by Bruce Wells | Mar 9, 2023 | Petroleum Art
How a red Pegasus soared into Dallas petroleum history.
The Mobil Oil Pegasus perched atop the Magnolia Petroleum building in Dallas from 1934 until 1999, when rust and growing structural issues forced its removal. On the first day of 2000, a carefully crafted duplicate returned to the Dallas skyline.
Thanks to its widespread popularity, Mobil Oil’s high-flying trademark returned to its Texas home — one red Pegasus on each side of a sign painstakingly recreated by the American Porcelain Enamel Company. As 1999 drew to a close, the duplicated red Pegasus soared again.
A Dallas hotel would later restore the original Mobil Oil Pegasus after finding its rusted remains in a city-owned shed. The Omni Dallas Hotel funded the restoration, and in 2015 the surviving red neon-edged symbol — a one-sided version — was re-lit in front of the Omni on Lamar Street.
The rotating 35-foot by 40-foot Pegasus sign first beamed its red neon glow above a Dallas hotel in 1934.
The Mobil Oil (now ExxonMobil) trademark has been a feature of Dallas since first welcoming attendees to a 1934 convention of petroleum company executives.
The Magnolia building’s red Pegasus has remained one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in American history, and a marketing rival of the Sinclair dinosaur.
Magnolia Petroleum Company
When the 400-foot-tall Magnolia Petroleum building opened in 1922, it was the city’s first skyscraper — and tallest building west of the Mississippi River. With 29 floors and seven elevators, the Magnolia building towered over the nearby Adolphus Hotel, built in 1913.
The Magnolia building was designed in a “modified classical design” by an architect from the United Kingdom. A nearby 1978 historic marker by the Texas Historic Historical Commission noted:
Erected in 1921-22, this building housed the offices of Magnolia Petroleum Co., later Mobil Oil Co. It was designed by Sir Alfred C. Bossom (1881-1965), noted British architect, and built at a cost of $4 million. The tallest structure in Dallas for almost 20 years, it reflected the city’s increasing economic importance. In 1934 a revolving neon sign was placed atop the building. The “Flying Red Horse,” trademark for Magnolia products, quickly became a local landmark.
Vacuum Oil Company trademarked the Pegasus logo in 1911 and by the 1930s was marketing Pegasus Motor Spirits and Mobiloil. The Magnolia Petroleum building, completed in 1922, was “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.” Pegasus first perched atop the building in 1934 — in time for the first annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute.
The Magnolia building also was the first high-rise in the United States to have air conditioning, according to the management company that acquired it in 1997. A fully restored lobby features a gold leaf decorative plaster and original elevator doors engraved with the Pegasus logo.
Much of the original architecture’s classical design has been restored, according to the Magnolia Dallas Downtown — a boutique hotel blending the historic building’s past with modern amenities.
More than 80 years old (1939 to 2023), this 11-foot Pegasus dominates the lobby of the Old Red Museum of the Dallas County History and Culture. This winged logo originally was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair and later atop a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda in East Dallas.
After the Magnolia building’s 1922 opening, a local reporter described the oil company headquarters building as “a great peg driven into the ground holding Dallas in its place.”
When Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) acquired the Magnolia Petroleum Company in 1925, the building was part of the deal. Nine years later, the two-sided Pegasus sign would land on its roof.
A circa 1935 postcard given to visitors of the observatory tower in the Magnolia Building, courtesy DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, digital collections.
Mobil Oil Pegasus takes Flight
The Mobil Oil Pegasus began its journey in 1911, when a Vacuum Oil Company subsidiary in Cape Town, South Africa, first trademarked the Pegasus logo. Based in Rochester, New York, Vacuum Oil had built a successful petroleum lubricants business around an 1869 patent by its founder, Hiram Everest, long before gasoline was even a branded product.
Vacuum Oil Company’s products used a gargoyle prior to adopting the winged horse of mythology.
At first, a stylized red gargoyle advertised the company, which produced early petroleum-based lubricants for horse-drawn carriages and steam engines. The Pegasus trademark proved to be a more enduring image. In Greek mythology, Pegasus – a winged horse – carried thunderbolts for Zeus.
By 1931 growth of the automobile industry expanded the Vacuum Oil product lineup to include Pegasus Spirits and Mobilgas – later simplified to Mobil. When Standard Oil of New York and Vacuum Oil combined to form Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, the new company adopted the familiar winged trademark, as did an affiliate, Magnolia Petroleum.
