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BULLEThistory archive
History Archive Photo
Governor George W.P. Hunt and anthropologist Frank Russell survey Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1927.

© Arizona State Archives


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Editor's Note:
In February 2012, Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood, and Arizona Highways will publish a special Centennial issue. Leading up to that milestone, we're presenting a 10-part history of the state. This is Part 2.
Arizona: 1922-1931
Water rights, radio waves and the discovery of a new planet were among the biggest events in Arizona's second decade of statehood.

By Jana Bommersbach

It took Arizona just 18 years after statehood to show off in an astronomical way. That's when 23-year-old Clyde W. Tombaugh, a stargazer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, spotted the only planet ever discovered by someone in the United States.

Percival Lowell, who built the observatory in 1894, had long believed there was another planet beyond Neptune in our solar system, but he wasn't able to prove it before his death in 1916. Tombaugh finished what Lowell started on February 18, 1930. "Planet X" would eventually be named Pluto, and although it was eventually declassified as a planet, the discovery was a major feather in Arizona's proverbial cap.

Back on terra firma, prosperity ruled for most of the 1920s, with Arizona families embracing automobiles, radios, movies and newly created electric appliances. Phoenix claimed the state's first licensed commercial radio station, KFAD, in 1922. Although many families didn't own radio sets, they gathered at public listening areas instead, where loud speakers broadcast the various programs.

On air, water would have been one of the main topics of discussion. Who owned it, where it went and how it was used became political drumbeats in the 1920s, and they continued to be for decades. Citizens in the Casa Grande Valley worked for nearly a decade to get the much-needed San Carlos Dam built on the Gila River. The campaign for the dam, which would provide irrigation water, was led by some powerful Arizonans, including future Governor, U.S. Senator and Chief Justice Ernest W. McFarland, and Angela Hutchinson Hammer, Arizona's pioneer newspaperwoman. In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge personally dedicated the dam that was renamed in his honor.

Meanwhile, on the western boundary of the state, concerns about the mighty Colorado River — the lifeblood of the West — led to the first attempt at compromise. In 1922, the seven states of the Colorado Basin signed the Colorado River Compact, but Arizona later decided it didn't provide enough water for expansion and refused to ratify it.

Other major events included the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. Because so few Arizonans were invested in the stock market, the crash didn't have a direct impact on state residents; however, the Depression did. But, as one local observer put it, "Everybody has 'shortened sail' in good nautical fashion to meet the gale, and as it lessens it won't hurt us to find ourselves wasting less, expecting less, needing less."

On the fashion front, Arizona had a chance to show off at the 1925 inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. Sharlot Hall, Arizona's Territorial historian, journalist and poet, wore a gown of copper mesh, spotlighting the state's leading role in copper production. In addition, she wore a hat decorated like a cactus.

By the end of the decade, refrigerated air conditioning — perhaps the single most important invention for residents of Arizona — was making its first appearance in department stores and theaters. Arizona's intolerable summer heat was on notice that it wouldn't rule forever.

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