Established soon after World War I, the Ajax Oil Company was among hundreds that rushed into Texas oil fields seeking a fortune from “black gold.”
The company was organized by members of the Sowell family in Dallas as a joint stock association on July 25, 1919. It was capitalized at $4,950,000 and offered both Class A and Class B shares.
Ajax Oil acquired leases in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana including some in the Ranger oil field and the Burkburnett oil field. Production from these North Texas fields were making headlines worldwide.
In 1917 the Eastland County’s McClesky No. 1 well struck oil on October 17 near the small town of Ranger.
The “Roaring Ranger” well alone reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels. Its gained international fame for Ranger as the town whose oil wiped out critical oil shortages during World War I, allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”
About 135 miles due north, in Burkburnett, a July 1918 wildcat well on S. L. Fowler’s farm launched a another North Texas drilling boom along the Red River will make the town near Wichita Falls famous. It even inspired a popular 1940 motion picture featuring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. See “Boom Town” Burkburnett.
Investment capital and aspiring millionaires overwhelmed Burkburnett and Ranger, as well as nearby Cisco, where a young war veteran saw crowds of roughnecks and bought his first motel. See Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel.
Ajax Oil Company’s properties reportedly included 11 producing wells and the equipment to drill more.
The company’s class A shares, “had preference as to assets as well as dividends” and beginning in September 1919 shareholders were paid dividends of one percent per month for seven consecutive months.
The company’s stock sold for about $5 per share. It drilled several oil and natural gas wells, often in association with the Hercules Petroleum Company and Halleck-Whales Company. Production figures cannot be found.
Dividends abruptly ended in March 1920 and shareholders were advised that the company was investing in new equipment to expand operations. Typical of a petroleum boom, notes one historian, as the region’s increased production lowered oil prices, drilling costs rose.
In August, a B.A. Butterworth sued Ajax Oil Company for debts. It is unclear what happened next, but by December of the following year, Ajax Oil Company was bankrupt and in receivership.
The petroleum booms in Ranger and Burkburnett resulted in many newly formed companies rushing to North Texas. But as local historian Bernadette Pruitt has noted, much of the land already had been leased.
Inevitably, most companies arrived too late. Many of the companies departed or failed.
Learn more about the era’s Intense competition throughout the Mid-Continent discoveries in Pump Jack Capital of Texas.
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