Great Oil Boom of Lima, Ohio

The Ohio petroleum industry took off with an 1885 oilfield discovery in Allen County.

 

The “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio began when Benjamin C. Faurot, drilling for natural gas, found oil instead. His Ohio oil well of May 19, 1885, revealed the petroleum-rich Trenton Limestone at a depth of 1,252 feet.

“The oil find has caused much excitement and those who are working at the well have been compelled to build a high fence around it to keep curiosity seekers from bothering them,” Lima’s Daily Republican reported the next day.

A circa 1909 post card petroleum prosperity in promoting Lima, Ohio.

Postcards promoted the oil prosperity of Lima, Ohio, which began in 1885 with a well that found an oilfield while drilling for natural gas. Circa 1910 postcard published by Robbins Bros., Boston.

“If the well turns out, as it looks now that it will, look out for the biggest boom Lima ever had,” the newspaper proclaimed. The oil excitement rivaled the Trenton formation in Indiana (learn more in Indiana Natural Gas Boom).

In February 1885, looking for cheap energy for a paper mill he owned, Faurot had brought in cable-tool drillers from Pennsylvania to bore a natural gas well,” noted a 2019 article in the Lima News. His company, Lima Paper Mill, produced straw board and egg cases at its plant on the Ottawa River east of downtown.

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After the oil discovery, Faurot organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company. Excited Lima citizens organized their own oil exploration venture, the Citizens’ Oil Company, which allowed only 100 investors with none allowed to hold more than five shares of stock sold at $20 per share.

The Faurot well had revealed the Lima oilfield — soon the largest oil producer in the world.

Cable-tool equipment and derrick, a once a common sights in Allen County, Ohio.

Cable-tool equipment with a wooden derrick and walking beam, once common sights in Allen County, Ohio. Circa 1910 postcard published by Thomas & Co., Findlay.

“In May of 1885, Lima was a bustling community of some 8,000 people with a new courthouse and, thanks to leading businessman Benjamin C. Faurot, an opera house. It claimed a soon-to-be-electrified city street car system, railroad connections in all directions and a handful of newspapers,” noted the Lima News.

“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” noted one reporter at the time.

Lime, Ohio, oilfield workers at wooden storage tanks.

Wooden tanks (with workover drilling rig in background) stored Lima oil before it was shipped to Cleveland refineries. Circa 1900 photo courtesy of Allen County Historical Society.

Among those attracted to Lima was the future four-time mayor of Toledo, Samuel Jones, who helped found the Ohio Oil Company (Marathon), patented an improved oil production technology, and became known as “Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio

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According to historian Richard Timberlake Jr., the “Panic of 1893” was a serious economic depression in the United States. Like a similar nationwide financial collapse two decades earlier, it was marked by the overbuilding of railroads, resulting in a series of bank failures.

 Faurot oil well historical marker in Lima, Ohio.

In 2006, the Ohio Historical Society dedicated a Faurot oil well marker at 835 East North Street in Lima.

 By 1886, Lima was the most productive oilfield in America after producing more than 20 million barrels of oil. Much of the oil was “heavy” — thick and sulfurous — but by the following year Lima oilfields led the world in production.

Although short-lived, “the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” concluded the Allen County Historical Society.

After developing a new method for refining the heavy Lima oil, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey began construction on its Whiting refinery in 1889.

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The company used improved pipeline technologies to deliver refined Lima oil to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There, at 72.5 cents per barrel, Standard Oil fueled the world’s largest steam boiler installation at the time. Chicago’s fair ultimately attracted 27.5 million visitors.

Refining Sulfurous “Lima Oil”

A emigrant German chemist would bring Ohio oil riches to John D. Rockefeller. On February 21, 1887, Herman Frasch applied to patent a new process for eliminating sulfur from “skunk-bearing oils.”

Portrait of Standard Oil chemist Herman Frasch, later known as the "Sulfur King."

Inventor and mining engineer Herman Frasch (1851-1914), the Standard Oil chemist later known as the “Sulfur King.”

The former employee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, was quickly rehired. Rockefeller had acquired some of the Lima oilfields for bargain prices because the wells produced a thick, sulfurous oil. Despite its difficulty to refine, the petroleum tycoon had accumulated a 40-million-barrel stockpile of the cheap, sour “Lima oil.”

