“The RFC was, in fact, the keystone of recovery and the foundation of the war effort.”

Raymond Moley, Newsweek, October 15, 1951

“The vastness of our post-war problems may seem more real to me because through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and other agencies under my supervision, much of the governmental expansion of industrial facilities has been done.”

Jesse Jones, April 14, 1943

press room

Not J.P. Morgan, not even Franklin Roosevelt could be of as much comfort to the public. To many a U.S. citizen, great or small, if Jesse Jones says O.K., O.K., TIME Magazine, January 25, 1937

Steven Fenberg discusses “Unprecedented Power“ with Paul Bettencourt and David Jones on the HoustonPBS political affairs program, “Red, White and Blue.”

January 10, 2012 speech at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Walter Cronkite on Jesse Jones from PBS's Brother, Can You Spare a Billion?

Steven Fenberg interview on KUHT-TV during Science and Technology Night.


Unprecedented Power is the story of a Tennessee kid turned Texas businessman, who, with some help, shapes the largest city in the South, helps the United States survive the Great Depression, and, while he’s at it, mobilizes the nation to win World War II… Inlaid in Jesse Jones’s biography is the suggestion that government can—if it chooses—ignite the economy without falling headlong into socialism… An economic turnaround story like Fenberg’s reads almost like a fairytale. Only it isn’t.”

- The Texas Observer

“In this meticulously researched, briskly written biography, Steven Fenberg… not only recovers the forgotten history of this key player but also intervenes forcefully in contemporary historical and political debates about the New Deal and the nature of American politics… Recovering the history of a largely forgotten New Deal figure, Fenberg’s biography reminds readers just how much New Dealers accomplished and how they accomplished it.”

- Journal of Southern History

“Given his unprecedented power—which provides the apt title of Steven Fenberg’s meaty new biography—it is no wonder than in 1941 TIME magazine dubbed Jones the second most powerful man in Washington (after President Franklin D. Roosevelt). Roosevelt himself teasingly called him ‘Jesus H. Jones.’…Fenberg’s comprehensive biography should revive interest in this remarkable capitalist and public servant.”

- Wilson Quarterly
Read the entire review (PDF)

“Prior to the publication of Unprecedented Power, journalists and acquaintances of the powerful Texan had written the only biographies of Jones. For those who want to know how Jones viewed the world in which he operated, this is the book for them.”

- Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“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… [Unprecedented Power is] a somewhat forgotten page of U.S. history that holds enormous relevance today.”

- Kirkus Reviews

“Fenberg expands on the PBS special he produced a decade ago and offers insight into a man whose economic and political acumen would come in very handy today.”

- Austin Chronicle

“If you don’t know about Jesse H. Jones and the heavy hands he played in Houston and Washington in the last century, you should read this book.”

- Dallas Morning News

“Fenberg may be the ultimate authority on Jones.”

- OutSmart Magazine

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book excerpts

“With a democratic government we can have equal opportunities for all classes of people, and all kinds of businesses, if we will but unite for that purpose.”

Jesse H. Jones, April 9, 1928, page 147

“The two-party system, with one group always in opposition to the other and seeking to take over control of the government from it, [is] the best safeguard of honest and able government… Under our system there must be sacrifices for the greater good. Those who refuse to make the sacrifices simply help [to] drag us away from party government, from the orderly expression of the popular will, to the utterly chaotic conditions which would prevail.”

Jesse H. Jones, July 27, 1928, page 164

“I was convinced that conditions were rapidly approaching such a precarious state that only the federal government through unusual methods could deal with them effectively.”

Jesse H. Jones, July 12, 1937, page 188

“A few billion dollars boldly but judiciously lent and invested by such a government agency as the RFC in 1931 and 1932 would have prevented the failure of thousands of banks and averted the complete breakdown in business, agriculture, and industry.”

Jesse H. Jones, Fifty Billion Dollars, page 202

“For the government to be willing to buy stock in a bank and advertise to the world that it is a partner in that bank is the greatest compliment and source of strength that could come to any bank… Credit is the bloodstream of all business, and banking is the heart… Banks that accept deposits [but] do not extend credit in a reasonable way will not contribute to the general economic welfare nor to business recovery.”

Jesse H. Jones, August 2, 1933, page 212

“Banking should be conducted more in a spirit of public service than purely for profit. It should be more a profession than a business involved with speculation.”

Jesse H. Jones, February 5, 1934, page 217

“I am grateful to the Democratic party for having produced such an honest, upright, capable man to conduct this huge enterprise… this is the one undertaking of the government that has fully stood the test, and that has already made good.”

Republican U.S. Representative Robert Luce, January 16, 1934, page 220

“No one claims that the Roosevelt administration has proceeded without error. The president himself does not claim that, but the mistakes have been far outweighed by the successful steps. Of greater importance is the fact that everything that has been done has been actuated by one motive—the welfare of the people as a whole.”

