The Spindletop Effects
Oil was able to revolutionize Texas like no other natural resource ever before. Oil was turning rural areas into thriving boomtowns. It was not the easiest resource to commandeer, but one well worth all of the hardship to retrieve the oil. The discovery at Spindletop, near Beaumont, in January 1901, fueled a revolution in transportation and transformed Texas into an Industrial giant.
Before the Boom
Before the oil craze in Texas there were many other resources that were sought after; but never were any of these natural resources able to transform Texas the way that oil was able to. Cotton is a prime example of a natural resource that, while made lots of money and even employed lots of workers, was not able to boast that it was as revolutionary as the oil that was found at the Spindletop Oil fields. In the state of Texas, the business of Cotton employed a total of 17,900 employees during the late 19th century (150 Years 11). The business of cotton was able to employ many people and provide them with a source of income. The income was usually low as picking and working in the cotton mill was a very expendable job. Oil on the other hand was a job that was not fitted for everyone. Many of the workers ended up dropping the manual labor as a roughneck because the work was too much (Rundell 34). In 1889 cotton production were just over one million bales a year (150 Years 10). Cotton was being mass produced the most efficiently than ever before. New technologies with the creation of more cotton gins were able to make this possible. The state of Texas was one of the top producing states for cotton all across the Nation. Cotton was being used for: “Household Items such as bedding, cleaning supplies, and covers. Some of the industrial reasons were such as: Automobiles, shoes, wicking, and was also used for fuel (150 Years 11).” Cotton is being used for many things including a wide range of industrial uses. But it was not able to effect and impact the Texas society that the oil was able to do. One of the main reasons cotton was not able to have the impact that the Spindletop Oil field was, because cotton was being produced over 5,000 years ago and was introduced to Texas since the beginning. It is hard for a natural resource that has been around all along to all of a sudden have an impact, especially one that impacted the state such as the Spindletop Oil field. Another reason is that many inventions came out of oil. Patents were being given out due to different devices being able to either be created or fueled ran from the oil. The influence of population due to the Spindletop Oil field was much greater than cotton ever was. Cotton could not produce such numbers, nor could it create boomtowns that the oil in Texas was able to make.
When the typical person thinks of the Texas oil age they think of Spindletop as being the beginning of it all. While Spindletop was the biggest and an early discovery of oil, it was not where the oil craze began. It began in 1866, when Lynn T.Barrett, an emigrant from Virginia, drilled about twelve miles east of Nacogdoches at the site of Oil Springs. He had the pioneer well of Texas, around 106 feet deep it was the first operational well, running about ten barrels a day (Rundell 18).
Other, bigger oil strikes in Texas in the 1890’s did not come from looking and drilling for oil. In fact they came from drilling for water. Oil was getting low. According to the New York Times from April 20th 1895, oil prices gradually have fallen to an appalling two dollars and twenty cents per barrel. The day before the oil prices were 15 cents higher. By the end of May the price fell below two dollars. Oil was not taken as seriously as the men drilling for the oil would want. The Standard Oil Company, which they had a virtual monopoly on the product and was not willing to pay fair dollar for this valuable asset in the ground.
Many cities needed water more than oil, including Corsicana. The city was desperate for water, and water wells were being drilled by a firm from Salina, Kansas, for a thousand dollars. But the company, the Salina’s Drilling Firm based out of Kansas, was frustrated because every time they drilled for water; oil would come bubbling up instead of the water. The Salina’s Drilling Firm continued to get disappointed as the oil keep prolonging him from finding water. While the firm saw the oil as an annoyance, some saw the ability to make money. The Kansas Firm finally gave up trying to pinpoint the water find. The city of Corsicana eventually paid the company five hundred dollars in their efforts for finding the water, half of the asking price, even though crude oil was not thought of as having real value. In 1894 in Navarro County, which is relatively near Corsicana, a county rancher named Bexar discovered a small quantity of oil while drilling for a new watering hole. The oil field peaked in 1900. The well produced more than 839 barrels of oil refinery in Texas. It was used for various things such as oil in lamps and as a lube for different machines. It was also used to heal with a small drink of the black gold. Along with the astonishing amounts of oil that were produced the oil field in Navarro County needed somewhere to put all of the crude oil.