Standard Oil Company bought Frasch’s patent for a copper-oxide refining process to “sweeten” the oil. By the early 1890s, the company’s new Whiting oil refinery east of Chicago was producing odorless kerosene from desulfurized oil, making Rockefeller a fortune.

Paid in Standard Oil shares and becoming very wealthy, Frasch moved to Louisiana — where the skilled chemist and mining engineer invented a new method to extract sulfur from underground deposits by injecting superheated water into wells. By 1911, multimillionaire Frasch was known as the “Sulfur King.”

In 2006, the Allen County Historical Society placed an Ohio historical marker near Benjamin C. Faurot’s oilfield discovery well site at the North Street crossing of the Ottawa River in Lima.

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Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio — the largest man-made body of water in the world — supported commerce on the Erie Canal beginning in 1845. By late 1880s, Mercer County was producing oil from wells pumping on platforms on the lake. Learn more in Ohio Offshore Oil wells.

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Recommended Reading:  Ohio Oil and Gas (2008); Where it All Began: The story of the people and places where the oil & gas industry began: West Virginia and southeastern Ohio (1994); Herman Frasch -The Sulphur King (2013). 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an annual AOGHS supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Great Oil Boom of Lima Ohio.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/great-oil-boom-of-lima-ohio. Last Updated: May 9, 2024. Original Published Date: May 19, 2019.

Discovering Los Angeles Oilfields

Natural oil seeps, giant oilfields, and the beginning of the California petroleum industry.

 

“Everyone thinks of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city, but the city’s relationship with petroleum products is far more significant than just consumption.” — Center for Land Use Interpretation

When struggling prospector Edward L. Doheny and his mining partner Charles Canfield decided to dig a well in 1892, they chose a site already known for its “tar” pools that bubbled to the surface. (more…)

First Oklahoma Oil Well

Onlookers gathered for the 1897 “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone oil well at Bartlesville in Indian Territory.

 

After securing rights to explore in the Cherokee Nation, a small group of businessmen drilled on the west bank of the Caney River and found oil on March 25, 1897, at a depth of about 1,300 feet. A few weeks later, Bartlesville residents gathered at the site to watch the “shooting” of the Nellie Johnstone No. 1, the future state of Oklahoma’s first commercial oil well.

Soon after the Civil War, America’s search for oil to refine into kerosene for lamps prompted entrepreneurs, speculators, and the new petroleum industry’s “wildcatters” to seek their fortunes on the great plains of the Indian Territory.

(more…)

First North Dakota Oil Well

Drilling of a remote wildcat well began in late 1950. The blizzard came in January.

 

Drillers of a remote wildcat well in Clarence Iverson’s wheat field northeast of Williston endured a North Dakota winter before finding oil on April 4, 1951. Their discovery launched the Williston Basin drilling boom.

At about one in the morning on April 4, after four months of hard drilling and with snow piled high from recent blizzards,  the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well produced oil. Amerada Petroleum’s 1951 discovery — the first commercial oil well in North Dakota — would reveal a prolific petroleum basin stretching from North and South Dakota, Montana, and into Canada.

Granite monument to oil discovery in North Dakota dedicated in 1953.

Dedicated in 1953, a granite marker commemorates the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well, which had two years earlier discovered the 134,000-square-mile Williston Basin on Iverson’s farm.

After decades of dry holes drilled from one corner of North Dakota to the other, new technologies and true tool-pusher grit brought the state’s first oil discovery in 1951.

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Although this wildcat drilling attempt had been regarded with great skepticism, within two months of the strike 30 million acres were under lease. A 2008 article in the Bismarck Tribune, quoted Sid Anderson, the former state geologist, who was a college student at the University of North Dakota when oil was discovered.

First North Dakota oil well where Cliff Iverson stands by his well's monument erected in 1953.

Cliff Iverson stands by a monument on the family farm in Tioga, North Dakota, in August 2008. The monument marks the April 4, 1951, oil discovery on his late father’s farm.

