Greatest Dallasites: J. Erik Jonsson (No. 76)

Co-founder of Texas Instruments.

When J. Erik Konsson, Brooklyn-born son of Swedish immigrants, moved here in 1934 from New Jersey to be a small oil company’s office manager, he drove his family along Dallas’ finest residential streets, bubbling excitedly over the “can do” spirit here and declaring that this forever would be their home. Three decades later, in the despairing days following JFK’s assassination (Dallas being castigated widely as the “City of Hate”), Jonsson, having risen to become the city’s foremost civic leader, was recruited to be mayor at this critical time. Before he finished, seven successful years later, Dallas was being acclaimed nationally as the “All American City.”

Success was not new to him. Some years earlier, he had led the way in converting that oil company into the innovative, acclaimed technological marvel known as Texas Instruments. As mayor, he quickly ended the bitter airport rivalry with Fort Worth, envisioned and promoted construction of DFW Airport, served as chairman throughout its construction and early years, and officially was acknowledged as the man most responsible for its creation. He founded and largely funded Goals for Dallas, in which ordinary citizens joined traditional civic leaders to create wide-ranging and ambitious plans. The program lasted for 20 years.

With a critical need for more space for municipal operations, conventional wisdom called for another addition to the City Hall. Instead, Jonsson successfully proposed an entirely new building—the striking and award-winning structure that we know today, designed by I.M. Pei. Jonsson also headed the fundraising drive to build a handsome new downtown library (later named for him). And those city-building projects don’t even include the University of Texas at Dallas: he and his TI partners (Eugene McDermott and Cecil Green, with Jonsson as front man) bought huge acreage in Richardson and created a research center that became today’s UTD.

Jonsson died in 1995. Still, as promised, a Dallas resident.

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