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Updated by mathew-davidson on Feb 07, 2017
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Spindletop Hill, 1901

Spindletop - the birth of the modern oil industry

The modern oil industry was born on a hill in southeastern
Texas. This hill was formed by a giant underground dome of salt as it
moved slowly towards the surface. As it crept, it pushed the earth that
was in its path higher and higher. This dome was known by several names,
but the one that stuck was "Spindletop". Through the later half of the
19th century, Pennsylvania had been the most oil-productive state in the
country. All that changed on January 10th, 1901.


Spindlewell Oil Well Centinnial

Spindlewell Oil Well Centinnial
Spindletop Hill Archives - American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Millions of Americans have worked in the petroleum industry and many have left family records and photographs of their “oil patch” careers. The American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s museum links offers help in locating suitable homes for preserving the histories of America’s oil families.

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Digital History

Oil is at the very heart of the global economy. Four of the ten largest corporations in the world are oil companies. Four others are automobile manufacturers. Many of our this country’s wealthiest families owe their money to oil, including the Rockefellers, the Mellons, and the Gettys. Oil has also occupied an important place in American political history. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company stood at the center of public concern about trusts. Teapot Dome, the biggest political scandal of the early twentieth century, involved the lease of public oil lands.


Anthony F. Lucas

Anthony F. Lucas
Heritage, Volume 12, Number 3, Summer 1994

Quarterly publication containing articles related to the preservation of historic artifacts and sites in Texas. Feature articles discuss various aspects of Texas history and heritage, often highlighting museums and collections within the state. Also included are book reviews, current preservation news, and a listing of historical museums in Texas.


SPINDLETOP OILFIELD. The Spindletop oilfield, discovered on a salt dome formation south of Beaumont in eastern Jefferson County on January 10, 1901, marked the birth of the modern petroleum industry. The Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company, formed in August 1892 by George W. O'Brien, George W. Carroll, Pattillo Higgins, Emma E. John, and J. F. Lanier, was the first company to drill on Spindletop Hill. Three shallow attempts, beginning in 1893 and using cable-tool drilling equipment were unsuccessful; Lanier and Higgins had left the company by 1895. Anthony F. Lucas, the leading United States expert on salt dome formations, made a lease with the Gladys City Company in 1899. Higgins and Lucas made a separate agreement a month later. With Lucas in charge of the drilling operation, another attempt was made on the John Allen Veatch survey on Gladys City Company lands. Lucas was able to drill to a depth of 575 feet before running out of money. He was also having great difficulty with the tricky sands of the salt dome. Despite the negative reports from contemporary geologists, Lucas remained convinced that oil was in the salt domes of the Gulf Coast. He finally secured the assistance of John H. Galeyqv and James M. Guffey of Pittsburg. Much of the Guffey and Galey support was financed in turn by the Mellon interest; their terms excluded Higgins and left Lucas with only a small share of the potential profits. Nonetheless, Lucas pressed ahead in his effort to vindicate his theories. Galey and Guffey played a crucial role by bringing in Al and Curt Hamill, an experienced drilling team from Corsicana. Lucas spudded in a well on October 27, 1900, on McFaddin-Wiess and Kyle land that adjoined the Gladys City Company lands. A new heavier and more efficient rotary type bit was used. From October to January 1901, Lucas and the Hamills struggled to overcome the difficult oil sands, which had stymied previous drilling efforts. On January 10 mud began bubbling from the hole. The startled roughnecks fled as six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of quiet, mud, then gas, then oil spurted out. The Lucas geyser, found at a depth of 1,139 feet, blew a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later and flowed an estimated 100,000 barrels a day. Lucas and the Hamills finally controlled the geyser on January 19, when a huge pool of oil surrounded it, and throngs of oilmen, speculators, and onlookers had transformed the city of Beaumont. A new age was born. The world had never seen such a gusher before. By September 1901 there were at least six successful wells on Gladys City Company lands. Wild speculation drove land prices around Spindletop to incredible heights. One man who had been trying to sell his tract there for $150 for three years sold his land for $20,000; the buyer promptly sold to another investor within fifteen minutes for $50,000. One well, representing an initial investment of under $10,000, was sold for $1,250,000. Beaumont's population rose from 10,000 to 50,000. Legal entanglements and multimillion-dollar deals became almost commonplace. An estimated $235 million had been invested in oil that year in Texas; while some had made fortunes, others lost everything.


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