Prints and Photographs Collection
Ross S. Sterling
It was Ross Sterling's fate to become governor just as the full force of the Great Depression hit Texas. An entrepreneur from a young age, Sterling was founder and president of the Humble Oil and Refining Company, which eventually became the Exxon Company. In the 1920s, he sold his interests in Humble and became a real estate developer and newspaper publisher in Houston.
In public life, perhaps his finest achievements came as chairman of the Texas Highway Commission in 1930, where he was instrumental in the development of the highway system in Texas. In the early 20th century, very few public roads in Texas were paved, and roads took many twists and turns as they went around obstacles such as hills, trees, and boulders. Road work was backbreaking manual labor, and in most counties could only be accomplished by requiring all able-bodied young men to give several days a year for roadwork. The arrival of the automobile made better roads a necessity. The State Highway Department (now the Texas Department of Transportation) received authority to construct a state highway system in 1924. Work got underway in earnest during the Great Depression as many men were put back to work on highway construction projects.
After leaving the governorship, Sterling made another fortune in oil and other businesses, and was also a noted philanthropist. He gave his La Porte home to the Houston Optimist Club for a boys' home, established a boys' camp in memory of his son, Ross Sterling, Jr., who died in 1924, and contributed $100,000 to Texas Christian University. Ross Sterling died in 1949.