Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon

Brontosaurus “Dino” and Jurassic friends first appeared at 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.

 

Harry Ford Sinclair establish his petroleum company in 1916, making it one of the oldest continuous names in the U.S. energy  industry. Appearing among other Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs during the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, “Dino” quickly became a marketing icon whose popularity – and educational value – with children remains today.

With $50 million in assets, Harry Ford Sinclair borrowed another $20 million and formed Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation on May 1, 1916.  Sinclair brought together a collection of several depressed oil properties, five small refineries and many untested leases-all acquired at bargain prices.

Traveling Sinclair dinosaurs like this visited shopping malls across United States.

Today known more correctly as Apatosaurus, in the 1960s a 70-foot “Dino” traveled more 10,000 miles through 25 states – stopping at shopping centers and other venues where children were introduced to the wonders of the Mesozoic era courtesy of Sinclair Oil.

In its first 14 months, Sinclair’s New York-based company produces six million barrels of oil for a net income of almost $9 million. The company’s refining capacity grew from 45,000 barrels of oil a day in 1920 to 100,000 barrels of oil a day in 1926. Refining capacity reached 150,000 barrels of oil per day in 1932. 

Sinclair Oil “Brontosaurus” debut in Chicago as exhibit during the 1933-1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

The first Sinclair Oil “Brontosaurus” trademark made its debut in Chicago as an exhibit during the 1933-1934 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair.

The prospering producing and refining company began using an Apatosaurus (then called a Brontosaurus) in its advertising, sales promotions and product labels in 1930. Children loved it. Excited crowds gathered at Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs exhibit during the Century of Progress International Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, from May 27, 1933, to October 31, 1934.

Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs

As Sinclair’s dinosaur exhibit attracted Depression Era crowds. the company published a special edition newspaper, Big News, promoting the company’s diverse array of dinosaurs — and petroleum products.

Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs promoted in company newspaper at Chicago World's Fair..

“Sinclair uses dinosaurs in its motor oil adverting to impress on your mind the tremendous age of the crude oils from which Sinclair Motor Oils are made,” proclaimed one Big News article.

The Sinclair dinosaur exhibit drew large crowds once again at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. Four years later, even more visitors marveled at an improved 70-foot dinosaur in Sinclair’s “Dinoland Pavilion” at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.

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Sinclair’s green giant and his accompanying cast of Jurassic buddies, including Triceratops, Stegosaurus, a duck-billed Hadrosaurus, and a 20-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex – were again a success, especially among young people.

Sinclair gas station illustration on free Pennsylvania map.

Sinclair’s first super-fuel is marketed in 1926. The “HC” initials stand for “Houston Concentrate,” but some advertising men prefer the term “High Compression.”

Although it was the first U.S. exposition to be based on the future, with an emphasis “the world of tomorrow,” the Sinclair dinosaurs remained a popular attraction among other innovative exhibits.

The Westinghouse Company featured “Electro the Moto-Man,” a seven-foot robot that talked and smoked cigarettes. “Dino” and company would return to New York City with even greater acclaim in 1964. But it was soon after the Chicago World’s Fair that the oil company recorded its most successful single promotion.

Sinclair Oil Company Dinosaurs Stamp

In 1935, Sinclair Oil published dinosaur stamps and a  stamp album that could be filled only with colored dinosaur stamps — issued one at a time weekly at Sinclair service stations. The first printing of Sinclair’s dinosaur stamp albums — distributed through its dealers within 48 hours after a single network radio broadcast of the offer — would astound marketing professionals.

Sinclair dinosaur

In 1935, Sinclair gas stations offered dinosaur stamp albums – and eventually handed out four million albums and 48 million stamps.

“The final totals were 4 million albums and 48 million stamps,” the company  noted about its campaign. “Dino” exceeded the other Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs in becoming an icon of successful petroleum marketing wherever it went.

Illustration of Sinclair Oil Company's Dinoland" at 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

Fifty million New York City visitors attend the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair – with the Sinclair Corporation’s “Dinoland” exhibition among the most popular of all.

Refurbished, the 70-foot-long fiberglass green giant and his eight companions — including a large, 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex — woul return to New York for another world’s fair in 1964-1965.

New York World’s Fair

Sinclair dinosaur

Spectators in 1964 were amazed to see a barge of dinosaurs on the Hudson River.

In early 1964, spectators along the Hudson River were amazed to see a barge crowded with an improved Dino and his kin floating downriver. The super-sized reptiles were again bound for a New York World’s Fair. One, Triceritops, was delivered by helicopter.

