Jesse Jones archive now at Rice University

The historic records of Jesse Jones (1874-1956), one of the nation’s most powerful appointed officials during the Great Depression and World War II and one of Houston’s pre-eminent developers during the first half of the 20th century, are now archived at Rice University’s Fondren Library.

Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation established in 1937 by Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, donated the historic records produced by its founders and their families. The records will be available to people interested in discovering more about Jones, who served as U.S. secretary of commerce from 1940 to 1945. The archive will be open to the public by request in the library’s Woodson Research Center, which is considered one of the leading archival repositories in Texas.

“We’re very grateful to Houston Endowment for giving Rice a gift of such historic importance,” said President David Leebron. “Jesse Jones and our university’s founder, William Marsh Rice, were two of the leading forces behind Houston’s early years and unparalleled growth. Their vision, business acumen and hard work enriched the region culturally and economically. These records provide a rare opportunity to witness and learn from that history.”

The archive contains several collections and consists of more than 225 boxes filled with private letters, photographs, contracts and speeches, some of which were nationally broadcast. The collections span corporate and property records as well as family and other personal papers.

“These are untapped materials that the general public hasn’t been able to see,” said Woodson Director Lee Pecht, who oversaw the archive’s arrival and processing at Rice.  “It’s an exciting prospect for Woodson, Rice and the Houston community.”

Pecht said the collections’ black-and-white pictures and perfectly typed documents describe influential accomplishments from critical periods in the history of the nation and Houston. Examples include the 1928 Democratic National Convention in Houston, Jones’ 1933 Bank Repair Program as chairman of the federal government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the 1954 building of his last skyscraper, the 18-floor Houston Club Building, which was recently demolished.

Documents about Jones’ land purchases, building construction and the operation of early skyscrapers, theaters, apartments and hotels in Houston, New York City and Fort Worth are available for review. Also included is his request to Capt. James Baker to add his signature to any revisions made to the 1914 Rice Hotel in Houston, which was built by Jones and largely financed by the Rice Institute under Baker’s leadership as chairman of Rice’s Board of Trustees.

The papers filed under Block 58 also show that Jones bought part of that downtown block from Baker for his 1908 Houston Chronicle building. “Taken together, just these documents alone reveal intriguing aspects of the emerging relationship between Jones and Baker; the connection between the Rice Institute and the city’s development; insights into Jones’ business practices; and facts about local buildings where many people enjoyed life and formed lasting memories,” said Jones biographer Steven Fenberg, who together with architectural historian Barrie Scardino Bradley assembled the Jesse Jones archive for Houston Endowment.

Since its inception, Houston Endowment has been a longtime partner of Rice. For more than 70 years, the foundation has supported the university with grants totaling over $81 million. Some of the major gifts resulted in the construction of the Mary Gibbs Jones residential college, establishment of the Jesse H. Jones School of Administration (now known as the Jones Graduate School of Business), establishment of the Ph.D. program in sociology, the creation of numerous endowed chairs and scholarships, and funding of various research endeavors critical to the Greater Houston area.

For more information about the Woodson Research Center’s Jesse Jones archive, visit http://library.rice.edu/woodson. For the library’s hours, see https://library.rice.edu/about/hours/index.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.