Greater Seminole Oil Boom
Since 1896, when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville, many historic Oklahoma oilfields have been discovered: Glennpool, Cushing, Three Sands, Healdton, Oklahoma City and others – including 20 “giants.” Few have had the tremendous economic impact as the late 1920s oilfields of the greater Seminole area.
A July 16, 1926, discovery well near Seminole, Oklahoma, revealed the massive potential of an oil producing formation, the Wilcox sand – and launched a drilling boom that will make Oklahoma one of today’s leading producing states. The Fixico No. 1 well penetrated the Wilcox sand at 4,073 feet.
By 1935, the oilfields around Seminole became the largest supplier of oil in the world. More than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles of east-central Oklahoma – and six were “giants,” producing more than million barrels of oil each.
The greater Seminole area – several 1920s Oklahoma oilfields – will “swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus,” notes one historian. Flowing at 6,120 barrels of oil a day from 4,073 feet, the Fixico discovery well of R. F. Garland and Independent Oil Company was among five Seminole-area oil reservoirs discovered by 1927.
The series of discoveries included strikes in the Hunton lime formation by Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company in March 1926, followed by the July 6 discovery of Wilcox sand production by Amerada Petroleum Company nearby.
“In rapid succession came discoveries of the Searight, Earlsboro, Bowlegs and Little River reservoirs,” explains text on a granite monument near the entrance to Seminole Municipal Park.
The discoveries brought 20,000 oilfield workers to Seminole County – and created several classic petroleum boom towns, the 1977 monument adds. The prosperity of these discoveries would transform life in many central Oklahoma communities, according to historian and author Louise Welsh.
Prior to the oil boom period, the greater Seminole area was one of the poorest economic areas in Oklahoma. The Seminoles were the smallest in numbers and the lowest on the economic scale of the Five Civilized Tribes.
“By the 1920s, farmers in Seminole County, like those elsewhere, were beginning to feel the pinch of hard times created by falling prices for farm produce. An advertisement of the First National Bank in the Seminole County News urged people to have clear heads, stout hearts and busy hands, and to remember that greater problems had been met and solved,” she says in A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field.
“It was quite natural that, under such stress, the prospect of finding oil should occasion both excitement and hope, since the prospect of leasing his land might provide the necessary funds with which the hard-pressed farmer could pay off his mortgage,” Welsh says.
Although the area’s first discovery came near Wewoka in 1923, and the Cromwell oilfield was developed in 1924, and leasing activity continued around Seminole, it was not until 1926 that the long hoped-for giant discovery was realized.
“It was the independent Oil and Gas Company’s No. 1 Fixico, whose 6,120 barrels a day from the Wilcox created a real bonanza, that precipitated the Seminole boom,” Welsh explains. Seminole county’s population increased from 23,808 in 1920 to 79,621 in 1930.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounted for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production, she adds, noting that the massive production glutted oil markets and resulted in a price collapse to as low as 15 cents per barrel. The oilfields were then placed under state control.
“Thus, the conservation movement, as far as the oil industry is concerned, started in Oklahoma and largely in the greater Seminole areas,” Welsh concludes.
Volunteers operate the Oklahoma Oil Museum in Seminole and are involved in local preservation and educational projects, including the Strother Chapel project and the Grisso Mansion Tour. As they frequently explain to young visitors, today’s petroleum industry continues to play an important economic role in Oklahoma.
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