Alley Oop’s Oil Roots
The popular Depression era comic strip caveman Alley Oop began in the imagination of a cartoonist who drew Permian Basin oilfield maps.
“Alley Oop” appeared for the first time on August 7, 1933, when Victor Hamlin, a former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter, published the soon wildly popular caveman. Hamlin, originally from Perry, Iowa, began syndicating his daily cartoon in the Des Moines Register.
The comic strip, which would run in more than 800 newspapers nationwide, began in a small town in the Permian Basin.
The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced eye-rah-ann) would later proclaim itself as Hamlin’s inspiration.
Iraan first appeared as a company town following the discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield. The town’s name combined names of the townsite owners, Ira and Ann Yates. Discovered in October 1926 in southeastern Pecos County, the Yates field brought prosperity to Midland, Odessa and other communities by producing more than 40 million barrels in just three years.
According to one comic strip historian, the cartoonist came up with the idea for Alley Oop while working in the Permian Basin oilfields. As Iraan boomed in the late 1920s, Hamlin worked in the oil patch.
“He could watch dinosaur bones being removed by the steam shovels and scrapers as they cleared the sites for drilling, wells, and pumps,” Mike Hanlon explains. Hamlin developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology.
“Hamlin moved on to doing art for an oil industry publication and one day, while wandering through the desolate landscape of the oilfields, began musing about the dinosaurs who had once roamed through the very same territory,” reports Steve Stiles in The Man Who Walked With Dinosaurs.
Hamlin, who reportedly witnessed the first oil gusher at Iraan, worked as a cartographer for petroleum company making their site maps.
The official start date Alley Oop as a daily strip was August 7, 1933. The Sunday page began September 9, 1934.
The biggest roughnecking days are over in Iraan by 1960 – when the band “The Hollywood Argyles” sang Alley Oop was “the toughest man there is alive.” The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960.
Today, tourists visit the Alley Oop Museum and R.V. Park on the northwest edge of Iraan. Thanks to improved recovery techniques, oil production from Yates oil wells continues – and the field is estimated to have one billion barrels of recoverable oil remaining.
Although Hamlin retired in 1971 and died in 1993, his daily strips (now by Jack and Carole Bender) today appear in 600 newspapers. Alley Oop was one of 20 U.S. Postal Service commemorative Comic Strip Classics postage stamp series in 1995. When visiting West Texas, stop by Iraan and visit the Alley Opp Park and Fantasy Land.
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