The certificate from Cape Town, South Africa, notes that the “Vacuum Oil Company of South Africa Limited” is named “as proprietor of the Trade Mark represented above.” Image courtesy ExxonMobil Historical Collection/Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin.
It took a year to build the rotating 35-foot by 40-foot Pegasus sign. It first beamed its red neon glow in 1934, welcoming the first annual meeting to be held in Dallas by the American Petroleum Institute (API). For decades the emblem slowly rotated above the growing city as corporate consolidations and mergers changed Socony-Vacuum ownership.
In 1955, the name of the company changed to Socony Mobil Oil; in 1966 became just Mobil Oil. A neon Mobil Oil Pegasus displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair found its way to a Mobil gas station in Casa Linda, Texas, and later to the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture — where it would remain on exhibit.
New Mobil Oil Pegasus
In 1974 the petroleum icon’s motor ground to a halt. Mobile Oil moved out of the Magnolia building three years later and sold the aging skyscraper and glowing but unmoving sign to the city of Dallas. Twenty-years later, Pegasus’ neon lights finally went out.
As a Denver-based developer restored and transformed the deteriorating Magnolia building into a luxurious 330 room hotel in the late 1990s, a group of patrons and corporate partners joined in to bring the broken and rusty Pegasus sign back to life. They raised more than $600,000 for the project.
The Project Pegasus team targeted New Year’s Eve of 1999 and dawn of the new millennium to reintroduce Dallas citizens to their petroleum heritage landmark. Restoration of the 8,000-pound sign proved challenging.
The derrick-like tower structure was reparable and the old mechanical rotation system could be updated with new technology.
A view of Pegasus in photographer Carolyn Brown’s 2004 book, Dallas: Where Dreams Come True.
But time and weather had damaged the porcelain coated steel signage and neon tubing. New 16-gauge steel panels had to be cut, using the originals as templates.
Only two facilities in the United States were large enough to accommodate baking the emblematic red porcelain onto the new panels; fortunately, both were in Dallas. More than 1,000 feet of new neon tubing was required to trace the familiar outlines as craftsmen and technicians remained faithful to the original.
Oil history preservation efforts were rewarded at midnight on December 31, 1999, when millennium celebration welcomed the red Mobil Oil Pegasus back to the Dallas skyline.
“You can’t tell the new one from the old one except for the fact that the faces are now red and not rusty,” explained one of the restorers (see Sign Makers Restore Historical Flying Red Horse). “We replaced every old piece with a new piece that was exactly the same as it was before.”
The Pegasus sign “is a beloved icon of the city of Dallas,” proclaimed Kay Kallos, public art manager in the Office of Cultural Affairs, which manages its maintenance. Mobil Oil merged with Exxon in 1999, creating ExxonMobil, headquartered in Irving, Texas. Visit the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture.
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. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Mobil’s High-Flying Trademark.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/high-flying-trademark. Last Updated: March 9, 2023. Original Published Date: March 14, 2010.
by Bruce Wells | Feb 14, 2023 | Petroleum Art
Artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade used petroleum pipelines to create a Texas landmark.
With more than 2.5 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines crisscrossing the United States, an offbeat Texas sculptor in 1993 repurposed about 70 feet to create a work of art.
Most Texas travelers at some point have seen the monumental sculptures of Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, known for “keeping it weird” since making the Austin scene in 1961. The decades of artworks by “Daddy-O” have reflected his unique Texas sense of scale, according to Texas A&M University Press.
In February 1993 on Houston’s west side, Wade (1943-2019) completed an iconic 70-foot blue saxophone (including a steel pipe base) in front of a blues club. (more…)
by Bruce Wells | Jan 5, 2023 | Petroleum Art
Dr. Seuss created zoological oddities for Esso products of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.
Seuss the oilman? Thirty years before the Grinch stole Christmas in 1957, many strange and wonderful critters of the popular children’s book author could be seen in Standard Oil Company advertising campaigns.
Between 1930 and 1940, Theodor Seuss Geisel created distinctive characters for Standard Oil advertising campaigns, including this “wise bird” for Essolube oil change cards. Illustration courtesy University of California San Diego Library.
During the Great Depression, fanciful creatures drawn by the future Dr. Seuss promoted Essolube and other products for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He later said his experience at Standard, “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”
A 1927 cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel featured Standard Oil’s petroleum product “Flit,” a popular bug spray.
