Vintage Oil Postcards from Texas
For anyone interested in exploring petroleum history – or vintage oil postcards from Texas – one book combines both in an educational 128 pages.
The history of America’s petroleum industry provides an important context for teaching young people the modern energy business. Published in 2013, Texas Oil and Gas by Jeff Spencer is a teaching resource that should be in many Texas high-school classrooms.
A geologist with Amromco Energy, Houston, Spencer has authored or co-authored more than 20 oilfield history papers. He has documented petroleum-related postcards from West Virginia, California, Ontario, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas.
A tenacious researcher and collector – the majority of the book’s more than 200 images are from the author’s private collection – Spencer acknowledges help received from Texas oil 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.”
Among others, Spencer thanks D. Ryan Smith, executive director of the Texas Energy Museum in Beaumont, archivists at the Matagorda County Museum in Bay City, and the staff at the Humble Museum in Humble.
Spencer, who also contributes to professional journals, dedicates the book’s collection of historic black-and-white images “to Texas oil and gas explorers, oil field workers, and oil producers, past and present.”
Using often 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.
Continued drilling success along the Texas Gulf Coast transformed Houston into a major city and the Beaumont area into a petro-chemical center – inspiring more oil post cards.
Thirty-eight postcard 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 today serves as president of the Oil City, Pennsylvania-based Petroleum History Institute and is co-author of Images of America: Ohio Oil and Gas.
Texas Oil and Gas images help teach Texas energy history. Based in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing is a publisher of local and regional histories. – Bruce Wells, executive director, American Oil & Gas Historical Society
Read more Texas petroleum history among these frequently updated historical society articles:
First Lone Star Discovery
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
Spindletop creates Modern Petroleum Industry
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