“It was brand new, then, and pretty exciting times,” Anderson recalled. The amber-colored oil in the area was of such high quality, “you could have run a diesel with it straight from the well.”

“This was the first major discovery in a new geologic basin since before World War II,” James Key declared in Word and Picture Story of Williston and Area.

By 1952, Standard Oil of Indiana was building a 30,000 barrel per day refinery, he notes. Forty-two oilfield service and supply companies had opened offices in Williston. In June, Service Pipeline Company announced it would build a pipeline to the Standard refinery.

First North Dakota oil well map shows geology basins: U.S. Bureau of Land Management map illustrates Bakken Shale Formation and the Williston Basin.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management map illustrates Bakken Shale Formation and the Williston Basin.

Key added that although the Williston Basin is named after the city of Williston, it was first exposed in 1912 by Dr. W.T. Thom, Jr. , “a sophomore studying geology when he happened into a creek bed in the area of the Cannonball River. It was his discovery of coral that led him to believe that the area was once inundated by an ancient sea.”

On June 17, 2014, North Dakota oil production surpassed one million barrels per day thanks to development of the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state.

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State officials reported North Dakota produced 1,001,149 barrels of oil a day from a record 10,658 wells. Industry journalists, proclaiming the milestone a sign America was freeing itself from foreign oil, referred to the state as “Saudi Dakota.”

North Dakota Dry Holes

The earliest permit issued for oil exploration in North Dakota came from the state geologist in 1923. By the late 1930s, petroleum companies were working with a growing North Dakota Geological Survey to improve the science behind exploration, which often featured difficult formations, including granite, thwarting drilling technologies of the day.

According to historian Clarence Herz, despite repeated failures, companies continued to come to North Dakota and spend large amounts of money on leases and drilling.

“There were no indications from any of the wells they drilled that they were even close to production, but that did not deter them,” said Herz, adding that the expensive lessons even resulted in positive developments.

“A more skilled labor force and continuous technological innovation that included the use of explosives, acid and newly invented scientific instruments meant an acceleration of the drilling process as wells were not only being drilled faster, but deeper and at a much higher cost,” Herz explained.

 Amerada Petroleum, now Hess Petroleum, operates this = gas processing plant not far from the discovery well northeast of Williston.

The 1951 well that launched North Dakota’s first oil boom was drilled by Amerada Petroleum. Today, a gas processing plant operates not far from the discovery well northeast of Williston.

One such invention came from two Frenchman, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger,” he added. “Schlumberger was fast becoming a household name in the oil industry for the development of an electrical resistivity well log created by the French brothers in 1927.

Although it failed to find oil in the 1930s, the California Oil Company used technological and scientific breakthroughs like rotary drilling and seismometers to reach a depth previously unheard of in the state. A well spudded in October 1937 had to be abandoned in August 1938 when the drill pipe twisted off in the hole almost two miles deep. Attempts to “fish” the pipe failed.

California Oil Company’s failure did not stop exploration in other areas of the state, Herz said, citing a report noting that most major oil companies sent men to North Dakota to investigate and in many instances to buy leases.

It took the Carter Oil Company three months with modern equipment to drill nearly 5,000 feet — and end up with a dry hole in 1940. Two years later the company still had not found any oil.

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Following World War II, Herz noted that “from one corner of the state to the other, companies leap-frogged one another in anticipation of being the first to identify an oil producing zone.” 

Leasing about 1.5 million acres, Continental Oil Company worked with the Pure Oil Company trying to find a North Dakota oilfield in the spring of 1949. In September 1950, Magnolia Petroleum became the latest company to drill a North Dakota dry hole.

Magnolia’s wildcat well reached a depth of 5,556 feet, found granite, and was plugged and abandoned. Soon others came to North Dakota with large drilling rigs.

1951 Discovery Well

Despite exploration costs, the dry holes were not looked at as failures, but as learning experiences with valuable geologic and technical knowledge gained from each attempt.

An independent oilman and investor, Thomas W. Leach was a former chief geologist for an Oklahoma oil company who was convinced oil could be found. In the late 1930s, he had convinced Standard Oil Company of California to drill a well that reached a depth of 10,281 feet.

The site Leach suggested did not find any oil — costing Standard Oil almost a million dollars.