“For the first time in 70 million years a herd of dinosaurs will travel down the Hudson River this month,” noted the September 1963 issue of Popular Science. “Faithfully sculptured and big as life,” noted the magazine, the fiberglass dinosaurs traveled by barge from the Catskill Mountains studio of animal sculptor Louis Paul Jonas, his 18 assistants and paleontologist advisers. 

Dismantling of "the great statue that stood in the Sinclair Pavilion of the New York World's Fair, 1965."

Dismantling of “the great statue that stood in the Sinclair Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair, 1965.” Photo by Robert Walker, the New York Times Archives.

The nine dinosaurs took two months and $250,000 to complete by opening day, April 22, 1964. By the end of the World’s Fair, about 50 million visitors had marvelled at Sinclair’s “Dinoland” exhibit. Dino’s travels did not end when the fair closed in October 1965.

Sincalair Dinoland on exhibitin 1965 at Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, where Andy and Doug Ward were photographed by their father David in front of Triceratops. Photo courtesy Doug Ward.

In July 1966, the Sinclair Dinoland exhibit visited Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota, where Andy and Doug Ward were photographed by their father David in front of Triceratops. Photo courtesy Doug Ward.

After being disassembled and configured for an extended road trip, Dino began visiting shopping centers and other venues where crowds of children were introduced to the wonders of prehistory, courtesy of Sinclair.

Today, many fair visitors fondly remember another attraction of Sinclair’s Dinoland popular Pavilion – “Mold-A-Rama” machines that dispensed warm, plastic dinosaurs for 25 cents.

Poster promoting Sinclair Oil Company dinosaurs at 1965 World's Fair Dinoland.

One of the New York World’s Fair dinosaurs would end up in Kansas.

After traveling more 10,000 miles through 25 states and 38 major cities, Dino retired to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth. He can still be seen there today. The Texas park contains some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world.

Sinclair Oil Company's 70-foot Apatosaurus on display at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas.

Sinclair Oil Company’s 70-foot Apatosaurus (and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex) are displayed in Dinosaur Valley State Park, 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, Texas. Photo courtesy Dinosaur Valley State Park.

“There are two fiberglass models,” the park notes, “a 70-foot Apatosaurus and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex. They were built, under commission of the Sinclair Oil Company, for New York World’s Fair Dinosaur Exhibit of 1964 – 1965.”

Orginal Corythosaurus in Kansas

Although Sinclair was born in Benwood, West Virginia, today a Wheeling suburb, he grew up in Independence, Kansas. The Historical Museum of Independence educates visitors with an Oil Room exhibiting Sinclair’s extensive Mid-Continent oilfield production and refining heritage.

Corythosaurus pictured on a Sinclair Oil Company dinosaur stamp.

Sinclair Oil Corporation distributed 48 million dinosaur stamps in a highly successful marketing campaign.

On display in a nearby public park is Corythosaurus – one the dinosaurs from Sinclair’s “Dinoland” exhibit at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The museum’s Old Post Office building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

“The museum’s permanent exhibits in 22 rooms tell stories of the early settler’ lifestyle; the history of the oil industry; some of the Indian Culture collection and various historical artifacts,” explains the Historical Museum of Independence.

Sinclair dinosaur made in a "Mold-A-Rama" machine for 25 cents.

Young New Work World’s Fair visitors recall Sinclair’s “Mold-A-Rama” machine that made a souvenir dinosaur for 25 cents. “See it formed right before your very eyes!” Two sides of a mold came together, producing a still warm plastic dinosaur.

Although later a respected American industrialist, Harry Sinclair was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal. Albert Fall, appointed Interior Secretary in 1921 by President Warren G. Harding, was found guilty of accepting a bribe in 1929 — the first cabinet member to be convicted of a felony.

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With full control of the Naval Petroleum Reserves, Fall had awarded noncompetitive leases to Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company for Teapot Dome oil reserves. Harry Sinclair was acquitted of giving a bribe, but served six-and-a-half months in prison for contempt of court and the U.S. Senate. He died on November 10, 1956. 

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Recommended Reading:  The Exciting World of Dinosaurs, Sinclair Dinoland, New York World’s Fair 1964-65 (1958); Teapot Dome Scandal (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Dinosaur Fever – Sinclair’s Icon.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/sinclair-dinosaur. Last Updated: April 23, 2022. Original Published Date: January 27, 2010.

 

Golden Driller of Tulsa

Erected temporarily for a 1953 petroleum expo, a giant roughneck became an Oklahoma landmark. 

