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BULLEThistory archive
History Archive Photo
Members of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, a regional trade organization, stand in front of an Arizona Airways airplane in Tucson in 1959.

© 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 5.
Arizona: 1952-1961
n Arizona's fifth decade of statehood, the population surpassed the million mark, Del Webb opened Sun City, and a stream of iconic politicians made their marks in Washington.

By Jana Bommersbach

It was the decade of giants.

Names that would live on forever in Arizona appeared on the scene in the 1950s: Ernest W. McFarland, Barry Goldwater, John J. Rhodes, and Stewart and Morris Udall, to name a few. And then there were the events that made headlines: the opening of Sun City; the state's raid on Short Creek; General Electric's move to metropolitan Phoenix; and the opening of Kitt Peak Observatory, southwest of Tucson.

As the state's population exceeded a million in 1960, Arizona also gained its first mile of a major highway, when construction began on the Black Canyon Freeway. That route would eventually eliminate nearly 100 miles from the trip between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

That same year, a developer named Del Webb determined that the Arizona climate was the perfect lure for retirees, and so he built the original Sun City. Since then, many other retirement communities have opened in Arizona's desert cities.

As the population grew, a massive job market boomed along with it. General Electric, Honeywell, IBM and Sperry followed Motorola to the Phoenix area, and in 1958, Kitt Peak National Observatory began operations. At the time, the observatory featured the largest concentration of space-research facilities in the world.

Despite the growth, not all of the headlines were positive. On July 26, 1953, Governor Howard Pyle (a former radio personality known as the "Voice of Arizona") authorized a raid on the Northern Arizona polygamist community of Short Creek, calling it a place "dedicated to the wicked theory that every maturing girl child should be forced into the bondage of multiple wifehood with men of all ages. ..."

Although the Mormon church supported Pyle's raid, the public and the media reacted with revulsion to what was the largest mass arrest of men and women in American history. In the end, 23 polygamist men received a year's probation each, and in 1960, Short Creek was renamed Colorado City.

The raid cost Pyle his job. In 1954, he was replaced by Ernest W. McFarland, a lawyer and water specialist from Florence. McFarland had made a name for himself in 1940 when he shocked the political world by defeating Henry Fountain Ashurst in a race for the U.S. Senate. McFarland would ultimately become majority leader, a position he held until Barry Goldwater defeated him in 1952. After leaving Congress, McFarland served two terms as Arizona governor, and later, as a justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Goldwater was a young man whose political experience had been limited to serving on the Phoenix City Council. He would serve Arizona in Congress for more than three decades and become a political icon known as "Mr. Conservative." The 1952 election also sent a young Mesa attorney named John J. Rhodes to the U.S. House. Not only would he spend 30 years representing Arizona, but he would also become the Republican minority leader. Rhodes was affectionately known as "Arizona's Statesman."

In addition to conservatives, Arizona also sent a couple of bona fide liberals to Washington — the Udall brothers. Stewart was first, serving as an Arizona congressman until he was tapped by President John F. Kennedy as Secretary of the Interior, making him the first Arizonan to serve in a president's cabinet. His seat in Congress was filled by his brother, Morris, who would become one of the most beloved members of the House and a national leader on environmental issues.

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