The commission form of city government was developed in 1901 in Galveston, Texas, to help the city recover from the Galveston hurricane of 1900. The Galveston hurricane killed around six thousand people and resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of property (Rice 2010).
Several wealthy businessmen from Galveston, nervous that the city wouldn’t recover from the devastating loss, devised a plan that allowed the governor to appoint a small committee of five people to see the city through its reconstruction. Due to accusations that the system was undemocratic, two of the five positions became electable by popular vote. Soon after, due to court challenges, all five positions became electable by popular vote.
With these changes made to ensure the democracy of the system, the commission form of government gained popularity across Texas and the country from 1907 to 1920 (Rice 2010). Des Moines, Iowa, was the first city to adopt the system outside of Texas, to great success.
After World War I, however, the commission form of city government fell out of favor. Few new cities introduced the plan, and many existing commission-plan cities changed their systems of government. A more popular successor to the commission plan had emerged: the council-manager form of city government. From 1918 to 1984, the number of cities using commission-plan governments had fallen from about 500 to only 177; by 1993, no commission-plan governments still existed in the US (Rice 2010).