History of California 1900 to present: Wikis

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Californian poppy
History of California
To 1899
Gold Rush (1848)
US Civil War (1861-1865)
Since 1900
Maritime
Railroad
Highways
Slavery
Los Angeles
Sacramento
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose
This article continues the history of California in the years 1900 and later;
for events through 1899, see History of California to 1899.

After 1900, California became an industrial power. While fundamentally conservative, it also exhibited periods of liberal ascension.

Contents

Organized labor

The organized labor history of California remained centered in San Francisco for much of the state's early history. By the opening decades of the twentieth century, labor efforts had expanded to Los Angeles, Long Beach and the Central Valley. In 1901, the San Francisco based City Front Federation was reputed to be the strongest trade federation in the country. It grew out of intense organizational drives in every trade during the boom at the turn of the century. Employers organized as well during the building trades strike of 1900 and the (San Francisco) City Front Federation strike of 1901, which led to the founding of Building Trades Council. The open shop question was at stake. Out of the City Front strike came the Union Labor Party because workers were angry at the mayor for using the police to protect strikebreakers. Eugene Schmitz was elected mayor in 1902 on the party's ticket, making San Francisco the only town in the United States, for a time, to be run by labor. A combination of corruption and unscrupulous reformers culminated in graft prosecutions in 1907.

In 1910, Los Angeles was still an open shop and employers in the north threatened for a new push to open San Francisco shops. Responding, labor sent delegations south in June 1910. National organizers were sent in during a lockout of 1,200 idled metal-trades workers. Then occurred an incident that would set back Los Angeles organizing for years, On October 10, 1910, a bomb exploded at the Los Angeles Times newspaper plant that killed twenty-one workers.

In the decade following, the rapid growth of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) in ununionized trades, logging ,wheat farming, lumber camps began extending its efforts to mines, ports and agriculture. The IWW came to public notice after the Wheatland Hop Riot when a sheriff's posse broke up a protest meeting and four people died. It led to the first legislation protecting field labor. The IWW was harmed by anti-union drives and prosecution of members under the state's new criminal syndacalism laws. The IWW was also involved in the 1923 seamen's strike at San Pedro, where Upton Sinclair was arrested for reciting the Declaration of Independence. However, the man who became the most prominent Wobbly of all, Thomas Mooney, soon became a cause-celebre of labor and the most important political prisoner in America.

The Preparedness Day Bombing killed ten people and hurt labor for decades. During the 1920s, the open shop efforts succeeded through a coordinated strategy called the "American Plan". In one case, the Industrial Association of San Francisco raised over a million dollars to break the building trades strikes in 1921 that led to the collapse of the building trades unions. This employers association cut wages twice in one year, and the Metal Trades Council was defeated, losing an agreement that had been in effect since 1907. The Seamen's Union also suffered defeat in 1921.

Kern County, April 1938. An agricultural worker with union membership book and pin against the 1938 anti-picketing ballot. (Photo: Dorothea Lange)

The labor movement re-surged in the 1930s, accompanied by the passage of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act and the emergence of a young Australian worker, Harry Bridges as a labor leader. Within a few weeks after a charter had been secured from International Longshoremen's Association in 1933, more than 90% of workers on the waterfront had joined. The dock workers took a strike vote on March 7, 1934. On May 15, 1934, the seamen's unions voted to join the strike, followed by ship's clerks and licensed officers' organizations. on July 5, 1934, San Francisco's "Big Strike" led to the killing of two workers and the clubbing and gassing of hundreds in what became known as "Bloody Thursday" and swept most of the California unions into the 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike. The Maritime Federation of the Pacific was organized in 1935.

San Francisco in the late 1930s had 120,000 union members. Longshoreman wore union buttons on their white union made caps, Teamsters drove trucks as unionists, fishermen, taxi drivers, streetcar conductors, motormen, newsboys, retail clerks, hotel employees, newspapermen and bootlacks all had representation. Against 30,000 trade union members in 1933-34, Los Angeles by the late thirties 200,000, even against a severe 1938 anti-picketing ordinance. But Los Angeles became unionized in the mass production industries of aircraft, auto, rubber, oil and at the yards of San Pedro. Later, drives for unionization spread through musicians, teamsters, building trades, movies, actors, writers and directors.

Farm labor remained unorganized, the work brutal and underpaid. In the 1930s, 200,000 farm laborers traveled the state in tune with the seasons. Unions were accused of an "inland march" against landowners rights when they took up the early effort to organize farm labor. A number of valley towns endorsed anti-picketing ordinances to thwart organizing. In the 1933-1934 period, a wave of agricultural strikes flooded the central valley, including the Imperial Valley lettuce strike and San Joaquin Valley cotton strike. In the 1936 Salinas lettuce strike, vigilante violence shocked the nation. Again, in the spring of 1938, about three hundred men, women and children were driven by vigilantes from their homes in Grass Valley and Nevada City.

