May 18, 1855 was the birthday of John “Bet-a-Million” Gates.
John Gates came to San Antonio as barbed wire salesman in 1876, but Texans were reluctant to believe the fine wire could contain rough and hardy longhorn cattle.Gates got permission to fence the town square with his new barbed wire. Billing the demonstration as entertainment, he offered $10 to anyone whose cattle could break through the fence. None of the 35-40 corralled cattle succeeded, and in 90 days Gates sold enough orders to keep the manufacturer busy for more than a year!Foreseeing a need for steel, Gates patented a steel production process bought by the United States Steel Corporation, America’s first billion dollar manufacturer. He also built the 800-mile Kansas City and Southern railroad, connecting the heartland with ports on the Gulf of Mexico.
Gates used his fortune to back oil exploration near Beaumont, Texas. Two months later on January 10, 1901 Spindletop began gushing 100,000 barrels a day, making Gates an immensely wealthy man. He organized the Texas Oil Company (Texaco) and built the first oil pipeline to carry crude to the coast.
If you’d like to read more about John “Bet-a-Million” Gates, you might try to find an old library copy of Bet a Million!-The Story of John W. Gates by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan. (If your library doesn’t have it, try making an inter-library loan request.)