John Knott’s political cartoon Come to Texas! provides an illustration of the decentralization of highly-centralized industries to Texas during the late 1930s. Depicting the decentralizing industries as a crowd of businessmen with briefcases marked “fair practices,” many highly-centralized businesses during this time were branching out, coming to Texas because of its better conditions towards the end of the Great Depression (Southwestern Industry). However, Texas was not content to accept just any company since a number of these industries were coming to Texas from a wealth of problems, leaving in their wake issues such as poor worker treatment (Gardner). The sign above the Texan’s head exemplifies this concern, cautioning against industries seeking to exploit Texas’ more-business-friendly economic climate in an effort to protect Texans. Texas is still happy to have the industries, hence the cartoon’s depiction of the Texan giving a warm welcome to the arriving industries; however, if the incoming industries wanted to employ Texans, they must first take care of Texans. The editorial entitled “Southwestern Industry” that accompanied Knott’s cartoon helps provide additional historical context for the events in the cartoon. It explains that while Texas had an abundance of raw resources, “relatively little progress [had] been made in the manufacturing of cotton and woolen cloth” (Southwestern Industry). This meant that many of Texas’ raw materials had to be shipped to industrial centers in other states to be processed, manufactured, and reimported once completed. The editorial goes on to advise that there “should be no welcome sign in Texas for the manufacturer who wants to get away from some other State merely because he is unwilling to pay fair taxes or reasonable wages” (Southwestern Industry). In a nutshell, the editorial maintains that increased manufacturing in Texas would be good for the state, but not at the cost of shoddy work practices coming to Texas with the intent of exploitation. Overall, Knott’s depiction of decentralizing industries coming to Texas provides an overview of the decentralization of jobs to Texas as well as Texas’ concerns with fair work practices.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, the unemployment rate dropped as the US started recovering from the Great Depression (“Miss Perkins Urges Job Security Plans”). Although the Great Depression didn’t completely end until the onset of World War II, Knott’s cartoon and the accompanying editorial were published in 1937 when the economic situation of the nation was starting to improve. While the highly industrialized and centralized areas of the US were only just starting to get back on their feet, Texas’ economy had fared better overall throughout the Depression (Hammons). The hardships faced by Detroit, Michigan, during the Great Depression provides a prime example of how dissimilar the conditions of industrialized and non-industrialized parts of country were. In the case of Detroit, all of the nation’s car production was centralized in a single area to allow the heads of business easy access to all of their production sites. However, when the economy took a sharp downturn in 1929, it became much harder for the average person to afford a car. When car sales tanked, that region crashed (Nystrom). Conversely, the lack of compact industries in Texas “helped to buffer Dallas from the worst of the Depression” (Hammons). Because Texas wasn’t as industrialized, it wasn’t hit as hard. The Depression was still crippling, but comparatively speaking, Texas fared marginally better.
In order to combat the troubles of highly-centralized production, centralized industries began to spread out, decentralizing production to other areas of the country (Southwestern Industry). According to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, decentralization “signifies the disbursement of power from the top down… lead[ing] to higher levels of efficiency” (Decentralization 250). To put it in layman’s terms, a centralized company branches out, setting up production in other places to take advantage of the different locations’ benefits, such as cheaper production, looser regulatory laws, cheaper labor, and closer proximity to resources. In this particular time period, decentralization was primarily used to diversify in response to the problems of highly centralized industries during the Depression (Bowman). Highly centralized industries began because of big-name tycoons, such as Ford or Rockefeller, because it was easier for management to oversee all of their productions by having them nearby (Jahn). However, just like the saying ‘having all one’s eggs in the same basket,’ the Depression hit those highly-industrialized areas the hardest, causing the highly-centralized companies to crash. Decentralization was harder on management since moving industries from Chicago to Texas meant no longer having immediate access to all nearby production; however, it was much better for the industries overall. The cheaper production costs and delegation of smaller tasks to other areas let management focus on the bigger picture instead of trivialities of day-to-day production (Jahn).
Due to its abundance of raw resources and available labor source, Texas made for a very promising-looking market for highly-centralized industries looking to decentralize. An especially alluring factor was Texas’ rapidly-growing market, meaning more workers in production and more buyers of finished products (Texas 822). In addition, by relocating branches of industry to Texas, companies didn’t have to pay such high transportation costs to import the raw resources and then ship the finished product from the North-East back to the South. Although Texas had an abundance of natural resources, such as cotton, wheat, wool, and cattle, it lacked the industries needed to process the raw materials, especially in the textile department (Southwestern Industry). By allowing industries centralized in other states to decentralize to Texas, Texas would also gain jobs and a boost to its economy. However, despite all the advantages the added industrial boost posed, both the editorial and Knott’s cartoon stressed the fact that there remained a number of possible drawbacks in allowing out-of-state industries to set up production in Texas.
That is the exactly the argument Knott’s cartoon presents. While the Texan depicted in the cartoon is happily receiving the incoming industries with his arms outstretched in welcome, the sign above the Texan’s head expresses the concern “No exploiters of cheap labor, tax dodgers or fly-by-night industries wanted” (Knott). The meaning drawn from Knott’s cartoon paints a picture of a state that wanted the benefits of industrialization – just not at the cost of adopting the problems that some of the industries brought with them. In looking at poor work practices in other areas of the country during the same time period, namely the case of the Radium Gals, the concern depicted in Knott’s cartoon becomes even more apparent. The Radium Gals were a group of women hired during the 20s and 30s to work at the Radium Dial company painting watch faces with a special radium paint (Suppan). Exploited by the company they worked for, these women were paid far lower wages than men and were slowly poisoned and killed by the radiation from the radium paint (Suppan). With such adverse publicity surrounding cases such as the Radium Gals, the editorial and Knott cartoon cautioned against accepting decentralizing industries that were seeking to exploit laborers or exercise dubious business practices (Gardner). Since companies that utilized shifty work practices were seen as “author of the general misery, … cutter[s] of wages, … and the tax-dodging embodiment of the general irresponsibility that pervades the American business community,” Texas was not keen on hosting industries that were going to exploit Texas’ market and workers (Castranovo 61).
In summation, Come to Texas! is a political cartoon by John Knott that provides commentary on the decentralization of industries to Texas towards the end of the Great Depression. Despite the fact that decentralizing industries presented numerous advantages to Texas, both the editorial and the Knott cartoon emphasize how important it was for Texas to be wary of allowing just any industry to relocate, stressing that if the decentralizing industries wanted to employ Texans, they had to take care of Texans.
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