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LBJ at the Freeport Desalination Plant (1961)

Brazoria County Historical Museum

Silent | 1961

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  •  The first plant for the Saline Water Conversion Program from the Office of Saline Water opens in Freeport, Texas 
  •  Views of the desalinization facilities 
  •  Women select drinking cups to collect the converted water with 
  •  Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives 
  •  The plant produces its first desalted water 
  •   Vice President Johnson gives a dedication speech 
  •  Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall gets into a car after the ceremony ends 
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  • The Freeport First Demonst... The Freeport First Demonstration Plant 
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This footage captures scenes of the groundbreaking ceremony for the First Demonstration Plant of the U.S. Department of the Interior for their Saline Water Conversion Program on June 21, 1961. Vice President Johnson gives a dedication speech and a crowd gathers to witness the plant produce its first desalted water.
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.
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.