In the cartoon that launched his career, Theodor Seuss Geisel drew a peculiar dragon inside a castle. The January 14, 1928, issue of New York City’s Judge magazine featured the beast. Geisel would soon introduce America to many less threatening characters inhabiting his imaginative menagerie.
“Flit,” was a popular bug spray of the day — especially against flies and mosquitoes. It was one of many Standard Oil Company of New Jersey consumer products derived from oil and natural gas (also see petroleum products).
Late in 1927, Standard Oil’s growing advertising department, which had focused on sales of Standard and Esso gasoline, lubricating oil, fuel oil and asphalt, reorganized to promote other products, according to author Alfred Chandler Jr.
Dr. Seuss later said his experience working at Standard Oil helped him develop his fantastical characters and tales.
“Specialties, such as Nujol, Flit, Mistol, and other petroleum by-products that could not be effectively sold through the department’s sales organization were combined in a separate subsidiary — Stanco,” noted Chandler in his book, Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise.
Chandler’s 1962 book also examined General Motors Company, Sears, Roebuck and Company, and gunpowder manufacturer E.I. du Pont de Nemours.
“Quick, Henry, the Flit!”
Geisel’s fortuitous bug-spray cartoon depicted a medieval knight in his bed, facing a dragon who had invaded his room, and lamenting, “Darn it all, another dragon. And just after I’d sprayed the whole castle with Flit.”
An anecdote in Judith and Neil Morgan’s 1995 book Dr. Seuss and Mrs. Geisel, the wife of the advertising executive who handled the Standard Oil account was impressed by the cartoon.
Circa 1935 ad for a Standard Oil petroleum product was characteristic of the imagination that would make Ted Geisel the definitive children’s book author. Illustration courtesy University of California San Diego Library.
“At her urging, her husband hired the artist, thereby inaugurating a 17-year campaign of ads whose recurring plea, ‘Quick, Henry, the Flit!,’ became a common catchphrase,” noted a curator of the Dr. Seuss Collection at the University of California, San Diego.
“These ads, along with those for several other companies, supported the Geisels throughout the Great Depression and the nascent period of his writing career,” the curator added.
Besides promoting the Standard Oil companies Flit and Esso, Dr. Seuss’ creations helped sell such diverse goods as ball bearings, radio programs, beer brands, and sugar, notes the library, located in La Jolla, where Geisel was a longtime resident.
This 1932 Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) advertisement is among those preserved by the Dr. Seuss Collection of the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego.
At the University of California, San Diego, the Dr. Seuss Collection in the Mandeville Special Collections Library contains original drawings, sketches, proofs, notebooks, manuscript drafts, books, audio and videotapes, photographs, and memorabilia.
More than 8,500 items document and preserve Dr. Seuss’ creative achievements, beginning in 1919 with his high school activities and ending with his death in 1991.
Karbo-nockus and Other Critters
The future Dr. Seuss added a host of zoological oddities to Standard Oil’s lexicon while promoting Esso products (Esso was an acronym for Eastern States Standard Oil). His critters promoted Essomarine oil and greases as well as Essolube Five-Star Motor Oil.
Standard Oil advertising campaigns provided a steady income to Geisel and his wife throughout his early days experimenting with his drawings.
Smiling, toothy creatures such as Zero-doccus, Karbo-nockus, Moto-raspus and Oilio-Gobelus appeared in advertisements that warned motorists of the hazards of driving without the protection of Standard Oil lubrication.
Motor oil cartoon ad drawn by the future children’s book author Dr. Seuss. First sold in the 1930s, Essolube has remained a popular product, today for ExxonMobil.
“Meet the Zero-doccus. He is the first if a group of terrible beasts that are being turned loose in the advertising of Essolube, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) products,” reported the December 8, 1932, Printers’ Insider, an advertising trade journal.
Other Esso “moto-monsters” would be introduced in newspapers and outdoor posters in coming months, the trade journal proclaimed.
“These creatures symbolize and dramatize some of the troubles of motorists who use inferior oils. The Zero-doccus pounces on cold motors and makes quick starting difficult with ordinary oils,” the article noted. “He and his coming friends are the creations of Dr. Seuss of ‘Quick, Henry, the Flit’ fame.”
The Printers’ Insider article predicted the strange Esso creatures would prove popular when they appeared in ads nationwide.
A dependable income from Standard Oil during the Great Depression helped Dr. Seuss publish his first children’s book in 1936.
Seuss in Esso Navy
Throughout his early hard years, these Standard Oil advertising campaigns provided steady income to Geisel and his wife. “It wasn’t the greatest pay, but it covered my overhead so I could experiment with my drawings,” he later said.
