Petroleum geologist and postcard collector drills into exploration and production history.


For anyone interested in learning about Texas oil and natural gas history or oilfield photography used in vintage postcards, the work of petroleum geologist Jeff A. Spencer offers both in 128 pages of both. Published by Arcadia Publishing in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas strikes black gold as a social studies teaching resource.

oil postcards

Published in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s series of books featuring historic postcards.

A geologist in the Houston area, Spencer has authored or co-authored more than 20 oilfield history papers. His petroleum-related vintage postcard collection includes images from West Virginia, California, Ontario, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and of course Texas. The majority of the book’s more than 200 images are from the author’s private collection.

Spencer also acknowledges excellent help from Texas oil and gas museums. “Historians are finding it more costly to use postcard and photographic collections of many museums and university libraries,” he explains, noting usage fees of up to $50 per image. “For that reason, it is refreshing when an author has an opportunity to work with individuals and institutions that provide the use of historical images at little to no cost.”

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Among others, Spencer thanks Ryan Smith, longtime executive director of the Texas Energy Museum in Beaumont; the archivists at the Matagorda County Museum in Bay City; and the staff at the Humble Museum in Humble.

Spencer, a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and a frequent contributor to professional journals, dedicates his book’s collection of historic images “to Texas oil and gas explorers, oil field workers, and oil producers, past and present.”

oil postcards

The book includes this iconic 1901 image of Spindletop by photographer Frank Trost. The caption reads: “Lucas Gusher – Gushing 270 feet. 70,000 BBLS Daily.”

Using rare post card images, Texas Oil and Gas describes the Lone Star State’s petroleum heritage by region, beginning with “Spindletop and the Golden Triangle,” the area in southeast Texas between Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. 

The opening chapter’s first image is perhaps the most iconic – a postcard of the “Lucas Gusher” that erupted on January 10, 1901, and launched the modern petroleum industry. The famous view was captured by Port Arthur photographer Frank J. Trost on the afternoon when the well gushed 270 feet high.

“Trost’s photograph appeared in newspapers all across the United States and in some foreign newspapers,” Spencer notes. “In just a few months, Trost sold 45,000 copies of the photograph at 50 cents each.”

The Spindletop discovery resulted in thousands rushing from the young oilfields of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to find work and riches, Spencer explains.

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Continued drilling success along the Texas Gulf Coast transformed Houston into a major city and the Beaumont area into a petrochemical center — inspiring more oil postcards. Thirty-eight images later, Texas Oil and Gas moves through the 1910s and 1920s, when historic oil booms occurred in North Texas, the Panhandle, Central Texas and West Texas.

Equally well documented is the giant East Texas oilfield, discovered on October 3, 1930, near Kilgore — and the second largest North American oilfield to Alaska’s North Slope. Texas oil replaced coal as fuel for the nation’s railroads and provided vital fuel for the military in the world wars.

Beyond images of oilfield derricks, oil tanks (some burning from lightning strikes), refineries, petroleum equipment expositions, and railroad loading tracks, Spencer uses his images to capture the origins of major oil companies — and independent wildcatters. Texas Oil and Gas has a selection of images of the impressive company headquarters buildings from the state’s petroleum heydays. Some have survived to become five-star hotels.

Texas Oil and Gas, part of Arcadia’s postcard history series, conveys a surprising amount of historical detail through carefully researched captions. This new soft-cover book is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who works in the petroleum industry — especially those interested in oil patch history.

Spencer has served as president of the Oil City, Pennsylvania-based Petroleum History Institute and is co-author of Images of America: Ohio Oil and Gas. On 2023, he authored Arcadia Publishing’s Illinois Oil and Gas, which includes images from his collection of vintage oilfield postcards.

Based in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing is a publisher of local and regional histories. Learn more Texas petroleum history in these American Oil & Gas Historical Society updated articles:

First Lone Star Discovery

Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry

Corsicana Strike launches Texas Oil Industry

H.L. Hunt and the East Texas Oilfield

Santa Rita taps Permian Basin

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum

Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark


Recommended Reading: Texas Oil and Gas (2013) Illinois Oil and Gas (2023). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2024 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Vintage Oil Postcards from Texas.” Author: Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: May 1, 2023. Original Published Date: September 1, 2014.

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