The J.S.Cullinan Company built the first modern oil refinery in Texas. The company opened in 1898 at Corsicana (Ramos). There the company managed to process as much as 1500 barrels a day (Rundell 25). The Cullinan Company later drilled at Beaumont Texas.
On January 10, 1901 marked a huge leap for Texas with the finding of Spindletop. It changed the way people thought about Texas and about the petroleum world in general. Only a few drillers pursued Spindletop, or believed that oil would be found there beneath the large domes made of salt that scattered the area. Lucas, who was a mining engineer who had experience with Louisiana salt domes (Rundell 35), headed the job of drilling down to get the oil as every surveyor promised that oil was in the ground. Lucas and his team used the same rig that was used for Corsicana. It was a rotary type drill that was going to be used to burrow down to the black gold. At Corsicana they used water to soften the earth and to use as a lubricant which helped with overheating problems with the drill. Water that was used as the lubricant had flaws that were found out when drilling to greater depths. “A man by the name of Curt Hamill improvised and ingenious expedient when drilling at Spindletop; he drove a plethora of cattle into a shallow pond nearby hoping their milling around would produce mud that would be sufficiently viscous when pumped down the drill stem to bring up the cuttings” (Rundell 36). He was right in his experiment at Spindletop. He revolutionized oil drilling thereafter. His method was being used all across the nation for wells after Spindletop’s discovery. The mud that he used to drill with was later replaced with artificial solutions to meet exact specifications.
His ability to get the oil derrick built was an accomplishment in itself. He had a very dedicated team to help him. He rode out there on mules to get the supplies where he needed them. The derrick was made of wood and a steam engine was powered by wood chips (Rundell 36).
Once the oil rig was showing that it was capable of handling the job at Spindletop more rigs were being placed up. This required a dedicated crew to say the least. The crews that put up the oil rigs worked strenuous hours to get the job completed. Some of the workers had to take off because the amount of work that was demanded out of them. They had to work 18 hour shifts, sometimes making only a couple of feet a day when the drilling was rough. The blade had to be sharpened throughout the ordeal in order to get through the rugged rock and sand that stood halfway from them and the oil. The drilling began at Spindletop on October 27, 1900 and by Christmas the men had managed to get to a depth of 880 feet and still had found no oil. The oil workers were instructed to take the holidays off and come back next year to finish up where they left off. Since their drill bit had become dull, they got a replacement bit from the Corsicana oil field, which was a fishtail style bit that was able to dig at a quicker pace. With this new bit they were able to drill to a depth of 1,024 feet in one week (Rowe). The workers reached a magical depth at 10:30 am. The drilling team noticed the first signs of oil. It is said that the ground was screaming as, “Mud began bubbling from the hole. The startled roughnecks fled as six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of quit, mud, then gas, then oil spurted out. The Lucas Geyser, found at a depth of 1,139 feet, blew a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later (Rowe). It was the biggest oil strike in Texas history. Derricks were put up as close together as possible. The derricks were so close that one could walk from one derrick deck to the next, all placed on Boiler Avenue.
Oil was being pumped out of Spindletop faster than any well before its time. The population grew in Beaumont area from 10,000 to over 50,000 in a matter of months (Census and census Records). A newspaper article asserted dubiously that it could produce more oil in one day than the other wells combined (Spindle Top Oil Discovery 1/4/2001). It was actually producing around 100,000 barrels a day and made up about 20% of the oil in America. The next best well at the time was in Ohio producing about 150barrels a day. One article in the New York Times spoke of how important the petroleum was for producing mosquito asphyxiation, a mosquito poison. The article read, “No Culex or Anopheles ever sang who could survive a bath of Texas crude, and if the accounts of the number and productiveness of the new gushers of the Beaumont and Spindletop areas are trustworthy, there is enough oil in sight to inundate this world, and perhaps the next” (New York Times 9/6/1901). The stories reaching New York were saying that there is perhaps enough oil to cover the earth multiple times in this “Texas Crude”. In 1902 at the peak of oil production for the Spindletop wells, oil prices fell to an all time low of two cents a barrel, while in some counties water was being sold for a major profit of five cents a cup (Another Decline). There was more oil than the nation knew what to do with. Some was actually shipped to the Middle East in a search for buyers. The roughnecks were forced to cap the wells because there was no more room to put all of this oil, much of which was lost and soaked the surface. Standard Oil bought thousands of acres at Port Arthur for storage. The New York Times noted, “A six-inch pipe line is now being laid from the big gushers on Spindletop from Beaumont to Port Arthur, where 5,000 barrel tanks are being erected for storage preparatory for the big refinery” (New York Times 1/8/1902). Standard Oil purchased 26,000 acres of land for this refinery.