North Dakota oil well map of giant Williston Basin. In 1950, geologist Thomas W. Leach convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that oil could be found in North Dakota's Nesson Anticline.

In 1950, geologist Thomas W. Leach convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that oil could be found in North Dakota’s Nesson Anticline.

After World War II, where he served as a Captain of U.S. Army Artillery, Leach returned to North Dakota and continued leasing land. The geologist eventually convinced Amerada Petroleum of Tulsa that success could be found in the Nesson Anticline about 50 miles northeast of Williston.

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A site was selected on Clarence Iverson’s family farm near Tioga and drilling began on September 3, 1950, Herz reported. There was little to report until January 1951, “except the depth of the bit, the conditioning of the mud, and the occasional tripping pipe.”

Following a January 29 blizzard that shut down the well, drilling continued until total depth — 11,744 feet — was reached on February 4, 1951. No oil was found. It was decided to try “shooting” the well.

Plaque for Roberts torpedo (fracking) -- A Pennsylvania historical marker commemorates the "Roberts Torpedo."

A Pennsylvania historical marker commemorates the “Roberts Torpedo.”

“The practice of perforating a well, or using explosives to perforate the rock, is not new,” says Herz. Colonel Edward A. L. Roberts first used his “Roberts Torpedo” in 1865. The practice was successful and soon the dry holes of Pennsylvania were turned into producers by blasting wells with nitroglycerin torpedoes (see Shooters — A “Fracking” History).

Advancements to improve oil and natural gas production came from the invention of a Downhole Bazooka to perforate well casings. The Clarence Iverson No. 1 well was “shot” from 11,706 feet to 11,729 feet using a Lane-Wells Company “Koneshot,” but still no oil was found.

According to Herz, perforation became a standard practice whereby multiple charges attached to a gun were lowered into the well’s casing. Once into place the charges were fired, perforating the well at small intervals, hopefully releasing the oil from the rock.

“The Koneshot was a type of perforating gun that used a shaped charge. It was another innovation,” Herz explained. He added that charges had “a spiral placement in a steel housing at a three-inch centerline distance from each other.”

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The arrangement was an improvement over some of the early perforators (learn more about perforating with shaped charges in Downhole Bazooka).

Work on the Iverson well was again halted the week of March 5 by another blizzard. The well would remain idle for several weeks until the snow choked roads could be cleared for passage. With the well plugged back to a depth of 11,669 feet, the work stopped to make repairs and prepare for another perforation.

 first North Dakota oil well newspaper photo of drilling rig.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota preserves a Williston newspaper’s photo of the Clarence Iverson No. 1 drilling rig surrounded by snow.

The well was again perforated, this time from 11,630 feet to 11,640 feet with four holes per foot. At 12:55 a.m. on April 4, 1951, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 began producing about 240 barrels of oil a day. The state of North Dakota finally had its first discovery well.

According to a 2008 Associated Press article, at first Clarence Iverson wasn’t pleased when seismologists exploded dynamite in his wheat fields looking for oil. His son Cliff, who was 20 when oil was found on the family farm, remembers his father smiling when oil surfaced.

“He worried a lot about his water wells,” Cliff said of his father. The farm became one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Upper Midwest after oil was discovered there. “They came from as far as Minnesota and all over North Dakota and Montana,” he added. “People knew it was history in the making, and it changed a lot of people’s lives.”

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The Clarence Iverson No. 1 well alone produced 585,000 barrels of oil. Clarence Iverson died in 1986, a wealthy man “who never got used to all that money.”

The Bakken Shale

The earliest producing wells of the Bakken shale formation were drilled in the early 1950s on Henry O. Bakken’s farm less than five miles from the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well.

Occupying about 200,000 square miles within the Williston Basin, the oil shale of the Bakken formation may be the largest domestic oil resource since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, according to many experts. But petroleum industry efforts to extract shale oil using conventional vertical wells historically have proven difficult.

“The Clarence Iverson well produced from the Silurian, Duperow and Madison formations, but not the Bakken, according to Kathy Neset, a geologist who moved to Tioga from New Jersey in 1979. “There are several oil-producing formations at different depths within the larger Williston Basin.”