Jesse H. Jones, June 18, 1934, page 226

“Probably the billion dollars capital stock invested by the RFC in 6,000 banks did more good than any government activity. It gave us a strong banking system… Rebuilding the banks was like putting a new foundation under the house. It was absolutely necessary to prevent the house from falling down.”

Jesse H. Jones, January 11, 1936, page 254

“A democratic government cannot be against business. Its revenue comes from the profits of business. But that does not mean that we can play the game without an umpire.”

Jesse H. Jones, October 13, 1936, page 265

“Let’s not forget that the lives of human beings are involved, and none must be allowed to suffer for want of food, clothing, or shelter. No one is willing to allow this.”

Jesse H. Jones, October 23, 1936, page 267

“It is certainly not to the best interest of our country that control of the wealth, industry, and credit be concentrated in a few hands. This is so fundamental as not to be open to argument…. If we ever have serious social disturbance, it will be due to this. The distance between the palace and the hovel is too great—the mountain too high to climb.”

Jesse H. Jones, November 23, 1936, page 272

“You can balance the budget all right, personal or government, but you will get hungry when there is no meat in the smoke house or meal in the barrel.”

Jesse H. Jones, December 3, 1937, page 297

“In my opinion, the key to the situation confronting us today is intelligent, cordial, friendly, determined cooperation between government and business—government and all the people. It cannot be sectional; it cannot be class [driven]; it cannot be political. It cannot be achieved if we let ourselves believe that our government is our enemy.”

Jesse H. Jones, December 3, 1937, page 297

“Why, we haven’t a powder factory or a munitions factory in the country… Our immediate needs include shells and guns that we don’t even know how to make.”

Bernard Baruch, October 14, 1938, page 316

“We must not have on this continent a situation in which every airplane that flies across our borders is a cause of fear lest it drop a bomb on our families. We do not want our borders to become endless miles of fortresses.”

Jesse H. Jones, November 11, 1938, page 320

“The RFC has rendered a great service to the American people, far greater than can be generally known. It has averted ruin and disaster for millions of our citizens.”

Jesse H. Jones, July 15, 1939, page 334

“You, the fellow members of your board, and all of us who have some confidence in the good sense of the American people, and confidence in the ability of honest government to cope with difficult situations which have be not been solved by wholly private efforts, have a right to some measure of pride in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jesse H. Jones, July 18, 1939, page 336

“There is no line of business that we have not aided, and probably every man, woman, and child in the United States has benefited from RFC operations.”

Jesse H. Jones, March 27, 1940, page 345

“It is easy to understand why almost everyone in Washington, Republican or Democrat, New Deal or anti-New Deal, readily states that the RFC is a splendid demonstration that government in business can be competent.”

Fortune magazine, May 1940, page 347

“The Act of June 25, 1940—which gave us the dictionary—authorized us to purchase plants, lease plants, build plants, whatever we wished, and in any way we might find feasible… It empowered the RFC to manufacture arms, to train aviators, to do almost anything else that would strengthen the nation’s armed might. We could buy or build anything the President defined as strategic or critical.”

Jesse H. Jones, Fifty Billion Dollars, page 352

“I merely wish to call attention to the fact that Mr. Jones already probably has more power than any other man in the government, with the single exception of the president. He has unlimited power to lend money to anyone, to any industry in the United States, or refuse to lend… I do not think that, with the exception noted, any man in the United States ever has enjoyed so much power… I have no great objection to giving Mr. Jones the additional power to act also as secretary of commerce, but I think it is an extraordinary precedent, which is justified only by the character of the man and which I hope may not be repeated.”

Republican Senator Robert A. Taft, September 8, 1940, page 359

“We are buying and will continue to buy every exportable commodity in Latin America.”

Jesse H. Jones, Our Finest Hour, page 364

“No New Deal administrator stands higher in the public confidence… Next to the President, no man in the Government and probably in the United States wields greater powers.”

Samuel Lubell, Saturday Evening Post, November 30, 1940, page 368

“Jesse Jones controlled an ‘unlicensed flow of money where you could borrow and spend… for all the war purposes… It was an authority, a power I suppose in practical terms, second only to the president… He was the conduit, the great canal, between the financial world and the war needs.’”

John Kenneth Galbraith, November 22, 1996, page 382

“Jesse Jones today, as Federal Loan Administrator, is more powerful than the Chief of Staff, the Secretaries of War and Navy—in fact everyone in Washington save the President of the United States.”

Drew Pearson, Washington Merry-Go-Round, March 6, 1942, page 407

“To define Jones’s responsibilities would be to list virtually every organization within the national government. Essentially, as Federal Loan Administrator, it is his job to finance the industrial plan expansion for waging war.”

