Pump Jack Capital of Texas

Discovering the story of Electra’s mighty mid-continent oilfield.

 

A 1911 April Fool’s day oil gusher at the Clayco No. 1 well near Electra, Texas, will bring prosperity and later the title of “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

pump jack capital of texas scenes of oil boom architecture

An April 1, 1911, oil discovery brought prosperity to Electra, Texas, helping to build the community’s theater in 1920 and high school in 1923. A commemorative afghan is shown off by lovely ladies of Electra in 2005: Chamber of Commerce members Shirley Craighead, Georgia Eakin and Jeanette Miller. Photos by Bruce Wells.

 

pump jack capital of texas logo of clayco well centinnial in 2011

April 1, 2011, marked the centennial of the Clayco No. 1 discovery well. Electra celebrated with a parade and rededication ceremony of the well’s historic marker.

Electra was a small farm town barely four years old when the black gold excitement began on April 1, 1911. It became oil fever when “Roaring Ranger” came in neighboring Eastland County in 1917. When a third drilling boom began at Burkburnett in 1918, even Hollywood noticed.

Among other things, these oilfield discoveries brought prosperity to North Texas, launched hundreds of petroleum companies, fueled America’s Model T Fords (and victory in World War I), convinced Conrad Hilton to buy his first hotel, and inspired the movie “Boomtown,” which would win an Academy Award.

As early as 1913, newly discovered Mid-Continent oilfields like Electra were producing almost half of all the oil in Texas. Refineries began to appear in Wichita Falls in 1915 when Wichita County alone reported 1,025 producing wells.

Nearby, the McClesky No. 1 well in Eastland County struck oil in October 1917. The “Roaring Ranger” in Ranger reached a daily production of 1,700 barrels. Within two years eight refineries were open or under construction and Ranger banks had $5 million in deposits.

“Roaring Ranger” 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.” (more…)

Spindletop launches Modern Petroleum Industry

Discovery of the giant Texas oilfield in 1901 came as autos brought rising demand for gasoline.

 

The January 1901 “Lucas Gusher” in Texas revealed the Spindletop oilfield, which would produce more oil in one day than the rest of the world’s oilfields combined.

spindletop museum water gusher demonstration

Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont, Texas, tells the story of a 1901 oil discovery that made America a world power.

Although the great Galveston hurricane of 1899 (still the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history) brought misery to much of southeastern Texas, as the 20th century dawned, an oil discovery three miles south of Beaumont launched the modern oil and gas industry.

“Dubbed ‘The Lucas Gusher,’ the oil discovery on Spindletop Hill changed the economy of Texas and helped to usher in the petroleum age,” explains the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum. Drilled by Curt Hamill, Capt. Anthony Lucas, and two experienced Pennsylvania oilmen, the well erupted oil for nine days before it could be brought under control with the technology of the time. The museum at Lamar University today re-creates the historic gusher using water for about two minutes.

The Beaumont museum tells the story of the oil-producing salt dome three miles south that created an oil boom greatly exceeding America’s first oil discovery in 1859 in Pennsylvania.

Just as consumer demand for kerosene for lamps was declining in favor of electricity, Americans would soon want far more of another refined petroleum product: gasoline. Within a few decades, new oil companies will pump gasoline into automobiles from “filling stations” across the country. (more…)

Michigan’s Golden Gulch of Oil

The 1957 well drilled on Mrs. Houseknecht’s dairy farm.

 

The only giant Michigan oil and natural gas field was discovered in January 1957 on the dairy farm of Ferne Houseknecht. Her first oil well revealed Michigan’s golden gulch of oil that proved to be 29-miles-long. (more…)

Lou Della Crim Revealed

As the Depression neared, a wildcat well on the Crim family farm in East Texas proved the existence of the largest oilfield in the lower 48-states.