Geisel noted his advertising work allowed him to experiment creating subtle visual messages while using wacky rhymes in story telling.
In 1936, Geisel designed Standard Oil’s Essomarine booth for the National Motorboat Show — and created the phenomenally successful “Seuss Navy.” Young and old visitors were commissioned as admirals and photographed with whimsical characters made of cardboard.
Standard Oil Company marketers promoted Essomarine products during the 1940 National Motor Boat Show in New York City.
By 1940, the Seuss Navy included more than 2,000 enthusiastic admirals (with such notables as bandleader Guy Lombardo). Geisel remembered that, “It was cheaper to give a party for a few thousand people, furnishing all the booze, than it was to advertise in full-page ads.”
As Dr. Seuss, Geisel wrote and illustrated his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, published on December 21, 1937, by Vanguard Press after being rejected by 27 other publishers.
Twenty years later, The Cat in the Hat was inspired by a 1954 Life Magazine essay critical of children’s literacy and the stilted “See Spot Run” style of reading primers. Published in 1957, The Cat in the Hat used just 236 words — and only 14 of them with two syllables. It remains his most popular work.
The former Standard Oil advertising illustrator wrote more than 50 children’s books over a half-century career that brought the world Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham and many others. Children lost a friend on September 24, 1991, when Theodor Seuss Geisel died at the age of 87.
View online the Dr. Seuss Collection: Advertising Artwork of Dr. Seuss, preserved by Mandeville Special Collections Library, University of California.
Recommended Reading: Theodor Geisel: A Portrait of the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss (2010); The History of the Standard Oil Company: All Volumes (2015); Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise (1962); Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography (1995). 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. Copyright © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Seuss I am, an Oilman.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/seuss-the-oilman. Last Updated: January 5, 2023. Original Published Date: December 1, 2008.
by Bruce Wells | Dec 16, 2022 | Petroleum Art
Skilled cartographer visited petroleum boom towns towns to create popular bird’s-eye views.
Traveling from Pennsylvania to Texas at the turn of the century, Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler created popular panoramic maps of many of America’s earliest petroleum boom towns. His cartographic depictions appeared to have been drawn from great heights.
More than 400 Thaddeus Fowler panoramas have been identified. There are 324 in the Library of Congress, including this one of Oil City, Pennsylvania, in 1896. Source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.
Today, T.M. Fowler has the greatest number of hand-drawn panoramic maps in the collection of the Library of Congress. Lithographs of his cartography (done without a balloon) have fascinated people since the Victorian Age.
An 1896 Fowler panorama of Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Edwin L. Drake launched the U.S. petroleum Industry in August 1859.
Panoramic maps were a popular cartographic form used to depict U.S. towns during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of what Fowler called “aero views” captured the small cities near America’s earliest oil and natural gas fields. (more…)
by Bruce Wells | Oct 26, 2022 | Petroleum Art
Company town baseball players sometimes made it to the Big Leagues — and the Hall of Fame.
The first pitcher ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Walter “The Big Train” Johnson, worked in California oilfields as a teenager, beginning his famed career on an oil company town baseball team.
As baseball became America’s favorite pastime in the early 20th century, booming oil patch towns nationwide fielded teams with names that reflected their communities’ enthusiasm, and often their livelihood.
Company Town Baseball
In Texas, the booming petroleum town of Corsicana fielded the Oil Citys — and made baseball history in 1902 with a 51 to 3 drubbing of the Texarkana Casketmakers. Oil Citys catcher Jay Justin Clarke hit eight home runs in eight at bats during the game, still an unbroken baseball record.
The former pitcher for the Olinda Oil Wells — Walter “The Big Train” Johnson — joined “Babe” Ruth in a 1924 exhibition game. Johnson would be one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
In 1922, the Wichita Falls minor league team lost its opportunity for a 25th consecutive victory when the league determined the team had “doctored the baseball.” The Wichita Falls ballpark caught fire in June — during a game — and burned to the ground. It was a memorable season.
In Oklahoma oilfields, the Okmulgee Drillers for the first time in baseball history had two players who combined to hit 100 home runs in a single season of 160 games. First baseman Wilbur “Country” Davis and center fielder Cecil “Stormy” Davis accomplished their home run record in 1924, although their team faded away by 1927.
The Double-A team Tulsa Drillers began in 1977 when the Lafayette Drillers moved to Tulsa.