A 1938 ballot proposition against picketing, "Proposition #1," considered fascist by commentators for the state grange, became a huge political struggle. Proposition #1 failed at the polls. Soon, racist distinctions fell as California unions began to admit non-white members.

By the advent of World War II, California had an old-age assistance law, unemployment compensation, a 48 hour work week maximum for women, an apprentice law, and workplace safety rules.

Examples of engineering

Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, there were several feats of engineering in Californian history. Among many, the first major engineering was in mining, building and railroads. Much later, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which runs from the Owens Valley, through the Mojave Desert and its Antelope Valley, to dry Los Angeles far to the south. Finished in 1911, it was the brain-child of the self-taught William Mulholland and is still in use today. Creeks flowing from the eastern Sierra are diverted into the aqueduct. This attracted controversy in the 1960s, since this withholds water from Mono Lake — an especially otherworldly and beautiful ecosystem — and from farmers in the Owens Valley. See also California Water Wars.

Other feats are the building of Hoover Dam (which is in Nevada, but provides power and water to Southern California), Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Shasta Dam, and the California Aqueduct, taking water from northern California to dry and sprawling southern California. Another project was the draining of Lake Tulare, which, during high water was the largest fresh-water lake inside an American state. This created a large wet area amid the dry San Joaquin Valley and swamps abounded at its shores. By the 1970s, it was completely drained, but it attempts to resurrect itself during heavy rains.

Automobile travel became important after 1910. A key route was the Lincoln Highway, which was America's first transcontinental road for motorized vehicles, connecting New York City to San Francisco. The creation of the Lincoln Highway in 1913 was a major stimulus on the development of both industry and tourism in the state. Similar effects occurred in 1926 with the creation of Route 66.

Oil, movies, and the military

In the 1850s, oil was collected and refined for the first time in California, both in Ventura County and the Los Angeles area, and in the 1860s the first wells were dug. By the 1890s numerous oil fields, including the Summerland Oil Field near Santa Barbara, location of the world's first offshore oil wells, the giant Midway-Sunset field in Kern County, and several fields in the Los Angeles Basin were contributing to an oil boom that made California one of the largest oil producers in the nation. Oil during the period was the most profitable industry in the southern part of the state.[1]

The first decades of the twentieth century saw the rise of the studio system. MGM, Universal and Warner Brothers all acquired land in Hollywood, which was then a small subdivision known as "Hollywoodland" on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Soon, Americans from all over the country, especially the Midwest, were attracted to the mild Mediterranean climate, cheap land, and a wide variety of geography within a short drive by truck. Many westerns of this era were shot in the Owens Valley, east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, wherein rises Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Desert movies were shot in the Mojave or in Death Valley, the lowest point and hottest place in the western hemisphere. Pirate movies were shot in Carmel. Winter movies were shot in the San Bernardino Mountains. Movies set in the Mediterranean or the eastern U.S. were shot on location, or in outdoor sets on studio land, with simulated rain or snow as needed.

By the 1930s, the show-biz population had extended its reach into radio, and by mid-century Southern California had also become a major center of television production, hosting studios for major networks such as NBC and CBS. In the 1934 California gubernatorial election novelist Upton Sinclair was the narrowly defeated Democratic nominee, running on the platform of the socialist End Poverty in California (EPIC) movement, a radical response to the Great Depression.

During World War II, California's mild climate became a major resource for the war effort. Numerous air-training bases were established in Southern California, where most aircraft manufacturers, including Douglas Aircraft and Hughes Aircraft expanded or established factories. Major naval, shipyards were established or expanded in San Diego, Long Beach and San Francisco Bay. San Francisco was the home of the liberty ships.

Baby boomers and free spirits

After the war, hundreds of land developers bought land cheap, subdivided it, built on it, and got rich. Real-estate development replaced oil and agriculture as Southern California's principal industry. In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim. In 1958, Major League Baseball's Dodgers and Giants left New York City and came to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. The population of California expanded dramatically, to nearly 20 million by 1970. This was the coming-of-age of the Baby Boom.

In the late 1960s the baby-boom generation reached draft age, and many risked arrest to oppose the war in Vietnam. There were numerous demonstrations and strikes, most famously on the prestigious Berkeley campus of the University of California, across the bay from San Francisco. In 1965, race riots erupted in Watts, in the South Central area of Los Angeles. The hippie riots on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles were also immortalized by Buffalo Springfield in "For What It's Worth" (1966). Some commentators predicted revolution. Then the federal government promised to withdraw from the Vietnam War, which at last happened in 1974. The radical political movements, having achieved a large part of their aim, lost members and funding.

