The birth of the twentieth century marked the start of an era of prosperity and municipal development for New Orleans. The Federal census of 1900 disclosed a population of 287,104; one hundred years of growth had seen the number of the city's inhabitants increase by more than 2800 per cent. Total commerce in 1900 was valued at $430,724,621. Many changes were in evidence: the river passes, had been brought under control; the steamboat had yielded first place to the railroad, the bulk of all freight now arriving in New Orleans by rail; export shipments were carried mainly in foreign ships; and a large proportion of freight was delivered directly to the steamship side and reshipped without the necessity of the old style of rehandling on the levee.
Along with commercial and industrial expansion came labor disputes and serious strikes. In 1902 there occurred a violent dispute between the various street-car companies operating in the city and their employees. The trouble was brought about through the introduction of a larger type of car and a change in schedule which enabled the companies to dispose of a large number of men. The street-car men, interpreting the action as a direct violation of a previous agreement, walked out on strike on September 27, demanding that the discharged men be returned to their jobs, the working day be reduced to eight hours, and an hourly wage of twenty-five cents be paid. In the fifteen-day strike that ensued, public sympathy was, for the most part, on the side of the strikers. Using buggies, wagons, automobiles, and improvised vehicles, the citizens boycotted the street-cars. No violence occurred until October 8, when the companies attempted to run four cars under police guard with strike-breakers imported from the Middle West. Strikers attacked the cars at Galvez and Canal Streets and quickly put them out of commission, several men being injured in the disturbance. Street-car service was finally resumed with the work day fixed at ten hours, the hourly wage at twenty cents, and only such men as were necessary to operate the larger cars taken back into the company.
Another serious strike occurred in 1907, when 8000 dockworkers walked out on a strike which began when 'screwmen' demanded that the stowage of 160 bales of cotton should constitute a day's work for which they should be paid six dollars instead of the old pay of five dollars for the stowage of 250 bales. Numbers of strike-breakers were imported from outside cities. However, a few concessions were won by the strikers.
The year 1907 saw the completion of the magnificent publicly owned water purification and pumping plant which still serves the city. In 1908 another important step in municipal ownership was taken when the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad was constructed. Efficient and economical operation soon effected material reductions in former excessive switching and handling charges. Two large girls' schools, the Sophie B. Wright and John McDonogh High Schools, were built in 1911, costing $195,777 and $188,037 respectively. Crowded conditions which had prevailed for some time were greatly relieved. Warren Easton High School for boys was completed in 1913, at a cost of $311,000.
Radical changes were made in' the form of the city government in 1912. The aldermanic system was done away with and the commission form instituted.
A tropical hurricane of great intensity struck the city and vicinity on September 29, 1915. The wind attained a speed of from 80 to 110 miles per hour, while 8.36 inches of rain fell within 21 hours. The waters of Lake Pontchartrain overflowed into the city. During the succeeding fifteen days more than twenty-two inches of rain fell, seriously handicapping the drainage and sewerage systems. Property damage ran into the millions and scores were injured, but only one person was killed.
Shortly after the United States entered the World War several important military camps were established in New Orleans. The largest of these was located on the site of the old City Park racetrack,' where thousands of soldiers were quartered and trained. Various civic organizations led the citizenry in a patriotic and full-hearted response to the Government's appeal for money and military supplies. The influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919 was at its height when the Armistice was signed. Thousands were stricken -- at times the death toll reached one hundred daily.
In 1921 the New Orleans Inner-Harbor Navigation Canal, connecting Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi River, was completed at a cost approximating $20,000,000. This waterway is now an important link in the intracoastal canal system.