The Tulsa Oilers were the strongest team in the Western League for a decade, winning the pennant in 1920, ‘22, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29. The name has continued in the hockey league’s Tulsa Oilers. The Tulsa Drillers baseball team, a AA affiliate for the Major League, arrived in Tulsa from Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1977.
In baseball’s first official night game, the Producers, a company town baseball team in Independence, Kansas, lost to Muskogee Chiefs 13 to 3 on April 28, 1930. The game played under portable lights supplied by the Negro National League’s famed Kansas City Monarchs.
Hundreds of wells once pumped oil around the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail near Brea, California.
The Independence Producers were one of the 96 teams in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, later known as Minor League Baseball.
Iola Gasbags and Borger Gassers
Thanks to mid-continent oil and natural gas discoveries, in just nine years beginning in 1895, Iola, Kansas, grew from a town of 1,567 to a city of more than 11,000. Gas wells lighted the way.
However, the Iola Gasbags reportedly adopted their team name not for the resource, but after becoming known as braggers in the Missouri State League. “They traveled to these other cities, and they’d be bragging that they were the champions, so people started giving them the nickname Gasbags,” reported baseball historian Tim Hagerty in a July 2012 National Public Radio interview.
A natural gas boom in Kansas led to a baseball team being named the Iola Gasbags, pictured here in 1904. Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
In 1903, the players renamed themselves the Iola Gaslighters — but had a change of heart and reverted to the original name the following season.
“They said, ‘You know what? Yeah, we are, We’re the Gasbags.'” added Hagerty, author of Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Names and the Stories Behind Them. “I think the state of Kansas may take the prize for the most terrific names — the Wichita Wingnuts, the Wichita Izzies, the Hutchinson Salt Packers…and the Iola Gasbags.”
In the Texas Panhandle, the petroleum-related town baseball team Borger Gassers disappeared after the 1955 season, despite Gordon Nell hitting a record-setting 49 homers in 1947. Team owners blamed television and air-conditioning for reducing minor league baseball attendance and profitability.
Detail from 1909 baseball card featuring Pacific Coast League pitcher Jimmy Wiggs. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
In Beaumont, Texas, site of the great Spindletop oil discovery of 1901, minor league baseball lasted for decades under several names. The first team, the Beaumont Oil Gushers of the South Texas League, was fielded in 1903. By the 1904 season the team was known as the Millionaires and then the Oilers before becoming the Beaumont Exporters in 1920.
East of Dallas, in Van, Texas, fielding practice at the oil town baseball high school includes a reminder of a prolific oilfield discovered in 1929. Photo by Bruce Wells.
Although many thought the name should be changed to the Refiners, reflecting the city’s industry, for the 1950 season the team was briefly known as the Roughnecks (a former company town baseball team name still popular).
Beaumont’s last AA Texas League team was the Golden Gators, which folded in 1986. Another team in the Texas League, the company town baseball team Shreveport Gassers, on May 8, 1918, played 20 innings against the Fort Worth Panthers before the game was finally declared a tie at one to one.
Walter Johnson pitches for Olinda Oil Wells
Perhaps baseball’s greatest product from the oilfield was a young man who was a roustabout in the small oil town of Olinda, California. Walter Johnson (1887-1946) would earn national renown as the greatest pitcher of his time. His fastball was legendary.
In 1894, the Union Oil Company of Santa Paula purchased 1,200 acres in northern Orange County for oil development. Four years later the first oil well, Olinda No. 1, came in and created the oil boom town. Soon, the Olinda baseball players began making a name for themselves among the semi-pro teams of the Los Angeles area.
A 1961 baseball card notes headline of the former California oilfield roustabout’s amazing 1913 pitching record, which lasted until Don Drysdale pitched 58 scoreless innings in 1968.
By 1903, the Orange County team was sharing newly built Athletic Park in Anaheim, “two hours south of Olinda by horse and buggy,” noted one historian. Youngster Walter Johnson rooted for the local team, the Oil Wells.
Johnson, originally from Humboldt, Kansas, moved to the thriving oil town east of Brea with his family when he was 14. He attended Fullerton Union High School and played baseball there while working in the nearby oilfields. His high school pitching began making headlines, including a 15-inning game against rival Santa Ana High School in 1905 where he struck out 27.
Today, tourists visit the Olinda Oil Museum and Trail. This historic Orange County site includes Olinda Oil Well No. 1 of 1898, the oil company field office and a jack-line pump building.
