On January 10, 1901 drillers struck oil just south of Beaumont, TX.
The discovery at Spindletop Oilfield marked the birth of the modern petroleum industry and made Texas one of the richest states in the Union.
Pattillo Higgins had been curious about the odd-shaped hill near Beaumont for quite a while. Research convinced him that it was a salt dome and that oil lay beneath the surface. He worked hard to raise the money and attract the partners he’d need to find it. Over a period of six years, he and his partner Anthony Lucas had drilled three shallow wells with nothing to show for their efforts but a pile of debt. The wells were failures.
They decided to give it one more try.
In October 1900, they started a new well. Day after day the drills worked their way deeper into the earth with no sign that this effort would be any different than the last one or the one before that. Then on January 10, 1900, mud began to bubble up from the hole. The drill bit began to function oddly, then it suddenly dropped out of sight! Moments later, startled roughnecks fled as the 4″ drilling pipe, weighing more than 6 tons, came shooting up out of the hole! For a few quiet minutes, nothing happened. Then the Lucas geyser, 1139 feet below the surface, spewed a fountain of oil over 100 feet into the sky! Spindletop continued to gush 100,ooo barrels a day for nine days until the well could be capped.
The population of Beaumont doubled and then doubled again almost overnight. Petroleum companies such as Texaco, Magnolia, and Exxon sprang to prosperity and power.
It would be nearly impossible to overemphasize the significance of the discovery of oil in Texas! The discovery marked the birth of modern transportation and even the production of plastic products. Though this day is little remembered, the discovery of abundant, affordable oil in Texas literally changed the course of world history.
Your family might enjoy a field trip to Beaumont at the heart of the East Texas oilfields. The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday-Saturday 10-5 and Sunday from 1-5. Admission is a very reasonable $3 for adults, $1 for children.
While you’re in Beaumont, you might also enjoy exploring the history of petroleum science and engineering at the Texas Energy Museum. Talking robotic characters will be your guides as you learn about the formation of oil and how modern geologists find it and hear the story of the first oil well drilling. Students discover the beginnings of the Texas oil industry, exploration, production and refining through interactive exhibits.
This is a story all Texans should know! 🙂