Introduced at the international petroleum expo in 1953, refurbished many times, and today a popular Oklahoma state monument. 

 

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

golden giant Tulsa roughneck staue

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

Since the giant roughneck’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 would continue for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site, which began in 1903.

golden driller old statue  images from Tulsa oil expos

The original Golden Driller of 1953, left, proved so popular that a smaller, rig-climbing version (called The Roustabout) 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. Known as “The Roustabout,” the 1959 rig-climbing version again attracted so much attention that Mid-Continent Supply refurbished it 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.

golden driller

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.

Re-painted it’s usual mustard shade in 2011, today’s Golden Driller was originally created for Tulsa’s 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. The designer was a Greek immigrant named George “Grecco” Hondronastas, an artist who had worked on the 1953 exposition’s statue.

According to the 2014 article by Tony Beaulieu, Hondronastas was an eccentric and prolific artist who was proud of becoming a U.S. citizen through his military service in World War I. Hondronastas, who attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later became a professor, came to Tulsa for the first time in 1953 “to help design and build an early version of the Golden Driller,” Beaulieu explained. “Hondronastas fell in love with the city of Tulsa and later moved his wife and son from Chicago to a duplex near Riverview Elementary School, just south of downtown.”

Beaulieu adds that “Hondronastas was always proud of designing the Golden Driller, and would tell anyone he met, according to his son, Stamatis Hondronastas.” Learn more in An Oil Town’s Golden Idol,originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 22, November 15, 2014.

The late Tulsa photographer Walter Brewer documented construction of the giant with images later donated to the Tulsa Historical Society. Designated a state monument and refurbished again in 1979 (the year Hondronastas died), the statue as it appears today was permanently installed at the 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue. It contains a total of 2.5 miles of rods and mesh, according to the Tulsa Historical Society. “Made from plaster and concrete, it can withstand 200 mph winds, which is a good thing here in Oklahoma.”

 golden driller statue with local advertising

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 oilfields 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 of the Tulsa Historical Society 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.

golden driller circa 1950s giant shoe with model

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.

 

golden driller American Oil and Gas Historical Society field trip members

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. Leading oil and gas companies were attracted to Tulsa as early as 1901, six years before Oklahoma became a state (see Red Fork Gusher). An even bigger discovery arrived in 1905 on the Glenn farm south of the booming Oklahoma oil town.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Golden Driller of Tulsa.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/golden-driller-tulsa. Last Updated: May 9, 2020. Original Published Date: March 1, 2006.

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