Three days after Christmas in 1930, a major oil discovery on the farm of the widow Lou Della Crim revealed the extent of the mighty East Texas oilfield.

lou della crim sitting in front of her oil wells

“Mrs. Lou Della Crim sits on the porch of her house and contemplates the three producing wells in her front yard,” notes the caption of this undated photograph about the wells that followed the historic 1930 discovery on her farm. Image courtesy Calib Pirtle/Neal Campbell.


lou della crim Malcolm Crim stands by his discovery oil well

Malcolm Crim stands at site of his famous 1930 East Texas oil well, the Lou Della Crim No. 1, named after his mother.

Some say a gypsy predicted the oil discovery for Malcolm Crim. Others say it was because his mother, Lou Della “Mama” Crim, was a pious woman.

On December 28, 1930, Mrs. Crim’s eldest son struck a gusher on her Rusk County, Texas, farm. The Lou Della Crim No. 1 well initially produced 20,000 barrels of oil every day.

“On Sunday morning, December 28, while Mrs. Crim was attending church, the Lou Della Crim well blew in,” noted Joe White, director of the East Texas Oil Museum in 2004.

The headline-making oil strike was about nine miles north of an earlier discovery on another widow’s farm. (more…)

Mrs. Alford’s Nitro Factory

The astute Pennsylvania businesswoman’s plant included a dozen cheaply built and unpainted wood buildings.

In 1899, Mary Byron Alford, the “Only Woman in the World who Owns and Operates a Dynamite Factory,” prospered in the midst of America’s first billion-dollar oilfield. Mrs. Alford’s nitroglycerin factory cooked 3,000 pounds of nitroglycerin every day.

Mrs. Aldord's nitro factory newspaper article

Penn-Brad Museum Historical Oil Well Park and Museum Director Sherri Schulze in 2005 exhibited a laminated (though wrinkled) page from a newspaper published in 1899. “This was done by a student many years ago,” she said. “It was a school project done by one of Mrs. Alford’s descendants.”

(more…)

First Mississippi Oil Well

Young geologist revealed giant Yazoo County oilfield.

 

The first Mississippi oil well was drilled in 1939 after a Yazoo County geological survey by a young geologist who had sought a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls for children. “It all began quite independently of any search for oil,” noted a southern history journal decades later.

first Mississippi oil well geologist fred mellen

Frederic Mellen became president of the Mississippi Geological Survey in 1946. Images courtesy Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey.

In February 1939, Frederic F. Mellen worked for the Works Progress Administration in Yazoo County during the Great Depression. The 28-year-old geologist supervised a clay and minerals survey project, “to locate a suitable clay to mold cereal bowls and other utensils for an underprivileged children’s nursery.”

Instead, Mellen launched Mississippi’s oil industry.

At Perry Creek, about a mile southwest of Tinsley, Mellen’s survey found a strata of Mississippi’s known Jackson formation. But the seam was 250 feet above where it was supposed to be. It was a salt dome structure, well known since Texas’ spectacular Spindletop Hill discovery in January 1901.

Mellen urged more seismographic testing. The Jackson formation was persuasive evidence that there was oil to be found along Perry Creek. Indications in the Yazoo Clay suggested an anticlinal structure, according to Edgar Wesley Owen in Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975).

“Although the favorable area had been leased by an oil company about 10 years earlier and relinquished after a seismic examination, the Survey issued a press release in April 1939 describing its findings and recommending that the structure be drilled,” Owen explained. When published in the State Geological Bulletin on April 12, 1939, Mellen’s startling survey results prompted renewed interest in finding Mississippi’s first commercial oil deposits after decades of searching and hundreds of dry holes.


The Tinsley formation included, “a northward contour closure of at least 135 feet – a structure so favorable for oil and gas accumulation as to warrant further geologic sturdy and seismographic exploration,” the Bulletin press release proclaimed, adding that it “especially should it be further explored for the reason that it lies less than 35 miles north-west of the Jackson Gas Field.”

first Mississippi oil well

“Mississippi’s prospects of finding oil in commercial quantities were heightened yesterday,” proclaimed the Vicksburg Evening Post in 1939.

Union Producing Company of Houston, Texas, leased much of the area. Company landmen quickly acquired mineral rights to about 2,500 acres around Tinsley. As others rushed to find their own leases, Union Producing Company began seismographic testing, 10 miles southwest of Yazoo City.

