‘It’s a Gusher!’ Texas Oil Boom Begins
It is fun to wonder what people must have felt when they witnessed a momentous, historic event suddenly happen right in front of them. Surveyor and chemist W. R. J. Stratford did not have to wonder, because he really was there when the Texas Oil Boom erupted on Jan. 10, 1901. What started out as an ordinary day for Stratford became extraordinary in a hurry.
Stratford was on the Sabine and East Texas Railroad tracks around 10:30 that fateful January morning. Not far off was an oil well that Anthony F. Lucas had been stubbornly drilling in a salt dome formation called “Spindletop” near Beaumont, Texas. Though he had been drilling for the past three months without success, battling the tricky oil sands the entire time, Lucas would not give up. He knew more about salt dome formations than anyone in the country, and he was convinced there was oil in the Spindletop dome—despite what other experts said—so he kept drilling.
Stratford, who had spent considerable time around oil fields, heard a sound that morning that he recognized. It was a peculiar sound that made him instantly look up: the pipes in the oil well were making a “singing sound.” Suddenly six hundred feet of four-inch pipe exploded out of the well and shot straight through the wooden derrick built over the well’s opening. What came next was a sight never witnessed before.
A powerful stream of oil shot out of the ground, right up through the derrick, hurtling 100 feet into the air! And it did not stop—it kept coming and coming, the biggest gusher of oil anyone had ever seen. The frenzied economic development known as the Texas Oil Boom had begun, and over the next 40 years Texas, the U.S., and the world were forever changed as the petroleum industry created unimaginable fortunes and led the world to the oil dependency we still experience today.
The following two newspaper articles give eyewitness accounts of the Spindletop gusher and describe the impact of the oil discovery on the town of Beaumont—with the first effects being the delirious delight of its citizens, the immediate demand for drilling equipment, and the instantaneous rise in the price of real estate.
This copyrighted article was published by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on Jan. 11, 1901:
A Big Oil Geyser
Stream Six Inches in Diameter Shooting 100 Feet into the Air near Beaumont
All Records Broken
It Is Estimated That Its Daily Output Is About Five Thousand Barrels
Beaumont in Transports
Road to the Well Is Lined with Vehicles Carrying Delighted Citizens
Special to The News.
Beaumont, Tex., Jan. 10.—A stream of oil six inches in diameter is shooting over 100 feet into the air from a well located about three miles south of this city and the people of Beaumont, of every sort and condition, are in a feverish state of excitement. Nothing in point of general interest ever before so wrought up the population of this city. The throng on the streets appears to be childishly happy and grown men are going about smiling and bowing to each other like school girls, and oil geyser is the sole topic of conversation among men, women and children.
The news reached the city just at the noon hour and was brought by two men almost simultaneously. One was W. R. J. Stratford and the other was Charles Ingals, who lives about 100 yards from the well. Mr. Stratford is a surveyor and chemist, and was on the Sabine and East Texas Railroad tracks several hundred yards from the well about 10:30 this morning, when it blew out. Being experienced in oil fields Mr. Stratford says he recognized the singing sound, peculiar to wells of this sort, and stopped to watch it. Just about this time he saw the pipe shoot into the air and the oil began spurting far above the sixty-foot derrick. Six hundred feet of four-inch pipe were blown from the well straight up through the derrick.
When about 300 feet had issued from the ground, the wind broke it in two and this first piece fell to the ground and the remainder shot high above the top of the derrick. The oil followed and has since then shot a steady stream six inches in diameter high above the derrick. A strong wind is blowing from the south and this forces the oil against the woodwork of the derrick and breaks the force of the stream and yet it is forced twenty or thirty feet beyond the top of the framework.
The well is located on the side of a hill, which forms a sort of a basin to the eastward, and the oil is flowing in a large stream down this hill into the valley-like place below.
This afternoon a large number of teams with scrapers and men with shovels were put to work throwing up levees to hold the oil from scattering all over the country. It is probable that this reservoir will be nearly filled with oil by tomorrow morning. It is estimated that the flow will amount to about 5,000 barrels in twenty-four hours, though it is impossible to measure the flow by any certain measures as yet.
