A look at Texas during the last 'ought seven'
on crumbling acid-based pulp paper and water damaged from years of sitting in
a cardboard box stored in a leaky barn, Volume V of "The New Practical Reference
Library" was neither new nor practical. |
First copyrighted in 1907, the
slowly disintegrating reference book has no monetary value, but the not-quite-three-page
entry it contained on Texas was worth reading - and keeping - because it shows
what a difference a century can make.
The Lone Star State had long since
been civilized by the time this multi-volume set became available, but as the
calendar moved toward the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Texas was
a much different place than it is today.
Primarily, it was a lot smaller.
Not in size, of course, but in population. Fewer than four million people then
called Texas home. Today, more than that number lives in the metropolitan areas
of either Houston or Dallas areas.
For that matter, the whole nation had
fewer people a hundred years ago. The United States in the early 1900s had only
50 cities with more than 100,000 residents - none of those cities in Texas. Of
those half-a-hundred major cities, the lineup of the top 10 has changed considerably
Back then, though New York reigned as the biggest American city,
Chicago stood at second (today it's third, behind Los Angeles), Philadelphia came
in third and St. Louis - the gateway to the west - claimed fourth place with 687,000
residents. The closest top-10 city to Texas was New Orleans, which then had 339,000
residents, more than it has today.
Today, three of the top ten cities
are in Texas - Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. While all three of these cities
amounted to important Texas urban areas a century ago, none of them had quite
tipped the 100,000 mark. (San Antonio then enjoyed the status of being Texas'
To put the difference 100 years can make in further perspective,
Austin now has more residents than any but three American cities had in the 1910
census. Today, it is the nation's 16th-largest city. In the first decade of the
previous century, it ranked only as one of 48 state capitals and home of the University
of Texas and its 3,000 students.
A fold-out, color map of the U.S. does
not even show Bryan-College Station, McAllen, Harlingen, Midland, Odessa, or Victoria.
But it does include Sanderson, then an important division point on the Southern
Pacific Railroad and these days virtually a ghost town.
What made Texas'
economy percolate during the last "ought seven?" In a word, agriculture. Back
then, Texans could pride themselves on being the nation's number one cotton producer.
In fact, Texas farmers grew one-fifth of the whole world's supply. Not surprisingly,
Texas also stood at No. 1 in cattle population and wool production.
also ranked first in cotton seed cake and cotton seed oil production, though its
petrochemical industry had barely begun. The old reference work devotes more words
to describe Texas' coal mining industry than its oil resources, which netted only
Oil play in early 20th century Texas was confined to Southeast
Texas, with annual production running a mere 13 million barrels. "Natural gas
is found in a number of regions," the article casually noted.
in Texas is yet in its infancy," the reference book correctly predicted.
To export its mostly agricultural goods, Texas had more miles of railroad than
any other state - 13,500 miles. But no paved highways linked its cities.
Finally, after boiling the state's colorful history down to two long paragraphs,
the anonymous compiler of all these statistics concluded: "Since [Texas' readmission
to the Union following the Civil War] the state has increased rapidly in population
With a population of 28 million projected for Texas by 2015,
it's hard to imagine what the next "ought seven" will be like.