 

With an arm casually resting on a steel derrick, a 76-foot oilfield worker cannot be missed by visitors to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Popularly known as the “Golden Driller,” the first version of the 22-ton Oklahoma roughneck appeared at the 1953 International Petroleum Exposition.

The leading oil and natural gas equipment expo, which began in 1923 as the International Petroleum Exposition and Congress, took place for decades at the Tulsa County Free Fair site. The original 1953 “roustabout” statue, conceived as a promotion by the Mid-Continent Supply Company of Fort Worth, Texas, returned in 1959 before receiving a major makeover.

Golden giant Tulsa roughneck statue with hand on derrick at Tulsa Fairgrounds..

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.

Refurbishment and neglect would then follow with the fortunes of the petroleum industry. But civic leaders now proclaim the the Tulsa driller the most photographed landmark in the city once known as “Oil Capital of the World.” 

Although Mid-Continent Supply’s smaller first statue of 1952 impressed expo visitors, it was the 1959 version with a oilfield worker climbing a derrick that led to Tula’s current Golden Driller. “This time he was much more chiseled and detailed and was placed climbing a derrick and waving,” explained a volunteer for  the Tulsa Historical Society in 2010.

According to the society’s “Tulsa Gal,” the 1959 rig-climbing roustabout’s popularity inspired Mid-Continent Supply to donate it to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Trust Authority when the expo ended. 

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. The Tulsa fairgrounds opened in 1903. Images courtesy Tulsa Historical Society.

 

Over the next seven years he had a complete redesign to withstand the elements, she noted. The current Golden Driller was originally created for Tulsa’s 1966 International Petroleum Exposition. Its new look came from a Greek immigrant, George “Grecco” Hondronastas, an artist who had worked on the 1953 exposition’s statue.

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.

According to a 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.  The artist, “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.” 

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Beaulieu added 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 East 21st Street and South Pittsburg Avenue. 

The statue contains 2.5 miles of rods and mesh, along with tons of plaster and concrete. It can withstand up to 200 mph winds, “which is a good thing here in Oklahoma,” according to Tulsa Gal.  It was painted it’s golden mustard shade in 2011,

Golden driller statue with local advertising in Tulsa, OK.

Tulsa’s giant driller has sported t-shirts, belts, beads, neckties and other promotions during state fairs. A Covid-19 mask was added in the summer of 2020. Images courtesy the Tulsa Historical Society.

The Golden Driller’s right hand rests on an old production derrick moved from oilfields near Seminole, Oklahoma – a town that 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,” said Tulsa Girl. “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.”

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. Photo by Tim Wells.

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 (learn more in Red Fork Gusher).

An even bigger oilfield discovery arrived in 1905 on a farm south of the future oil capital. On November 22, 1905, the The No. 1 Ida Glenn well erupted a geyser of oil southeast of Tulsa. The Glenn Pool field would forever change Tulsa and Oklahoma history.

Learn more Tulsa history in the extensive collection of the Tulsa Historical Society.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Golden Driller of Tulsa.” Authors: B.A. and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/golden-driller-tulsa. Last Updated: May 6, 2022. Original Published Date: March 1, 2006.

 

Oil Well Tractor Ad Keepsake

Son preserves magazine advertisement with father operating “Caterpillar” D4 Diesel Tractor in New York oilfield.

 

While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled tractor. The family kept a circa 1950 trade magazine ad featuring Harold working at a well using the promoted “Caterpillar” D4.

“My Dad worked for N.V.V. Franchot and was a foreman in the oil and gas fields around Allegany, New York,” Charles noted in an email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS).

“I have an advertisement of him using one of the first modern Caterpillar tractors to pull a well,” Gerringer added.

Caterpillar tractor at New York oil well circa 1950.

Thanks to his son Charles, this image of Allegany lease tractor operator Harold Gerringer (at right) in a Caterpillar advertisement has been preserved. This partially restored image of a well workover is from the ad, which appeared in Producers Monthly Magazine.

The trade magazine advertisement featured Harold Gerringer with a “Caterpillar” D4 at a workover site (replacing production equipment to extend the life of a well).  The promotion came from an prominent machine company in the region that sold the “Caterpiller” D4, whose virtue was its low diesel fuel consumption.

Franchot Oil Lease

“Never was there a cheaper power on a lease,” the ad proclaimed. Originally designed for farm use, the 41-horsepower tractor proved popular in oilfields. Its ads appeared in Producers Monthly magazine, published by the Bradford District of the Pennsylvania Oil Producers Association from 1936 to 1969.