LIFE magazine, October 5, 1942, page 432

“A factor which became an actuality in 1942 and which some Americans fail to take into account is that this country is at present—in fact and not just in theory—the storehouse of freedom. The United States is now the only place to which the United Nations can look for many absolutely essential war supplies.” [The Allied forces were called the United Nations well before the international organization was established in 1945.]

Jesse H. Jones, January 3, 1943, page 444

“The vastness of our post-war problem may seem more real to me because, through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and other agencies under my supervision, much of the governmental expansion of industrial facilities has been done.”

Jesse H. Jones, April 14, 1943, page 449

“It will be bad for the country, and each and every one of us, if any group attempts to take selfish-advantage in the transformation we will have to face. It is, however, possible, if business and industry seek to cooperate wholeheartedly with government, that much of the war expansion can be put to work usefully for the United States and for many parts of the world.”

Jesse H. Jones, April 14, 1943, page 449

“If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it is that business cannot merely express dislike for what government does. It must be prepared to offer practical solutions based not on privilege, but service and the common welfare.”

Jesse H. Jones, April 14, 1943, page 450

“The establishment of an industry of this magnitude, in so short a period, is in full keeping with the tradition of our people in meeting any emergency.”

Jesse H. Jones, June 28, 1943, page 453

“While all the bickering… was raging, Mr. Jones was quietly sawing wood. His synthetic [rubber] program was taking shape… It was not a job that could be done overnight… This is not just another in the long list of important contributions which Jesse Jones made… It may mean the difference between winning and losing the war.”

William O’Neil, president of General Tire and Rubber, June 28, 1943

“Our biggest investment in manufacturing facilities for a single industry is that of aviation. We have built and own 521 plants for [the] production of aircraft, aircraft engines, parts, and accessories, at a total cost of $2.7 billion [$33 billion]. This is ten times the value of privately owned investments in this industry.”

Jesse H. Jones, July 21, 1943, page 463

“The future of our economy will depend, in substantial measure, on how the post-war world is organized.”

Jesse H. Jones, September 30, 1943, page 468

“I did nothing further about it, and the President never again mentioned the matter to me… I am sure he was displeased that I had not carried out his wish to buy the [Empire State Building] and that he never forgave me for not doing it.”

Jesse H. Jones, Fifty Billion Dollars, page 469

“It is not too much to say that none of the production goals set by President Roosevelt in January 1942 could conceivably have been met had it not been for the creation of the [RFC’s Defense Plants Corporation]… on August 22, 1940. When the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor, the nation’s war-production machine was already in high gear.”

Saturday Evening Post, December 18, 1943, page 473

“Jones has loaned money to the constituents of more Congressmen that anyone in history.”

Drew Pearson, Washington Merry-Go-Round, July 8, 1944, page 485

“Future historians… will find that the determining element which brought victory to the Allies was the productive power of the United States of America. It is little short of miraculous and could only have been accomplished through cooperation between government, management, and labor. All have done a good job.”

Jesse H. Jones, November 5, 1944, page 497

“Jones’ handling of the RFC’s bewilderingly varied operations… was certainly the outstanding administrative performance of the Roosevelt period and one of the most skilled in our history…He held the grandiose balance of power politics between Roosevelt and Congress…. Jones was the leash on the Presidential collar.”

Samuel Lubell, New York Times, October 21, 1951, page 561

“[The synthetic rubber initiative was] exceeded in magnitude only by the atomic energy program.”

New York Times, April 21, 1955, page 584

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Presentations for past and upcoming private events at:
  • Assistance League of Houston
  • Charter 100 Houston
  • Congregation Emanu El
  • Coronado Club
  • Daughters of the Republic of Texas, San Jacinto Chapter
  • Discovery Green
  • Federal Reserve Bank Houston Branch
  • Financial Executives International
  • Friends of the Texas Room
  • Friendswood Chamber of Commerce
  • Harris County Historical Commission
  • The Heritage Society
  • Houston Chronicle
  • The Houston Club
  • Houston History Book Fair
  • Houston Marine Insurance Seminar
  • Houston Public Library
  • Humanities Texas
  • Jewish Book and Arts Fair
  • The Jung Center
  • Kiwanis Club of Houston
  • Leadership Houston
  • Lone Star College
  • Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Preservation Houston
  • Retired Physicians Organization of Harris County
  • Rice University
  • River Oaks Luncheon Club
  • Rotary Club of Houston
  • San Jacinto Museum of History Association
  • South Texas College of Law
  • St. Paul’s Methodist Church
  • Texas Book Festival
  • Texas Library Association
  • Texas Southern University
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C.
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press packet

Steven Fenberg at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Houston’s Mayor Parker with “Unprecedented Power.”
Photo by Jim Olive ©2011

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