Spindletop revolutionized American manufacturing. Patents were soon being given out left and right for the different devices that could run on this oil. Petroleum would be used as a major fuel for such new inventions as the airplane and automobile. Locomotives soon converted from burning coal, which meant no more hot boiler rooms to boil the water. Ships also turned to gasoline power. “The first ships to burn Spindletop fuel were tankers moving crude to the east coast. When a ship was changed from coal-to-oil powered, it gained nearly 2,000 tons in carrying capacity” (Rundell 36). Additionally, less manpower was needed on the oil burners than was necessary to stoke coal-burning boilers. Although coal was still the predominate fuel source until World War II, oil still made a huge impact on America. And it was not just oil as fuel that transformed the economy. Had it not been for the great Spindletop discovery there would not have been enough oil for the millions of plastic crates or other plastics that helped win the war.
The oil would soon run out at Spindletop, though, in 1909 Spindletop was forced to no more than a trickle that year and for many years to come. Many lost their hopes in Spindletop and left. Many of the major players in the oil companies today made their claim to fame in Texas at the Spindletop explosion.
“Gulf and Texaco built big refineries in Port Arthur. Magnolia Oil, now part of Exxon Mobil, put its plant in Beaumont, which meant Jefferson County had three of the world’s largest refineries. Other companies, including Humble Oil, Shell and Amoco, later built plants in Baytown, Deer Park and Texas City. Miles of pipeline, worth between 5 million and 7 million, were built from the oil field to Port Arthur and the Sabine Pass”(New York Times 1/8/1902). The big oil franchises that were able to exploit Spindletop at the time are still around today, notably the Texaco brand name. Starting out as the Texas Fuel Company it opened its doors at Beaumont in 1901 in time to process the oil coming from Spindletop. Texaco hit it off so big that by 1928 it was selling to all 48 states and later 50 when Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union (Rundell 67)
Even though Spindletop was losing its popularity, some had hope. Yount Lee believed that this field was not finished. According to the San Antonio Express, old Spindletop still had some tricks up its sleeve. It produced once again for major wins. Yount Lee witnessed oil companies come and go for about 15 years and saw them leave empty handed. He eventually was able to get into the drilling business for himself. He managed to get the right location to start his drilling. He made his discovery on the outskirts of the hill. This was believed to be is 3rd drilling attempt to find his location (New York Times 9/6/1926
Oil was once again running like it use to. In 1925, drilling technology and an idea that the flanks of the salt dome might hold oil came together. “A 5,000 barrel-a-day strike came in from a well at 2,518 feet. The second boom, almost as productive as the first, yielded 60 million barrels in five years (New York Times 9/26/1926). Once again people began to flock to this once dried up well. With oil production down in Texas at the time and oil in a little more demand than it was in 1902, the prices were bound to rise. By November 12, 1926 oil was advancing towards and beyond 15 cents a barrel. Soon after this date Spindle top was finished with the oil production, it was still able to hinder money in the production of sulfur and salt wells.
Oil was able to revolutionize Texas like no other natural resource ever before. Oil was able to turn rural areas into thriving boomtowns. Oil was not the easiest resource to appropriate, but one well worth all of the hardship to retrieve the oil. The discovery at Spindletop, near Beaumont, in January 1901, fueled a revolution in transportation and transformed Texas into an Industrial giant like never before. The natural resource predecessors were not able to compete. Cotton while making an impact cannot compare to the outstanding results that oil was able manifest.
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