City Due for Boom, Historian Says
By James Johnson
Sunday, April 26, 1992
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS & REAL ESTATE, Page 01
Historically speaking, Oklahoma City may be due for another boom.
Bob Blackburn, deputy director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, says that’s what he sees in a review of Oklahoma City’s boom and bust economic cycles.
Blackburn says Oklahoma City has been enjoying a boom about every 10 years since its inception 103 years ago during the first Oklahoma land run.
“Oklahoma City’s boom and bust cycle is unique,” he said. “The Land Run of 1889 when it went from 200 people to 10,000 in one day was the biggest boom in history. And it set the pattern for Oklahoma City.
“It was followed by a depression in 1892 when the population dropped to 4,000. ” But then came the upswing in 1896 and 1897 – the city’s most active growth period – and by 1910 the population had shot up to 64,000, Blackburn said. “That would be like going to four million people today. ” Oklahoma City enjoyed a wartime boom in 1918 followed by a decline in 1920 and 1921 and then another boom in 1929 which was ruined by the stock market crash and worldwide depression.
The next boom began in 1939, as America began preparing for World War II. It lasted until the 1950s.
Blackburn says the next boom came between 1964 and 1969 followed in 1973 by another bust, marking the Arab oil embargo of that year.
The boom returned from 1978 until 1982 when the Penn Square Bank failure signaled a big economic slide, Blackburn said.
The 10-year pattern has been subject to breaks in cycle, as during the general era of prosperity of the 1950s, he said. But Blackburn noted that it has been 10 years since the last boom.
Can such predictions based on historical analysis stand up to predictions based on academic economics?
“I’m not in conflict with what he says if he’s saying we will be in for a period of better-than-average growth,” Robert C. Dauffenbach, director of the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma, said in response to Blackburn’s historical analysis.
Dauffenbach said the statistics with which he deals cover a less sweeping period of state history – from the 1950s to the present – but better times do seem to be be coming, probably this summer, he said.
Dauffenbach shies from predicting a boom. “We’re more closely linked to the national economy than we’ve ever been,” he said.
“The story of the Oklahoma economy during the 1980s is the story of an economy under extreme pressure. ” The collapse of the energy market in 1982, which Dauffenbach likens to an explosion, “set Oklahoma on the path of throwing off its energy orientation and finding where the markets for Oklahoma goods are. ” Now Oklahoma’s economy no longer acts counter to national economic trends, he said.
“We were saved during the 1980s by the phenomenal rapid growth of the national economy,” Dauffenbach said.
But there was a price to pay. When the national economy declined, the Oklahoma economy went with it, he said.
Blackburn points out that boom times in Oklahoma City don’t necessarily mean boom times for all of Oklahoma, he notes.
Guthrie was founded on the same day and in the same land rush as Oklahoma City, and yet Guthrie missed the second boom in 1896, Blackburn noted.
Tulsa, which wasn’t founded by a land rush, doesn’t have the boom and bust mentality which has brought Oklahoma City greater boom cycles than cities of comparable size, he said.
Less free-wheeling than Oklahoma City, Tulsa doesn’t tend to win as big during boom periods, Blackburn said.
It also doesn’t lose as badly in declines, he noted.
The spirit of the boom mentality is characterized by the optimistic conviction that things are going to get better, he said.
Those who have it jump on the bandwagon – they’re willing to roll the dice and bet the works, Blackburn said.
He said the ingredients of boom times in Oklahoma City have been agriculture, oil, capitalization, easy credit around the country and population growth.