North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments: An Overview
Optimism characterized the decades that followed World War II, as the recreated news stories that follow demonstrate. In 1951 National Geographic painted a rosy future that “holds amazing promise.” Three years later Hugo Magnuson saw “great optimism about the state’s future.” In 1963 Bernt Wills observed, “The raw materials for greatness are here.”
With the bleak 1930s behind them, North Dakotans had reason to be optimistic. Oil had been discovered; the gigantic Garrison Dam had been completed and diversion of Missouri River waters had begun. Realizing that the state needed to diversify its economy, in 1957 the legislature created the North Dakota Development Commission. With this legislation the state, for the first time, took on the responsibility for economic development.
The commission, with the active participation of the governor’s office, encouraged business to locate in the state and residents to organize new businesses. Value-added manufacturing and processing became a primary goal of the commission. In the 1950s the numbers of food-related industries and manufacturing/assembly-line plants grew steadily. In 1940 the percentage of state income derived from value-added manufacturing was negligible; by 1970 the figure had grown slowly to 11 percent.
Agriculture, of course, remained the main source of state income. The prosperity of the war years laid a solid foundation for the well-being of farmers. Farm income, 1950-1970, never reached the levels of the war years, but with the aid of various government programs the post-war decades were good years on the farm.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.