The “Caterpiller” D4 ad began with a simple description of the oilfield photo. “Four men and a tractor are putting new economy into their work on the N.V.V. Franchot lease at Four Mile, New York, lease pictured above. Credit is due to the N.V.V. F. Munson, the general superintendent, Lawrence Gallets, the foreman, Harold Gerringer the tractor operator, and Norbert Karl, the able helper,” the text noted.

Caterpillar Tractor D4 Diesel at oil well advertisment.

“For more than three months now this ‘Caterpillar’ Diesel D4 Tractor has been operating at the amazingly low fuel consumption of only four gallons of Diesel fuel in an eight-hour day,” the ad continued.

The Caterpillar Company ad, promoting the region’s supplier, Beckwith Machine Company, proclaimed: “Never was there a cheaper power on a lease, never so much work for so little fuel cost, and never greater satisfaction for the owner built into a Tractor.”

Beckwith Machine provided contact information for sales at field offices in Pittsburgh, Bradford, Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg. Bradford today is home to the Penn-Brad Oil Museum. Not far away in New York, the Pioneer Oil Museum in Bolivar also preserves the region’s considerable petroleum history.

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Special thanks to longtime AOGHS supporting member Chuck Gerringer for sharing a brief part of his father’s oilfield history in 2019. Learn about other oil patch families’ efforts to preserve their petroleum heritage in American Oil & Gas Families.

Learn more about New York’s lengthy petroleum history in the classic, Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State, by John P Herrick. “If you are doing business in the oil and gas industry in New York State this is a must read. The level of historical research is excellent,” noted one reviewer in 2014 after reading Herrick’s 474-page oil history book.

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Recommended Reading:  Empire Oil: The Story of Oil in New York State (1949); Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (2017); A History of the New York International Auto Show: 1900-2000 (2000). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/Saving a Workover Well Tractor Ad. Last Updated: May 5, 2022. Original Published Date: June 14, 2020. 

 

Puente Oil at Los Angeles Harbor

Picturing California petroleum history in a family album.

 

Preserving a family’s photographs from Los Angeles Harbor brought insights about California maritime and petroleum heritage, including the story of Puente Oil Company.

Seeking to share the legacy of her father’s years as an employee of the Los Angeles Harbor authority, Valerie Raynor contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society in the summer of 2017. It wasn’t long before Raynor found a permanent home for her family’s treasured collection.

One Raynor photo of an oil company facility at San Pedro Harbor of Los Angeles tells a petroleum history story (for help preserving oil patch legacies, see Oil Families). (more…)

End of Oil Exchanges

Curbing unruly speculators trading oil and pipeline certificates.

 

In a sign of the growing  power of John D. Rockefeller at the end of the 19th century, Standard Oil Company brought a decisive end to Pennsylvania’s highly speculative  — and often confusing — trading markets at oil exchanges.

On January 23, 1895, the Standard Oil Company’s purchasing agency in Oil City, Pennsylvania, notified independent oil producers it would only buy their oil at a price “as high as the markets of the world will justify” — and not necessarily “the price bid on the oil exchange for certificate oil.”

Standard Oil’s drastic action would bring an end to a popular “paper oil” market of brokers and buyers.

(more…)

New London School Explosion

Horrific East Texas oilfield tragedy of 1937.

 

At 3:17 p.m. on March 18, 1937, with just minutes left in the school day and more than 500 students and teachers inside the building, a natural gas explosion leveled most of what had been the wealthiest rural school in the nation.

Hundreds died at New London High School in Rusk County after odorless natural gas leaked into the basement and ignited. The sound of the explosion was heard four miles away. Parents, many of them roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield,

Despite immediate rescue efforts, 298 died, most from grades 5 to 11 (dozens more later died of injuries). After an investigation, the cause of the school explosion was found to be an electric wood-shop sander that sparked unscented gas that had pooled beneath and in the walls of the school. rushed to the school.

Illuminated nighttime scene of the New London school explosion destruction.

Roughnecks from the East Texas oilfield rushed to New London school after the March 18, 1937, explosion — and searched for survivors throughout the night. Photo courtesy New London Museum.

“The school was newly built in the 1930s for close to $1 million and, from its inception, bought natural gas from Union Gas to supply its energy needs,” noted History.com. “The school’s natural gas bill averaged about $300 a month.”

In early 1937 the school board canceled its contract with Union Gas to save money and tapped into a pipeline of residue gas (also called casinghead gas) from Parade Gasoline Company, according to historian James Cornell.

