Phoenix-born air ace Frank Luke Jr., Arizona's most famous hero from World War I, with his thirteenth official kill.
Arizona had been a state for little more than two years when the cataclysm broke out in Europe a century ago. When the United States finally entered the conflict in 1917, doughboys and sailors fought under the new flag bearing the perfectly symmetrical 48 stars created with the entry of the "Baby State." While the Great War was not as transformative here as its continuation in World War II, it still brought big changes to Phoenix.
When the guns of August 1914 commenced, Phoenix's population had clocked in at 11,314 in the Census four years before. By 1920, it would be more than 29,000. Although it was the state capital (and home of the "lunatic asylym," which in those days was separate from the Legislature), it was still smaller than Tucson. But downtown had become a thriving commercial center with multistory buildings.
The streetcar "suburb" of craftsman bungalows was taking shape in what are now the Roosevelt and F.Q. Story historic districts and the southeast corner of Willo. The city was tightly bound to the old township, with additions running out to the capitol, north above McDowell, south of Grant and east to around 16th Street. By 1917, bungalows were being built in the Bella Vista addition northeast of Osborn and Central. The Santa Fe and Southern Pacific had completed branch lines to the town, but civic leaders were lobbying hard for a mainline railroad.
In 1914, Phoenix adopted the reformist commissioner-manager form of government. It was meant to tame the corruption of the wide-open Western town. Soon, it was back to business as usual with compromised commissioners. It would be after World War II that meaningful reform would come to City Hall.
Arizona, with 204,354 in the 1910 Census, was still a wild place. It had been only 28 years since the surrender of Geronimo. The state's economy was based on mining, ranching and, in the Salt River Valley, a farming cornucopia.
Although the recently closed American frontier seemed very far from Europe, conflict was closer than most places in America.
The Mexican Revolution began in 1910. And although the most famous incursion was Pancho Villa's 1916 raid on Columbus, N.M., several skirmishes were fought near the Arizona border, too. Gunrunning was common. Yaqui Indians who had hoped to establish an independent homeland in Sonora, fled into the state. In 1918, U.S. soldiers stormed Nogales, Mexico, after Mexican Army troops and militias fired across the border. That same year saw the Battle of Bear Valley between the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers and Yaquis, considered the last battle of the Indian Wars.
The border unrest gave weight to American outrage over the so-called Zimmerman Telegram in 1917, where the German government proposed an alliance with Mexico should the United States enter the war. The promised spoils of a Central Powers victory included Mexico winning back Arizona.
Even with America neutral, Europe's appetite soared for copper, the state's leading industry and one controlled by powerful Eastern capitalists, especially Phelps Dodge Corp. Demand rose further once the United States entered the war. Prices shot up. Wages often didn't and labor strife in the mines culminated in the notorious Bisbee Deportation of July 1917 (below).
In Phoenix, the agricultural economy also benefited from increasing demand. Theodore Roosevelt Dam had been completed in 1911 and dedicated by TR himself. More than 200,000 acres of land were under cultivation in the Salt River Valley. Farmers grew a very wide variety of crops, from alfalfa, wheat and barley to citrus, dates and vegetables. Alfalfa was especially popular as forage, both to ship and to feed local beef and dairy herds.
The war would change this.
Britain embargoed export of extra long staple (ELS) cotton, which was grown in its imperial protectorates of Egypt and Sudan. These regions represented most of the world's supply of this strong fiber used for tires and other industrial products. The shorter staple fibers grown in the American South didn't contain the same tensile sturdiness, and the South's humidity wouldn't grow ELS.
But the Salt River Valley — which early promoters called the Nile of America — would. The combination of soil and dry air were perfect for this fiber. During neutrality, U.S. tiremarkers needed a source for ELS. Once war was declared, the product assumed a national security dimension, not only for tires but also airplane fabric and other military uses.
Long-staple cotton had been grown for years in Phoenix, but mostly as an experiment and acreage was limited. According to historian Thomas Sheridan, 7,300 acres of extra long staple cotton were under cultivation in 1916. Then Goodyear Tire and Rubber bought land west of Phoenix and quickly had 1,700 more acres in production by 1917. Other tire-makers followed and by the following year production jumped to 69,000 acres. The first great cotton boom was on and for several years farmers enjoyed spectacular price increases. The treasurer of the Arizona Egyptian Cotton Co. was Barry Goldwater's father.
Although the boom didn't last, it profoundly distorted and changed agriculture around Phoenix. Massive, uniform cotton fields crowded out much of the variety and beauty of the old farming areas. The high prices for cotton and irrigated land also further eroded the ideal of a valley of Jeffersonian farmers, each with 160 acres. Farming began to become a big business.
The disclosure of the Zimmerman Telegram and unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany caused President Woodrow Wilson to ask for a declaration of war in April 1917. Four million men would eventually serve in the armed forces, although I haven't been able to find the number of Arizonans who enlisted or were drafted (the BYU World War I archive does have this list of the dead). Southeastern Arizona witnessed a gunfight between draft resisters and the law, with four dead in Rattlesnake Canyon.
The state's most famous Great War hero was Frank Luke Jr., who became America's second-ranking fighter ace and Medal of Honor winner, the first airman to receive the nation's highest medal. Interestingly, his parents had emigrated from Germany to Arizona in the 1870s. He died at age twenty-one. Luke Air Force Base honors him.
After the war, President Wilson traveled to France to negotiate the ill-fated Treaty of Versailles. He was escorted from the United States to the continent by ten American capital ships. Among them was a three-year-old, state-of-the-art battleship. Its name was USS Arizona.