Jones, Jesse Holman

Jones, Jesse Holman

Jones, Jesse Holman, 1874-1956, U.S. Secretary of Commerce (1940-45), b. Robertson co., Tenn. A lumber magnate, banker, and millionaire of Houston, Tex., Jones was appointed (1932) by President Hoover as a member of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). He became (1933) its chairman under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and, with the merging of the RFC with other federal agencies, he was appointed (1939) federal loan administrator. Jones's performance in the RFC won such high praise that, after his appointment (1940) as Secretary of Commerce, Congress transferred the RFC from the Federal Loan Agency to the Department of Commerce. His close ties with the business community made him indispensable to the Roosevelt administration, and during World War II he was one of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C. He retired from government service in 1945.

See his Fifty Billion Dollars (1951).

Jesse Holman Jones (also known as Jesse H. Jones) (April 5, 1874June 1, 1956) was a Houston, Texas politician and entrepreneur. He served as United States Secretary of Commerce from 1940 to 1945.

Early life

Born in Robertson County, Tennessee, Jones was the son of a tobacco farmer and merchant. His father sent him to manage a tobacco factory at age 14, and at 19 he was put in charge of his uncle's lumberyards. Five years later, after his uncle died, Jones moved to Houston to manage his uncle's estate and opened a lumberyard company, which grew quickly. He quickly made his mark as a builder across Houston, and helped to secure federal funding for the Houston Ship Channel, which made the city a viable port.

Political career

President Woodrow Wilson offered him the position of Secretary of Commerce, but Jones turned him down to focus on his businesses — though he could not refuse when Wilson asked him a second time to become Director General of Military Relief for the American Red Cross during World War I. After returning to his businesses, Republican president Herbert Hoover appointed him to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, despite Jones's Democratic affiliation.

Secretary of Commerce

Jones later served under Franklin Roosevelt as Secretary of Commerce in 1940 — the same position he had turned down a quarter-century before — and served until 1945, when he was forced out in favor of Roosevelt's outgoing Vice President, Henry A. Wallace.

Jones was alternately a revered and feared figure in Houston and Texas politics during his lifetime. Lyndon Johnson, infuriated by Jones's power and arrogance, reportedly referred to him behind his back as "Jesus H. Jones."

Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, established Houston Endowment Inc., a very large philanthropic institution.


The home of the Houston Symphony is Jesse H. Jones Hall in the Theater District. The University of Texas at Austin's College of Communication is named after Jones. Baylor University's Jesse H. Jones Library is named after Jones. Jones High School and Texas Southern University Jesse H. Jones School of Business, and the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House Hotel [a hotel for MD Anderson Cancer patients and family members] all located in Houston, Texas were named after Jesse Jones. The Jones family had a strong influence on Rice University as well, with the eponymous Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management founded in large part by a gift from Houston Endowment Inc., and Jones College named for Mary Gibbs Jones.

In 1956 a hospital was built in Springfield, Tennessee, named the Jesse Holman Jones Hospital, replacing the original hospital there. This hospital operated until 1995 when a new facility, NorthCrest Medical Center, was built.


  • Jones, Jesse H. Fifty billion dollars;: My thirteen years with the RFC, 1932-1945 (1951) detailed memoir by longtime chairman
  • Paul A. C. Koistinen. Arsenal of World War II: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1940-1945 (2004)
  • Mason, Joseph R. "The Political Economy of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Assistance During the Great Depression." Explorations in Economic History 2003 40(2): 101-121. Issn: 0014-4983 Fulltext in Ingenta
  • Olson, James S. Saving Capitalism: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the New Deal, 1933-1940. Princeton U. Press, 1988. 246 pp.
  • Beryl Wayne Sprinkel. "Economic Consequences of the Operations of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation." The Journal of Business of the University of Chicago Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 1952), pp. 211-224 online at JSTOR
  • Gerald Taylor White, Billions for Defense: Government Financing by the Defense Plant Corporation During World War II (1980)
  • video: Strange, Eric, prod. "Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones." (1999) Color and black and white. 57 min. Distributed by Houston Public Television, Houston, Tex.

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