California still was a land of free spirits, open hearts, easy-going living. Popular music of the period bore titles such as "California Girls," "California Dreamin'," "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," "Do You Know the Way to San José" and "Hotel California". These reflected the Californian promise of easy living in a paradisaical climate. The surfing culture burgeoned. Many took low-paying jobs and joined the surfers living in trailers at the beach and many others forsook ambition and joined the hippies free living in cities.

The most famous hippie hangout was the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The state's cities, especially San Francisco, became famous for their gentility and tolerance. A distinctive and idyllic Californian culture emerged for a time. The peak of this culture, in 1967, was known as the Summer of Love. California became known elsewhere in the U.S. often derogatorily, as the "land of fruits and nuts."

Economic power house

Conversely, during the same period, the Golden State also attracted commercial and industrial expansion of astronomical rates. The adoption of a Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 allowed the development of a highly efficient system of public education in the Community Colleges and the University of California and California State University systems; by creating an educated workforce, it attracted investment, particularly in areas related to high technology. By 1980, California became recognized as the world's eighth-largest economy. Millions of workers were needed to fuel the expansion. The high population of the time caused tremendous problems with urban sprawl, traffic, pollution, and, to a lesser extent, crime.

Urban sprawl created a backlash in many urban areas, with the local governments limiting growth beyond certain boundaries, reducing lot sizes for building homes, and so on. Open Space Districts were created in several parts of the state specifically to obtain, manage, and preserve undeveloped land. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the open space districts have created a nearly contiguous range of permanently undeveloped land running through the coastal range and hills surrounding the Bay's urban valleys, enabling the creation of huge natural parks and envisioning a hiking trail that will eventually circumnavigate the Bay in an unbroken loop.

The immense problem with air pollution (smog) that had developed by the early 1970s also caused a backlash. With schools being closed routinely in urban areas for "smog days" when the ozone levels became too unhealthy and the hills surrounding urban areas seldom visible even within a mile, Californians were ready for changes. Over the next three decades, California enacted some of the strictest anti-smog regulations in the United States and has been a leader in encouraging nonpolluting strategies for various industries, including automobiles. For example, carpool lanes normally allow only vehicles with two/three or more occupants (whether the base number is two or three depends on what freeway you are on), but electric cars can use the lanes with only a single occupant. As a result, smog is significantly reduced from its peak, although local Air Quality Management Districts still monitor the air and generally encourage people to avoid polluting activities on hot days when smog is expected to be at its worst.

Traffic and transportation remain a problem in urban areas. Solutions are implemented, but inevitably the implementation expense and the time required to plan, approve, and build infrastructure can't keep pace with the population growth. There have been some improvements. Carpool lanes have become common in urban areas, which are intended to encourage people to drive together rather than in individual automobiles. San Jose is gradually building a light rail system (ironically, often over routes of an original turn-of-the-century electric railroad line that was torn out and paved over to encourage the advent of the automobile age). None of the implemented solutions are without their critics. The sprawling nature of the Bay Area and of the Los Angeles Basin makes it difficult to build mass transit that can reach and serve a significant portion of the population.

In the 1970s, the end of the wars in Southeast Asia inspired a new wave of newcomers from those countries, especially Vietnam, many of whom settled in California. Most worked hard and lived under difficult circumstances. Little Saigons were established in Westminster and Garden Grove in Orange County.

The California legal revolution

During the 1960s, under the aegis of Chief Justice Roger J. Traynor, California became liberal and progressive, emphasizing the rights of defendants even as the crime rate soared. Traynor's term as Chief Justice (from 1964 to 1970) was marked by a number of firsts: California was the first state to create true strict liability in product liability cases, the first to allow the action of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) even in the absence of physical injury to the plaintiff, and the first to allow bystanders to sue for NIED where the only physical injury was to a relative.

Starting in the 1960s, California became a leader in family law. California was the first state to allow true no-fault divorce, with the passage of the Family Law Act of 1969. In 1994, the Legislature took family law out of the Civil Code and created a new Family Code. In 2002, the Legislature granted registered domestic partners the same rights under state law as married spouses. In 2008 California became the second state to legalize same-sex marriage when the California Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional.

Since the mid-1980s, the California Supreme Court has become more conservative, particularly with regard to the rights of criminal defendants. This is commonly seen as a reaction against the strict anti-death penalty stance of Chief Justice Rose Bird in the early 1980s, which she maintained even as violent crime soared to record heights statewide. The state's outraged electorate responded by removing her (and two of her anti-death penalty allies) from the court in November 1986.

