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White House Today (1961)

Lake Jackson Historical Museum

Sound | 1961

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  •  President John F. Kennedy remarks upon the dedication of a desalination plant in Freeport, Texas 
  •  Kennedy uses a button to remotely open the plant 
  •  Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson attends the ceremony in person 
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  • The Freeport First Demonst... The Freeport First Demonstration Plant
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Produced by Telenews, this installment of White House Today remarks upon the opening of a desalination plant in Freeport, Texas, on June 21, 1961. In the newsreel, President John F. Kennedy reports from his office in Washington, D.C., commenting upon the importance of desalination and officially opening the facility with the press of a button. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson attends the dedication ceremony in person. The Freeport facility was one of the first seawater desalination demonstration plants in the United States. Built by Dow Chemical Company in cooperation with the United States Department of the Interior, the facility consisted of a long-tube vertical distillation plant capable of processing 1 million gallons per day. It provided water for both the City of Freeport and Dow operations.
The First Demonstration Plant of the Saline Water Conversion Program, located in Freeport, Texas, was the brainchild of the Office of Saline Water, a division of the Office of the Interior. Formed in 1952 amid concerns about water shortages, the Office of Saline Water headed research and development for converting saltwater into drinking water. After five years of desalination developments in the laboratory, Congress mandated a demonstration of their findings. Freeport was selected as the site for the Demonstration Plant for a number of reasons.  In addition to being ideally located near the gulf and having a dry enough climate and a large enough population to use the fresh water, Freeport is also home to the Dow Chemical Company, which immediately saw the benefits of a new water source and offered up land and resources to support the plant. Construction began in 1960.
In 1961, when the plant was cleared for commercial operation, it was heralded as the innovation that would "convert deserts into farmlands." For the groundbreaking ceremony, President John F. Kennedy sat at his desk in the White House and pressed a button that supposedly started up the plant's fresh-water production: in Freeport, a two-inch stream jetted forth from the plant's pipes. He then delivered a speech by telephone line to the crowd at the dedication. Kennedy declared, "the dedication of this plant...marks an important stride towards the achievement of one of the oldest dreams of man--extracting fresh water from the seas." Then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall personally attended and spoke at the ceremony, as well.
Eight years later, in 1969, the oldest dream of man was to go down as a short-lived reality. While water shortages were feared by many United States officials, they were felt by few citizens, and the Office of Saline Water failed to find an interested audience in their desalination activities.  The Freeport First Demonstration Plant was shut down and the Office of Saline Water dissolved.
Today, many desalination plants exist in Texas, though they employ different methods and use brackish ground water instead of the saltier variety that comes directly from the gulf. As droughts continue to concern Texan farmers, however, seawater desalination may once again be considered for producing fresh water.
Dow Chemical, headquartered in Midland, Michigan, is one of the world’s largest chemical companies with numerous plants and facilities all over the world. Dow Chemical’s involvement in Texas began in 1940 with the construction of the Freeport Plant in Freeport, Texas. This plant was primarily tasked with extracting magnesium from sea water, a much needed resource America's military effort in World War II. The development of the city of Lake Jackson, which served as a home for Dow employees, coincided with the construction of the Freeport Plant and as such share a mutual history. Dow Chemical in Freeport became part of a larger transformation of the Texas Coast into a major center of the oil and chemical industry. 
Thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born on a hill country farm near Stonewall, Texas, on August 27, 1908, to Samuel Ealy Johnson, a former Texas legislator, and Rebekah Baines Johnson. He attended Southwest Teachers College, now Texas State University, graduating with a degree in history and social science in 1930. LBJ spent one year as principal and teacher in Cotulla, educating impoverished Hispanic elementary school students. LBJ became the secretary to Texas Congressman Richard M. Kleberg in 1931; the four-year position helped him gain influential contacts in Washington. Johnson married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor on November 17, 1934.
LBJ acted as Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937. Johnson won his first legislative election in 1937 for the Tenth Congressional District, a position he held for eleven years. He was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and in 1940 acted as Chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In 1948, following his service as a Lieutenant Naval Commander during World War II, LBJ ran as the Democratic nominee for Senate. In a cloud of controversy, he narrowly defeated former Texas Governor Coke Stevens and easily beat his Republican opponent in the general election.  Before winning his second senate term, LBJ was elected Majority Whip in 1951, became the youngest ever Minority Senate Leader in 1953, and was voted Majority Leader in 1954. Johnson unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 but was selected to be Vice President under John F. Kennedy. 
Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, and won reelection in 1964. President Johnson passed landmark legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Debate over military efforts in Vietnam intensified in late 1963 when the President stated that the United States would not withdraw from Southeast Asia. Escalation of the war against North Vietnam brought disapproval from Democrats, claiming the efforts were misguided, and from Republicans who criticized the administration for not executing sufficient military vigor. Antiwar protests, urban riots, and racial tension eroded Johnson’s political base by 1967, which further dissolved following the Tet Offensive in January 1968. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that we would not seek a second Presidential term.
After returning to Texas, Johnson oversaw the construction of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Throughout his political career, LBJ was an influential figure in Texas affairs; his policies brought military bases, crop subsidies, government facilities, and federal jobs to the state. After suffering a massive heart attack, former President Johnson died at his ranch on January 22, 1973. In February of the same year, NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in honor of one of the country’s most influential Texans.