By 17, Johnson was playing for his oil town baseball team, the Olinda Oil Wells, as its ace pitcher. He shared in each game’s income of $25, according to Henry Thomas in Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train.
“Not a bad split for nine players considering that a roustabout in the oilfields started at $1.50 a day,” Thomas noted in his book. Johnson finished with a winning season and soon moved on to the minor leagues.
Johnson’s major league career began in 1907 in Washington, D.C., where he played his entire 21-year baseball career for the Washington Senators. The former oil patch roustabout in 2022 remained major league baseball’s all-time career leader in shutouts with 110, second in wins (417) and fourth in complete games (531).
In 1936, “The Big Train” Johnson was inducted into baseball’s newly created Hall of Fame with four others: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson. In 1924, Johnson returned to his California oil patch roots. On October 31, he and his former baseball teammates played an exhibition game in Brea against Babe Ruth and the Ruth All-Stars.
The Brea Museum & Historical Society today includes exhibits, rare photographs, and research facilities. There’s also an on-going project recreating Brea in miniature.
Texon Oilers of the Permian Basin
On May 28, 1923, a loud roar was heard when the Santa Rita No. 1 well erupted in West Texas. People as far away as Fort Worth traveled to see the well.
Near Big Lake, Texas, on arid land leased from the University of Texas, Texon Oil and Land Company made the discovery (the school would earn millions of dollars in royalties). The giant oilfield, about 4.5 square miles, revealed the extent of oil reserves in West Texas. Exploration spread in the Permian Basin, still one of the largest U.S. oil-producing regions.
The first oil “company town” in the Permian Basin, Texon, was founded in 1924 by Big Lake Oil Company. The Texon Oilers won Permian Basin League championships in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1939. Texon remains a tourist attraction – as a ghost town.
Early Permian Basin discoveries created many boom towns, including Midland, which some would soon refer to as “Little Dallas.”
By 1924, Michael L. Benedum, a successful independent oilman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other successful independent producers — wildcatters — formed the Big Lake Oil Company. The new company established Texon, the first oil company town in the Permian Basin. Texon residents fielded a company town baseball team.
Today a ghost town, Texon was considered a model oil community. It had a school, church, hospital, theater, golf course, swimming pool – and a semi-pro company baseball team. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texon Oilers baseball team was the centerpiece of the employee recreation plan of Levi Smith, vice president and general manager of the Big Lake Oil Company. Smith, an avid baseball fan, organized the club soon after he founded the Reagan County town (a few miles west of today’s town of Big Lake).
The Permian Basin oilfield was featured in a 2002 movie featuring a high school teacher and baseball coach. Image from Walt Disney Pictures poster.
By the summer of 1925 a baseball field was ready for use. In 1926 a 500-seat grandstand completed the facility. “In 1929 the Big Lake Oil Company began a tradition of hosting a Labor Day barbecue for employees and friends, highlighted by a baseball game,” noted historian Jane Spraggins Wilson.
“Management consistently attempted to schedule well-known clubs, such as the Fort Worth Cats and the Halliburton Oilers of Oklahoma,” added Wilson, who explained that during the Great Depression, “before good highways, television, and other diversions, the team was a source of community cohesiveness, entertainment, and pride.”
After the World War II, with its famous the oilfield diminishing and the town losing population, aging Oilers left the game for good, Wilson reports. By the mid-1950s the Texon Oilers company town baseball team were but a memory.
Hollywood visits Oilfields
The 2002 movie “The Rookie” — filmed almost entirely in the Permian Basin of West Texas — featured a Reagan County High School teacher. Based on the “true life” of baseball pitcher Jimmy Morris, it tells the story of baseball coach, Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), who despite being in his mid-30s briefly makes it to the major leagues.
The movie, promoted with the phrase, “It’s never too late to believe in your dreams,” begins with a flashback scene near Big Lake, the Santa Rita No. 1 drilling site.
At the beginning of the 2002 movie “The Rookie,” Catholic nuns christened the Santa Rita No. 1 cable-tool rig. In reality, one of the well’s owners climbed the derrick and threw rose petals given to him by Catholic women investors.
As the well is being drilled, Catholic nuns are shown carrying a basket of rose pedals to christen it for the patron Saint of the Impossible – Santa Rita. “Much is made of the almost mythic importance of oil in Big Lake, with talk of the Santa Rita oil well,” explained ESPN in the The Rookie in Reel Life.
Learn more about the Permian Basin by visiting the Petroleum Museum in Midland.
