This salt dome discovery transformed Texas forever

This moment in 1901 would later be considered the birth of the modern American petroleum industry.

FILE PHOTO: A crowd gathers to watch a side gusher on Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas which was the site of the first Texas oil gusher, January 10, 1901. Beaumont, in the southeast corner of Texas, will host a day of centennial celebrations January 10, 2001 to commemorate the event as a historic and economic milestone. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the modern texas oil industry. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)

On Jan. 10, 1901, what began as a discovery of oil at Spindletop Hill, a salt dome formation south of Beaumont, would soon transform Texas into a major petroleum producer and industrial power.

This moment in Texas history would later be considered the birth of the modern American petroleum industry.

The fortuitous find came after years of failed attempts to draw oil from the location. Convinced that the salt domes of the Gulf Coast contained oil, Austrian Anthony F. Lucas, the foremost expert on salt dome formations in the United States, relocated to Beaumont and began drilling at Spindletop in June 1900.

Despite disappointing results and negative reports from geologists, Lucas persisted in drilling and some six months later on Jan, 10, 1901, his efforts were validated. Mud began bubbling from a well he had spudded months earlier. Six tons of drilling pipe shot up out of the ground, forcing the crew to flee the site. After several minutes of silence, a stream of oil blew over 100 feet into the air until and continued to spew oil until it was finally capped nine days later.

The Handbook of Texas described the impact of Spindletop this way: “The discovery of the Spindletop oil field had an almost incalculable effect on world history, as well as Texas history. Eager to find similar deposits, investors spent billions of dollars throughout the Lone Star State in search of oil and natural gas. The cheap fuel they found helped to revolutionize American transportation and industry. The cheap fuel they found helped to revolutionize American transportation and industry. Many of the major oil companies were born at Spindletop or grew to major corporate size as a result of their involvement at Spindletop, including Texaco, Gulf Oil Corporation, Magnolia Petroleum Company, and Exxon Company, U.S.A.”

384183 11: FILE PHOTO: The front page of the Beaumont Journal Newspaper Jauuary 10, 1901 reporting the first oil geyser south of Beaumont, in Texas. Beaumont, in the southeast corner of Texas, will host a day of centennial celebrations January 10, 2001 to commemorate the event as a historic and economic milestone. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the modern texas oil industry. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 06: FILE PHOTO: The famous Lucas Gusher is blows out oil January 10, 1901 on Spindletop hill in Beaumont, Texas. Anthony Lucas's gusher, the first in Texas, first blew on this day and sprayed over 100 feet above the derrick for nine days until the well was capped. Beaumont, in the southeast corner of Texas, will host a day of centennial celebrations January 10, 2001 to commemorate the event as a historic and economic milestone. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the modern texas oil industry. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 12: FILE PHOTO: A crowd gathers to watch a side gusher on Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas which was the site of the first Texas oil gusher, January 10, 1901. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 05: FILE PHOTO: Austrian born mining engineer, Captain Anthony F. Lucas. Lucas is credited for discovering the first oil field in Texas atop Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas January 10, 1901. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 15: FILE PHOTO: A drilling crew poses for a photo atop Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas where the first Texas oil gusher was discovered January 10, 1901. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 07: FILE PHOTO: Landscape picture of oil derricks atop Spindletop Hill which was the site of Texas's first oil gusher January 10, 1901. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
384183 14: FILE PHOTO: A drilling crew takes a break atop Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas where the first Texas oil gusher was discovered January 10, 1901. (Photo by the Texas Energy Museum/Newsmakers) (Getty)
A cluster of oil derricks close together in the Spindletop field during the early boom of the 1900s near Beaumont, Texas, USA. (AP-Photo/HO) (AP)
A section of the Spindletop Field in Beaumont, Texas, circa 1901 when wells were drilled so close together above the huge underground pool that a man could walk a mile stepping from one derrick floor to another. (AP Photo) (AP)

Sources: Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, Texas Almanac


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.