Spindletop, Texas (30°1'16" North, 94°3'12" West), located south of Beaumont, site of one of the most famous oil fields in the history of the United States and regarded by many as the birthplace of the modern oil industry.
Spindletop was a productive oil region for more than 30 years, turning Beaumont into a booming, prosperous town.
The oil was captured in a salt dome, a geological formation resulting from a mass of evaporite minerals that begin to move upward when under a tremendous amount of pressure. The salts rise up, penetrating the surrounding rock strata, forming a diapir, a domed rock formation caused when the center of the rock is pushed upward and breaks through brittle overlying rocks.
The Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company, established in 1892, was the first to drill on Spindletop. The Gladys City company was formed by Patillo Higgins, among others, who chose the name Gladys City because he envisioned an industrious town fueled by the oil underneath its own ground.
Prior to his endeavors in the oil business, Higgins worked in the timber industry as a log cutter. He first realized the growing importance of oil during a trip to the Pennsylvania oil fields. With only a minimal geological background, Higgins convinced George W. Carroll and other investors that oil existed beneath a salt dome in the area near Beaumont called Spindletop.
After several futile attempts, the other partners in the company began doubting the prospects of Spindletop and were reluctant to fund any further attempts. Faced with opposition from fellow partners, Higgins left the company to work independently. Unfortunately, Higgins left a moment too soon. Shortly after his abandonment of the project, Anthony Lucas, a captain from the Austrian Navy, was called upon to drill the stubborn dome. Lucas had an engineering background as well as experience working in the salt mines of Louisiana, which provided him with a solid understanding of salt domes. In 1900, Lucas discovered traces of oil at Spindletop. One year later, on January 10, 1901, Lucas and a team of experienced drillers penetrated the salt dome and struck oil. They had to drill more than 1,000 feet, using a heavier drill and a rotary bit.
The discovery of oil transformed the city of Beaumont. Land value skyrocketed. Landowners, who once had difficulty selling plots for a few hundred dollars, were suddenly able to get tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The promise of a quick fortune attracted herds of people, and the population quickly rose from 10,000 to 50,000. Hundreds of oil companies emerged throughout Spindletop and some would become the oil giants of today: Gulf, Amoco, and Exxon.
In the first year, Spindletop yielded 3.59 million barrels of oil. By the second year, production reached 17.4 million barrels. Production eventually peaked at 100,000 barrels per day and the massive influx of wells extracting oil at such a rapid rate inevitably led to the end of the boom. After its second year, the area's production declined, but technological advances that allowed for deeper drilling revived the Spindletop industry briefly.
After World War II, Beaumont’s economy was dominated by the petrochemical industry, but by the 1960s the industry had begun to dwindle. Because of the city’s heavy reliance on oil-related industries, Beaumont’s economy experienced slow growth throughout the late 1900s.
- Oliens, Roger M. and Dianna Davids. Oil and Ideology: The American Oil Industry, 1859-1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
- Spindletop: the Birth of the Modern Oil Industry
- Spindletop History
- Yergin, Daniel. The Prize : The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. NY: Free Press, 1993.