The Mother of Our Oil Industry; Spindletop Gushed 118 Years Ago
Think in your mind of the hottest most humid forest of tall pine trees and wide shady oaks pocked by large areas of swamp complete with gators and snakes at your feet and flying stingers swarming at your head, which gets hammered periodically by the worst monsoon rains, that endures freezing winter days and burning summers you've ever walked through and you're pretty much imagining the general Beaumont, Texas area around the turn of the 20th century.
Beaumont like many cities of the region extending across the Sabine River into DeRidder and the greater Calcasieu Parish area as it was then, had an economy based on timber. Sawing and milling the trees that grew in the lush forests along with the requisite general merchandise stores, banks, small farms and schools comprised life for those living in those times, that is right up until the morning of January 10, 1901.
In 1901 the world of SWLA and SETX consisted of what we mostly see, neatly cleaned up of course, in movies of the period. A world where the children could not only hitch a team of horses to the family wagon but drive the team and wagon as well if needed. Butter was churned on farms from milk that human hands had hand-milked as very few farms were electrified much less had mechanized farm equipment. And for the record, no microwave ovens existed, flat screen tv's, tabs, computers, video games or other so-called smart devices other than a wood and lead pencil and your own ability to do long division. (if you follow that long division link and give it a try we're not responsible if you lose your mind)
Into that world that morning on the same salt dome Patillo Higgins quit on and Anthony Lucas saw promise in suddenly gurgled, spat, and choked a little when the deep rumble began way down low in the ground.
The trembling hole kicked up the 1901 drill stem clanging in sections two hundred feet straight into the air, the deckhands of the Hammel brothers crew began running, then a few came back to the wellhead which had now momentarily gone silent. A brave soul crept up and peered slowly over the hole looking straight down one thousand feet and smelled a million-year-old smell rising up as the floor began to shake and just in the nick of time everyone cleared the deck as the Spindletop Gusher blew hundreds of feet into the clear morning air and the World would never be the same again.
One Hundred Thousand Barrels a Day
That's 4.2 million gallons a day of crude oil pooling in the ditches running into low laying areas, draining to the Neches River while it took the experienced oil field crews of the day nine days to cap off. Even my modern day oil spill and hazmat friends might be overwhelmed at a 900,000 barrel spill near a river.
That was it, The Beginning. Speculators drilled more holes at Spindletop and moved outwardly in all directions, north to Kilgore and west to Baytown, Texas, and east to Evangeline, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge before invading the seas to the south as technology developed. Refining centers sprang up along the Gulf and waterways at Baytown, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and so on to the whole industry we see today.
But this was the beginning, today we look back and toast the righands who on that clear chilly January morning out in the swamp on that little sulphuric smelling rise over the salt dome who believed they were onto something. We thank them for their guts and gusto on this the anniversary of the birth of the Gulf Coast oil industry at Spindletop.
Thank you guys, thank you for keeping on and believing, your spirit and sense of perseverance are an inspiration and why most of us have jobs and live here today.