Discoveries came in 1923 and 1924, but the long hoped-for giant Seminole area oilfield arrived in 1926.
Many historic oil and natural gas discoveries followed the Indian Territory’s first oil well drilled at Bartlesville in 1897, especially after statehood came a decade later. Few of these discoveries had the tremendous economic impact as the greater area Seminole oil boom of the 1920s.
Although oil from the 1897 Bartlesville discovery could not get to refineries for two years (lacking transportation infrastructure), the first Oklahoma oil well brought more exploration.
Other major Indian Territory discoveries soon arrived, including the Red Fork Gusher of 1901, which helped in Making Tulsa “Oil Capital of the World.” The Seminole oil boom eclipsed them all.
The struggling farming region’s petroleum prosperity arrived on July 16, 1926, with a wildcat well near the town of Seminole, about an hour east and south of Oklahoma City. The Fixico No. 1 well revealed the prolific Wilcox sands at about 4,075 feet deep. The discovery quickly launched a summer frenzy of drilling and production.
World Leader in Oil Production
By 1935, the new oilfields around Seminole became the largest supplier of oil in the world. More than 60 petroleum reservoirs were found in 1,300 square miles — and seven were “giants,” producing more than million barrels of oil each.
Seismic technology first helped find oil in 1928 when the Viola limestone formation on December 4 near Seminole,. The well was the world’s first oil discovery in a geological structure that had been identified by reflection (learn more in Exploring Seismic Waves).
The greater Seminole area oilfields would “swing the United States’ oil reserves from scarcity to surplus,” noted one historian.
Flowing at 6,120 barrels of oil a day, the Fixico discovery well of R.F. Garland and Independent Oil Company was among five Seminole-area oil reservoirs discovered by 1927. The series of discoveries included strikes in the Hunton lime formation by Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company in March 1926, followed by a July discovery of Wilcox sand production by Amerada Petroleum Company nearby.
“In rapid succession came discoveries of the Searight, Earlsboro, Bowlegs and Little River reservoirs,” according to a 1977 granite monument near the entrance to Seminole Municipal Park. The discoveries brought 20,000 oilfield workers to Seminole County — and created several classic petroleum boom towns. The prosperity of these discoveries would transform life in many central Oklahoma communities.
Prior to the oil boom period, the greater Seminole area was one of the poorest economic areas in Oklahoma. The Seminoles were the smallest in numbers and the lowest on the economic scale of the Five Civilized Tribes.
“By the 1920s, farmers in Seminole County, like those elsewhere, were beginning to feel the pinch of hard times created by falling prices for farm produce. An advertisement of the First National Bank in the Seminole County News urged people to have clear heads, stout hearts and busy hands, and to remember that greater problems had been met and solved,” noted historian Louise Welsh in A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field.
“It was quite natural that, under such stress, the prospect of finding oil should occasion both excitement and hope, since the prospect of leasing his land might provide the necessary funds with which the hard-pressed farmer could pay off his mortgage,” Welsh reported.
Although the area’s first discovery came near Wewoka in 1923, and the Cromwell oilfield was developed in 1924, and leasing activity continued around Seminole, it was not until 1926 that the long hoped-for giant discovery was realized.
“It was the Independent Oil and Gas Company’s No. 1 Fixico, whose 6,120 barrels a day from the Wilcox created a real bonanza, that precipitated the Seminole boom,” Welsh explained.
Seminole county’s population alone increased from 23,808 in 1920 to 79,621 in 1930.
At its height, the Seminole City oilfield accounted for 2.6 percent of the world’s oil production, she added, noting that the massive production glutted oil markets and resulted in a price collapse to as low as 15 cents per barrel. The oilfields were then placed under state control.
“Thus, the conservation movement, as far as the oil industry is concerned, started in Oklahoma and largely in the greater Seminole areas,” Welsh concluded. Dedicated volunteers operated the Oklahoma Oil Museum at 1800 Hwy. 9 West in Seminole.
Recommended Reading: A History of the Greater Seminole Oil Field (1981); Oil And Gas In Oklahoma: Petroleum Geology In Oklahoma (2013); Oil in Oklahoma (1976). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Seminole Oil Boom.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/seminole-oil-boom. Last Updated: July 8, 2022. Original Published Date: April 29, 2014.