Seventy-six feet tall and weighing about 22 tons, the “Golden Driller” – and oilfield roughneck – is the most photographed landmark in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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Designated an Oklahoma state monument in 1979, the Golden Driller was permanently installed for the 1966 International Petroleum Exposition in Tulsa.

Since the giant oilman’s first appearance at the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition, he has become a symbol a city once known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Tulsa and its Golden Driller have witnessed many booms – and busts – of the U.S. petroleum industry over the years.

Originally sponsored in 1953 by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, the giant proved very popular. So much so that a new version was temporarily erected again for the 1959 International Petroleum Exposition. The oilfield equipment expos will continue for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site, which began in 1903.

golden driller

The originial Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a second rig-climbing version returned for the 1959 International Petroleum Exposition. Images courtesy Tulsa Historical Society.

Although again a temporary statue, the 1959 Golden Driller impressed visitors and exhibitors at the oil show.

“This time he was much more chiseled and detailed and was placed climbing a derrick and waving,” notes a Tulsa Historical Society volunteer.

The big roughneck again attracted so much attention that Mid-Continent Supply refurbished and donated it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority.

“Over the next seven years he had a makeover, actually he had to be completely re-made to withstand the elements,” explains Nancy “Tulsa Gal” of the Tulsa Historical Society.

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Mid-Continent Supply Company constructed a permanent version in 1966 with steel rods to withstand up to 200 mph winds. Refurbished again in 1979, it was designated a Oklahoma state monument.

The statue as it appears today was permanently installed at the 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue site for the 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. The late Tulsa photographer Walter Brewer documented the giant with images donated to the Tulsa Historical Society, she adds in her October 2010 website post.

Designated a state monument and refurbished again in 1979, the Golden Driller contains a total of 2.5 miles of rods and mesh, according to Nancy. “Made from plaster and concrete, it can withstand 200 mph winds, which is a good thing here in Oklahoma.”

 golden driller

The giant has sported t-shirts, belts, beads and ties.This shirt is from the 2014 Tulsa State Fair and KMOD radio. Images courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production derrick moved from an oilfield near Seminole, Oklahoma – which has its own extensive petroleum heritage.

Fully refurbished in the late 1970s, the Golden Driller – by now a 43,500-pound tourist attraction – is the largest free-standing statue in the world, according to Tulsa city officials.

“Over time the Driller has seen the good and the bad,” Nancy explains.

“He has been vandalized, assaulted by shotgun blasts and severe weather. But he has also had more photo sessions with tourists than any other Tulsa landmark and can boast of many who love him all around the world,” she concludes.

The Golden Driller, a symbol of the International Petroleum Exposition. Dedicated to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind. – Inscription on the plaque at the statue’s base.

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An unidentified model posed on one of the Golden Driller’s shoes, probably sometime during construction of the permanent version in time for the 1966 petroleum expo.

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A 2007 American Oil & Gas Historical Society Energy Education Conference and Field Trip in Oklahoma City included visits to museums in Seminole, Drumright and Tulsa – with a stop at the Golden Driller.

Although the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress had no giant roughneck statue in 1923, the expo helped make Tulsa famous around the world. In 1905 – two years before Oklahoma became a state – an oil discovery on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa brought the city’s first drilling boom. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.

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