Golden Driller of Tulsa
Seventy-six feet tall and weighing about 22 tons, the “Golden Driller” – and oilfield roughneck – is the most photographed landmark in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Since the giant oilman’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 will continue for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site, which began in 1903.
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.
Today’s Golden Driller was originally created for Tulsa’s 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. Its designer was a Greek immigrant named George “Grecco” Hondronastas, an artist who had worked on the 1953 expo 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 One.
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 explains. “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.”
The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production derrick moved from an oilfield 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 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.
Although the first International Petroleum Exposition and Congress had no giant roughneck statue in 1923, the expo helped make Tulsa famous around the world. In 1905 – two years before Oklahoma became a state – an oil discovery on the Glenn farm south of Tulsa brought the city’s first drilling boom. Learn more in Making Tulsa the Oil Capital.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.