Company Town Baseball: Oilmen of Whiting, Indiana
In 1889, the Standard Oil Company began construction on its massive, 235-acre refinery in Whiting, Indiana. Today owned by BP, the Whiting refinery is the largest in the United States.
Whiting has been home to the North-west Indiana Oilmen since 2012.
In 2012, Whiting fielded a baseball team. On June 3, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen crushed the Southland Vikings 14-3 at Oil City Stadium in Standard Diamonds Park for the first win in franchise history. The Oilmen team became one of eight in the Midwest Collegiate League, a pre-minor baseball league.
Standard Oil’s giant refinery in Whiting, Indiana, processed “sour crude” in the early 1900s. Now owned by BP, it is the largest U.S. refinery. The city of Whiting incorporated in 1903.
“The name Oil City Stadium celebrates Whiting’s history as a refinery town tucked away in the Northwest corner of Indiana for over 120 years,” noted team owner Don Popravak about the oil company town baseball. “The BP Refinery, located just beyond they outfield fence is a constant reminder of the blue collar attitude Whiting was built on,” he added.
Recommended Reading: Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (2004). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2022 Bruce A. Wells.
Citation Information – Article Title: “Oilfields of Dreams – Gassers, Oilers, and Drillers Baseball.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/oil-town-baseball. Last Updated: May 2, 2022. Original Published Date: September 1, 2007.
by Bruce Wells | Oct 21, 2022 | Petroleum Art
A 1950s advertising character became a respected petroleum industry award and monument in Texas parks.
Joe Roughneck’s rugged, square-jawed mug first appeared as the advertising face of a tubular goods manufacturer. Joe’s bronze bust soon became a petroleum industry award annually handed to executives, “whose accomplishments and character represent the highest ideals of the oil and natural gas industry.”
The drilling pipe manufacturer’s “Chief Roughneck Award,” first awarded in 1955, added the Joe Roughneck bust thanks to artist Torg Thompson and the Lone Star Steel Company, now the U.S. Steel Tubular Products, a subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation.
Originally featured in newspaper and magazine ads, a bust of Joe Roughneck’s bandaged visage would be dedicated in Texas parks.
Texas artist Torg Thompson in the 1950s drew printed versions and and later sculpted the oilfield character “Joe Roughneck,” seen here in a Texas park.
Presented every fall at meetings of a national oil and gas industry trade association, Joe’s Chief Roughneck statue symbolizes the “leadership and integrity of individuals who have made a lasting impression on the energy industry.” Learn more in Chief Roughneck Award Winners.
The tough-looking oilfield character’s battered and bandaged face became popular and it was soon adopted by oilfield rig workers, prompting the company to proclaim, “Joe doesn’t belong to us anymore. He’s as universal as a rotary rig.”
Joe began his career on the scratch pad of Thompson, best known for his 124-by-20-foot mural, “Miracle at Pentecost,” at the Biblical Arts Center in Dallas The mural was destroyed by fire in 2005.
For Lone Star Steel Company ads, Thompson portrayed Joe with the rugged countenance of a man who had spent long hours working in oilfields.
In 1959, Lone Star Steel Company, an oil field tubular goods manufacturer, produced this magazine advertisement featuring Joe Roughneck, the “Heart of the Oil and Gas Industry.”
“Joe’s jaw was squarely set to denote determination, his nose flattened as a souvenir of the rollicking life of a boom town. His eyes indicate the kindness and generosity of his breed. His mouth wore the trace of a smile, but there was a quizzical expression of one who had to see to believe,” notes a small museum in the heart of the East Texas oilfield.
“When the completed picture came into being on canvas, there was no doubt Joe was the heart of the oil patch,” the Depot Museum in Henderson adds.
Joe has been saluted by two Governors of Texas, named “Man of the Month” by a popular magazine, and has been the subject of countless newspaper articles, along with many radio and television commentaries. Joe also became the mascot of the White Oak Roughnecks, a high school football team of another East Texas oilfield community.
“Joe’s likeness has adorned the world’s largest golf trophy and once decorated an international oil exposition,” the Depot Museum concludes.
At the Gaston Museum in Joinerville, Texas, a Joe Roughneck memorial was dedicated “to the pioneers of the Great East Texas oilfield.” The October 1930, discovery well is just 1.75 miles away — and still producing for the Hunt Oil Company.
Joe still serves as a symbol for petroleum clubs that “recognize the pioneers of yesterday and today whose perseverance and courage made our nation the world’s leader in petroleum.”
