When Oklahoma entered the Union, it was both a rich agricultural state and the nation’s leading producer of petroleum. Farming grew rapidly through the 1920s, but often at the expense of Native Americans. Prior to statehood, the land that the Five Civilized Tribes had held collectively was divided into individual allotments. Land speculators acquired these allotments and, within a short time, had acquired all but a tiny fraction of Native American property. They set Southern farmers up on small patches as sharecroppers, people who paid a share of their crops as rent, and insisted that the sharecroppers raise the one crop that the speculators knew they could market: cotton. Ecological catastrophe resulted as new tractors pulling new plows broke the grass-covered prairies of far western Oklahoma and its Panhandle. Although never abundant, rainfall was at least adequate during the 1920s, and dry-farming techniques seemed to promise success.
In the mid-1930s, however, several years of drought turned plowed fields to dust, which the wind blew into massive dust storms, creating what was called the Dust Bowl.
For tenants and sharecroppers especially, the final blow came when the federal Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) attempted to raise farm income by cutting production. Unfortunately, the landowners, who were not actual farmers, agreed to reduce production, ejected surplus tenants and sharecroppers, and collected the federal payments. Tenants and sharecroppers left by the tens of thousands. So many left that it took Oklahoma 40 years to again reach the population recorded in the 1930 census.
The oil industry also expanded rapidly immediately after statehood. Land that was worthless for agriculture was often priceless for oil deposits, and production grew much faster than storage or transporting capacity. Excess oil, however, flooded farmlands, fouled creeks, and easily erupted into flames. Increased production soon resulted in lower prices and less income.
The policies of the Roosevelt Administration did partially stabilize prices, but it was World War II that ended the state’s financial crisis. Federal spending dramatically increased in Oklahoma. Existing military bases (like Lawton’s Fort Sill) expanded rapidly. New military installations were built, including several prisoner-of-war camps and a navy base on the prairies at Norman. None was more important than the establishment of Tinker Field (now Tinker Air Force Base) near Oklahoma City.
That installation became the nucleus of entire new cities (Midwest City in particular), and its civilian payroll soon included one out of every four wage earners in the Oklahoma City area. Subject to federal price and production controls, the oil industry did complain about what it felt was needless government intervention, but it, too, benefited from federal programs. In the same way, farmers and stock growers accepted federal price supports. "Oklahoma" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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