Seismic data prompted the company to choose a drill site on the Green Crowder Woodruff family farm on Perry Creek (S.W. Corner, N.W. Quarter, Section 13, Township 10 North, Range 3 West).

On September 5, 1939, after six weeks of drilling, Union Producing completed the G.C. Woodruff No. 1 well at a depth of 4,560 feet. The well, which had shown signs of oil at the end of August, flowed at 235 barrels of oil a day from a sandstone later named the Woodruff Sand. Within 35 days, drilling companies, investors, and speculators recorded more than $5 million in lease and purchase transactions.

first Mississippi oil well

Union Producing Company discovered the Tinsley oilfiled at a depth of 4,560 feet.

“Almost eighty years to the day after the discovery of the famous Drake well on Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, the first commercially important oil pool in the southeastern states was discovered,” declared John S. Ezell in The Journal of Southern History, (Vol.18, No. 3, August 1952).

“Hotels are over-flowing, restaurants are overtaxed, map companies are dizzy from the rush of new business,” reported Oil Weekly, adding that “farmers are trying to obtain drilling clauses with leases, geophysical crews are slipping through the woods, and in every hotel lobby John Doe will tell you he has a sure-shot lease – for sale at the right price.”

Three weeks after the Woodruff No. 1 well was completed, Union Producing exported to Louisiana the first barrel of Mississippi crude oil, sending four tank cars carrying 8,000 gallons of oil from Tinsley Station to the Standard Oil Refinery at Baton Rouge.

first Mississippi oil well newspaper headline about oil well

Following the discovery, the Commercial Appeal of Memphis explained the well’s completion with “a drilling crew sets a ‘Christmas tree’ (drilling apparatus) in place.”

The Southland Company in 1940 constructed a small oil refinery at Crupp, seven miles southeast of Yazoo City, near the Illinois Central railroad freight line. By June 1944, Mississippi had 388 wells in eight producing oilfields. Texas oilman Sid W. Richardson discovered the prolific Gwinville oilfield in August 1944.

Cumulative production from the Tinsley field would reach more than 224 million barrels of oil and 14.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas by 1997, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“The discovery and development of the largest oil field in the southeastern States is an exciting part of Mississippi’s history,” proclaimed Mississippi State Geologist William H. Moore in 1974.

“The fact that this giant field was discovered through the application of basic geology, in an investigation not necessarily slated toward oil and gas exploration, is a tribute not only to the geologist making the discovery but to all geologists engaged in similar undertakings,” he added. The Office of the Mississippi Geological, Economic and Topographical Survey, in 1974 published Moore’s Tinsley Field 1939-1974, A Commemorative Bulletin. A Yazoo City newspaper editor was among his sources regarding the historic well.

“When the Tinsley oil field was discovered in August of 1939 Mississippians, and Yazooans in particular, thought at last Mississippi would mushroom in development as did Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Louisiana,” noted Norman Mott Jr., editor of the Yazoo City Herald in 1974. “Yazoo City experienced a great deal of excitement and the chaos of the early days as the center of the beginning oil industry in the state,” Mott said. “Adding greatly to the dreams of an oil boom was the discovery in the spring of 1940 of the Pickens Field in eastern Yazoo County. However, Pickens was not another Tinsley.”

Frederic Mellen (1911-1989) was a founding member in 1939 of the Mississippi Geological Society. In 1985, the society sponsored a summer field trip led by Mellen, “to traverse the very hillsides of Yazoo County that he had mapped 47 years previously in his discovery of the large surface anticline that later became the giant Tinsley field,” reported Stanley King in A Brief History Of The Mississippi Geological Society.

As of 2017, with secondary recovery through carbon-dioxide injection, the Tensely oilfield was still producing more than 6,000 barrels of oil a day, about eight percent of Mississippi’s total oil production.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First Mississippi Oil Well.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/first-mississippi-oil-well. Last Updated: December 20, 2019. Original Published Date: September 3, 2018.

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