This Day in History: December 11, 1879: Amon G. Carter is born
On this day in 1879, in the tiny town of Crafton, Texas, a woman named Josephine Carter gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Giles, but as a child, he insisted on going by his middle name, Amon, instead.
Amon Carter would grow into one of Fort Worth’s most prominent citizens. He would revolutionize the city, focusing the attention of the world on its growth. He would earn millions of dollars, found a newspaper, strike oil, and help found a university. He would introduce Fort Worth to radio, and Texas to television. He would lend his name to lakes, mountains, airports, stadiums, and museums.
But none of that was obvious to young Amon Carter, who probably believed that he, like most of his Crafton peers, was destined to a difficult life on the edge of the American frontier. Indeed, for the first portion of his life, his luck was anything but good.
Amon’s mother died when he was only ten, forcing him to drop out of school and work to support his family. In Bowie, Texas, where the family relocated, he raised money by selling sandwiches to travelers at the train station. The young men like Amon who sold these sandwiches advertised them as “chicken and bread.” Whether it was actually chicken and bread, or whether it was wild rabbit is up for scholarly debate.
Although the work was born out of desperation, people still celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the “chicken and bread” boys. In fact, Bowie has a festival every October to honor the determination and resourcefulness of Texans during that difficult economic time.
Amon worked in Oklahoma and California before finally moving to Fort Worth in 1905. Although the great cattle drives had put Fort Worth on the map, those days were already long gone by the time he arrived. The railroads had made the Chisholm Trail irrelevant, and some feared that Fort Worth had lost its relevance too. Amon found himself living in a rough-around-the-edges frontier city with an unclear and tenuous future.
With the same tenacity and enterprise that he’d used to catch and skin rabbits back in Bowie, Amon began applying himself to improving his situation—and his city. After joining the staff of the Fort Worth Star newspaper, he was quickly promoted to leadership. With the help of a benefactor, he purchased the newspaper outright a few years later, and then arranged a merger with its biggest competitor: the Fort Worth Telegram.
As the owner and editor of the brand new Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Amon suddenly wielded power and influence over a large swath of North Texas. He used his influence to expand the Star-Telegram, and to promote the city of Fort Worth. He was fantastically successful in both endeavors.
Under Amon’s skilled leadership, the Star-Telegram quickly grew into the most popular syndicated newspaper in the Southwest. Virtually every household in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona was a subscriber. He soon expanded his media empire to include WBAP, Fort Worth’s first radio station, and WBAP-TV, the first tv station in Texas.
He petitioned relentlessly for universities, lawyers, car dealerships, manufacturers, and celebrities to relocate to Fort Worth—and it worked. At his request, the state legislature issued a charter for a new four-year university in North Texas. It became Texas Tech University, and Amon became the first chairman of the board. Fort Worth became home to giant manufacturers like Bell Helicopters, Convair, and American Airways, as well as many of the best attorneys in North Texas.
Amon invested his newspaper wealth into oil wells, a gamble that paid off dramatically, skyrocketing him into the ranks of the wealthiest people in America. Despite this, Amon never lost his common touch or his respect for the ordinary people from which he came. He donated most of his wealth to charitable foundations, including the Amon G. Carter Foundation, which remains a key player in Fort Worth’s development today.
Amon Carter took a fading cowtown and almost single handedly put it back on the map. Fort Worth owes much of its current prominence to his vision and determination.