“This practice — while not explicitly authorized by local oil companies — was widespread in the area,” he reported in The Great International Disaster Book. “The natural gas extracted with the oil was considered a waste product and was flared off.”

Walter Cronkite reaches Scene

A young man working for United Press in Dallas, Walter Cronkite, was among the first reporters to reach the scene of the disaster south of Kilgore, between Tyler and Longview. It was dark and raining. “He got his first inkling of how bad the incident was when he saw a large number of cars lined up outside the funeral home in Tyler,” explained a local historian. At the scene, floodlights cast long shadows.

“We hurried on to New London,” Cronkite wrote in his book, A Reporter’s Life. “We reached it just at dusk. Huge floodlights from the oilfields illuminated a great pile of rubble at which men and women tore with their bare hands. Many were workers from the oilfields.”

New London Texas School Explosion news photos of destruction in 1939.

The March 18, 1937, explosion hurled a concrete slab 200 feet onto a new Chevrolet. At the time, Rusk County was among the richest rural school districts in the United States. Students had been preparing for the next day’s Inter-scholastic meet in Henderson. Photos courtesy New London Museum.

Decades later, Cronkite would add, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”

David M. Brown, who researched the tragedy for a 2012 book, described the “sad irony” of how the East Texas oil boom financed building the wealthiest rural school in the nation in 1934 — and the faulty heating system that permitted raw gas to accumulate beneath it. According to Brown, it was partly the result of school officials making a bad decision.

To save money on heating the school building, the trustees had authorized workers to tap into a pipeline carrying “waste” natural gas produced by a gasoline refinery. “The resulting explosion that laid waste to a town’s future,” Brown concluded in his book Gone at 3:17, the Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History. 

Following the disaster, a temporary morgue was set up near the school as well as nearby Overton and Henderson, noted Robert Hilliard, a volunteer for the New London Museum.

New London Texas School Explosion museum exhibit of personal accounts.

The New London Museum includes extensive personal accounts of the tragedy taken from newspaper articles and personal interviews. Considered state-of-the-art for its time, the school housed grades K-11.

“Many burials were made in the local Pleasant Hill cemetery that to this day, still symbolize the great loss that families endured, added Hilliard, among those who have maintained the museum’s website. “Many of the grave sites display porcelain pictures of the victims,” he said. “Marbles that were once played with were pushed into the cement border outlining the graves.”

Making Natural Gas Safer

As a result of the disaster, Texas was the first state to pass laws requiring that natural gas be mixed with a “malodorant” to give early warning of a gas leak. Other states quickly followed. The now mandated rotten-egg smell associated with natural gas is Mercaptan, the odorant added to indicate the potentially dangerous leaking of gas.

School at New London, Texas, before deadly 1937 explosion.

The London School campus for grades 5 through 11, “was a new showplace in 1937, the product of new oil wealth that could not have been imagined 10 years earlier,” according to the New London Museum.

New London’s community museum, across the highway from the school site, began in 1992 thanks to years of work by its founder and first curator, Mollie Ward, who was 10 when she survived the devastating explosion. She said in a 2001 interview that among the museum’s exhibits was a blackboard found in the rubble.

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“Sometime in the night a worker found a blackboard that had been on the wall that read ‘Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest mineral blessing,'” said Ward, who spent years helping start a former students association that reunited survivors of the New London explosion.

New London museum backboard in recreated school room from 1937 gas explosion.

One museum exhibit is a recovered blackboard that reads: “Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest mineral blessing.” Photo by Bruce Wells.

Near the museum is a 32-foot-high granite cenotaph dedicated in 1939. In December 1938, a contract for building a monument was awarded to the Premier Granite Quarries of Llano, Texas. Donald Nelson of Dallas was appointed designing and supervising architect for the project.

After a competition in which seven Texas sculptors submitted preliminary models, Herring Coe of Beaumont was awarded the task of making the model for the sculptural block at the top.

New London Texas School Explosion monument from 1939.

A granite cenotaph was dedicated in 1939 to the more than 300 students and teachers who perished.

The 20-ton sculptured block of Texas granite — supported by two monolithic granite columns — depicts 12 life-size figures to represent children coming to school, bringing gifts and handing in homework to two teachers.

The East Texas tragedy and those who died there are remembered today at the New London Museum.

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Recommended Reading:  Gone at 3:17, the Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History (2012); A Texas Tragedy: The New London School Explosion (2012); The Great International Disaster Book (1976). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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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 bawells@aoghs.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “New London School Explosion.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/new-london-texas-school-explosion. Last Updated: March 12, 2022. Original Published Date: March 11, 2011.

 

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