A North Dakota Williston Basin geologic map of Bakken shale miles below the water table.

The Bakken shale play consists of three layers, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fractured.

The Bakken formation frustrated a lot of geologists for years, “because they knew the oil was there but they didn’t have the technology to extract the oil,” Neset explained in a 2012 Mitchell Republic newspaper article, “Famous Bakken Formation Named For North Dakota Homesteaders.”

The Bakken formation first produced in 1953 from a well named after Henry Bakken, the landowner. Like the Williston discovery well, it was also drilled by Amerada Petroleum.

This first shale well was on the Nesson Anticline, later known as a Bakken “sweet spot,” home to natural fractures in the rock, according to the Energy Policy Research Foundation.

Although North Dakota has been an oil producing state since 1951, only during the past decade has the Bakken oil boom made it the fourth largest oil producing state in the country and one of the largest onshore plays in the United States.

“The Bakken is a shale oil play. It is conventional, light-sweet crude oil, trapped 10,000 feet below the surface within shale rock,” the foundation noted (also see Ute Oil Company — Oil Shale Pioneers)

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The Bakken shale consists of three layers — an upper layer of shale rock, a middle layer of sandstone/dolomite, and a lower layer of shale rock. The middle sandstone layer is what is commonly drilled and fractured.

“Production was mainly from a few vertical wells — until the 1980s when horizontal technology became available,” added a 2008 article in the Oil Drum. “Only recently after the intensive application of horizontal wells combined with hydraulic fracturing technology did production really take off.”

Chart depicting well production efficiency in the Bakken region increased significantly in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Well production efficiency in the Bakken region increased significantly in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2008 estimated 3.0 billion barrels to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in America’s portion of the Bakken formation, elevating it to a “world-class” accumulation.

The survey’s assessment of the Bakken shale’s potential is a 25-fold increase in the amount of “technically recoverable” oil compared to the agency’s 1995 estimate of just 151 million barrels of oil.

According to state statistics, oil production from the Bakken in North Dakota has steadily increased from about 28 million barrels in 2008, to 50 million barrels in 2009 to approximately 86 million barrels in 2010.

In 2020, initial crude oil production per well — well production efficiency — increased significantly in the Bakken region, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA)

In December 2021, a USGS estimate for the Bakken and Three Forks Formations in the Williston Basin of Montana and North Dakota included 4.3 billion barrels of unconventional oil and 4.9 trillion cubic feet of unconventional natural gas in the two formations. 

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As Secretary of the Interior Ken Salaza earlier predicted, “The Bakken formation is producing an ever-increasing amount of oil for domestic consumption while providing increasing royalty revenues to American Indian tribes and individual Indian mineral owners in North Dakota and Montana.” 

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Recommended Reading: The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota (2016); Trek of the Oil Finders: A History of Exploration for Petroleum (1975). Your Amazon purchases benefit 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “First North Dakota Oil Well.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/north-dakota-williston-basin. Last Updated: March 26, 2024. Original Published Date: March 31, 2014.

Pump Jack Capital of Texas

Some thought the April 1, 1911, oilfield discovery at Electra was an April Fool’s Day joke.

 

When a geyser of oil erupted from the Clayco No. 1 well near Electra on April 1, 1911, the oilfield discovery launched a boom that brought prosperity and more drilling to North Texas. Lawmakers would name Electra the “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

Just south of the Red River, Electra was a small, cotton-farming community barely four years old when petroleum exploration companies rushed to North Texas in 1911.

Excitement from “black gold” had not slowed by 1917, when another wildcat well erupted at Ranger in neighboring Eastland County. When a third massive oilfield discovery brought a drilling boom to nearby Burkburnett and Wichita Falls in 1918, even Hollywood noticed.

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. Color photos by Bruce Wells.

The series of oilfield discoveries brought hundreds of drillers and service companies to the sparsely populated region and launched new oil exploration companies. With the boom towns making national headlines, some speculators took advantage of unwary investors as far away as New York and California.

Mesquite Trees and Oilfields

The surge in North Texas oil production also would fuel America’s Model T Fords, help bring an Allied victory in World War I, convince Conrad Hilton to buy his first hotel, and inspire the Academy Award-winning movie “Boomtown.”