High-tech expansion

Starting in the 1950s, high technology companies in Northern California began a spectacular growth that continued through the end of the century. The major products included personal computers, video games, and networking systems. The majority of these companies settled along a highway stretching from Palo Alto to San Jose, notably including Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, California, all in the Santa Clara Valley, the so-called "Silicon Valley," named after the material used to produce the integrated circuits of the era. This era peaked in 2000, by which time demand for skilled technical professionals had become so high that the high-tech industry had trouble filling all of its positions and therefore pushed for increased visa quotas so that they could recruit from overseas. When the "Dot-com bubble" burst in 2001, jobs evaporated overnight and, for the first time over the next two years, more people moved out of the area than moved in. This somewhat mirrored the collapse of the aerospace industry in southern California some twenty years earlier.

By 2004, it seemed that many of the coveted high-tech jobs were either "off-shored" to India at ten percent of the labor costs in the U.S., or "on-shored" by recruiting newcomers from among the billions in India and China. New laws have removed caps to visas, especially since the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Tens of millions of people from the third world have entered the U.S. since 1960, settling at first mainly in California and the Southwest, but now throughout the continent. In 1960 (when the birth rate nearly equaled the replacement rate) the population of the U.S. was 180 million; in 2000, it was 280 million.

A victim of its own success?

Although air pollution problems have been reduced, health problems associated with pollution have continued. The brown haze known as "smog," has been substantially abated, however, asthma continues as a problem. Pollution from storm water drains began to kill organisms near the inhabited seacoast, inspiring numerous conservation organizations. Lagoons at creek mouths along the coast disappeared under urban building projects, leading to restrictions on coastal development.

Electric power supply became an occasional issue. For example, in the spring and summer of 2000, rolling blackouts were used by electricity providers such as Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric Company to prevent demand from exceeding supply. In the 1990s, a phylloxera epidemic came into California vineyards, killing wine grapes, and causing billions of dollars of damage.

Still, the ongoing demand for skilled workers over the decades continued. Housing prices in urban areas continued to increase, with reversals during times of economic slow-down. An average home that, in the 1960s, cost $25,000, cost half a million dollars or more in urban areas by 2005. More people commuted longer hours to afford a home in more rural areas while earning larger salaries in the urban areas. This pattern began to change in 2007, when housing prices began to decline.

Third millennium politics

In the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Democratic incumbent Gray Davis defeated Republican challenger Bill Simon.

On October 7, 2003, Davis was successfully recalled, with 55.4% of the voters supporting the recall (see results of the 2003 California recall). With a plurality of 48.6% of the vote, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was chosen as the new governor. Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante received 31.5% of the vote, and Republican State Senator Tom McClintock received 13.5% of the vote.

Schwarzenegger began his shortened term with a soaring approval rating and soon after began implementing a conservative agenda. This initially resulted in sparring with the heavily Democratic Assembly and Senate over the state budget, battles which provided his infamous "girly men" comment but also began taking their toll on his approval rating. Schwarzenegger then embarked on a campaign to enact several ballot propositions in a 2005 Special Election touted as reforming California's budget system, redistricting powers, and union political fundraising. The union-led campaign spearheaded by the California Nurses Association contributed heavily to the defeat of every proposition in the Special Election. Since this conspicuous failure, Schwarzenegger has made a turn back to the left, criticizing the Bush Administration at many junctures, reviving his environmental agenda, and compromising with the legislature on the traditionally Democratic issue of education spending. His approval rating has also been revived, and he was re-elected in 2006.

See also

References

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Scholarly surveys

  • Bakken, Gordon Morris. California History: A Topical Approach (2003)
  • Robert W. Cherny, Richard Griswold del Castillo, and Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo. Competing Visions: A History Of California (2005)
  • Merchant, Carolyn ed. Green Versus Gold: Sources In California's Environmental History (1998) readings in primary and secondary sources
  • Pitt, Leonard, and Dale Pitt. Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County (2000)
  • Rawls, James J. ed. New Directions In California History: A Book of Readings (1988)
  • Rawls, James and Walton Bean (2003). California: An Interpretive History. ISBN 0-07-052411-4.   8th edition
  • Rice, Richard B., William A. Bullough, and Richard J. Orsi. Elusive Eden: A New History of California 3rd ed (2001)
  • Rolle, Andrew F. California: A History 6th ed. (2003)
  • Starr, Kevin and Richard J. Orsi eds. Rooted in Barbarous Soil: People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California (2001)
  • Starr, Kevin. (Note that there are numerous editions of this monumental state history, with slight title changes)
  • Sucheng, Chan , and Spencer C. Olin, eds. Major Problems in California History (1996)

Scholarly specialty studies



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