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.”

Memorial Student Union on the University of North Dakota campus, Grand Forks. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

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.

Bismarck’s modern new airport terminal. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

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.

Annunciation Priory of the Sisters of St. Benedict, south of Bismarck. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

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.

A new financial building in Jamestown. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

Westminster Hall on the campus of Jamestown College, Jamestown. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

Dickinson’s new six-story Ray Hotel. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

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.

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change