Depression Era cartoonist Victor Hamlin worked as an oilfield cartographer in West Texas.
The once widely popular newspaper comic strip caveman Alley Oop began in the imagination of a young Texas cartographer who drew Permian Basin oilfield maps.
Alley Oop appeared for the first time in the summer of 1933 when Victor Hamlin, a former Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reporter, published fanciful tales about a caveman.
Hamlin began syndicating his daily cartoon in the Des Moines Register in Iowa. His Paleolithic Age idea for the comic strip, which would run in more than 800 newspapers, reportedly began in a small oil “company town” in the Permian Basin.
The West Texas oil town of Iraan (pronounced Eye-Rah-Ann) later proclaimed itself as the inspiration for Alley Oop. Hamlin’s comics trip character was conceived in the arid region’s earliest oilfields.
On July 20, 1920, a wildcat well in Mitchell County erupted oil on land owned by Texas Pacific Land Trust agent William H. Abrams. Just weeks earlier, another W.H. Abrams well had revealed an oilfield in Brazoria County south of Houston.
After the latest Abrams well was “shot” with nitroglycerin by the Texas Company (later Texaco), the oilfield discovery well produced from the Permian Basin, which would prove to encompass 75,000 square miles in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
In May 1923, when the Santa Rita No. 1 well roared in on land owned by the University of Texas, major oil companies joined independent oil companies in a rush to explore the full 300-mile extent of the basin.
Iraan first appeared as a company town following the discovery of the prolific Yates oilfield in October 1926. The town’s name combined names of the townsite owners, Ira and Ann Yates.
Discovered 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 comic-strip historian Mike Hanlon, the young cartoonist from from Perry, Iowa, came up with the idea for Alley Oop while working in the Permian Basin oilfields. Hamlin, who reportedly witnessed the first oil gusher at Iraan, had been hired by an oil company as a cartographer making site maps.
As the boom town Iraan grew in the late 1920s, Hamlin worked in the new West Texas oilfields. “He could watch dinosaur bones being removed by the steam shovels and scrapers as they cleared the sites for drilling, wells, and pumps,” Hanlon explained in “The Man Who Walked With Dinosaurs.”.
The future creator of Alley Oop developed a life-long interest in geology and paleontology.
According to Steve Stiles website post “The Man Who Walked With Dinosaurs,” Hamlin began doing artwork for petroleum industry publications, “before 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.”
Alley Oop Oop
The official start date of Hamlin’s famed caveman as a daily comic strip was August 7, 1933. The adventures of Alley Oop in the prehistoric nation of Moo would also appear in many Sunday newspaper pages.
Decades after the roughnecking days of Iraan ended, the band “The Hollywood Argyles” in 1960 sang Alley Oop was “the toughest man there is alive.” Their song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 that year.
With improved drilling and oil recovery techniques, production from Yates oil wells has continued. By the beginning the 21 century, the field was estimated to have one billion barrels of recoverable oil remaining. Tourists visiting West Texas can take a break at the Alley Opp RV Park on the northwest edge of Iraan.
Although Hamlin retired in 1971 (he died in 1993), his daily strips (now by Jack and Carole Bender) have continued to appear in hundreds of newspapers. In 1995, the former oilfield cartographer’s Alley Oop was selected as one of the 20 U.S. Postal Service commemorative Comic Strip Classics postage stamps.
Recommended Reading: Yates: A family, A Company, and Some Cornfield Geology (2000); Alley Oop’s Ancestors: The Newspaper Cartoons of V.T. Hamlin (2015). 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 annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact email@example.com. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Alley Oop’s Oil Roots.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/alley-oop-origin-in-permian-basin. Last Updated: July 5, 2022. Original Published Date: August 2, 2015.