Presented at the annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Joe’s head now sits atop oilfield monuments in Texas: Joinerville (1957), Conroe (1957), Boonsville (1970), and Kilgore (1986) – where he greets visitors to the East Texas Oil Museum.
Joe Roughneck in Joinerville
This, the first Joe Roughneck monument, was erected in Pioneer Park at the Gaston Museum in Joinerville, seven miles west of Henderson. The monument includes a time capsule sealed at the dedication on March 17, 1957, and to be opened in 2056. The capsule reportedly will tell future generations about the East Texas oilfield discovered by Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner in early October 1930.
Joiner’s Daisy Bradford No. 3, discovery well for this prolific field, is nearby – less than two miles from the Gaston Museum. Production from the East Texas field exceeded five billion barrels of oil by 1993. Stripper wells still produce from the field.
Joe Roughneck in Conroe
In Conroe, about 40 miles north of Houston, Joe Roughneck rests on a monument in Candy Cane Park at the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County. He commemorates the discovery of a 19,000-acre field by George Strake in 1931 – “and others who envisioned an empire, dared to seek it, and discovered the Conroe oilfield.”
The Joe Roughneck monument in Conroe, Texas, is next to a miniature derrick protected by Plexiglas — and information about Montgomery County, where “whispers of oil discovery started in the early 1900s.”
The monument recognizes the completion of Strake’s Conroe oil field discovery well in June of 1932. The “Conroe Courier” headlines proclaimed, “Strake Well Comes In. Good for 10,000 Barrels Per Day.”
The Conroe oilfield led to major technology developments after Strake found the oil sands to be natural gas-charged, shallow – and dangerously unstable. By 1993, the 17.000-acre Conroe oilfield will have produced more than 717 million barrels of oil. Read the historical society article Technology and the Conroe Crater.
Joe Roughneck in Boonsville
Governor Preston Smith dedicated Boonsville’s Joe Roughneck on October 26, 1970 – the 20th anniversary of the Boonsville natural gas field discovery.
Joe Roughneck at the East Texas Oil Museum, which opened in 1980 in Kilgore.
The field’s 1945 discovery well, Lone Star Gas Company’s B. P. Vaught No. 1, produced 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas in its first 20 years. By 2001, the field – located in the Fort Worth Basin in North-Central Texas – had produced 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas and 17 million barrels of condensate from 3,500 wells in the field.
Boonsville’s Joe Roughneck statue can be found on Farm to Market Road 920 about 13 miles southwest of Bridgeport in southwestern Wise County.
Joe Roughneck in Kilgore
Kilgore hosts a Joe Roughneck erected on March 2, 1986, in Sesquicentennial Plaza, celebrating the “boomers” who settled in Kilgore during the 1930s. Unfortunately, when Kilgore’s monument committee first approached Lone Star Steel, it learned that the Joe Roughneck cast had been destroyed in a fire. Lone Star let Kilgore use the original mold to produce this monument.
Detail from a 1957 “Joe Roughneck” Lone Star Steel advertisement.
During the East Texas boom, Kilgore had the densest number of wells in the world. Today’s World’s Richest Acre Park displays a pumping unit and the city has restored dozens of derricks from Kilgore’s boomtown birth – a story told at the East Texas Oil Museum.
As the Depot Museum concludes, Joe Roughneck remains rough and tough, sage and salty, capable and reliable, shrewd but honest. “Joe has throughout his lifetime symbolized the determination of the American petroleum industry, reaffirming the indomitable spirit of Chief Roughnecks the world over, past, present and future.”
View all Chief Roughneck Award Winners since 1955.
Finally, Joe Roughneck’s advertisement creation should also credit former Lone Star Steel Vice President L.D. “Red” Webster, according to Michael Webb, spouse of Webster’s daughter Rebel Webster (1959-2021).
Webb emailed the American Oil & Gas Historical Society in October 2021 and explained he was categorizing unique artifacts and other historic items related to the career of his late wife’s father. The preserved materials, including “pins, awards, tchotchkes, papers, plaques photos of Red and an original plaster bust of Joe Roughneck,” deserve a museum home, Webb noted.
Recommended Reading: A Wildcatter’s Trek: Love, Money and Oil (2016 by 1995 Chief Roughneck Gene Ames Jr.); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). 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. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.
Citation Information: Article Title: “Meet Joe Roughneck.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells, Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-art/joe-roughneck. Last Updated: October 21, 2022. Original Published Date: March 11, 2005.