As early as 1913, new Mid-Continent oilfields like Electra were producing almost half of all the oil in the Lone Star State, where the first Texas oil well had been drilled in 1866. Refineries began to appear in Wichita Falls in 1915, when Wichita County alone reported 1,025 producing wells.

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In October 1917, as World War I raged in Europe, a giant oilfield discovery was made at Ranger in Eastland County. The “Roaring Ranger” well gained international fame as the town whose oil wiped out critical shortages during the war, allowing the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil.”

Electra, Texas logo of Clayco No. 1 well centennial in 2011.

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

Within two years of the Ranger discovery, eight North Texas refineries were open or under construction and Ranger banks held $5 million in deposits.

Visiting Cisco after the Great War, a young Conrad Hilton saw long lines of roughnecks seeking a place to stay. Instead of the bank he had intended to buy, Hilton bought the two-story, red-brick hotel (see Oil Boom Brings First Hilton Hotel).

North of Cisco near the Oklahoma border, the Fowler No. 1 well at Burkburnett on July 28, 1918, produced 3,000 barrels of oil per day — triggering another another boom that brought more companies to North Texas.

An award-winning 1940 movie with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, and Spencer Tracy would be based on the wildcatters at the boom town of Burkburnett.

pump jack capital view on oil derrick and pump at Electra, TX

Today, the 2,800 residents of this oil patch community host an annual Pump Jack Festival celebrating their oilfield’s discovery well. Photo by Bruce Wells.

These discoveries further demonstrated the existence of a large petroleum-producing region in the central and southwestern United States — the Mid-Continent, which today includes hundreds of oilfields reaching from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas into parts of Louisiana and Missouri.

Pump Jacks at Electra

The drilling boom at Electra, just south of the Red River border with Oklahoma, began in January 1911. Producers Oil Company revealed Electra’s oil potential when the  Waggoner No. 5 well produced 50 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 1,825 feet. The discovery at a relatively shallow depth attracted the attention of a few independent operators.

Then came the oil gusher on April 1, 1911. At first, nobody believed what was happening when the Clayco Oil & Pipe Line Company’s Clayco No. 1 well erupted in a region previously known for its mesquite trees, bales of cotton, and cattle. 

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When news of the oil gusher spread, most people in town thought it was an April Fools joke — until they saw the black plume of oil in the sky.  With a total depth of only 1,628 feet, the Electra oilfield discovery brought a rush of hundreds of exploration companies, investors — and many speculators (see Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?).

“That day secured Electra’s place in the history books as being one of the most significant oil discoveries in the nation,” proclaimed Bernadette Pruitt, a contributor to the Dallas Morning News. The Clayco gusher on cattleman William T. Waggoner’s lease settled into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. 

Hundreds of other shallow-producing well completions quickly followed, leading to the oilfield’s peak production of more than eight million barrels in 1913.

Sepia tone photo of Clayco No. 1 discovery oil well of April 1, 1911.

A geyser of oil on cattleman William Waggoner’s lease settled into production of about 650 barrels per day from 1,628 feet. Hundreds of shallow-producing wells soon follow.

Founded in Wichita County in 1907, Electra was named after the spoiled daughter of cattle baron W.T. Waggoner (according to Texas Monthly, legend has it that Electra once blew $1 million in a single day at Neiman Marcus).

The rancher, whose property surrounded most of the town, had complained about finding oil when drilling water wells for his massive herds of cattle.

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After the oil discovery, Electra’s population grew from 1,000 residents to more than 5,000 within months. But Pruitt explained that the chaos often associated with oil booms was kept to a minimum, because much of the surrounding land had been leased. Many who rushed to Electra seeking quick profits, just as quickly departed.

Many inexperienced, start-up exploration companies failed.

Pump Jack Festival

Electra celebrated the centennial of its oil discovery with a festival in 2011. The Texas legislature proclaimed the community “Pump Jack Capital of Texas” — with 5,000 of the counter-balanced pumping units in a 10-mile radius (see All Pumped Up — Oilfield Technology).