The well was sunk by Capt. A. F. Lucas of Washington, D.C., who has been operating for oil in this territory for more than a year. It was dug by Hamill Bros. of Corsicana, professional oilwell men, and one of these gentlemen told the correspondent of The News this afternoon that he has not in all his experience seen a well that equaled this one. He said Corsicana’s wells were insignificant compared with this well, if the size and force of the flow are indications of its value.
Capt. Lucas is fairly delighted. To the correspondent, who called upon him, he said he hardly knew what to say. “We’ve struck oil, is about all I know to tell you,” said he. “You can see the well yourself, and except for my experience, you can tell almost as much about it as I can tell you. I have had experience in nearly every oil field in the United States, and I never saw a well to equal this. It is a larger geyser than I ever saw in West Virginia or Pennsylvania, and I believe it is the strongest stream ever found in the United States. Our first step now will be to anchor the well by process familiar in all fields. I have two large well rigs on the road here now and will at once sink other wells.”
All parties interested decline to give the depth of the well, but it is reliably known that it is close to 1,300 feet.
Mr. W. R. J. Stratford, a well-known chemist, who made a rough analysis of a sample of the oil, pronounced it a very superior grade of light oil, with a paraffin basis. It contains lubricating oil of excellent quality. It burns freely. Samples of the oil have been brought to the city and are exhibited in bottles. It is of a light blue shade and about the same consistency as thin molasses. It smells strongly of petroleum. The well is located on a 5,000-acre tract of land belonging to the Wiess-McFadden-Kyle Land Company, and the oil privileges are leased by Capt. Lucas, who also has a number of other leases on large tracts of land in that vicinity.
Every vehicle in town was brought into service this afternoon, and there has been a constant stream of people to and from the well. Experienced oilmen pronounce this the certain discovery of a field of great value and predict unlimited investment. There is a strong natural gas pressure behind the well.
Two other large drilling rigs are now at work in this county near Taylor’s Bayou, being operated on land leased by A. Paulhamus. Mr. Paulhamas is at the camps today, and just what the developments have been down there is not known.
The next day, January 12, the Dallas Morning News published this copyrighted follow-up article:
Still Spouts Oil
Big Geyser near Beaumont Has as Yet Shown No Signs of Exhaustion
Lake of Petroleum
Conservative Estimate Is That the Daily Output Is Sixteen Thousand Barrels
Real Estate Speculation
One Acre of Ground Adjoining the [Well] Sold for $4,000—Development Work
Beaumont, Tex., Jan. 11.—The excitement over the oil discovery continues to increase and the big spouting well grows stronger every minute. The periodical reports from the well today show that it continues to spout stronger. The six-inch stream is now solid for a distance of seventy-five feet and then the spray shoots as much further up. The sight is a wonderful one and notwithstanding a cold drizzle [that] has been falling all day, crowds have been traveling through the mud to the geyser. No effort has been made to control the flow of oil. The reservoir made in the ravine by throwing up levees was filled by 12 o’clock last night and teams and men went further down to throw up additional levees endeavoring to stop the oil from flowing away.
Col. W. A. Fletcher, a conservative man, president of the Texas Tram and Lumber Company, visited the well today and measured the flow of oil. He says it is not less than 16,000 barrels per day.
Reports from the well late this afternoon say small rocks and shale are now being thrown high in the air.
Excitement in real estate is almost demoralizing. A…tract near the well was sold today for $4,000 and numerous other deals have been made. No other topic than oil interests the people; everybody is talking oil.
Capt. Lucas, who made this discovery, was seen by the correspondent late today, but he had nothing of additional interest to say. He will begin efforts in a few days to control the well. A development of the oil fields in this county on the most extensive plan will follow at once. Rigs for drilling wells are being sought in every direction by wire.
Capt. Lucas has two rigs en route, and the Sabine Oil and Pipe Line Company has one on cars here and another coming.
J. A. Paulhamus reports one of his rigs in the southern part of the county drilling regularly and another being gathered in shape. He says Capt. Lucas’ find is a wonder.