Brown, George Rufus (1898–1983)

By: J. C. Martin

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: January 8, 2020

George Rufus Brown, businessman, civil engineer, and philanthropist, son of Riney Louis and Lucy Wilson (King) Brown, was born in Belton, Texas, on May 12, 1898. After studying at Rice University he graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1922. He joined the marines in the final months of World War I and later worked briefly as a mining engineer in Butte, Montana. After suffering a serious injury in a mining accident, he returned to Texas to join a small construction firm founded in 1919 by his brother Herman Brown and Dan Root, Herman’s brother-in-law. After Root died in 1929, George became vice president of Brown and Root, Incorporated. Herman’s wife Margarett Root Brown was also a partner. The paving of dirt roads and building of steel bridges for municipal and county governments in Central Texas led the firm to successful joint bids to construct the Marshall Ford (now Mansfield) Dam on the Colorado River. In 1940, the company won a $90 million joint bid to build the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi. By the late 1950s Brown and Root became one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. In the 1960s and 1970s the firm completed jobs world-wide, including Guam, Spain, the United Kingdom, Iran and the Persian Gulf. In 1942 the brothers formed the Brown Shipbuilding Company on the Houston Ship Channel, which built 359 ships during World War II, employed 25,000 people, and was awarded the Army-Navy "E" and a presidential citation. Soon after the war, George and Herman Brown and a group of other investors purchased the Big Inch and Little Inch pipelines with a high bid of $143 million and founded Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation. After the death of his brother Herman in 1962, George became president of Brown and Root. Later that year the corporation was sold to the Halliburton Company. Brown served as a director of the Halliburton Company, Armco Steel Corporation, Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, Trans-World Airlines, Southland Paper Company, First City Bancorporation, and Highland Oil Company.

He served on important commissions for presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and was appointed to commissions for the state of Texas, from the 1930s under Governor James Allred to the 1970s under Governor Dolph Briscoe. He was a well-known friend and visible supporter of Lyndon B. Johnson throughout his political career. He was the recipient of many honors during his lifetime, including Awards from Rice University, Colorado School of Mines, Southwestern University, and the University of Texas. He received several awards in construction and engineering, including the John Fritz Medal in 1977 from the five national engineering societies, and the American Petroleum Institute Gold Medal. Brown served as chairman of the board of trustees of Rice University for fifteen years of his twenty-five years of service on the board. In 1951 the Brown brothers and their wives established the Brown Foundation, through which they pursued a strong and generous interest in philanthropy. By June 30, 1994, the foundation had granted more than $381 million to charitable institutions, primarily in higher education and the arts. In 1925 Brown married Alice Nelson Pratt of Lometa, Texas, who became well-known for her support for the arts at the local, state, and national levels. They had three children: Nancy, Isabel, and Alice Maconda. Brown died on January 22, 1983, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Houston.

Austin American, March 12, 1929. Austin Statesman, April 18, 1929; July 3, 1929. Houston Business Journal, March 19, 1979. Houston Post, January 23, 1983. Joseph A. Pratt and Christopher James Castaneda, Builders: Herman and George R. Brown (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999).

Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

J. C. Martin, “Brown, George Rufus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 29, 2022,

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June 1, 1995
January 8, 2020

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