“Like mesquite trees, the jacks are such landscape fixtures that most Electrans pay little attention to them,” said Pruitt. “But tourists do…They’d move their hands up and down and say, ‘What’s that out there?'”

“Oil wealth would build infrastructure, schools, churches, and civic pride in Electra for generations,” explained Mayor Curtis Warner in 2013, adding that the motto of the chamber of commerce and agriculture’s logo was “Cattle, Crude, and Combines.”

After being declared "pump jack capital of Texas," Electra residents rallied to refurbish Electra's Grand Theatre.

In 1994, Electra’s Grand Theatre became a community fundraising and rehabilitation project; a new floor and handicap accessible entry were completed in 2009. Photo courtesy Electra Star News.

Festival highlights include petroleum history photographs exhibited inside Electra’s Grand Theatre; a walking tour of antique oil equipment, including the Clayco well’s boiler; a special Chuck Wagon Gang Lunch and Chili Cook-Off; and educational events for young people.

“Electra’s downtown historic Grand Theatre on Waggoner Street has been a community landmark since 1919. Designed by the Ft. Worth architectural firm of Meador and Wolf, it cost $135,000. The Grand once hosted Vaudeville traveling troupes, and both silent and talking picture shows.

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Although work remains “to save the Grand,” the theatre was recognized by Texas Historical Commission with Registered Texas Historical Landmark status in 2006 and today hosts community theatre and events.

Buffalo-Texas Oil 

The successive oil booms in Electra, Ranger and Burkburnett resulted in newly formed companies rushing to North Texas. But as historian Pruitt noted, much of the land already had been leased. Many of the companies would depart or fail.

Intense competition throughout the Mid-Continent discoveries made drilling prospects harder to come by. Inevitably, most companies arrived too late. Many companies, unable to find equipment or afford lease prices, went bankrupt without drilling single well.

Typical of those seeking quick profits, the Buffalo-Texas Oil Company, which began issuing stock certificates to investors in 1919. Using stock sales to fund drilling was common, but sufficient capital often could not be raised to drill a well — especially as equipment and service prices soared.

Buffalo-Texas Oil Company 1922  old stock certificate.

Buffalo-Texas Oil Company’s stock certificate includes a vignette of derricks. The very same scene can be found on certificates from other quickly organized oil exploration companies.

Some of Buffalo-Texas Oil’s certificates cite capital of $3 million in 1923 — but the stock issue may have been an unsuccessful effort to raise sufficient venture capital to purchase leases and proceed with exploration.

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Although the company’s establishment corresponds with a post-WW I surge in demand for petroleum, Buffalo-Texas Oil folded in 1928 with a final offer of a half cent per share. The company never drilled a well.

Like other start-up exploration companies in a rush to print stock certificates to impress potential investors, Buffalo-Texas Oil, the Double Standard Oil & Gas Company, and many others used the same oilfield vignette. The certificates featured scenic hills crowded with wooden derricks and oil tanks — the same scene found on certificates of many companies formed (and failed) at about the same time.

Learn more about the companies that competed for investors during oilfield booms in Centralized Oil & Gas, Double Standard Oil & Gas, the Evangeline Oil, the Texas Production Company, and the Tulsa Producing and Refining Company

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Recommended Reading: Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866-1936 (2000); Wildcatters: Texas Independent Oilmen (1984); The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009); Texas Oil and Gas (2013). 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 (AOGHS) preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please become an AOGHS annual supporter and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2024 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/petroleum-pioneers/pump-jack-capital-of-texas. Last Updated: March 20, 2024. Original Published Date: March 11, 2005.

World-Famous “Wild Mary Sudik”

 

The Oklahoma geyser of “black gold” in 1930 was ideal for newsreels as the worst of the Great Depression loomed. NBC Radio rushed to cover the struggle to control the “Wild Mary Sudik” blow-out and gusher in the Oklahoma City oilfield. Within a week, repeated attempts to contain the well were making headlines.

The Mary Sudik No. 1 well erupted after striking a high-pressure formation about 6,500 feet beneath the Sudik farm. The Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company’s well flowed for 11 days before being brought under control.

The well produced an astonishing 20,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day — too much for the drilling technologies of the day. Efforts to tame “Wild Mary” became a public sensation. (more…)

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