The Day Big Oil Was Born

On this day in 1901, the American oil industry is born as a gusher named Spindle Top blows; the United States would never be the same. The geyser near Beaumont, Texas was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of 100,000 or so barrels per day and took nine full days to cap. Gulf Oil and Texaco, now part of Chevron Corporation, were quickly formed to develop production at Spindle Top, and soon enough, the entire region bristled with a forest of oil derricks.

Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the US primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also convert to the liquid new fuel.

The prospecting and discovery itself were the brain-child of the Mellon family, known for its banking interests in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following the discovery, Thomas Mellon built the Gulf refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The firm continued to develop oil fields in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, as well as in Mexico and Venezuela; by 1923 the Port Arthur refinery was the largest in the world. Gulf was the first oil company to enter the consumer gasoline market when it opened a drive-in filling station in Pittsburgh in 1913. It invested in forms of energy other than oil and had secondary interests in chemicals, minerals, and nuclear power.

The frenzy of oil exploration and the economic development it generated in the state became known as the Texas oil boom. The United States soon stood as the world’s leading oil producer; an entire way of life, for good or ill, was created and the discovery directly produced not less than two US Presidents.

And here the slippery story endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

What say you, the people?